Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Title Announcement & Novel Sneak Peek

Today is my 100th blog post! Woohoo! As such, I decided to celebrate and do something a little different. As I've said in previous posts, I'm writing a mystery/adventure novel that's now in revision stage. So today, I'm posting an excerpt from my novel. It's still rough but I think it will give you an idea of what's to come. If you haven't before, check out this exclusive interview that I did with the main character, Imogen Bell, for the Character Interview Blogfest.

I also have an exciting announcement: my novel has a title! Yay! (Read about my misadventures in titling here.) It is now officially called DEAD LOCKED. Stay tuned for more information about my book in the days/weeks to come. For now, enjoy this short sneak peek!

Excerpt from Dead Locked

Boats gurgled by in a long line heading out of the harbor into the bay. Observers on the fishing docks yelled back and forth with the boaters. Imogen could hear car horns honking on the main street a few blocks away. The only soothing noise came from the breeze rushing across the harbor, jingling the sailboat riggings.

"This is ridiculous," Imogen said. "We need to do something about all this."

"The police and Coast Guard have their hands full," Peter said. "We just need to be patient."

"Especially now that you've told everyone there's something to find," Sebastian said. "We're here to study a shipwreck, not treasure hunt. These idiots," he waved his hand in the direction of the boats, "will wipe out whatever's left of The Freelove. You've spent years trying to find it. Why did you announce that there is more of a reason for every tourist to go meddling in our work?"

"I couldn't lie."

"You're a scientist."

"I've never asked you to believe the stories," Peter said. "But I do. And I just couldn't bring myself to say that I didn't."

Sebastian shook his head in disbelief and left. Imogen stood next to Peter, who met her gaze and smiled sadly.

"I don't mean to disappoint him," he said.

"You're not disappointing him," Imogen said. "He's just grumpy because he wants to be left alone to work. This is all a hassle to him."

"He should be left alone to work." Peter looked off into the bay. "Maybe they are just a bunch of stories." From the far off look in his eyes, Imogen didn't believe he bought that. And neither did she.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Barreling Down on Novel Revisions

So July 1 is my deadline to have major revisions of my novel finished, e.g. writing new scenes, axing others, and moving some scenes around. Happily, it's in good order at this point so I'm excited to move forward and start smoothing things out soon. It's always thrilling the closer you get to the nitty-gritty editing and major changes are no longer necessary. It's also a little frightening when you realize it's time to stop fussing and send your baby out into the world. But at this point, I'm ready to let'er fly.

What exciting stage are you at with your work-in-progress?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Settings That Inspire Scenes

I had the lovely experience of walking on the beach at dusk the other night and it inspired me to want to either change the setting of one of my novel's scenes or add in a scene that takes place then. I was especially enthralled by how the moonlight splayed out onto the water. I felt like anything could happen on that beach at that moment. You could uncover a buried secret, fall in love, or see a phantom ship. So many possibilities!

Do settings inspire scenes, moments, or even entire stories for you? How have environments or places you've been affected your writing?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tips to Get Ideas When You're Out

Do you ever feel you'll never have another good idea? Sometimes this happens to me between projects. You're over, you're done - now what? You brainstorm, you search through pages of older ideas, maybe even return to abandoned projects. But sometimes trying to find ideas only makes it worse. So what is the key to unleashing new concepts? Sometimes a little distraction is all you need.

One thing I find that can help is exercise. Moving physically can unlock creativity as well as keep you healthy. Walking, running, dancing, swimming, and biking can all help you loosen up and discover possibilities for new ideas.

Going to an art museum, cultural event, or performance can fill your creative tank and recharge your writer. I prefer art museums and historical homes or places. Go with what you like and see what unfolds.

Try turning to other interests or hobbies. I love to bake and find spending time doing so regularly keeps me fresh with my writing. Other activities that challenge you or relax you can help free your mind to find new ideas.

If you're in an idea rut, give one of these thoughts a try and see what new ideas you come up with. What else can help when you're running low on ideas?

Monday, June 21, 2010

How I Write: A Visual Guide

My WIP in miniature. I write one scene per index card to get the big picture.
My notebooks for my WIP. Once an idea for a novel gets serious, it gets its own notebook. I only used the art pad at the beginning stages of plotting. I found it useful for working out timelines especially. The top notebook is now full so I've moved on to the one underneath for rewriting notes.
The art pad also came in handy for working out the order of scenes. I used sticky notes for that. It was an experiment based on something I read about another writer's methods. Not sure I'll do it that way again though. Didn't quite work for me.
My writing tools for this WIP all together like one happy family.
My writing partner-in-crime these days. How did I ever live without you?
My printed manuscript, after the first cuts.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Breaking the Rules Blogfest!

This is my brave post for the Breaking the Rules blogfest happening thanks to Elizabeth Mueller. She challenged us to post first drafts and older pieces that break all the writing rules we've learned and cherish.

My contribution is a short short story (the torture won't last long!) I wrote when I was about 16. I was so proud of it then! Now...well, I learned something from writing it I'm sure.


Reaching for Eternity

Her eyes were glazed over with fear, and a frightened expression dominated her face. No one was watching; no one knew. There were no voices to plea with her; no one to stop her. And yet she could not quite reach the pills. She could see them laying there with a glass of water on the nightstand next to her clock. This was her chance. Yet she could not quite reach the pills.

She thought she had figured everything out. She knew she didn’t have the guts to pull a trigger - she’d never once in her life touched a gun. There had been no easy answer until she’d found the pills. The pills were her answer. At least she had thought so. It wasn’t as easy to take them as she had thought it would be. There were too many thoughts surrounding those pills. What would happen to her family? She could just see her mother going into hysterics when they found her. That made her worry. Would Mom recover? Then her dad. She knew very well that he would never mention her name again, that all pictures of her would disappear, and her room would be left exactly as it was, and locked permanently. Then her sister, Allie, came to mind. She prayed Allie would not find her. It could destroy her life. After all, Allie was only seven. She could suffer horrible emotional damage. She thought about who she wanted to find her. No one in her family, and none of her friends. So who was left? An anonymous policeman who’d never met her, who could forget her easily. But that was asking the impossible.

She looked at the ticking clock. Time was wasting. Trembling fingers picked up a pill. She studied it carefully, and then the clock. Reaching for the glass, she hesitated, and set the pill back down. She breathed deeply, knowing her chance was slipping away. She tried for the pill again, and instead punched her fist into the mattress. Why couldn’t she just pick it up? She had been waiting for the right time, and it had come. Why was she fumbling around?

The hour change, and she knew she either had to act, or give up. Leaning on her side the pills were so near. There was no one to stop her. “Nothing’s preventing you. Do it!” her thoughts repeated. And yet she couldn’t reach them.

Soon a car drove into the garage. In her dimly lit room, she knew what was hers to do. She gave another glance over at the pills that were so out of reach, and walked downstairs.

“Hi honey.” Her parents walked in. She closed her eyes momentarily, and caught her breath.

“Mom. Dad. I have something I need to tell you…”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Turning Reality Into Fiction

Do you get ideas for stories from real life? A lot of my ideas over the years have emerged from real events, people, and places. After all, we're surrounded by anomalies and as writers we try to take notice and advantage of them. But once you have a nugget from the real world, how do turn it into something more fantastical?

I used to have a hard time translating real world events and feelings into a story. Usually, you don't want the real thing verbatim. You just want the essence of what happened, or the emotions that were present. Taking what you want out of context can be tricky. I had to work at it so that I wasn't writing a documentary. What can you do to get what you need from real life, but still write fiction?

Gain some distance. If you're drawing on real emotions, for instance, you may need some space from whatever happened to draw them out in the first place. If you're too close to a situation, it's tough to separate the feeling from the event. Given time, it's much easier to take the emotions and redirect them in a novel or short story.

Remember, it's still fiction. Even though you may be writing about an actual event or person, you're still writing a story. Know your facts but don't let them inhibit creativity. Take poetic license when the story calls for it. You're writing a novel, not a non-fiction book.

Extract what you need. People may possess qualities or quirks that you want to use, but that doesn't mean you have to recreate the whole person. You can extract what you like (or don't like I guess!) from people, events, and places, and combine them with other things you've pulled out of context for something entirely original.

How do you use real life in fiction?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Novel Revisions Are Like Cleaning House

While groping to explain the revision stage of novel writing to my facialist yesterday, I hit upon the perfect illustration. I realized that revising any type of writing can be a lot like spring cleaning. You have to make a mess to make everything all bright and shiny again. And for a while, your house is more of a disaster than it was to begin with. But eventually as you sort through things, throw things away, and put new things in order, your house looks like new again.

Revisions are similar. Right now, my novel is unreadable to anyone but me (though that's changing quickly). I've ditched scenes, added scenes, moved scenes around. I'm missing transitions, the chapter breaks went to Hades a long time ago, and several original scenes need to be rewritten to reflect changes to the plot. In other words, it looks a mess. But just like cleaning a house, you take things one stage at a time.

The first stage for me was figuring out where to add the new scenes. I grabbed my handy-dandy index cards, wrote out the scenes on them, and sat on my living room floor for an afternoon and arranged them. The next step was reorganizing the scenes in my manuscript (I used placeholders for the unwritten scenes). Then, I got down to business writing the new scenes without worrying about transitions. I just wanted to get all the key elements in place.

Now, I'm starting to revamp original scenes that have wrong, inconsistent, or repetitive information. I'm also working to harmonize scenes or bits of narrative and dialogue that have been squished together. The mess is fading and a new and improved manuscript is shining through. Eventually, I will get down to the nitty-gritty editing work. For now, it's all about cleaning up the story.

What would you liken your revisions to?

On a completely different topic, this Friday, June 18, join the Breaking the Rules Blogfest over at Elizabeth Mueller's blog. Along with other participants, I'll post writing from my past that doesn't exactly meet the standards we all aspire to. It should be fun, not to mention motivating to see how far we've all come!

Photo by josh.liba

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Character Interview Blogfest!

Here is an exclusive interview with Imogen Bell, the star of my upcoming novel, as part of the Character Interview Blogfest happening today. Enjoy!

What is the deal with your story? You guys have given me such a hard time!

Imogen: (laughs) I know and I'm sorry! We really do love you. It's been a rough ride for all of us at times I guess. I promise we've tried to behave, but you know how characters are. Maybe you made us a little too independent. You've gotten us under control though.

I was beginning to think I'd never get the plot in order. What do you think of things as they stand?

Imogen: I think it's perfect! But I'm a little biased. You have definitely come a long way from, say, last year at this time. We were just getting to know each other then. I think it's interesting though how similar the story is now to what it was at its earliest stages, despite the digressions in the middle. You really stuck to your guns on that and I think it's very you.

Why do you think my original, original plot didn't work for you?

Imogen: Hmm...too simple I think. I needed a storyline with a little more oomph. This plot has texture. You have a little mystery, a little adventure, some danger, and a touch of romance. It feels more complete I think than the very first idea.

What's your favorite part of the story?

Imogen: Sebastian of course! (laughs) Seriously, though, I think it's the adventurous nature of it. You get me into lots of trouble, and I love it!

You're not bothered by the mess I make for you?

Imogen: Well...sometimes it's rough, what with near-death and experiences and all, but overall I've had fun. It all suits me. And things work out so I can't complain too much.

Should I have kept your name Pinky?

Imogen: (laughs) No! Honestly, can you really see anyone calling me "Pinky?"

Good point. What do you see yourself doing in the future?

Imogen: Starring in another book perhaps? (winks) Honestly, life is pretty good right now. But if you want to throw some more adventure my way, feel free.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Choose Your Destiny

One of the most difficult decisions can be where to take your story next. You can brainstorm and brainstorm, listing the choices for all eternity it seems. But eventually you must make a choice. I think for some writers this is easier than for others. I'm a person who likes to keep options open. I like to have choices, but settling on just one sometimes requires telling myself to just make up my mind and move forward.

Instead of just taking the first idea, I do think it's good to see if you can do better. But the fact is you can change everything a million times and never finish the story. I found participating in NaNoWriMo was helpful for curing this. You have no time to hem and haw over where to take the story. You have to make up your mind fast.

How can you settle on an idea when you have several good options? There is no right answer and many ideas can qualify as the "best." I choose the ideas that I love and make me excited to dig in. When I start to lose passion for a story, I look at the decisions I've made. If you're not excited about a direction the story is taking, maybe you should go back to brainstorming and choose an alternate path. Writing should be exciting, even when it's hard. Never lose sight of that.

That's my Monday rant. On a different note, check back here tomorrow for an exclusive interview with my novel's heroine, Imogen Bell. It's part of the character interview blogfest hosted by Echoes of a Wayward Mind. It's not too late to sign up if you haven't already. See you then!

Friday, June 11, 2010

When to Start Research & How to Organize It

Yesterday, I talked a bit about how research can enhance your story. That got me thinking about when it's a good idea to start researching and how to keep track of what you find out. Depending on the type of novel or short story you're writing, this can be a relatively easy or tricky proposition.

I prefer to start as soon as I know what I need to research. With my current novel I made the mistake of waiting to research underwater archaeology until after I started working out my story. Not smart. My research not only made plot changes necessary but enticing. Based on your characters, setting, and plot, you should know from the beginning some of what you need to look up. I make a research list toward the beginning of the project and check off items as I go. It includes major and minor research points so I don't forget.
Organizing all that research can be difficult. Part of the point of research is to have something to refer to while you're writing. That means it needs to be easy to access. What do you use for research primarily? I use the Internet and library or bookstore. But research can also encompass visiting locations and interviewing experts, depending on your topics.

For Internet research, I label folders in my favorites with my research topics. I save any and all websites that will help me (you may never find them again otherwise) into those folders. You may want to nest all research topics under your book title. Some topics I know I will use across different projects so I don't do that. For easy reference, I also take "notes" by copying and pasting information from the website into a file that's saved as a specific topic. I make different documents for different subjects and save those in a folder nested within my book's general folder.

Books are a different matter. I highlight as I read if I own it and/or take notes and keep them together either in the same notebook or file folder. I make sure I note where the information came from so I can find it again. I use photos for research a lot, whether my own or photos I've found online. I save them in a specific folder and label it according to the subject.

These methods have worked great for me, but you have to find your own rhythm with research and organization. Work with your preferences and tendencies, not against them. Experiment with different ways of handling research and see what works best. Once you find your groove, you'll be in a great place to get writing.

Photo by pathlost

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why It Pays to Research

Research can be one of the less fun aspects of writing. But it can also be one of the more rewarding. A little research can add detail to your story that's believable, rich, and engrossing. Whether it's as specific as police rankings or as general as underwater archaeology (a foundation for my current novel), buckling down to do research gives me confidence later when I start to write.

The prime benefit of research in my opinion is all the raw detail you have at your fingertips. You will doubtfully use it all, but just knowing it yourself affects your writing. Readers will get a sense that you know what you're talking about, upping the believability factor. And knowing the truth can help you bend it as needed or desired.

Research can also give you ideas you never would have had otherwise. While reading about marine archaeology, I learned some things that led to developing a whole new aspect of my novel. It may take some effort to find what you need, but the benefits can be surprising.

When should you start researching? How can you keep it all organized? I'll delve into those topics tomorrow. For now, what are your thoughts on the benefits of research and fiction?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Culling Fluff from Your Story

Every scene that you write doesn't necessarily belong in the finished draft. A lot of things you may have written just to keep writing, or they were scenes you needed to know about but your readers don't. Part of writing a first draft is learning about your characters and figuring out the story. So some of your initial writing may be you playing around, testing the waters. So how can you recognize the fluff from the important scenes?

An awesome trick I learned several years ago comes from screenwriting. Get a pack of index cards. Go through your novel or short story and write down a scene per index card. Number the scene, and in a sentence say who is in the scene and what they're doing. Once you're done, lay out the index cards and read your novel in summary. You will immediately recognize the cotton candy from the steak because the one-sentence summary will read something like "Rex and Sir Edmund chat" (from an actual scene card of an old story of mine). Laugh if you want, but I promise somewhere in your novel or short story is a scene like that and this method will smoke it out.

How do you cull out the filler from your stories?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Raising the Stakes

This week, I'm working on raising the stakes in my novel. Like tension, the more complications you add to a story, the better. Things are getting less cut-and-dried. My protagonist's mettle is being tested, and frankly so is mine. We're both having to show what we're really made of and I think the end result is going to be good.

So how does one complicate the life of a hero or heroine? All the advice I've ever read about this is basically to think of all the horrible things that could happen or stand in the way, and when you've run out of ideas, think of more. It is amazing to me how many you can come up with when you think you're done. And the more you push, the better the ideas that come out. You're heroine won't have an easy time of it, but the end will be that much sweeter when she arrives.

How do you torture...I mean complicate...your protagonist's life?

Monday, June 7, 2010

My Attempt at Outlining (What I Learned)

Writing methods seem to vary as much as writing genres. What helps one writer can cramp another's style. Working on my current novel has given me new insight into how I work. I did some experimenting with my methods last year, trying out full-blown outlining for fun. Didn't go over so well, and after a while, I dumped the idea and went to how I usually work and finally got my book written (yay!). However, I did learn some things in the process, including tricks that I will take with me to the next project.

1. It never hurts to try something new. Despite complaining (mostly to my sister) about how much longer it took me, I'm still glad I tried outlining. If I hadn't tried it, I would never know if it works for me or not.

2. Even if an entire process doesn't work, you can still glean things from it. No, I will never attempt a full-fledged outline ever again. But in the process of attempting it, I refined my own work methods and I consider that to be a plus.

3. You work how you work, and that's fine. Part of the reason I tried outlining was because I felt like I was doing things the wrong way. Recently, I read a post by author Carolyn Hart who described her work methods and they are strikingly similar to my own. And she's published over forty books. So I think my method is OK after all.

The funny thing is I work pretty much the same way I did in middle school. I keep all my random ideas in spiral-bound notebooks with pretty prints on the cover. Once ideas for a novel really start to take shape, the story gets its own notebook. When working on a novel or short story, I can only go so far with the idea in my head. There comes a point when I have to hit the page or the details will never emerge or solidify. I often have to write to find out what happens next, and I rather like it that way. I've been surprised so many times while writing, and that means my readers will be too.

So how do you write? What methods have you tried? What have you learned from them?

Fabulous photography by Pink Sherbet Photography

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cuteness from the Vineyard

One of the highlights of my trip to Martha's Vineyard last week was admiring the circle of gingerbread cottages in the middle of Oak Bluffs. So for some Friday randomness, I'm posting photos of some of my favorites.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Adventures in Choosing a Title

After living with a mediocre working title for my novel-in-progress, I'm hunting for my perfect title. I've been listing and brainstorming and trying to think outside of my preconceived notions for the last several days, and yesterday I finally hit on something that's taking me a step closer to my goal. It's still not exactly right, but I finally feel like I'm making progress.

I've discovered over the years that titles can be bliss or misery. I have on occassion written from a great title, but this has been a rare event. Generally, if the title comes first it never finds a home. Just look through some of my old notebooks, filled with awesome titles that have yet to find a story. I have a stellar title for the next novel I'm working on (as long as it fits after the book is actually written), and in the process of brainstorming for my current novel, I've hit on a few gems but they're irrelevant to what I'm working on.

As we're all probably aware, titles can make or break a book. Waltz into Barnes & Noble and browse the shelves. What books will you look at? Personally, a catchy title and a snazzy cover will prompt me to snap that baby off the shelf. Even if I end up putting it back because it's not what I wanted, I still chose that book over the hundreds of other possibilities. A crisp title can say it all - and sell your book.

To get some new ideas, I decided to browse titles at the bookstore yesterday and here are some that stood out to me:

I Thought You Were Dead by Pete Nelson
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
Bulletproof Mascara by Bethany Maines
Ravenor: The Omnibus by Dan Abnett
Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
Anthill by E.O. Wilson
Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

What are your favorite titles? How do you choose titles for your books/stories/poems?

Photo by Ian Wilson

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eye Candy from Martha's Vineyard

Instead of writing today, I'm posting a few visual highlights from my recent trip to Martha's Vineyard. I may post more later in the week. If you're ever in Massachusetts, it's a terrific getaway spot.

The most delicious cupcakes ever from E's Cupcakes in Vineyard Haven.
Lighthouse at Edgartown.

Riley's Reads children's bookstore in Vineyard Haven (Tisbury).

The Riley's Reads mascot.

Staircase inside the Edgartown bookstore.

The Edgartown bookstore. One of several indie book shops on the island.

One of hundreds of adorable cottages in Oak Bluffs

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