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Starting the Whole Dang Process over Again

3 Jan

Llieda dungeon3

A dungeon in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain. Might work it into a new novel.

Beginning a new novel is both exhilarating and scary. I enjoy the new ideas for plot details, setting, and characters that pop willy-nilly into my brain. Old characters poke their heads in to say, “Can I be in this one? You said it was a series.” Another says, “I’ll do one more. So you can kill me off in this one.” Then a new character comes in with “Hi there! I’m a little crazy, but I would fit right in with your story. Some of your characters are way too serious!” And I can’t forget the ones who speak to me in a foreign language, begging me to set the story in their home country. “ịHola! Soy de españa y mi pais es muy bueno. Venga aquí!”

Out of these bits of inspiration, if I can call it that, I begin to see the barest outline of a plot. And I say yes to that little voice from Spain. I will set the story at least partially in Spain, Aragon, to be precise. And just in case you are wondering, Nara Blake, Alex Collier, and Lily Carrington, all of whom appeared in The Gate House and Lydia’s Story, will be back. But I have a lot of writing to do before my readers will be able to see what these three are up to in Spain. And is Nara ever going to marry Alex?

The last few days I have been brainstorming and writing down ideas for plot as they pop into my head. My next step was to do some preliminary research. The Gate House and Lydia’s Story both had to do with art theft. My new novel also makes use of that theme. I am looking for a connection between Britain and Spain through art, and I think I have found a link.

I have made a preliminary outline, even though I am not generally a maker of outlines, but I thought this time I would give it a try and see if it would make the process any easier.

As I create the story, I will spend as much time staring into space as putting words down at the computer. But as a dear friend of mine knows, “staring time” is essential for writers, teachers and anyone who is trying to get through the day with their sanity intact.

Try taking a “staring break” today. You will feel better for it.

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Blog Hopping for The Writer’s Process

14 Jul

I’m doing a question and answer session today for The Writer’s Process blog. It is a little introduction to my writing, and those of you who know me may learn something about me you didn’t know before. I would love to read your comments!

What am I working on/writing?
I am currently working on a YA historical fantasy set in England in the early thirteenth century, tentatively titled Magic Words. It centers around the royal treasure that was lost by King John in the Wash, an arm of the North Sea along the coast of England. My main character is a young girl with magical powers whose family may have something to do with the location of the treasure, but of course because of her powers, she is accused of witchcraft and is running for her life. I chose the subject of the lost treasure because it truly is a historical mystery. The treasure was lost in 1216, and no trace of it was ever found, although treasure hunters have certainly looked for it.
I have the rough draft of the story finished, and now I am revising and verifying the historical facts that can be verified. This is the first YA story that I have attempted, and I am quite excited about it.

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?
Although Magic Words is my first YA novel, it is similar to my other novels in that three out of the four are set in Britain. The fourth is set on a fictional island in the Caribbean. I get my best story ideas while I am traveling, and setting is very important to me both as a reader and a writer. The story grows out of the setting, and the setting is as much a part of the story as any character.
I write the kind of stories that I like to read, and that usually involves a foreign country and maybe a time set in the past.

Why do I write what I do?
I have been fascinated by British culture and history since I was a small child. When I was five or six years old I had a scrapbook where I pasted photos of the British royal family that I found in newspapers and magazines. I played “princess,” but a real princess, and I learned about the history of the royal family. As I grew older, I continued to follow the royal family, but I also studied British history and read every historical novel set in Britain that I could get my hands on. I taught history at the high school level for several years, and eventually traveled to Britain. I have been there several times now, including spending two weeks in Wales at writing retreats, and I never tire of it.
I was also inspired by the mysteries of Elizabeth George, an American writer who sets her novels in Britain. I admire her attention to detail and knowledge of present day Britain and their criminal justice system.

How does my writing process work?
As I said before, setting is very important to me. I usually start with a character in a scene, in a specific setting. Once I have this germ of a story written down, I think about what I want to happen with the character, and so give myself a direction with the story. I find outlines too rigid, and I don’t stick with them because I come up with other ideas as I write, but I do have a direction in my mind where I want the story to go. I sometimes write sketches of the main characters to flesh them out and learn about their personalities and how they handle situations. I keep track of the characters on a chart or list, because they tend to go off in unexpected directions, or pop up in a scene where I didn’t plan on them appearing.
Once my rough draft is finished, I go back and tighten and clarify the story, add color, and verify facts and historical details. I don’t try to do all my research before I start writing, but it is very important to have historical and geographical details accurate.
Writing the rough draft is the easiest part, because I can just let my imagination flow. I have even worked on rough drafts while walking around the classroom when I was substitute teaching. Revising takes more concentration and focus.

This is how I write. I would love to answer questions or respond to comments.

Enjoy Lopsided

12 Jul

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Could you live in a lopsided house? We are accustomed to straight lines, parallel sentences, and the value a sense of uniformity. But is this the best way to live, or to write?
Some writers recommend using outlines, and have many valid reasons for doing so. I was always the kind of student who wrote my outline after I finished my research paper or essay. How else would I know what I was going to say until I wrote it down?
As a writer, I am what is know as a “pantser.” I write by the seat of my pants. I have a vague idea where my story is going, but I don’t know for sure until I start writing it. For me, the most fun part of writing is the surprises, when a character jumps into the story when I didn’t know he was going to be there, or when a character encounters a situation that I did not plan, and the writing just seems to flow. That is exciting.
So what would you do with a lopsided house? Straighten it up? Or change your life?
And just so you know, the lopsided house in the photo is a “goblin house” at Tyler Arboretum, outside Philadelphia. It is great fun for the imaginations of children and adults. I play there whenever I have the chance.

Seeing a Project Through to the End

19 May

I am currently working on finishing a writing project that I began at least nine years ago. Yes, nine years. It was the project I was working on before my trip to England and the inspiration for The Gate House, my first published novel. After that I wrote Lydia’s Story, a follow-up to The Gate House. But I have always felt that I needed to go back to the first story, tentatively titled Nara of the Islands. This is the Nara who appears in both of my later books. In The Gate House, Nara has recently arrived in England from a fictional Caribbean island called St. Clare, and her boy friend back on St. Clare has stopped calling her.

I thought it was important to finish telling the first part of Nara’s story because it shows who she is and where she came from. Her background is half British and half islander. She never knew her mother. Her father kept secrets from her. Telling the beginning of her story is important to the development of Nara as a character. When I wrote The Gate House, I took the characters from this earlier piece and simply placed them in a new situation. Now is it time to finish the beginning of the story.

And there is something satisfying about finishing a project. I have a knitting project I began in January and hope to finish in another month. And I will finish both of these projects. Completion is difficult — everyone has unfinished projects of one kind or another lying around — but the satisfaction of completion is worth the work.

Believe in Your Work

2 May

I was delighted to find out that my latest book, Lydia’s Story, is one of the top two sellers at my publisher, Sage Words Publishing. This is a small publisher and hardly puts me on the New York Times bestseller lists, but it still tells me that people out there are reading my book, and I hope are enjoying it.

As well as a boost to my ego and a confirmation of my storytelling and writing ability, I also feel an increase in confidence and belief in my work.

Throughout the writing process, from rough draft and idea stage all the way to post-publication promotion, I have to believe in my work. I have to believe that my story of Lydia, the British mother who became a spy, is worth reading, and was worth my time in writing it.

A big reason for giving up, whether as a writer or any other endeavor, is lack of belief in oneself and what one is trying to do. Would-be writers have unfinished stories lying around. Would-be photographers have boxes (or computer files) ofDSCN3216 photos that never see the light of day. People take foreign language courses and then give up when it becomes difficult.

Do you see yourself in France, conversing in French? Do you see your book, poem, or article published? Are your photographs framed and hanging for sale in a local coffee shop? You don’t have to be a star, or make a lot of money, to believe in and appreciate your own talent. You just need to stand tall and have confidence.

 

Forward to the Past

27 Apr

Writers never throw anything away, or at least they shouldn’t. This week I pulled out an old “almost novel” that I wrote before my first one, The Gate House, was published.

This one, tentatively titled Nara of the Islands, is really the original story of my protagonist who appears in both The Gate House and Lydia’s Story. This book tells of the years just before she and her father moved to England, and her life in the fictional Caribbean island nation of St. Clare.

It is interesting to read something that I wrote almost ten years ago, and to see how my style has changed, and the images of my characters. It is a very different book from the last two in some ways. Although it is somewhat a mystery, there are elements of magic that I let go of in the later books.

I think it is a story that needs to see the light of day, for better or worse. I plan to polish it and at least self-publish on Kindle later this year.

If you are a writer, do you sometimes “resurrect” old pieces to rework them? And readers, what about other types of old projects? Is it fun or frustrating to go back something you worked on in the past?

Do You Want to Hear about My WIP?

25 Mar

Sometimes people ask me, “What are you working on now? Can you talk about it?”

It is always a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, I like talking about writing. And it does help sometimes to bounce ideas off someone else. But on the other hand, it’s kind of like talking about the baby early in a pregnancy. It’s too soon. There are too many unknowns. And both pregnancies and writing are very personal, especially in the beginning stages.

One advantage I have found to talking about my work in progress, otherwise known as WIP, is that it motivates me to keep working. If I tell you that I am working on a young adult novel set in thirteenth century England, and that it has magical elements in it, you have a perfect right to ask me next month, “Hey! How’s that YA novel going?” I need to at least be able to say, “It’s coming along.” Of course I can say that even if it’s not, but I would feel terribly guilty.

My advice to myself and other writers is: Don’t say too much. And don’t bring the subject up, unless you are in a critique group and really looking for suggestions and help. And just like that baby, remember that it is personal. You don’t have to talk about until you are ready. But when the writing, like the baby, is ready to make its debut in the world, shout it from the rooftops!

 

Killing a Cockroach with Kindness

8 Jan
057

Jump into life!

I was walking through the hallway of a local high school where I sometimes substitute teacher, and encountered a teaching standing in the hallway holding a small spray bottle in her hand and staring into a trash can.

“I’m trying to kill a cockroach with essential oils,” she said. She gave it another squirt. “Or at least make it drunk enough that I can step on it and it won’t crawl up my leg.”

“You need a cat,” I commented. My cats make short work of any kinds of varmints that they find.

The teacher continued to stare at the cockroach, giving it an occasional squirt of the essential oils. “We are out in the country. Well, we aren’t in the city. What is a cockroach doing here?”

The encounter made me think about how we react when we find something in an unexpected place. The teacher thought that cockroaches belonged in the city. It surprised me to see someone spraying a cockroach with scented spray. Somehow a discovery like this jolts us out of our everyday routine and forces us to think in a new way, at least for a moment. This is a valuable experience for writers in particular, but it works for anyone. We all need to be prodded every once in a while to just look at life and laugh or cry, or both.

As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Look for the Beauty

6 Jan

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I was delighted to see this beautiful and innovative way that a high school English teacher had decorated her classroom. The actual windows offered a few a nothing more than the roof of the next wing of the building, and a tiny patch of sky. But the teacher had taken one wall and covered it to look like a view of the sea, complete with filmy curtains tied back with colorful paper chains.

It reminded me of how important it is to include beauty in the places where we live and work. So often we think only of the practical, utilitarian aspects of our home and office, forgetting that a sense of beauty can increase our creativity, productivity, and generally improve our health and well-being.

And while you may not be able to have a fabulous view of the ocean or the mountains, even a patch of sky or a view of some trees can make your work more pleasant.

My desk faces a window, and far from being distracting, I find it restful on my neighborhood.

What beautiful touches can you add to your work areas?

NaNoWriMo (What the Heck Is That?)

3 Nov

This year, for the first time, I participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. This is a pretty short novel, but a darned good start.

I have been so caught up in the release and promotion of Lydia’s Story that I haven’t been doing much “real” writing lately. I have not been working on anything new. True — I have some unfinished pieces hiding away on my computer that I could resurrect and turn into something readable, but I had the urge to work on something new, something challenging.

So I am devoting the month of November to writing 50,000 words of my new project, which has the working title Magic Words. The title may have more to do with me typing the words than the actual words themselves!

I did a little basic arithmetic and figured out that to write 50,000 words in a month, I need to write 1,666 words per day. This is not out of reach. When I write a first draft, I write fast. I get the words down. And I do have a plan for this story. I know where I’m going. But since like most people, I have a lot going on in my life, I think this is what will happen: I will try to write 1,666 words each day, but most of the time, I won’t make it. Then every three or four days, I will have a marathon writing day when I will catch up with my goal. As of November 3, I have over 5,000 words.

Anyone else out there doing NaNoWriMo? What are your tricks for reaching your goal? And does the goal matter if it gets you writing?