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Archive for the ‘Writing Life’ Category
I love days when I click off things on my to-do file. Today I sent back the copy edited ms for Sea Wraith, the third book in the Nethercott Tales series. It’s always a bittersweet experience. I’ll have a chance to read it one final time in galleys, but soon the book will be published and I won’t be spending time with these characters any longer. Of course, the nice thing is that my characters will be out there for readers to enjoy (hopefully!).
Don’t you just love this cover? Mystery and danger and romance in Regency Cornwall!
Like so many in the romance writing community today, I’m mourning the passing of my first editor and friend Kate Duffy. Like so many in the romance writing community, I was one of the authors she launched. That was way back in 1987 when she made a multi-book offer for my first books. Her precise touch with editing and her brilliant sense of humor endeared this naive author to her immediately. She has a way of making whomever she spoke to feel special, and every situation offered an opportunity for her wit which was as self-deprecating as it was incisive to the world of publishing.
This photo is over 20 years old, and it’s from the party for Tudor Books at the Seattle RWA National conference. It’s how I’ll always remember Kate. Smiling and by her author’s side. Thanks, Kate for all you’ve done for all of us — writers and readers alike. You’ll be missed because there’s no one else who can take your place.
Today I tried sketching out the chapters for my fun project. Three chapters which will give me an idea if the project is viable or just one of those great ideas that aren’t really meant to be written for publication. I started Chapter One with a scene that was in my head when I woke up this morning. Then I made my first mistake of the day. I decided the story needed to start at a different place. WRONG!!! I wrote out most of that scene before I realized it wasn’t the right place to start the story. The scene that had come out of my subconscious while I was sleeping was the right scene to begin the story (or so I think now). Tomorrow, I will go back and slice out the offending scene, decide what parts of it — if any — need to be saved for another spot in the ms. Yes, despite the missteps, this is still fun to work with. It’s quite different from anything I’ve attempted before, but the challenge excites me.
And in the meantime, I’m having fun reading, too. Right now, I’m reading Stone Heart by Charlie Fletcher on the recommendation of my writing friend (and new ImaJinn author) Karen Dennen.
I’m working on a project…just for the fun of it. I have a contracted book I could be working on, but a few days ago I had a character come knocking on my brain. She told me her name. Now that’s really unusual for me. My standard operating procedure is to come up with a concept and then fight for a name for my characters. Not these. They stepped right up and told me their names. Everything in their story seems to be falling into place with ease. Why? Because I’m having fun with the characters and the plot. Will I ever go further with it than writing up a truly bizarre synopsis/overview — not in story, but in structure? At this point, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m glad Miranda and Jack came knocking on my brain. It’s been a great way to spend a holiday weekend, and it’s a wonderful reminder about why I love my job. I get to meet new people (if only in my head and on the computer screen) and learn about their adventures, their victories, their failures…and I can let them be all they want to be. I can be swept away by their enthusiasm for their tale…and by mine. Who knows what will happen with this idea? A trunk book or a best-seller or something in-between? Or just a fun exercise? At this point it doesn’t matter…because I’m having fun with it!
I recently completed the first draft on a project. While I wait to do the next draft, I use the time to refill the creative well. How do I do this? I treat myself to some fun things. I watched the very rainy US Open today. I cleaned up my screensaver, so I can put in the photos from my most recent trip. I wander around the internet and visit some of my favorite sites. And I read. I started keeping track of the books I’ve read last year. Not so much so I can pat myself on the back and give myself a gold star for each one read — though those days in grade school were a lot of fun because I was always a bookworm, and my row of stars filled in very quickly. It’s simply a way to look at how I was feeling, because I pick books based on my mood. I’m sure a lot of people do. Sometimes I want a rollicking adventure. Other times, I want humor. Then there are the times when I just want to read something that deals with the end of the world…and the people who try to put the pieces back together. Or I’ll find a new author, and I’ll read everything s/he has written that I can find.
All these things fill the creative well. And it’s a great excuse to catch up on those books I’ve been hearing about as well as watch some of my favorite movies…for the 100th time.
And then the itch will begin, and I know it’s time to get back to writing. I’ve come to recognize the cycle…and how important it is to fill that well so I don’t burn out. I learned that lesson when back-to-back-to-back deadlines forced me to skip a few steps in the process. Not only did my characters’ voices grow so soft I couldn’t hear them, but I got physically sick. So now I go to the well, not only to take out, but to refill it.
Today is the last day of the month, which means I get to look at my daily calendar and add up the number of pages I wrote (or majorly revised) in the past month. I’ve been keeping track of the number of pages I write daily on a desk calendar since 1987. It helps me with time management, especially on those days when I’ve been working hard and think I’ve made no progress. Then I count up the pages (or words for my goals group), and I get a boost because it’s more than I expected. On the other hand, there are the days when it’s a LOT less than I expected. At the end of each month, I add up all the daily numbers and get a monthly number. At year’s end, I add up all the monthly numbers and get the year’s total. It’s always nice to see that total, because it’s proof of all my hard work that is uniquely mine. It doesn’t have to do with the amount of mss contracted or the amount of copies sold. It has to do with amount of joy I’ve had in creating something that I enjoy. It’s all about the joy of writing rather than the joys of publishing. And it’s a GOOD feeling.
I leave way too early in the morning tomorrow for New York City and the PASIC (Published Authors Special Interest Chapter) conference. It’s a small, intimate conference, and I’m looking forward to seeing friends — both long-time and new. Plus the chance to be in the center of the publishing business. So it’s time to pull out the small suitcase — the one I don’t always take with me on longer trips — and try to squeeze in everything I think I’ll need. With the weather forecast, I need to bring both spring and winter clothes. And then there are the books I have to have along. Going four days without a book to read — unthinkable. I have one that I’m partway through that’s going to have to stay home because it’s too bulky to pack. Then it’s pull out the size-large purse, so I can stick in it everything I’ll need tomorrow before I reach my daughter’s house in NJ.
Going to a conference and talking shop is such a renewing experience for me….and many other authors. Our business is solitary, so we look forward to opportunities to get out into the wider world. Traveling to the conference (for me, that means on the train) and then going to different parts of the city for appointments is always a chance to “collect characters.” I love watching people — their body language, their quirks, the way they talk and the way they listen to each other. All of it is gist for a future character in one of my books. I hope to have gathered up quite a few before I return home this weekend.
I work hard on my synopses. I try to fill in all the plot holes and show the emotional development of the characters while they strive for their goals and overcome the fears that have kept them from achieving those goals. Hours are spent considering each word, weighing it, tossing it or keeping it. Finally when the synopsis is done, I send the proposal off to editor and/or agent. Once I get the go-ahead, I print out a copy of the synopsis in order to use it as a guide for writing my novel.
But somewhere between the time I polished it up and I got the go-ahead for the project, my synopsis has evolved into a hopeless bog of incoherent storytelling. What seemed obvious when I wrote the synopsis seems absurd now as I begin writing the book. Why would I put Event A before Event B when it clearly should have come afterward? And why would I introduce that character at the midpoint of the book when he should be there by the end of Chapter 4?
After banging my head against the computer screen a few times, I remind myself that this is situation normal. What works with pacing and storytelling in a synopsis doesn’t always work with the pacing and story development in the novel. When I write the synopsis, I’m telling the story and I put in aspects of the story and characters where I get the most bang for the buck in it. When I write the novel, I’m letting the story unfold in a showing method that allows the reader to become part of the story. The characters come in at different places and information that leads to the black moment may be revealed in a complete different order than the synopsis.
And it’s okay. Everything must be put in to serve the reader’s reading experience. Just as I compacted information, left out secondary characters, and focused on the throughline of the book in the synopsis, now with the novel, I must remember the reader while I write every word. Two different audiences demand two different types of documents. Once I remember that, everything goes so smoothly.
That leaves one question: Why do I need to remind myself with each project? <g>
Every writer dreams of jumping on a plane, flying off to the location of her work-in-progress, and soaking up the atmosphere. We also imagine spending a day with the FBI or learning about some arcane art. Then there are the time machines every historical writer would love to have. Time machines are out of the question, but on-site research and picking the brains of experts are not. Opportunities exist everywhere, but a writer must be prepared to take advantage of them.
While I was writing Sea Wraith, the third book in my Nethercott Tales (as Jocelyn Kelley and coming in late spring from ImaJinn Forever Regency), it was obvious I was not going back to Regency Cornwall. I would have to depend on books and the internet to help me learn about food and travel and the Cornish legends that play into the story. I had my on-site research from a trip there a couple of years ago. And I had a list of experts – people I’d met in person or via the Internet. I’ve used experts often over the years. Just look in the acknowledgments of my books, and you’ll see their names listed. Experts on hawking and using a quarterstaff or archery. I try to have more than one, because even experts disagree with each other. But one thing seems universal: People like to talk about what they do, whether it’s work or a hobby. And they’ll gladly tell you all you need to know and more…as long as you’ve done your homework, so they know you’re serious.
So how can you show that? When I approached the research with experts, I was prepared with:
1) Homework. I go on the internet, and I read books. I need to learn a basic vocabulary, so I understand the information given. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t enjoy talking about what interests them and sharing the information with others. In addition, there are tours available from major police departments (Boston P.D. has a fabulous tour) and in museums you can often see things – and sometimes touch them – that “normal” folks don’t get to see and do. After sitting in a hip bath at a historical house in Toronto, I have much more respect for those who used them!
2) Before I chat with the experts, I go through my synopsis and mark spots where that information would be used to move the story forward. That shows me what I need to know.
3) I write questions in a notebook, leaving plenty of space for the answers. Sometimes the answers get written amidst other information, but the questions are there to remind me what I have to know by the time I leave the expert.
4) I offer to send a copy of the synopsis to some experts, so they can see what I am doing. Others I simply tell that I’m a writer. It depends on how often I’ve worked with that expert.
5) I ask if it’s okay to bring a camera. If it is, I do. With so much information coming at you, it’s easy to forget details. The camera helps preserve it with still pictures and/or video clips. Some digital cameras have sound built in as well.
6) Before I leave the expert, I confirm the spelling of their name/address/phone number/email address. I ask if I can ask further questions later. I tell them they’ll get an acknowledgment in the book – something else that pleases people. I always send an autographed copy of the book when it is published.
I approach on-site research in a similar manner, but there are some differences:
1) Again I do my homework. I’ll use our recent trip to Cornwall as an example. Before we left, I printed out information on the sites I hoped to see. Each night when we returned to the B&B, I went through the pages and selected our must-sees for the next day.
2) If you are renting a car, buy the AA Road Guide, available in petrol stations. It will show you almost every road in the UK. If you are going only to a few areas, get Ordnance maps. They are so specific, you can see the buildings along each road. There are similar maps available for most European countries.
3) Set goals for your trip after going through your synopsis/manuscript. Make a list of the must-see items, but don’t set your schedule so tight that you can’t stop at an interesting spot you’d never heard of. On our most recent trip, we went to Land’s End, and we discovered a stone circle just up the road as well as a Templar Church. We took the time to visit both. By the way, try to visit your book’s location in the off-season. There will be fewer tourists, so you find it easier to imagine an older time. Also the staff at sites have more time to answer a long list of questions – and share info you never thought of – when they don’t have lots of visitors to deal with. We went to Land’s End (and the barrow that shows up in Sea Wraith) very late in the day. The shops had closed, and there were only 2-3 other people there. We could stand at the edge of the cliffs and just listen to the wind and the sea…as if it was still the desolate end of England in the early 19th century.
4) If you go to a historical site, buy the site’s booklet, even if you take pictures. It’ll have information you may not have discovered – or forget. Also rent the unit that allows you to hear the recorded tour. They are free if you’ve bought an English Heritage pass (you can get them for various lengths of stay).
5) Figure how many pictures you’re going to take and then triple it (or more). I have a digital camera which allows me to take pictures of every interesting detail. Always be aware of what is more modern than your time frame.
6) Bring a “measuring tape” with you. My measuring tape is my husband. He is exactly 6 feet tall. I tell him to stand next to doorways or windows or trees or hedges or whatever – and I can see how many “Bills” tall something is when I get home.
7) The British walk, and some of the most interesting sites are along public footpaths. Just remember the rules – stay on the paths, close the gates behind you, and don’t bother the animals. On one trip several years ago, we followed a footpath to an ancient hillfort and then continued up the hill in the rain and wind to find an Ordnance marker. It was the first one we’d ever seen – so that was a treat, and the weather gave me a great scene for my book. In other words, make sure you allow time for serendipity.
Eat where the locals eat. On another trip, we went to a pub near St. Govan’s Head in southern Wales. It was full, so we sat in close quarters with the other patrons. We talked with a man who could have been a leprechaun from Central Casting. I started asking questions about the weather at the nearby cliffs during April (when the finale of my wip at that time took place). I soon was being regaled with stories and got information I never expected I’d find out. Again, people love to share what they know.
9) Stay in your time period. I mean that literally. We’ve stayed in a Regency town house in Bath and in a 16th century farmhouse in Norfolk where the beam in the bedroom was so low, I had to duck under it! (See it in a scene in Sea Wraith <g>)
10) Be prepared to be proved wrong. Even if I’ve studied up on a location, it can look completely different when I get on-site. I adjust my thinking – and my book – to fit reality.
11) Be prepared for Twilight Zone moments. One of my goals on the trip to Wales was to find a setting for a specific event that is the centerpiece of the story. It took place along a small river in the far west of Wales. When we got out of the car in the car park for St. David’s Cathedral, I saw a small waterway. I decided I was going to use this stream for the site, because none of the books I’d read had specified a site and neither had CADW (The Welsh version of English Heritage). I took pictures, came home and was looking for another item in a book. . .and found the name of the river where my event took place. Going to the map, I found it was the same stream I’d taken pictures of. Cue the Twilight Zone theme. . .
12) Allow yourself time for “wow” moments. Some I’ve planned ahead of time such as when I stood next to the 17th century memorial stone for my however many times great-grandfather in Norwich Cathedral. Others have been a surprise – such as when we chance upon a site that was used in a favorite book or movie. As always, we take a lot of pictures because who knows when I might use that “wow” fact in a book – or just want to revisit it after we get home.
And most importantly, have fun. You might find the very fact will give you an idea for your next book!