Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween, or The Nanowrimo Countdown Beginneth.

Halloween, a day to celebrate a wide variety of events - everything from religious celebrations to scoring the biggest, most awesome bad of candy. For "Nanos" - aspiring writers participating in National Novel Writing Month - Halloween is also the final countdown to the beginning of their thirty day trek into the most intense writing of the year.

While I am participating in Nanowrimo, I have decided to take a slightly different approach: learning to explore the different facets of writing every day. Unfortunately, my day life prevents me from spending several hours an evening sitting in front of a blank screen and letting the words fall from my fingertips, so what better way to improve my writing skills than using this opportunity to study style, tagging, and showing versus telling. All three are areas where I could improve.

In addition to writing a set number of words every day - I intend to writing snippets and scenes, mostly - I will be reading quite a bit. At the moment, I am working through On Writing by Stephen King, a must-read, and have ordered Goal, Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon - both of which writing friends recommended to me. I hope to gain some insight into the craft of writing.

So to all of those diving into whatever novel, word count, and practice in a few hours, happy writing! And a Happy Halloween to all!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nano on the Brain

It’s that time of year again. November 1st is not only All Saints Day in the Catholic church but also the start of Nano – National Write a Novel in a Month month.

I caught the bug last year and in an effort to keep up with the cool kids I signed up to write 1,500 words a day, every day for the month. I had an idea but not much more than that. Needless to say, what was supposed to be fun and a way to get me to write every day turned into a chore. I realized that the main reason why was because I had failed to plan. I had nothing more than my idea and a couple of character outlines. And while I love the idea and hope to flesh it into a series I learned I am not a pantser – I can’t just sit and write without having a clue of where I’m going and that’s where I got hung up last year.

This year I’m going to participate but I’m going to do it on my terms. For starters every Sunday, starting this Sunday, I’m planning out my week. One night might be research, the next might be writing (the goal of which will be 400-500 words a night) another night might be plotting. Last year I picked up a writers calendar planner thing that I’ve yet to use – well it’s going to be put to use this year.

I’m also not going to dive right in the second I walk in the door from work. I’m going to take time to decompress from my day whether that’s by going to the gym for a half hour, doing yoga at home or just veging and then having some dinner I need to have a transition time.

In case you’re curious my Nano project is actually going to be a 2-fer. I’m going to be editing the Undone I wrote this summer and prepare it to submit by February 1, 2010 (if not sooner). I will also be working on a new project that falls in the same place and time as the Undone and will be a YA historical.

I think that Nano is a great idea – it’s a great way to get people who might not otherwise write a motivation for doing so. I’m planning on using it as a way to develop my own style that will allow me to achieve my goal of submitting. After all, you can’t submit what you haven’t got.

Happy Nano everyone!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Latest Revision, Revised; or, Another Form of Writer's Block

One of the things that has been on my writing "to do" list since mid-August has been the overhaul of the first two chapters of my space pirate adventure, The Vedia Gamble. This overhaul is the result of my having participated in the writer's workshop at this year's World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal.

The workshop consisted of groups of two professional authors and three amateurs. Each of the three amateurs submitted the first couple of chapters of their work (along with a synopsis), for a total of up to 10,000 words. The work was then critiqued by both the professional authors and the other amateurs.

I have to admit that I approached the experience with perhaps a little more confidence than I should have. So it came as a major crushing blow to learn that the foundation of my little story had some major flaws, and that I had what were perceived as some inconsistencies in tone between the first and second chapters. (It also appears that I can't write a synopsis to save my life, but that's a topic for another time.)

I didn't actually cry. But my spirit was somewhat ... daunted, shall we say. Yes, I think daunted is a good word to describe how I felt.

Enough so that I set the work aside and didn't even look at it for the next two and a half months. The problems pointed out were such that I couldn't see any way to solve them. And if I couldn't solve them, there was no point in working on revisions to the book, let alone its monster-sized sequel, or in starting the third book to the series. Nor could I seem to interest myself in working on much of anything else, truth be told. I was afflicted with a form of writer's block the likes of which I had never encountered before.

Was this a sign that I was not destined to be a writer? After all, I'd been told time and again that one sign of a true writer is that you can't not write. And yet, here I was, not writing.

Except, of course, that I was. During that time, I've still been composing and posting entries here. I've also been working on my Web site (here's hoping I can get that up and running sometime soon!). I even dabbled a little on the beginning of the third book in the space pirate series. But more importantly, I wrote some things for actual publication -- two magazine articles that will appear in periodicals published by my employer.

You see, I figured it was just a matter of time before I found a way to solve the problems with my story. But I also knew that I might just have to let my brain percolate for a while before the solution became apparent.

Lo and behold, the week before last, some ideas began to suggest themselves for how to solve my story's problems. And last weekend, at MileHiCon, I actually sat down during a free hour between panels and started hacking away at the chapters and making revisions.

I won't say that the fact that one of the guests of honor at MileHiCon was one of the professionals who had critiqued my work was a motivating factor. But I won't say that it wasn't, either. I mean, after all, what if I ran into her and she recognized me and asked what I'd done with the story since WorldCon? (For the record, she did not.)

Another motivating factor is that all of the participants in the WorldCon workshops have grouped together to form an on-line workshop group. I'm scheduled to post something there the second week in November, and I was really hoping it could be my revised chapters.

Be that as it may, I've now hacked the first two chapters of a novel into bits, stirred them around a bit, picked out the pieces I want to save, and added in some new bits where needed. In other words, extensive revision happened. It was difficult to do, because there were some parts that I really liked that needed extensive changes, and others that just needed to be jettisoned altogether. I made myself feel better about the whole thing by saving a copy of the manuscript prior to making any changes. That way, if I really hated the way the changes came out, I could always revert to the prior version.

Overall, I'm pleased with the results. Or I will be, until the workshoppers and my other critiquers get a chance to read it and tell me everything that's wrong with it!

So how do other folks approach revision?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Plot-less in Seattle

Sorry folks, a day late here with my post. I went to post last night and had some technical difficulties getting into the blog. And with all honesty, I was just too dang tired to try and sort them out last night.

Nanowrimo is fast approaching - November 1st - Sunday - EEEK!

I am completely plot-less at this point. I have a couple sketchy ideas but nothing concrete. I have decided that I'm putting my space opera on hold for the time being. There is a class in January I want to take that will directly relate to it and I think it'll be a better story afterward. I have an idea for a contemporary. Correction, I have characters for a contemporary. I know these two characters better than anyone else I've ever written (probably because I've been writing them in a different context for the last ten years). Put I have no idea of each character's GMC.

And then there's a couple other ideas that have popped in recently - one sci-fi and the other, well I don't know what it would be, maybe urban fantasy or just plain fantasy. But those would each take some considerable planning before embarking on them.

Or do I pull out something that I've attempted before. I've got 20,000 words of an erotic sci-fi vampire novel sitting around. A whole lot of editing and an additional 50,000 words could make it work.

But for now, I sit here still plot-less.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Points of Interest

Shiloh Chapel, Durham ME

Rumour has it that Stephen King based the Marsten House in 'Salem's Lot on Shiloh Chapel. Being a King fan, I've long been interested in the places that pop up in his books (even moreso now that I live in Maine). Recently I decided I wanted a closer look at what inspired one of my all-time favorite reads.

Built in 1897, the chapel has a long and controversial history as home to a religious sect/cult known as The Kingdom. Murder, abuse, neglect...it all happened in The Kingdom. There was once a massive complex around the chapel which included schools and a hospital. Hundreds of people once called Shiloh home. The only original building still standing (as far as I know) is the chapel. It sits on a hill, at the end of a long driveway, and the view from the top is incredible. Miles of rolling hills, as far as the eye can see.

As soon as I took this picture, Brian and I were approached by an elderly couple who had been laying flowers in the cemetery at the base of the hill. They asked us if we wanted to go inside. My head exploded and then I remembered my manners and said yes, please. YES.

It turned out that our guides, the Parkers (married for 66 years), have been parishioners of the church for over 70 years. Amazing. They took us inside and led us around, pointing out the lamps that were once fired by oil and the chairs that were at least 80 years old. The church is still active today, although they have broken with the more controversial elements. In what was the capper of such a random encounter, Mr. Parker told us that his father "pounded some nails in" when the chapel was first built and his nephew is the current pastor. Out of respect, I kept my camera in my pocket, but I wish I could share what we saw inside; the place reeks of history.

Every so often during our time inside, scenes from 'Salem's Lot popped into my head. Susan hiding in the woods next to the Marsten House, young Ben creeping up the stairs to steal a relic on a dare, Barlow's voice coming up from the basement... Was I scared at all? Did I get a sense of anything strange or eerie around me? No, I can't say I did. However, it was early afternoon on a bright sunny day and I wasn't alone. Put me there in the middle of a rainy night and I would probably tell you something different.

As we took our leave, the Parkers extended another invitation, this time to Sunday morning services. "At 10 am, and the pastor is a quiet talker...not one a'them loud ones." You know, it was tempting. I've spent a lot of time tonight since then researching the history of Shiloh Chapel and The Kingdom; I'm fascinated by the story and sense I'll be getting my hands on anything and everything to do with Shiloh that I can.

What an unexpected- and amazing- adventure. All I wanted was to take a picture, which I got, and I walked away with a head full of stories and a drive to take what I saw and turn it into my own tale of terror. Not for Nanowrimo as I've got another scary story bubbling away in my cauldron, but soon. Inspiration is everywhere, but to find it in some of the same places as one of my favorite authors is pretty damn cool. This is the first time I've had an idea hit me so squarely on the head. I can't wait to explore more.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Face of Rejection

This year I stepped onto a large branch and submitted the opening of my novel to the Emerald City Writer’s Conference sponsored by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter. Having never attempted this before, I did not know what to expect. However, at the end of April this year, I cleaned up my opening, got a lot of feedback, revised some more, took a deep breath, and submitted it. To say I was nervous and a little daunted was an understatement.

About two weeks ago, I received the feedback from the three judges who evaluated my opening. The kind of criticism I got was nothing I expected. For the first time, I felt the icy sting of rejection - the idea that my work was less-than-stellar and there were three professionals who had no qualms about informing me of this fact.

So I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I wept a lot and woke up the next morning with an emotional hangover; I spent the next few days trying not to take to heart everything that was said; I wondered if I would ever go back to writing again.

However, once I got through the emotion, my rational side began to process this experience. As a result, I have come away with a few things.
  1. Writing is subjective. What one person likes, another one loathes. That's the nature of anything creative. Based on several of the lengthy remarks one judge wrote, I would wager she didn't like the genre of my book.
  2. Just because a person is a published author, doesn't mean she knows how to critique. One set of comments in particular struck this chord hard. One judge's remarks bordered on sarcastic and condescending,which bothered me. Personally, I think a judge should try to leave personal bias aside, but that's easier said than done.
  3. I have a ways to go in my writing journey. While I know I have talent, I acknowledge there are aspects of writing that haven't clicked with me yet. Time, lots of reading, analyzing examples of good novels, and more writing and submitting experience will help me get over this hurdle.
Rejection is a hard pill to swallow, but my writing skin has grown a little thicker because of it. While I have not yet returned to those comments, part of me knows that I will eventually. Might be tomorrow, might be next year. The point is, I won't give up. If there's anything I have learned through my vast research into publishing, it's to never quit just because I run into the face of rejection.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Rough and Tumble (and Romantic) Wild West

Happy Friday - Today I'm copying a post that I made last month at Seduced By History which is the blog for members of the RWA Hearts Through History chapter. Enjoy!

My love affair with the historical western started when I was about 8 or 9 and my dad began reading me the “Little House on the Prairie” books. I was obsessed with watching the TV show when I got home from school and Dad wanted to share with me the stories that inspired the show. In junior high school my love affair with the western continued with the short lived TV series “The Young Riders”, about the Pony Express, featuring some real life people like Jimmy “Wild Bill” Hickock and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. My 13 year old self wanted nothing more than to have one of these dashing riders come to my rescue. In fact, my first ever historical western story was based off the show (I was writing fan fiction before I even knew what it was!). Other shows like “The Magnificent Seven” and “Deadwood” soon followed and further fueled my love of this time period. Oddly enough I don’t enjoy most movie westerns. When I started reading romances in my late teens, I was drawn to the historicals and mostly drawn to the westerns. The truly wonderful authors who write this genre took me to a time and a place that I’d loved since I was a child. When I decided to take my love of writing and pursue being published, a historical western romance was my first project. So why the historical west? My simple answer is: variety. The historical west was a vast place, there are stories written from the Canadian Yukon to the Mexican border, from the plains of Minnesota to the coasts of Oregon and everywhere in between. It was a time of change and exploration in our country’s history. The time period is just as vast as the places, from before the Civil War, to during that conflict to afterward through the turn of the century and even beyond. Then there are the story arcs. Of course historical westerns have their clich├ęs just like any other genre, but for me it’s much harder to happen upon the same story arc over and over in westerns than with other genres. The types of characters and conflicts within a historical western are as vast as the time period and setting. People of all faiths, races and economic status headed out to settle the west. One couldn’t venture into this place during this time and be a wimp. The heroines were already strong or came to find a strength they didn’t know they possessed, often out of pure necessity to survive. The heros were rugged, tough and mostly lived by their own rules in a place where law was practically non-existent. The couples that came together could have been different as night and day and yet managed to find true love despite all the odds. I love doing research and I love being able to experience a place first hand. My family’s travels when I was younger seemed to center on road trips through my native Minnesota, into South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. I’ve been to Register Rock in Idaho and stood in the spot where Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickock. I’ve stood at the Little Big Horn Battlefield and at the place Laura Ingalls once called home. These experiences have helped to fuel my love for this time period even more. I’d love to know what others think of historical western romances. Do you read them? Who are some of your favorite authors? What other time periods do you enjoy reading and can you give me any recommendations? Among my favorite historical western romance authors are Linda Lael Miller, Sarah McCarty and Stacey Kane . As a whole I don’t really enjoy Regencies but perhaps you can suggest something that might change my mind? I have read a couple of medieval stories that have led me to think this might be a time period I’d love to explore more of. I also really enjoy time travel romance.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Consulting The Oracle, or How I Decide What To Write Next

As we've mentioned several times in the last week, November is rapidly approaching, and with it, NaNoWriMo. One of the most pertinent and troubling questions in my mind these past few weeks has been, "What shall I write this year?"

At last count, my Ideas And Works In Progress list had 34 different ideas on it. Any one of them could prove to be entertaining. But I've discovered that with NaNoWriMo, one of the key success factors for me is picking a story that really wants to be written -- one where I have a fair idea of the characters and at least some of the key plot points, and most importantly, one I'm passionate about.

So, okay. I went through the list and managed, with great difficulty, to narrow it down to the seven about which I was most passionate this month. The problem was that I liked them all, and wanted to write them all next. Obviously, that was not going to work, so I consulted The Oracle.

No, not the one at Delphi.

In this case, I refer to my friends list on LiveJournal as "The Oracle". They helped me pick my first NaNo project, and that mostly worked out okay. (Well, except the part where the beginning needs a bit of re-working.) So I was willing to return to them for advice this time around.

The overwhelming majority selected this one:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Story Title: The Daughters of August Winterbourne

Genre:
Victorian/Steampunk Fantasy

Quick Synopsis:
Celia Winterborne is anxious to prove herself as one of the first female students admitted to the Royal Academy. But when her airship-designer father is kidnapped by the evil Tarmanian Empire, she and the half-sisters she never knew she had must join forces to fly to his rescue.

Description:
Celia Winterbourne wants nothing more than to go to the Royal Academy and study airship design, like her famous father August Winterbourne. And this year, for the first time, the Academy is admitting females into its hallowed halls -- five of them.

Celia applies and is accepted; for her it is a dream come true. At least, it is until she meets the four other finalists ... who are also daughters of August Winterbourne. It seems Papa had an eventful final term at the Academy...

But when Papa is abducted by Tarmanian forces trying to build an airship program of their own, only the five daughters together have the information needed to complete his latest project and fly to his rescue.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So I have no doubt that you'll be hearing more about this project as November progresses.

However, outside of NaNoWriMo, I was looking for another project. You'll recall that I blogged last week about creating a Web site for myself? Well, one of the ideas I had was to create an ongoing story that could be posted as a serial to the Web site, to build readership and give people a reason to keep coming back. However, none of my existing ideas seemed quite right for this project. I wanted to do ... well ... something with dragons in it. But nothing was springing to mind.

Or rather, nothing did until Wednesday evening, when I was showering before bed. (I get a lot of my best writing ideas in the shower. Not in the bath, mind you, but specifically in the shower. My water bill will likely go up next month thanks to NaNoWriMo.) Then a plot bunny up and bit me, and presented me with a universe to write in, and no fewer than four ideas to set in it. I picked the one that engaged my passion the most, and before I knew it, I had written almost 2,000 words on it. (My goal is to have the Web site up and running before November, and I will have a short synopsis of the new story posted there, but will probably wait until after NaNoWriMo is over to begin posting the serial.)

So the answer to the question is: Sometimes I do a bit of market research, and sometimes I just go where my passions lead me.

How do other people decide?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Critique questions

Earlier this week, I was reading a blog post by author discussing the critique group she had recently left. The progression of time had caused them to 'disband', which I've heard isn't uncommon. What she shared in her post were the 7 questions they used in looking each other's work. I thought these were valuable questions to use as a starting point when looking at your own work and at anyone else's.

1. Who is the protagonist?
2. What is the protagonist's goal?
3. Who is the antagonist?
4. What is the antagonist's goal?
5. What do you expect will happen next in the story, given what you read in this scene?
6. What in this scene must be kept at all costs?
7. What in this scene needs work?

I particularly like question number 6 - what must be kept at all costs? It reminds me of advice I've heard Cherry Adair give - Enter your scene at the last possible moment and leave as quickly as you can. I know I'll be using these questions when I begin editing my next project.

I wish I could credit whose blog I read this on but I don't remember. But thank you to whomever that author is and if I find the post again, I'll give credit appropriately.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fun with Frights

While I am still nailing down the particulars, I have decided my Nanowrimo story will focus on a haunted house. No, it's not original, but it's something that freaks me out and I know I'll stay interested and stay focused on my writing. I've taken Nanowrimo too seriously in the past with minimal success so I want to have fun this time around. I'm not planning on writing a cliche-ridden story, but if it happens, it happens. The goal is to write freely with minimum constraints and for me that includes not caring too much about being clever and original (in the first draft, anyway).

This might sound silly, but deciding what to write and not overly worrying about theme and construction is incredibly freeing (and apparently so is not wondering how many adverbs in one sentence is one- or two- too many). A rough outline and some character sketches are in the works; as I've mentioned in previous posts, I just can't fly blindly any longer- I need some guidance. I'm loosening the binds, though, and not putting pressure on myself to invent a new twist in the Haunted House subgenre. It's liberating, I tell ya, it surely is!

Have Fun is my personal motto for this year's challenge and for me, fun involves a house with a horrific past and a new owner who refuses to let that past die. Lots of little things have tripped this particular idea in my brain and next week I'll share a recent experience that only cemented my desire to write something spooky.

In the meantime, I'm rereading an essay by Stephen King about haunted houses and there is a book on haunted house fiction I can't wait to order. I probably won't get it until after November, so I've also picked up my copy of Shirley Jackon's The Haunting of Hill House to read yet again. Learn from the masters, right?

I hope the rest of you are having just as much fun planning your own Nanowrimo stories.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Accountability: Fighting the Procrastination Blues

I think most authors, regardless of publishing status, will tell you that one of the hardest aspects about writing is procrastination. It's like a disease that creeps in every time I sit down to my keyboard and pull up my latest work-in-progress. Suddenly I remember that the drapes need cleaning, or that my life will end unless I iron the pile of laundry (one of my least favorite things to do). Anything will do, so long as I can avoid digging down into my self and unleashing raw emotion onto the page. Before I know it, several days have passed, and my story remains unfinished.

However, I have found that there are ways to combat procrastination: one of them is accountability. A friend of mine and I have banded together in an effort to remain on a consistent writing track by holding each other accountable for our writing goals each day.

Every morning, one of us emails the other, asking the question, "What will you write today?" Through email, we communicate what we would like to accomplish with respect to writing - everything from how many words we'd like to put out, to brainstorming through a particular scene that hasn't snapped into place yet.

For my part, this accomplishes two things: I think about writing daily, and know there is someone who cares about whether I fulfill my day's goals or not. Because I know I'm not alone, that at least one other writer experiences similar pains and successes, I am more apt to sit down at my desk, open up my story, and write. Most days, I do what I plan and have begun to see progress.

How do you deal with procrastination? What are some methods that work for you?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Contests

Last weekend was the Emerald City Writer’s Conference sponsored by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter. Every year the GSRWA sponsors a contest they call The Emerald City Opener. This is the first seven pages of your manuscript that are judged with the top three finalists in each category announced at the ECWC. This was the third year that I entered and like the previous two I did not final.

What I appreciate about this contest (aside that it raises money for my home chapter) is the feedback that the judges are encouraged to give. They don’t just score but they try and offer positive feedback.

The thing about most contests is how very subjective they can be. I know this from personal experience. Two years ago I judged the first round of entries for the Golden Heart, which is the big contest for unpublished writers in the RWA. I chose the historical category. The RWA has since made Regency historical their own category but when I judged they were included in the overall historical category. I’m not a biggie on Regency romances. I won’t go so far as to say that I hate them but, unless I either know the author or it’s an interesting twist on the era, I don’t go out of my way to read them. Sure enough three of the five entries I got to judge were Regency. I will admit it was really hard to separate that dislike I have from judging the authors work on it’s own merits fairly.

There are people who will enter their work in any and every contest they can get their hands on. For most contests, the final entries are usually put in front of editors and/or agents who agree to pick the finalists and, possibly request work from the author. I think that sometimes too much is made of the contests. I don’t want to take away from anyone’s well deserved win, but the fact is that the very subjective nature of contests isn’t always healthy for a writer’s self esteem.

At the conference last week I attended a session given by Debra Mullins. One of the tips she gave was something I want to print into poster size and suspend from my ceiling – it was what she called “the rule of three.” Dismiss any feedback that you don’t agree with if it’s feedback that’s only given by one person. If two people make a similar comment about something you might want to take a look at what they are talking about. If three people make the same comment work on clarifying that part of the story. She also mentioned that interpreting judges feed back involves a lot of reading between the lines. Oh and though she didn’t specifically mention it, I’d like to follow the rule of three for both positive as well as not-so-positive feedback. For example, all three judges that judged my entry, a romantic suspense I entered in the series category titled “Three Times a Bridesmaid” liked my heroine.

Contests can be a great way to get work read by non-biased people but care should be taken that you worry so much about submitting to contests that you don’t do what you should be doing: submitting the work to editors and agents who can get your work published.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Space Of My Own

Andrea has been blogging lately about setting up a "writer's retreat," a place where she can go when she wants to get some writing done. I've been devoting a lot of thought to a different kind of place for my deepest, most thinky writing thoughts: a Web site.

I've been told that authors, even aspiring ones, should have a Web site. So a couple of days ago, I took my first step in that direction. I bought a domain name of my very own.

Literally. I bought the domain name sheilamcclune.com.

No, don't go there yet. I haven't started building it, so all you'll see is a parking page from Register4Less, which is really boring. But I have it. It's mine, all mine.

Once I had that part settled, I started to do some research as to what should go on an aspiring author's Web site. And the number one most important thing everyone agrees on is: content.

Um, okay, duh? It's a Web site. I know I need content. But what kind of content?

Different Web sites recommended things such as:
  • An author bio. Okay, check. Got one of those, from when I did the NaNoWriMo panel at WorldCon two years ago. Even have a halfway decent picture of myself to put with it.
  • Links. Well, this blog seems like an obvious target. I've got some other writers' blogs I follow -- I could ask if it would be okay to link to those. Maybe links to some of the resources I've found on the Web. Okay, check.
  • Excerpts from upcoming or published works. Um. Not so much. I can't really say anything is coming soon, since I haven't gotten any contracts yet. Okay, I haven't even submitted anything yet. Details.
  • A way to buy your books. Also a moot point just now.
  • Lists of upcoming appearances. Moot at the moment, but maybe I can talk to the folks at COSine and see if they would be willing to put an aspiring author and multiple-time NaNoWriMo winner on a panel or two? Otherwise, yeah, moot.
Hmm, that doesn't leave me much. A bio and some links. Not very exciting. What could I add to it? I can certainly talk about NaNoWriMo next month and do daily word count updates. Is it worth dusting off some of the short stories I wrote back in college? Maybe I need to work on some Web only content, like a serial story that gets posted a couple of pages at a time. That could be a lot of fun.

It's a bit of a puzzle, I'll admit, but one I'd like to tackle successfully.

What would you like to see on an aspiring author's Web site? What are some of your favorite author Web sites, and what do you like about them? What would you prefer not to see on an author's Web site?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nanowrimo

I had planned to talk about the Emerald City Writers Conference which I attended this past weekend. But my brain is a little frazzled because of some non-writing stuff going on, so I haven't had a chance to really write down my thoughts from the conference (probably next week).

Since my blog-compatriots have talked about Nanowrimo, I thought I'd talk about it too. I've attempted Nano for the last few years but never finished. The closest I came was in 2006 or 2007 when I wrote about 20,000 words on an erotic sci-fi vampire novel (I actually looked at it recently and think there might be some salvageable stuff in there).

I think the idea of pushing yourself to write 50,000 words in a month is great, but I rarely work that quickly. In years past, I've started Nano and then after about a week get burned out on by the pace. My plan instead is to set my own writing goal for the month. I don't know what that will be yet. I might set my sights on writing 25,000 words in the month or writing X minutes a day. Either way, my bigger overall goal is just to write every day in the month.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Here and There

Isn't the view from these windows fantastic? Even when the branches are bare, I still love to look out and dream about being up in a tree house. This is the room I want to tranform into our writers' room. I say our and not my because I will be sharing the space with my husband. He's the one who is actually making money off of his writing these days so I will play nice and not lock him out.

Right now we're using the room as a temporary guest room while we redo the other bedroom. It's not large, but there is plenty of space for more bookshelves, a long table (to go under the windows) and some comfy chairs. The blinds will be replaced by something softer, either Roman blinds or sheer panels. Or maybe nothing at all? The walls will be painted a soft color and I already know what prints I want on the wall.

The landing...I love how the room is tucked away by itself. Really, I don't think there could be a better spot in my home in which to work.

My hope is that by thinking about how I want this room to look and function, I will start taking myself seriously as a writer, as someone who is good with words and who deserves a dedicated space to create and grow. I know good writing can and does happen everywhere, from a crowded train to a small coffee shop, but I also know that I need a hidey hole in which to find my voice.
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In other news, I am still brainstorming ideas for Nanowrimo and am not coming up with much other than the genre, which I will reveal in a future post (hey, gotta get you to come back here somehow). Despite not having a plot just yet, I am looking forward to Nano more this year than possibly every other year other than my first. I might end up something so atrocious with which I wouldn't let line the litter box with, but no matter, I am going to have a lot fun with it.
How are the rest of you coming along with your Nano plotting? Are you going to share your ideas or keep them close to your chests until November?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Writing: My Second Job

As I have mentioned before, I am a teacher by trade. Much of my time during the week (and sometimes on the weekend) is focused on the various aspects of my profession, everything from grading to conducting email correspondence with students on whatever writing or literature assignment I give them to complete.

For the past year, I have asked myself where writing fits into the grand scheme of things. How can I produce a manuscript while working a fifty hour work week? This summer, I decided that since writing takes discipline, time, and energy - just like my "day" job - that I would think about my novel as a second job.

In doing so, the way I utilize my time has changed (for the better, I hope). For example, I know I cannot work on anything connected with my novel until after I have unwound from my paying job; therefore, most afternoons you'll find me cat-napping on my futon bed in my office. Once awake, I can sit down at my computer, or to a pen and paper, and write until my husband gets home. Then my focus shifts to him and spending time with him, before retreating to my office and getting back into my story.

Not every day is situated like this, but I now write nearly every day. Once nanowrimo is completed at the end of November, I hope to have the first draft of a new novel completed - and because of my "second job" schedule, I believe that one day my non-paying job will become a paying one.

So, how do you fit in your writing with your busy schedule? What do you have to do to put yourself into a writing frame of mind?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Emerald City Writer's Conference

This afternoon I’ll be leaving for the 20th Annual Emerald City Writer’s Conference sponsored by the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America. This is my third year attending. Signing up for ECWC that first year was the best thing I could have done for myself as a “pre published” writer.

Writing conferences, especially those geared toward your chosen genre, are a great way to meet people of all experience and skill level. From NYT best selling authors to those who are just starting out and everyone in between you can learn from everyone. Conferences are also a great way to have face time with editors and agents. I’ll be doing my first ever live pitch to an editor and an agent this weekend. I should be nervous and I am but I also acknowledge the opportunity of what I’m about to embark on and the excitement of what it might bring my future.

Conferences are about networking and meeting new people (as well as connecting with old friends) but they also offer great workshops. From craft to business to technology, most writing conferences will offer a wide variety of workshops given by the best in the business. This year I’m looking forward to a session about writing a series and one on western characters which I have the privilege of moderating. There’s one hour block in particular where I want to attend all of the sessions being offered. Thankfully the planners are taping most of the sessions and making CD copies available in a couple of weeks to those who want to buy. (As an aside the RWA National conference has made the handouts from the last couple of national conferences available on the website.) We also have a book fair featuring 50 authors, most who are attending and/or presenting that is open to the public. Not to mention the basket raffle that is held on Saturday and Sunday during lunch. Last year I was one of the co-chairs of that event – it was a ton of work but a great time.

Then there are the keynote speakers. This year we are lucky to have Deborah Cook (at lunch on Saturday), Christine Warren (at dinner tonight) and Lisa Jackson (at lunch on Sunday). All of the keynotes in the past have left me truly inspired and I’d imagine these ladies will do no less. Then of course there is the Cherry Adair “Write the Damn Book” challenge which I accepted last year and completed. Getting recognized this evening by one of my favorite authors is going to be a thrill I know I’ll remember for a long time.

If you’ve never been to a writing conference I’d highly encourage you to find one in your area and attend. It will be well worth the money and I promise one of the best weekends you’ll spend – until the next conference!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How My Netbook Changed The Way I Write

When I first started writing, back in high school (during the pen-and-spiral-notebook days), I tried to keep the fact that I wrote a secret, at least from my family. I was pretty sure my older brother, at least, would have made fun of me. My younger brother knew I wrote, but he was always cooler about such things. On the other hand, I was pretty sure my mom wouldn't have understood at all. She'd want to know why I was wasting time on things like writing when I could be doing things like cleaning or yardwork.

So most of my writing in those days (and on into college, since I lived in my parents' house until I got married) took place either during free periods at school (and sometimes, I blush to admit, during the less-interesting of my classes), or late in the evening, between the hours of 10:00 pm and 2:00 am. I'd usually curl up in my bed or my beanbag chair with my notebook and scribble away until I just couldn't stay awake any longer.

Once I got married, I struggled through years of writing on various desktop, portable, and laptop computers. I found it easier to write on a computer -- once I stopped feeling silly about it -- but it was never as handy as that spiral notebook that I could carry with me and curl up with anywhere. The laptops made it better, but it still wasn't quite the same.

Then this past January, my Beloved Husband and I decided to treat ourselves to netbooks for Christmas. Mine didn't actually arrive until February (there was a problem with the first one they sent), but when it did, it was love at first touch. I'd worried that I'd find the 3/4 size keyboard difficult to use, but that turned out to be a non-issue -- after about two hours, my fingers adjusted, and I can now type just as fast on the netbook as on any other keyboard.

In many ways, I feel like I've returned to my spiral notebook days. The netbook is small and light enough that I can carry it with me almost anywhere -- and I do! Which means that any time there are a few free minutes, I can write: first thing in the morning; at lunchtime, at work; while waiting for the take-out pizza; curled up in bed at night.

I've listened to a lot of writers speak about how to find the time to write, and one thing I hear over and over again is that if you wait for a free three-hour block of time before you even consider writing anything, you'll almost never get any writing done. But if you take advantage of the little bits of time you can create here and there, the next thing you know, you've got a novel on your hands. I'll talk more about how I manage those little snippets of time later, but I think my netbook is helping me to find them, at least!

Oh, and the one big disadvantage of a netbook? When I whip it out in a crowded room, I inevitably have to spend a few minutes responding to all the cries of, "Oh, what a cute little computer!" The fact that it's pink probably contributes to the problem...it really is cute!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Room of Your Own

"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." - Virginia Woolf

I'm not a big fan of Virginia Woolf (don't hate!) but this quote of hers rings true. Money- or some semblance of financial security- is important, yes, but I’m more focused on the room. Carving out a proper writing space is crucial to the creative process, for me anyway, and it is something I’ve neglected to my detriment.

For example: Right now I’m sitting on the loveseat in my living room. My laptop is resting somewhat awkwardly on my lap (my legs are crossed), while a pen and pad of paper sit just out of reach on the coffee table. An old episode of Cops is playing on the television and even though it’s one I’ve seen at least half a dozen times already, I stop every couple of minutes to check out the latest train wreck. My husband, who is crashed out on the other couch, comes over a couple of times to show me something on his own laptop. Nellie the cat is sitting next to me, swiping at the battery cord when she is not trying to climb onto me. This is where I can be found most nights and this is how it usually goes. Guess how many times I’ve started and stopped this entry since Monday. Too many to count. I’m sure that’s not at all surprising considering the atmosphere I just described. If I’m having this much trouble with a blog entry, imagine how productive I am with my novels.

I need a room of my own. Clearly the living room is out. The dining room is nice, but the table is a shade too high for comfortable writing. There is a bedroom just off of the living room and there is even a desk and a couch in there. Not too bad. It doesn’t feel right, though. While not large, the room feels too big. Upstairs, however…upstairs there is a little room that might be just right. I am like Goldilocks in the three bears’ cottage, trying out this space and that one. This room is just the right size for a writing table, a couple of bookshelves and a comfortable chair. The light is bright, but not too harsh. The three windows look out into the trees, making the room feel sort of like a tree house. Perfect. I’ve had my eye on this space for about as long as we’ve owned this house. The room is being used for other purposes but it won’t take much to reclaim it for my own. My own room. No more distractions and no more excuses. If I want to be serious about my writing, I need to be serious about the space in which I write.

Do you have a room- or space- of your own? Does it matter what is around you as you work? How important is it to you to have a special place for writing? What does your space look like?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Save Your Work

I had thought about talking about NaNoWriMo this week or the Emerald City Writer's Conference (which I'll be attending with Colleen this coming weekend), but instead I'm going to talk about something else (those other topics will be addressed in coming weeks).

I'm sure I don't have to tell my fellow blogmates here to save their work. It's something we all do. But do you keep back-ups? If tomorrow your computer were struck by lightning (what? it could happen) or stolen by nefarious individuals at the local coffee shop, do you have back-ups of your WIPs?

I'm terrified of losing my WIPs, as well as notes I've made on future ideas. When I'm working on a project, I save the file in multiple places - my netbook, a USB drive, my external portable harddrive, and I email a copy of the latest version to myself each time I update it. This way I never lose the most recent version.

Am I a little paranoid? Maybe. But I currently live in an area which as been told that there is a strong likelihood that we'll be flooded out this winter (we're in particular danger because I live just a stones throw from the river in question). I'm already thinking ahead to what do I move to the second floor and what do I take with us, when and/or if we get the evacuation notice.

Books, I can replace. Same with dvds and cds. But the ideas collected on my computer, those I can't replace.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How NaNoWriMo Helped Me Find My Process

Like some of my friends on this blog, I am participating in the National Novel Writing Month next month - with this being my third year taking this challenge. I have "won" since 2007, but I feel this is the first year that I have a solid foundation for my story, thanks to NaNoWriMo.

If writing begins with the soul and the Muse, then the process begins with planning. Only after writing my first original manuscript did I realize the practical nature of fictional writing. Like anything worth pursuing, you gotta have a plan of action to reach your destination. In this case, details about the plot, the hero and heroine, the conflict that brings them together, their love story, and resolution are pretty important points of the journey. Putting all of this together, allowing the story to write itself, making the love story believable, the characters realistic . . . intricate pieces of a puzzle.

Sounds overwhelming, doesn't it? It was for me. How in the world could I make sense of it all? How in the world could I have two characters that I made up get involved with one another, fall in love, and choose to stick together through the conflict, climax, and resolution? What would it take to get this without causing my brain to explode?

This year, I decided to learn how to prepare. I've read a few books, taken a couple online writing workshops, and paid attention to how I write in general. While I have not yet had the "ah-hah!" moment, the fact remains that I'm learning about my process. For me, it all starts with two characters; in my case, a hero and heroine. I might dream about them, or begin thinking of them on my long-ish route to and from work everyday.

However it happens, I get to know them, and write down everything I learn from how they brush their teeth at night to why one of them hated his/her mother. Sometimes this comes in bits and pieces; other times I feel like my brain is on fire from the sheer volume of information I compile. I'll spend quite a lot of time with them, and through spending time with my hero and heroine, I figure out how to tell their story.

Take the story I am currently writing (and will finish in November): My heroine moves to a small South Carolina town to start her life over. She has been through quite a lot, and I know all of this because I have spent quite a lot of time with her. My hero - the man she'll fall for - is the perfect "imperfect" man for her, because he has talked at length to me about how he's the kind of man who isn't scared to know what my heroine has been through. From my "conversations" with them, I have developed a basic storyline and plot, which serves as a foundation for what I intend to build.

Now that I think on it, writing is much like building a house, isn't it? You have your sketches and blueprints, dimensions for each room. Then you build the foundation, which will hold up everything else you put on top of it.

At the moment, I am writing random scenes with my characters, which serves two purposes: one, the scenes might make it into my first draft; and two, I'm learning how they interact with each other. Since I have another month to prepare, I shall devote time to specifics of conflict and plot, resolution and the "happily ever after". That way, this year's NaNoWriMo writing will be stronger and more organized.

(Incidentally, I hope this makes sense - being assaulted with allergy-induced headaches and sneezing isn't conducive to intelligent blogging about writing.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pitching – (or what am I getting myself into?)

Next weekend is the Emerald City Writer’s Conference sponsored by the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America chapter of which I am a member. This is the 20th anniversary for this conference. If you’ve never been, romance writer or no, I’d highly encourage you to check it out next year.

This year is my third year attending. It’s also the first year that I’m going to pitch at it. They have three editors and three agents attending. When you register you indicate your preference and find out who you’re pitching to when you get your registration packet upon arrival at the conference.

Pitching at a conference (from what I’ve been told anyway) is a group pitch. Meaning that you are with other people and you get literally a couple of minutes to make the editor or agent want to request pages from you. The ECWC has a great event on Friday evening called “Pitch Fest” where you can ask questions of the editors and agents and then get help from people who’ve done this before on toning up your pitch.

I have two things I can pitch depending on who I get. My historical western and my romantic suspense. I realized this afternoon I have no idea what I am doing. I mean I get a few sentences to talk about my story, make sure to mention the conflict and hope that it doesn’t sound like a snooze-fest. One thing I have in my favor is that I’m at my best when I’m presenting something to people whether it’s a job interview or at a meeting. Hopefully that will help.

So this weekend will be spent tightening up my pitches. Check out my post on Friday when I’ll be blogging (late) about the first part of the ECWC.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Getting Organized and NaNoWriMo

As Andrea mentioned earlier this week, we're just a month away from the start of National Novel Writing Month. I've done NaNoWriMo twice now, in 2006 and 2008, and "won" both times. (I skipped 2007 because we were refinishing all the wood floors in our house and I just didn't have time.) Though I have to be honest and admit that neither story was "finished" in 30 days and 50,000 words; the first one (The Vedia Gamble) came in at 120K words and took me until December 20th to finish, and the second one (The Serendipity Caper) took me until May 31, 2009 to wrap up -- at a whopping 280K words. Both are set in what I call my "Phoebe-verse," in which Nebraska librarian Phoebe Caldicott accidentally gets swept away by a crew of space pirates and becomes their captain.

Both books were great fun to write, and I think the process of putting out an average of 1,667 words every day for an entire month is incredibly freeing. When I don't stop to edit each and every sentence to death before moving on to the next, I get a lot more writing done. Actually finishing my writing projects was something of a challenge for me before I met NaNoWriMo (though I did complete two books and a couple of short stories before then). But now that I've seen the value of just telling the story first and worrying about the fine points later, I'm hooked. After all, no first draft is ever pretty. Right?

And I have to admit ... the endorphine rush of actually finishing a novel is pretty darned heady. I could easily get addicted to it!

I think both are good stories (and my alpha readers actually seemed to enjoy them), but both require a bit of work in order to get them ready for submission to publishers and agents. In the meantime ... November is approaching, and I'm not ready to dip back into the "Phoebe-verse" for a third helping until I have the first two books in a more final state. So I'm obviously going to have to look elsewhere for inspiration this year. The question is, where?

Like my friends here, I get lots of story ideas. Sometimes it's a whole story, and sometimes it's just a character or a setting or a plot point. And they can come from almost anywhere -- a photograph, a line from a song, a mis-read headline, an overheard snippet of conversation, or a fragment of a dream. At one point, back in college, I actually kept a paper journal where I jotted these thoughts and ideas down. Sadly, I'm no longer that disciplined.

I do keep a file called "Story Ideas" on my netbook, and at least some of my ideas have made it in there. The problem is that I also kept one on my old laptop, and on the laptop before that, so now I have idea files all over the place. Not only that, but since an idea can jump out at me from just about anywhere, I often have them when I don't have my netbook handy. So then what?

I did get a small notebook to keep in my purse, where I can jot down ideas. Sadly, I don't use it much, though sometimes my steno pad at work serves that purpose too. I have a feeling both will see more use when November rolls around.

Interestingly, the tool I've found most useful recently is my LiveJournal. I can access it from anywhere there's an Internet connection, and it's an easy matter to jot myself a private entry that I can then pull up later. Tagging these entries with "story idea" makes it easy to pull them all together in one spot for easy reference.

So now I'm considering moving all of my story ideas onto my LJ, using a standard format that looks something like this:

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Title: The Vedia Gamble
Genre: SF/Adventure
Status: Editing

Quick Synopsis (1-2 sentences): A middle-aged spinster from Nebraska is inadvertently abducted by space pirates, accidentally becoming their captain.

Jacket Blurb*: Phoebe Caldicott didn’t think her life could get any worse. Not only was she trapped in a dead-end job that she hated passionately, but she was in debt, single, rapidly approaching forty, and still a virgin to boot. And now she was on her way home from her sister’s funeral, on an overcrowded airplane that was running late and out of peanuts – of course. How could her life get any worse?

The pirate spaceship The Damned Strumpet was just dipping into the Earth’s atmosphere to replenish her oxygen supplies when she accidentally scooped up part of one of the planet’s primitive aircraft. And wouldn’t you know, the craft’s only survivor -- Phoebe -- somehow managed to kill The Strumpet’s captain – which meant that she was now the captain!

No doubt about it, Phoebe “Ace” Caldicott was in for one hell of a ride!

Notes: There are one or more saboteurs aboard the ship, and Phoebe needs to find them and stop them. (etc.)
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*Note that most of my story ideas get written up first as the copy from the book's (as yet imaginary) back cover. I figure if I can't get the basic idea down in one or two snappy-sounding paragraphs, I'm not ready to write it up yet.

So I'm going to give this a try. My goal is to get my ideas organized by next week, so I can pick my NaNoWriMo project. I'll let you know how it works out!