Thursday, March 24, 2011

Let's do it together

When my husband and I started dating, we used to have incredibly long phone conversations where neither wanted to get off. As long as we were talking, we were together. The only thing that got us off was me saying, "If you go to sleep and I go to sleep, at least we are doing the same thing."

Some view writing as lonely. We are alone in a room, listening to people who aren't there, aren't even real. To non-writers this looks like we are alone.

But we're not.

When I'm writing, I'm doing something tons of other writers are doing that exact moment, people who are just like me, who understand me and don't think I'm crazy when I say I threatened to kill my heroine because she wouldn't shut up.

So everyone reading this...if you write and I write, we are doing the same thing.

So get writing, so I won't be alone.


Friday, March 4, 2011

To Join or Not To Join, that is the question

Whether 'tis be nobler in mind to suffer
the indignity of the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune
Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, perchance to sleep

That's enough of that. I can't believe I remember that. He isn't called The Bard for nothing. Talk about motivation. How many of us want to lay down our arms at one point? All of us. We wouldn't be human if we didn't. We all have questions. Writers turn those questions into books.

Today's question (I'm thinking about making this a series for my blog. What do you think?)
Should I join RWA?

I see the question frequently in chat at,
so I thought I'd address it.

It's not cheap. Even in times of economic boom $110 is a lot of money. For some that just isn't feasible. For others it's a hard choice to make. For me, it was a no brainer, but that was before Savvy Authors and there really wasn't another organization to join. I'm a proud member of both.

Here's why.
1. You can never have too many writing friends.
2. You can never have too many opportunities to hone your craft.
3. You can never have too many opportunities to pitch your book.
Those three reasons, in that order, are why I belong to both organizations.

Savvy Authors is a much smaller organization, though by no means small, and this offers a level of intimacy and I don't feel lost among the crowd. I get the same feeling from the chapters I belong to through RWA.

I joined my state chapter (Maryland Romance Writers) because I didn't want to be alone at my first National Conference (2008). I am now my chapter's librarian. This month our speaker is Rosemary Ellen Guiley. Her book Encyclopedia of Angels, which I first bought when it came out in 1996, is one of the main resources for my current WIP. We've had a former CIA Operative and an expert in body language come.

When I move this summer to Boston, I am looking forward to joining The New England Chapter of Romance Writers. This month's meeting is critting each others first five pages. I'm not going to be able to go to Nationals next year, but I can make their regional Let Your Imagination Take Flight conference. Donald Maass is there this year.

(If you want to know what your local chapter is, do a search for your state and RWA.)

I see you in the back raising your hand, so politely. You have a question. "What about me, Miss Jeanie? I live in the middle of nowhere."

Fortunately, I just live on the edge of nowhere. I have to drive two hours to go to my MRW meetings, across the Bay Bridge (which I hate with a fiery passion. The bridge, not the distance). One of the benefits of belonging to an organization as large as RWA are the online speciality chapters. No matter what your sub-genre there is at least one speciality chapter for you to belong to.

Here is a sampling:

Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal: FF&P is now the largest. When I was researching joining RWA, I learned about FF&P. The second I got my RWA membership number, I joined. Here is a listing of some of the things i got through FF&P
1. I "met" Liz. Yes this is number one. I <3 Liz. Through Liz I learned about Savvy in its infancy.
2. The crit group, the mudpuddle.
3. The yahoo loops. There are several. This is where I get to "know" people in my sub-genre and Angie Fox made me cry (in a good way). Often when I'm talking with someone online, I grab their book, so I can explain to Hubby who I'm talking to. Sometimes I compare them to his guitar idols for reference.
4. 60 Days to Pro. Because of this event in 2009, I finished my novel, became PRO and got my first partial request.
5. Access to editors through their members-only blog. The first time I got to talk to Heather Osborn, then editor at TOR Romance, was through FF&P. I seem to keep running into her.
6. The Gathering. The yearly banquet at Nationals. Most specialty chapters do something at Nationals.

That's enough about FF&P. If you are a member of RWA and write FF&P, including urban fantasy, you should join.

Yes, next question.
"What about me, Jeanie? I write Romantic Suspense or Regency or about hot guys in kilts."

You're in luck because there is something just for you. And these are like potato chips. You don't have to eat just one. Here they are in alpha order (because that's how RWA lists them and I really don't want to type them all in again) Because I don't just write about angels, but am one, I'll give you the links to them, so you can investigate yourselves.

The Beau Monde Regency Special Interest Chapter: Jane Austin left out the sex. I can put it back in.

Celtic Hearts Romance Writers: Sexy men in kilts and the women who love them, any time period, and even ones with fangs.

Chick Lit Writers of the World: Here chicky, chicky, chicky

Electronic and Small Press Authors Network: New York, New York? We don't need no stinkin' big city press.

Elements of RWA: There's more to life than love. or "And they didn't live happily ever after."

Faith, Hope, and Love, Inc.: Stuff your mother can read and show her church group

From the Heart Romance Writers: All I have to keep me warm is my computer and my ideas.

Fantasty, Futuristic and Paranormal: In that order because it's alphabetical. No really, we voted on it.

Golden Network Chapter: I got a shiny gold heart, now what? (Golden Heart finalists and winners, RWA's contest for unpubbed writers)

Gothic Romance Writers: It was a dark and stormy night, and so is the hero.

Hearts Through History Romance Writers: Romance has been around since that first cave man clubbed his first cave woman and she kicked him in the balls.

Mystery/Suspense Chapter (Kiss of Death): Knives and poison and guns, oh my.

Outreach International Romance Writers: We are the world, we are the children (well not really. Children shouldn't read this stuff)

Passionate Ink: Stuff you [I]really[/I] don't want your mother to read.

Published Authors Special Interest Chapter/PASIC: I made $1,000 on a single book (jumping up and down) I made $1,000. (Requirement to join PAN)

Rainbow Romance Writers: Love comes in many forms.

Romantic Women's Fiction: Eat lots of chocolate, pray for a contract and love

RWA Heartbeat: Paging Dr. Hottie, Paging Dr. Hottie

RWA Online: Meeting online, all the time.

Scriptscene: Lights, camera, action (lots and lots of action)

Young Adult Special Interest Chapter: Star light, Twilight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the guy I wish tonight.

That's a lot to digest. Go surf around. See if anything appeals to you.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How To Write

Since I am a writer, I've been invited to speak at Younger's class. I am going to teach the kids how to write a story. I wrote a basic lesson plan to show the teacher. This is writing 101, how many writers come up with their stories.

1. What do you remember most about a story? Usually the answer is the characters. You can get away with a lot, including weak plotting, if you have great characters. So the first step in writing a story is to create a character.

There are lots of ways to do this. You need to answer three basic questions:
What does s/he look like?
What is s/he like?
What does s/he like/hate?

You can go as deep as you want to make that character real to you. I like to find pictures of my characters to help me describe them. Maggie is based on Inara from Firefly/Serenity. I even dress her in Inara's clothes. Janie is based on the work of a Taiwanese artist. I have a long list of questions that help me find out about the character. When I get stuck, I interview my characters. It's amazing where those interviews go.

2. What does the character want? If you don't know your character's goal, your story is going to wander. If your character doesn't want anything and take steps to get that, the character is weak and will not interest the reader.

3. Why does the character want this? You can make your character want anything if you give them proper motivation. Cinderella is a well-loved fairy tale that's so universal it's applied to sports teams. Most everyone wants to be a prince or princess, but it's the reason Cinderella wants it that hits our hearts. It's the motivation that makes Cinderella a classic.

4. What stands in the character's way? This is the essence of your story. It is conflict that propels the action. It could be anything.

That character, which tends to create the most interesting conflict

Any combination of these. Just keep sticking things in your character's way.

5. You can have an ending in mind, but you don't have to. You don't even need to have a beginning.

Now take all of these and write a story sentence: (character) wants (goal), but (conflict).

That's it. That's a story. Write the sentence in big letters and stick it by your computer. This will keep your story focused. Whenever you get stuck, just look at your sentence and it will kick start your muse.

Let's go back to Cinderella: An abused young lady wants to go to the ball, but her evil step mother won't let her. 18 words.

Your turn. If you do this before NaNo begins, your story will be much more focused.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

What do we learn more from: Mistakes or Successes

We've all heard the adage "You learn more from mistakes than successes."

That depends on what you want to learn. Do you want to learn what mistakes not to make or what works? What equals [i]more[/i] learning?

We all make mistakes. Writers make [b]tons[/b] of them just learning our process. We learn what not to do more than what we learn works for us. Each time we learn what doesn't work, we are that much closer to what does work, but ultimately what we want to learn is what works. Quantity-wise we have more mistakes, but quality-wise it is figuring out what does work that we learn more from.

On my desk is an email from August 2009. On it a professional author I adore said "your story gave me goosebumps...when you make that first sale, I'll be in line of release day to buy your book" about an email I posted to a loop. When I met her at RWA Nationals this year, she remembered my email. Her email taught me more than all of my mistakes combined. It said "Here is your strength. This is what works for you." It said "If you use this in your writing, it is something I want to read."

How many of us have gotten a comment, especially by someone we admire, saying something similar? That something in particular moved them? That they loved how you phrased something? That you nailed something? These comments teach us more than our mistakes. We simply don't think we learn from them. Since we did something right, what is there to learn?

The answer is we learn what works. If you take that comment and apply it to your writing as a whole, your writing will jump a few notches and you will gain confidence.

So don't just think about mistakes as learning opportunities. Think of successes that way, too. Below share some comments you've gotten that said "You are doing this right" and think about how to apply them to your writing as a whole.

That email is to the right of my computer. On the left is a quote by Stanislavsky "Craft is always secondary to the truth of emotional connection." As long as I keep that in mind when I write, how important that emotional connection is and how creating it is my strength, my writing stays on track.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

OMG. I have to talk to an agent. What do I do? What do I say?

In our continuing theme of "here's another way to look at things," I offer you my perspective on the all important pitch appointment.

We are writers. We love our stories. If we didn't, we couldn't have spent all that time pounding out 300+ pages and then revising until our eyes bled (your eyes didn't bleed? Go back and edit some more). Usually agents and editors are not writers. They don't think like us. I think that is the most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with the publishing world. We think differently than most people. That's why we're writers.

An editor's job is to think like a reader. Their job is to sell books to readers. By extension, an agent needs to think like an editor, since their job is to sell books to editors. If we want to get an agent, we have to think like one.

This does not mean writing to the market. Evil trolls who will steal your soul lie down that road. What this does mean is when we are pitching (selling) our masterpieces to them, we have to think like them. We are also readers, so let's put on our reading hats. Mine comes with a book light.

You just read the most amazing book and you want to get your best friend to read it. It's 2 AM, so you have to wait until a decent hour to call her (mine wouldn't, but you are nice). You try to go to sleep, but you keep playing the book in your head, thinking of ways you could make everything work out (the sign of a great book). The alarm clock goes off and you can finally talk to your BFF.

What do you tell her?

That's it. That's your pitch. What do you tell your best friend about this amazing, incredible book to get her to read it? Do you pick up the back of the book and read her the blurb? No. You tell her what you love about that book. What kept you up until 2 AM reading?

The blurb works great for the more formal setting of a query letter where you don't have the opportunity to answer questions. When you are at an agent appointment or talking to an agent in the bar, think talking to your best friend. Don't think like a writer pitching a book. Think like an excited reader trying to get someone to read the book.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I hurt myself by hurting myself

We all suffer for our art in some way. I allowed myself to remember what it was like to have flashbacks in order to write a key scene. I thought that was the worst thing I'd endure for this book, I was wrong.

I finally have an opening chapter that makes me go "I want to read this book." In it, my heroine is snatched. At one point, the villains twist her arms behind her back and hold her against a wall with one hand. My villains are vampires, but I wanted to see the logistics of this. (If you know where this is heading, please don't laugh). I twisted my own arms behind my back to see where the wrists would meet. In the process, I sprained my shoulder. The pain is worse than labor and delivery. Now I have Vicodin to help me conjure up interesting things.

I tend to act out a lot of action to see the logistics. Hubby hopes my characters are never shot.

So how have you suffered for your art?

Monday, September 6, 2010

How to Write a Synopsis without Writing a Synopsis

Telling me how to do something never works for me. Whatever my natural inclination is will override what I'm taught. Telling me why something is done will give me a new perspective and allow me to change my set ways.

We freeze at writing the synopsis. How do we boil 400 pages down to 2-3? That's one way of looking at a synopsis, but not what I see it as. It's just another format to tell the story you love so much, you wrote those 400 pages. (I love writing the synopsis now. I'll take every opportunity to tell my story.)

A synopsis is important. It shows you have a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. That is just one function. The goal is to get the agent to ask to see more, to see your actual writing, your voice.

I've heard that the synopsis doesn't need to include your voice. I disagree, but I will qualify that. It doesn't need to include the voice you used for the story, but it does have to include your voice, AKA your excitement and love for your story. That is contagious and will motivate the agent to ask to see more.

Writing the synopsis is like writing the book, and you can use the same techniques you would to plot it out. If you are a plotter or a hybrid, this part is easy for you. If you pants it all the way, I'll offer some suggestions.

The most important part of the story, and therefore your synopsis, is not boiling your story into one sentence. It is the initial idea you had, maybe even the idea of an idea. Think back to that initial idea. Don't think of the synopsis. Think of that idea. Let it wrap around your heart and strengthen you. Let it bring back the time when the words screamed to be let out. It could have been a month ago or several years. Try to think back to that time. You aren't writing a synopsis. You are writing the story that idea generates.

Now, if we were writing a book, one technique is to brainstorm scenes. You already wrote those scenes. I want you to brainstorm what you love about the story. Just list everything. What things made you stop and think "Damn, I can't believe I wrote that?" What things kept you butt in the chair, even when your muse decided to get a tan at the beach? What sweet nothings did he whisper in your ear? Just write it all down.

Look at that list and cross out everything that doesn't have to do with the main storyline. I'm sure it was very interesting when your heroine turned into a seagull, but if that isn't part of the main storyline, it goes. Look at the list again and cross out anything not vital to the main storyline. Can you tell the story without mentioning something or does it become a completely different story?

Take what you have and put them in chronological order. That's the skeleton of your story. Fill in the key points that makes the story flow. Guess what? You have now told your story in a different format, otherwise known as a synopsis.

This isn't a synopsis that just retells your story. It shows your heart, your excitement, in essence your voice. It will get the agent to request more pages.

Why do we write a synopsis? Because we love our story. Because we want to share that story. Because that love is infectious and will get others to read our story.

Isn't that why we became writers- to tell a story and have others read it? So tell your story. Don't freeze. Don't boil 400 words down to 2-3. Do what you do best, tell a story.