A Dangerous Holiday & An Excellent Film

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I love holiday novels. I’ve read several already and am waiting for the “Dangerous Holiday” box set with six Christmas novels, including my Blue Lake Christmas Mystery, which I still love. The box set also includes romantic suspense holiday novels written by some of my fellow Wild Rose Press authors. I am looking forward to reading those! The price is so good, too. $3.99 for six novels. It’s up for pre-sale at Amazon now and will be available on November 8. I have been waiting patiently.

I1000662_671145639691748_3695067060258692717_nn other news I’m writing like a madwoman for NaNoWriMo. So far, I’m meeting my daily word count, even with a day off yesterday for a date with my husband. We went out to dinner and then saw Bohemian Rhapsody with Rami Malek. We were both intrigued by Malek from his television series, Mr. Robot. The guy’s acting is compelling, so when we heard he was playing Freddy Mercury we just had to see it. I did not know Freddy was from Zanzibar, but I did know Rami is of Egyptian descent. That signified to me that he would nail it. With a set of false teeth for Freddy’s overbite, he was perfect.  P. S. It was a really great date.

Creating Character

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I’ve done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) before, dedicating the month of November to intense writing every day except Thanksgiving. This year, I need to kick-start my novel, working title Jane. She was Natasha until last week when I tried to pin down who she was and I got as far as she’s Jane not Natasha. It sounds weird that a name means so much but it does.

Yesterday I did my morning pages, which I write in longhand in top bound spiral notebooks with Dr Grip gel pens in blue, purple or black. Morning pages are not novel writing, they are anything I want to write about, and usually they’re more like a diary. But sometimes during morning pages the novel writing muse comes over me and I write what I need to for the new story.

Yesterday it was three pages of notes about who Jane is, what her past is, why she is who she is, why she’s suddenly moved from Michigan to St. Pete, Florida. Things Jane is not: she’s not anxious. She’s calm and methodical. She does not have panic attacks or take Xanax. I have used those internal issues in a few books, especially my latest Lily White in Detroit. It’s easy for me to tap into anxious characters, because I have anxiety and panic. But not Jane.

Jane is different in a lot of ways. She’s older than any main character I’ve written before. I’m older than the characters I write, and I’m older than Jane, but it’s still a bit difficult for me to write an older, wiser character. I know this because I’ve been trying to write Jane for awhile now. I usually manage to conjure up a few pages for my monthly critique group. But I have not got into the daily habit of writing a book. NaNoWriMo helps with developing that habit. For me, it’s the daily word count that you add to your personal NaNo page. It is so satisfying to see those pages add up. And if you write 50,000 words in a month, you get a badge. It sounds crazy but it’s possible. I’ve done it twice.

One reason I need a kick-start is because I have been promoting Lily White in Detroit like crazy. I did a lot of things (like spend money) that I usually don’t do. It paid off, I sold 500 books the day my BookBub ad appeared. But instead of writing the next book, I was checking my Amazon ratings every hour. And tweeting about Lily. And using my Facebook Author page to write about Lily. And working through the marketing plan Dora had made for me.

Dora is a publicist and she does website work, too. I hired her to help with a bunch of things. She designed my new website banner, and the matching ones for my Twitter page and Facebook Author page. She made a page on my website for my audio books, too. She wrote a detailed and lengthy marketing plan just for me and my novel. I have completed about  half of the stuff in the plan. I’m working through the rest of it slowly.

Marketing one book while writing another is difficult. But my real problem was finding Jane. I had to go through all the parts of the story to figure out what was wrong with it. I have a good mystery. I have a terrifying antagonist (the murderer). I have an excellent setting. I even have a really good sidekick. But Natasha/Jane was just not sparking for me. That turned out to be the problem. Character is the heart of my books and if I don’t connect with my protagonist, I don’t have much momentum or motivation.

A few days ago, I copied a quote that seemed to explain Jane. I jotted a few notes, too. These few words were keys that unlocked Jane’s character. Also the new name. Then yesterday the New York Times Book Review talked about psychological thrillers and how they recently have dual timelines. I had been thinking about structure. I’ve never had a dual timeline, where I go back and forth in the main character’s life. I flirted with trying the dual timeline but realized that’s not the story I’m writing. My story propels Jane forward. She isn’t one for looking back.

What this all means in terms of developing a character is that this time, for me, I had to first figure out what was wrong with my story. Why it wasn’t taking off. Why it bored me. Then I thought about how I could get to know Jane and pretty soon I found answers in unlikely places. Now I’m almost ready to go. In a few days I’ll be all set. NaNoWriMo starts November 1.

 

 

Where to Find Writing Inspiration

IMG_0027Before I was a published writer, I used to read writers’ biographies and letters for inspiration. I still do, but not so much. Instead of biographies, written by biographers sometimes even after the writer is dead, writers often pen their own memoirs these days. I love them. I’m not sure writers write letters to each other anymore–they’re more likely to email or chat in a private Facebook group. The internet has changed everything about the way we write. It has changed the entire writing landscape. Author websites and interviews abound online and of course they  inspire, but best of all is hearing an inspiring writer speak IRL. Nothing beats it.

Yesterday, Michigan Sisters in Crime (writing groups like Mi_Sinc are where you go to find great writer/speakers) hosted Michigan writer Karen Dionne, whose novel The Marsh King’s Daughter captured the attention of thirty publishing houses a few years ago. I’d heard Karen speak before, at another conference. Her story six or seven years ago was inspiring, but what was still to come would be a very happy surprise.

Karen had written in school, but didn’t continue writing once she married and had kids. In the 1970s, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula invited homesteaders, so Karen and her husband (along with their six-week old baby) moved to the UP and lived in a tent while they built their cabin. Karen remained busy for a long time making a home in a fairly isolated area and didn’t think much about writing until her son won a creative writing award at school. Karen found that several famous writers would be at the award ceremony, and she was determined to go.

Those famous writers inspired Karen so much she set about writing a book and finding an agent. She credits her agent with teaching her how to write as they went through six drafts of her first (still unpublished) effort at a novel. Then she snagged a book contract with two science-based thrillers. When they didn’t sell zillions of copies, her publisher dropped her. But her agent stuck with her and she landed a project she calls “work for hire.” A television show wanted her to write a book using the characters and setting of that show. She was paid a flat fee and does not own the rights to that work.

Meanwhile, she was busy in the writing world with her public speaking and with an online community she helped form. The popular writer’s conferences they held in New York each year took lots of planning. She wasn’t writing, but she was in the writing world, putting on conferences, speaking about writing and helping to nurture new writers. She was learning and networking as she went along, too. Then, after a number of years, the conferences came to a natural stopping place, and Karen was suddenly free to write another book.

She wasn’t sure she had one in her, but the first sentence of The Marsh King’s Daughter came to her as she was falling asleep one night. She remembered it the next day and she still thought it was a good first line. She was intrigued by the voice that had spoken and wanted to see what else this voice had to say. She worked on the novel steadily for a year and a half with no contract and no publisher. Her agent encouraged her and praised an early draft as her best work yet.

When the book was ready to be submitted to publishers, Karen received dozens of offers from major publishing houses. Editors loved it. There was a buzz about this fabulous new work. Many offers were made by editors and finally she signed with her dream editor and her first choice publisher for lots of money. The book went on to receive praise from The New York Times Book Review and many other literary stars, authors and reviewers alike. The book, still with that same first sentence that came to her in the night, became a best seller.

It was an overnight sensation that was some thirty years in the making. Karen had set her book in the small UP homestead where she’d lived as a young wife and mother. The authentic feel of the setting is one part of the book that makes it special. The voice of her main character is also often singled out for praise. Then there’s the brilliant concept: the story is told by the adult child of a woman who had been kidnapped, raped and held for years against her will. There’s a dual timeline as the reader slowly gleans what life was like for the young girl who thought her family was perfectly normal.

Karen is warm and funny. She’s also a generous writer who answered all our many questions about the craft and the business of writing. I know I was not the only writer to come away with a new determination to keep pushing myself even when it seems like that big break is never going to come. Because if you keep writing, you never know where your career will go next.  If you don’t write the book, there is zero chance of landing a fabulous publishing deal.

Many of us wanted to know Karen’s secret formula for success. Her #1 piece of writing advice was to fearlessly write the best book you can. Follow your gut, not the writing rules. Try new things if they feel right. She promises that if you write a great book, agents and editors are out there ready and waiting for it.

Free Creative Writing Manual

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I have been wanting to have one of my books on my website in a free PDF format for a long time. I have published ten books and some of them are still under contract with my publisher. That’s fine, I have a a few self-published books and they are mine to use as I see fit. I decided since this site is all about writing, the logical choice is my first book, which is a creative writing memoir and manual.

In this book I was trying to do something that would help my creative writing students, who wanted to write all sorts of things: song lyrics and scriptwriting were the two most popular The way I structured my creative writing classes, my prime goal was to have everyone write a completed project, something that they could publish. And I wanted it to be of their own choice, whatever form. There was no book for that, so I wrote it.

I have no evidence of this, but I believe many writers search around a bit before they find their chosen form. I started with song lyrics and poetry, went on to short stories, dabbled in book reviewing, blogged my heart out and tried again and again to write a novel. So I had some experience in many of my students’ chosen forms. Not scriptwriting, but I had read screenwriting books by Linda Seger because they work for novelists too. I still dip into Seger’s Making a Good Character Great when I need inspiration.

Another thing that helped me teach creative writing was the number of workshops and conferences I’d been to, not to mention all the books I’d read on how to write. There’s a list of the best of those how-to books at the end of the book. The reason I say it’s a “memoir/manual” is because I wove my own writing experiences and some of my writing to use as examples through the book. I covered a lot of ground.

Just last weekend, I was at a conference and mentioned I was putting my writing manual permanently free on my website. She said “That’s the book I need” so I gave her a card. I hope for some of you, this might be the book you need, too. You can find a link to the PDF on the first page and on the book page, too.

Ways to Renew Your Writing Spirit

IMG-4881I am spiritual, although my journey has been interrupted for a few years while I fretted and fumed about the state of the material world, politics, how unloved I felt and what ranking my new novel had on Amazon. These were some of the dark concerns that drew me away from my spiritual practices.

Enter my dear friend and fellow writer, Weam Namou. Weam is many things: a writer, a filmmaker, a journalist, a cable news host, a wife and mother. She is also a teacher and a healer. To that end she organized a spiritual retreat this past weekend. Her program, The Path of Consciousness, brought together many workshop leaders in a beautiful setting for three days of practicing both writing and matters of the spirit. These teachers showed participants how to blend the two. I never knew how to marry spirit and writing, or if I did, I forgot. This retreat was just what I needed.

My day of spiritual renewal started with a vision board workshop with Sonya Julie. I have done vision boards for my novels and vision portfolios for my home and work life. When you are attracted to something, envision it as part of your life. There’s a good chance it will manifest. To keep the vision front and center, have a visual reference. Sonya brought magazines, glue sticks, scissors and colored pens—as well as index cards—for each of us to create a vision card. The card I made in her class became my motif for the day.

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Next class went for a walk in the woods with Patty Shaw. She used the root chakra to help us drop what was holding us back so we could move forward into the new. We stood still before a set of steps that led down into the woods and felt the negative energies we held so tightly inside gather in the root of our body. Then we went down the path into the woods where we dropped the negative energy into the earth where it dissipated. Next we filled ourselves with the good in nature and emerged from the dark path into the light. The was more on this walk but that moment, when I let go of so much negativity, was life-changing.

I didn’t really get how writing and spirit worked together until a sacred experience in meditation class. We did a guided mediation with the third eye chakra (indigo blue) and the sacral chakra (orange). Heather Rae, owner of Little Lotus Wellness Studio in Ferndale, instructed us to envision the third eye and color as the higher creative spirit inside and the lower sacral chakra and color as the birth of creativity. She had us envision passing from one to the next, pouring into and feeding each other.

I did not expect what happened next.

As I envisioned this chakra energy as colors, it began to wind through me and I could see in my mind’s eye that, as the colors met, they blended. It was like I had a circle of energy passing through me and even out into the air. It was amazing. I felt totally refreshed after that. I saw how writing and spirit co-exist.

Weam herself taught the last workshop. I have been journaling for many years. It’s my firmest ritual, and I’ve come to depend on it to ground me at the beginning of every day. Still, my routine had become a bit, well, routine. I was going through the motions but nothing was happening on an energetic, spiritual or even creative writing level. Yes, I was clearing a path, but perhaps Weam could show me how to do more with this beloved practice.

The best advice for me, and I feel it will energize and recharge my morning pages, is that when I notice my writing (this is free writing, so nothing that you’d publish or even share) gets bogged down with negatives, to turn it around with a question. “Why am I feeling so hopeless?” for example. Next, quickly write down ten reasons why you may be feeling less than positive. I have a list. It starts with politics and ends with gender bias with a slab of sexual violence toward women in between. Where do I get all this from? Another list…television, social media, print media, books, conversation. How to heal this negativity? Pretty easy. Limit television news. Choose friends wisely and keep books and media positive.

It has not been lost on me that my biggest obstacle in this life is fear. Fear is also the name of a book currently on my Kindle. I’m not going to put my head in the sand, but I am going to work on balancing my life by being more focused on the spiritual. Spirit is what has been lacking. It’s always been there, but I’ve ignored it in favor of worldly chaos.

One thing Weam said makes so much sense. “Look deeper into your negative patterns of thought. What is in your home? What is on your phone? Your television? What kind of pictures are on your walls?”

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Weam pointed out that there are metaphors for what we need to heal everywhere. For me that’s especially true in my home. I’ve worked really hard to make my home reflect my spirit. But I could do more. So I brought out my crystals and singing bowl from where they were tucked away on a shelf and put them front and center in my writing room. I turned off the television and turned inward. And as I hoped it would, this retreat into spirit has unburdened my soul and renewed me for the journey ahead.