Tag Archives: writing

Plans & Dreams

I’ve been dreaming up ideas for my new position as Program Director with Detroit Working Writers. One of the things our President asked me to do was facilitate some workshops myself. Once a teacher, always a teacher, so this was an easy YES.

In addition to planning events, hiring speakers, and scouting locations for the next 18 months or so, I’m also figuring out what kind of workshops I want to teach. I’ve got two lined up, one in July and one in October. The great thing is these workshops are not just for DWW members, but for the entire local writing community. Anyone can sign up. Including you.

I’m designing a new web page that will include a registration form (with some tech help) and that should all be in place in a week or so. But you can look at what I’ve got so far on the Events & Workshops page. I did that myself, with easy-peasy Word Press. I think it looks pretty good.

CynthiaBlueLake Series

Big ideas for 2016 don’t stop with teaching workshops. The other idea is something a bit more outside my comfort zone, but I’ve decided to do it, because it will be good for me and for my books. I’m taking my Blue Lake series on a long dreamed about tour of Lake Huron bookstores this spring/summer.

What stirred this idea up again was a phone call. The folks running the Alpena Book Festival (Alpena is a little town on Lake Huron that has a passing resemblance my fictional town of Blue Lake) emailed asking me to participate in the festival this fall. And I thought, wow, I should get my books in stores around there.

So I ran the idea by my road manager, ah, my husband Al, and he said sure, let’s do it.

When your publisher doesn’t have brick and mortar distribution, you can still get your books into stores. Simply order from your publisher and distribute the books yourself. Author friends of mine have done this two ways: one is to set a price and sell stock outright to the bookstores. The other is to take a commission when the books are sold.

Not sure what method I’ll try yet, just sure that I’m going to do something about getting my Blue Lake series in stores this spring.

 

Messy Manuscript Revision

Am in the middle of revising and things are chaotic. Actually had to buy a monitor because of all the cut and paste and rearranging going on. The little laptop screen was just not getting the job done.

This is normal for a novel drafted in a month with daily word counts. I shall not panic. I will, as Jennifer Cruise says, protect the work. Jenny is my go-to guide for revision, both the process and how to fit it into life when things feel a bit frayed. I’m at the point just now where I feel like one tug and the fabric might become a mess of threads that don’t make whole cloth.

Tortured metaphors aside, I have a few things I do in times like this (besides the unwise decision to buy new electronics during Mercury retrograde, but that’s another story). I cut back my schedule to bare bones. Make a commitment to show up at my desk every day. I don’t give up, take days off, or skip away to social media. Or if I do…I come right back.

IMG_2238 2

I protect the work. I make it primary. I also outline, create a calendar, and micro-manage my plot. This time the plot was lopsided. My original goal was not big enough to sustain my interest for the entire novel (and if it can’t sustain my interest it will not click with the critique group or those distant readers in the future) so late in the story I added a layer to the plot. This new layer greatly improved things but it made the structure wobble.

Paper clips and turning points (Jenny on turning points) are my friends as I read the entire manuscript, outline the way the scenes need to be realigned, consult my story calendar to keep sequence of events straight. I spread the entire book (in paper-clipped scene-sized chunks) all over the floor. Then I stack them up front to back. Every day I take the next paper-clipped scene and move it to its new position within the document. I’m not so much concerned with the loose threads that need to be edited to smooth things out at the end–I can catch those in the next read through, after the book is re-ordered in some semblance of how it appears in my head.

IMG_2239

The bonus for working daily and consistently on a story this way is that you’ll get little hints and helps. Last night I came up with a solution to a motivation problem. Why should my protagonist care about goal A when goal B is now compelling her action? The answer was elegant and simple and will be easy to incorporate at this point in revision.

When I show up for my work this way, the universe conspires in happy and surprising ways. If you’ve got a mess of a manuscript on your hands, it may help you, too.

Tale of Two Books

I have never written this way before. Following a crooked unfamiliar path feels exciting. I’m infused with fresh energy.  This experience of writing two books at once is unlike anything that came in my ten published works before this. Yes, two books at the same time. Not unheard of in the writing world, but certainly new for linear me.

Despite each having their own cast of characters and totally different settings, I at first wondered if they were the same book.  I wanted them to be the same book because then it would make sense to me, it would be more the way I usually work. But no, as it turns out, I’m writing two books. I should have seen it coming when I finished Love and Death in Blue Lake.

IMG_2042

Without spoiling the end of that book, I can say that two of the characters went their separate way, immediately demanding their own stories. Before I started either book, I was torn about which to write. I finally began one, then I put it down when I hit a wall that felt a lot like writer’s block but was really just running out of plot ideas. For a scary minute, I thought I wouldn’t write again.

Then I decided I could work on something light and frothy. Maybe a Christmas novel! So I wrote every day for a month and got the book I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. It wasn’t quite as light and fluffy as I had envisioned, but no matter. I finished a draft.

IMG_2045

Mistletoe plays a pivotal role in my Christmas story

In all previous books, this is the point at where I would revise. But for some reason the other half finished book started knocking loudly on the writing door. Which is when I wondered if the two books were supposed to be one. But after getting underway again, all plot dilemmas neatly and mysteriously solved while I was writing something else, I finally had to admit it. I’m writing two books at once.

It’s not as confusing as I imagined.

At some point I will have to revise them, and with any luck it will be one at a time.

Murder Etc

While writing away on my happy Christmas story, the novel I decided to write when the one I’d been working on got too bloody and I needed a break from the gore so I went to humor and seasonal cheer…

Somebody got killed.

I didn’t see it coming but after it happened I realized how I’d set it up, how it was inevitable, and how there was no turning back. I could not erase it.

I blame Charlaine Harris. I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year (46K out of the required 50K as of today!) and they have famous writers come and give us pep talks every so often. Because we really need them.

91eiqdjjpgl

This week Charlaine wrote about the middle of the book, where things can get messy. Beginnings and endings of stories are pretty safe bets. You’re setting up your story and characters or you’re wrapping things up. But the middle can be tricky, tedious, swampy, even. So Ms. Harris wrote about how she handles the middle. She kills somebody. I’m apparently quite suggestible. Not a day later and I do the same thing.

But wait. My last three novels have all had murder in them. The first of the murder books, Love and Death in Blue Lake, is now available for pre-order on Amazon and in print through my publisher, The Wild Rose Press. It makes me wonder if I’m transitioning from my contemporary women’s fiction type story into something more along the lines of domestic thrillers. I do like reading those psychological thriller type stories. I’m a fan of aberrant behavior, at least as far as reading fiction goes. So maybe this is finally settling into my writing self as well.

Reading is like the gateway drug for writing. And guess I’ll just accept that writing domestic novels are the gateway to writing domestic thrillers, at least for me.

 

More Writer’s Block Fixes

Life is like a novel: full of unexpected twists and irony. For example, several years ago, I wrote a series of posts on writer’s block. Through 45 years of writing,  I’d never had writer’s block, so Ten Fixes For Writer’s Block could have been arrogant nonsense. But as a creative writing teacher, I had come across so many kinds of writer’s block in my students that I felt compelled to write about ways to fix it. After all, it was my job to help young writers.

Little did I know when I was writing those fixes that one day I would need my own advice. A surprise: my younger self knew things my older self forgot. Because, yes, I have been struggling with writer’s block for a few months now. I’m not completely blocked. Obviously, writing this post proves that. Which is a relief because I really don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t write, having no other hobbies except binge watching Longmire on Netflix.

(Photo credit: A&E)

For so long, I was absolutely sure that I would write until I died. I couldn’t imagine a time when I would not wake up in the morning with my current novel perking in my neocortex. That is just the way it has been for so long, I thought it would always be true. Especially when I retired from teaching. I couldn’t wait to write full time. How productive I would be! How prolific! Instead, I struggled to write and I struggled to understand why I was having to struggle. Finally I remembered a series of posts I compiled way back when I thought I’d never have a serious problem with writer’s block. Maybe I should look that up, I thought. I might learn something from myself.

Today, I checked over the list. It seems I have ALL of the ten reasons I listed. Maybe what I missed when I was busy being prolific is that writer’s block is complex and involves many moving parts, not just one thing you can tick off and be done with. I also read my advice on how to “fix” these problems and it’s solid. I should take my own advice, but first I am trying an additional experiment given to me by my awesome therapist, Dr. B.

Last session, I brought up my growing worry that I was done writing novels. In the past couple of months I had started and stopped two novels. I lacked the passion, the intrinsic motivation, the drive. It just dried up on me and I wasn’t sure why. Dr B suggested an experiment: go two weeks without working on a novel. She said something so wise “If you find yourself missing it, that will tell you something. If you find you don’t miss it, that will tell you something, too. Either way, you have more information.”

Isn’t she a genius? Because I have come to believe that there may be a time when I stop writing novels. I’m not sure when, but I can see now that day might come. That’s what the next two weeks will tell me. In the three days since Dr. B gave me this advice, I have learned one thing: I am not ready to stop writing books yet. I want to finish those two novels I started. I want to write more novels after those, too. The question remains: do I want it enough?

Here’s the irony: I found my younger self’s answer to that question embedded in the original post. I called it a “Reality Check” and went on to say “People can become blocked because they dread the time and effort involved to really make their writing shine. In that case, your writer’s block is telling you something important. You might have a bit of talent for writing, but you don’t have the passion it takes to bring that talent to the next level. And that’s okay. It’s good to know exactly why you’re blocked, what your options are, and whether you might be happier doing something else with your creative energy.”

I felt this bit of advice like a slap in the face. One thing age teaches you is that vital chemicals (hormones) deplete as you grow older. This is why older folks suffer from insomnia: their melatonin levels are low. Women in menopause lack powerful hormones that impact many areas of joyful living. Men lose testosterone. And bones become brittle because the calcium is not there anymore. What if passion is also finite? What if mine is gone forever?

I don’t really believe this. Passion is a feeling, not a hormone or a vitamin. There are ways to restore passion for writing, and I’ve found a few. There’s Dr. B’s advice, which I think could work for anyone. Julia Cameron suggests Artist Dates. Writing prompts can be can be useful. Deadlines too. NaNoWriMo is coming up in November. That’s always inspiring. Lists help. For example, I got the idea for writing this post from Molly Greene’s terrific list of 101 Fabulous Blog Topic Ideas.

I have not given up hope. I plan to rekindle my passion, and I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Meanwhile, if you are now going through a dry spell, or if you’ve had writer’s block in the past and broke through it, I’d love to hear your story.

Beware of Darkness

colt3.FullSizeRender-3A year ago, after a lifetime of being an advocate for gun control, a switch flipped inside my head. I decided I needed to learn how to shoot and own a gun. I discussed it with my husband who agreed to take lessons with me and to purchase a pair of handguns. As an older American, I felt vulnerable. A gun (or two) could protect us. This thinking was such a huge departure for me. I ruminated over it long and hard, talked it over with plenty of friends and family. I was surprised to learn how many already had guns and knew how to shoot them.

At the same time, my writing also took a darker tone. As often is the case, a character I loved acted out things I had been thinking, like taking shooting lessons and buying guns for self-protection. She also felt vulnerable. The title of my upcoming novel reflects this blacker mood in my world view. I finished that book, which I am proud of despite its darker themes. That’s the way it works with writers, or with me anyway. Whatever is on my mind finds its way into my current work. The books, in my view, are always stronger for it.

LoveAndDeathInBlueLake_w9872_med

Still in the pro-gun frame of mind, I began another novel with my same beloved character. I wanted her to find a way out of her darkness. I thought it could be a psychological thriller with a victorious turnaround for my damaged character who had suffered so much. There were two shootings in the first chapter. Of course my character is on the side of the righteous and wants to find the shooter and see justice done. It was my job to help her do that.

Meanwhile, in real life, I never did push for those shooting lessons. I started to think maybe we didn’t need guns in the house after all. And I noticed I was reluctant to continue with the draft of this more violent novel. I thought I was being silly, and, ignoring my inner voice, forced myself to continue writing, telling myself It’s fiction! It’s not real! It’s a challenge. The pages accumulated and I had a solid start on a new and different novel in a fresh voice. My critique group thought it was great.

unnamed-4

Then yesterday: the mass shooting in Oregon. After much reflection and the familiar unwillingness to sit down with my manuscript, I finally admitted to myself that I may not be up to this particular writing challenge. I just don’t have the stomach for it. Not now. Maybe not ever. Sure it’s just a book, but after yesterday it hit home: I don’t need or want to add any more to the world’s darkness, or my own, not even a little bit.

Lost My Crown & Other Lines

Isn’t this cover photo lovely? What a gorgeous veil. Like a crown. And gorgeous like Alice Hoffman’s writing. She writes like velvet. See, I write that sentence and it lays there. She would write. “Her words are pinned like bright stars on a deep blue velvet sky.”

Why can’t I write like that? Oh, wait. I can. I just don’t bother. Until I read someone like Hoffman who is a master on the sentence level, on the word level, on the vowel level. Honestly. Read her. The new one is The Marriage of Opposites and the story is just as captivating as the prose.

It’s so important for writers to read really good writing. No matter your genre, reach for the greats. I love my thrillers and my rom coms but sometimes you just have to go deep to reach high. Hoffman will inspire you to do that.

Meanwhile I really did lose my crown. Luckily it is only temporary and even more fortuitously my dentist is seeing me as an emergency at 10 am in the morning. Meanwhile I am eating a banana on one side of my mouth and sipping a coconut rum drink from a straw. This is all Hoffman’s influence. Her story takes place on the island of rum and bananas and coconuts…St Thomas in the nineteenth century.

My husband is away for the weekend and this whole tooth thing just has me feeling reckless drinking rum in the late afternoon all alone reading a really good book. Life could be worse, even minus the crown.

1 2 10
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,620 other followers

%d bloggers like this: