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December 2016

Dear Santa

Should I start small with how I want a few books for Christmas? Or move right to the big stuff, like how the world needs more compassion and integrity, less disease, and fewer people being hateful assholes?

Oh, dear. I’m never going to get on the Nice list if I keep using words like asshole, am I?

What exactly is the cut off for being Naughty? Any chance that my letting the guy with fewer items ahead of me in the grocery line cancels out the language I used while stuck in freeway traffic? Or that my hugging the teens and telling them daily how proud I am balances the times I’ve lost my patience with their ever-growing need to challenge authority? (Because these smart alecks are OUT OF CONTROL, Santa. They argue with everything, they’re stubborn as hell, and then they have the nerve to make me laugh just when I’m getting ready to ground them. Why couldn’t they have been more like their even-tempered dad???)

Does it count as Nice that I write books that lifts people’s spirits and make them smile, or is the writing self-serving since it’s what I always wanted to do with my life? (Although, if I’m going to be selfish…can I ask for one of my books to be made into a Hallmark Christmas movie? That would be great, Santa. Have an elf get the contracts department on the phone. Thanks.) And then there’s my January book, which I suppose could tip the scales toward the Naughty side.

jan-17

Half naked people on the front, a smart-ass heroine who speaks her mind from page one, an explicit relationship that includes a chapter of phone sex? Okay, fine, I have a Naughty streak. (What were you expecting, Santa? I’m blogging to you from a site called Bad Girlz Write.) But even imperfect people can have big hearts and good ideas. May 2017 be the year that people share their goodness with others and bless each other’s lives in unexpected ways, from small kindnesses to tangible solutions.

In the meantime, happy holidays and happy reading to all of you. (And if you’d like to kick your year off with some naughty fun, you should go order Tempting the Best Man. Oh, and watch for Jeanette Grey’s Nine Kinds of Naughty out in February!)

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How I’m Surviving This Book That Still Isn’t Done (Not Very Well)

Since I’m in the midst of deadline myself, I thought I’d share a few of things that have kept me writing:

Conception calendar

Someone is always getting pregnant or dying in one of my books.  I found this great web site that not only allows me to put the first day of my character’s last menstrual cycle into a box and—voila!—a due date, but also goes BACKWARDS. Yes, that’s right—I can check what my character’s due date WOULD HAVE BEEN if it had been 2011 as it was in my mind while I was writing this book. You can see my favorite site so far here.

Heck, a regular calendar

In addition to pregnancy and thus the menstrual cycles of women who don’t exist, I also needed to Google when Lent and Easter occurred in 2011 because a chunk of my novel revolves around that specific time period. Once I knew when Ash Wednesday and Easter occurred, then I constructed a mini-calendar that then became even more important when I had to add the number of days required to get a divorce in the state of Tennessee. See below for another hack with Scrivener.

Friends who (drink and) know things 

So not all of these people may drink, but I adore Tyrion and therefore had to title this section thus. I had many people reach out to me about how filing for divorce works. Bless you, ladies. Tina Whittle was kind enough to reverse engineer a Tarot reading for me and to then read the scene to make sure I had it right. In the past I’ve had veterinarians, lawyers, ministers, funeral directors, and actresses all weigh in on what my characters should be doing. What can I say? I get by with a little help from my friends.

Scrivener

I adore this program, and I don’t even know all of its functionality yet. Here are a few of the reasons I love Scrivener:

  • It doesn’t crash like Word did. (knocks fervently on wood)
  • There’s a Notes view where I can put my thoughts in a box to the right and see them no matter which chapter I’m in. I use it to collect dropped threads, changes that will need to be implemented throughout the whole manuscript, and the beat sheet of events.
  • The find function is awesome because you can use it for a chapter OR for the entire manuscript. I sometimes also use the this function to find things in old manuscripts that I need to verify for new stories.
  • There’s a list of chapters on the left where you can add notes that won’t appear on the finished product. I put dates here to make sure I keep all of my characters on track and not forgetting dentist appointments on Wednesday as the author herself has been known to do.
  • You can also keep all sorts of files under research from links to dates and family trees or an acknowledgments file so I don’t forget all of the helpful people above.

Headphones

I would not have made it through this year without a good pair of headphones thanks to the construction going on behind my house. I’m thinking noise canceling would’ve been the best bet, but, hey, I’m not that wealthy. Here are the ones I bought.

Me, before my new chair

Me, before my new chair

The Marshmallow Chair

Deanna Raybourn let me know about this chair. It really is a marshmallow for my butt. Also, it’s new and I haven’t broken the mechanism that allows me to adjust the height yet so it’s helped with the ergonomic situation. I’m not saying you might need an office chair update, but I’m not saying you don’t. This is the infamous marshmallow chair–I bought it on sale.

Pomodoro Method

I heard about this method and got the app. A kitchen timer would also work if you don’t want another app cluttering your phone. The idea is that you work steadily for 30 minutes then take a break AWAY FROM YOUR DESK and then come back and do it again. An advantage of the app is that it keeps up with your breaks, too. Learn more here. I can’t find my specific app–probably because I need to do updates–but here’s more on how the method works and some apps you could use.

 Auctioning off a Character Name

Back when Bless Your Heart was nothing more than a gleam in my eye, I donated the right to name a minor character in a charity auction. Then I promptly lost the contact information of the person who’d won the auction because that, apparently, is how I roll in adulthood. At any rate, I knew the character would be named Liza. Hearing the name immediately told me that Liza would be my protagonist’s best friend. Even so, her character was a little flat until the church tracked down the winner for me and we spoke a bit about the real Liza. I didn’t actually incorporate anything from the real Liza, but I found out that her celebrity crush is Chris Pratt so I made fictional Liza’s husband Owen Pratt. Last name is obvious; Owen is the first name of the character Pratt plays in Jurassic World. Incorporating little things like that tickled the lady who’d bought the character and helped me find the fun again when the fun had faltered. (I wanted to talk to her to make sure that I didn’t make something about fictional Liza painful to actual Liza because that would take all of the fun out of it.)

 Having a critique partner who gets all CAPSY

I’ve written and rewritten. There are multiple versions of this story. Sometimes, in the midst of all of

CPs who snark together, stay together.

CPs who snark together, stay together.

those changes or simply the quest for new words, I end up moving my characters from place to place without proper motivation or emotional resonance. Then there’s that conflict avoidance thing that I have to fight every time. Tanya’s comments were a breath of fresh air because she helped me see the things I couldn’t because I was so busy trying to make the story go. Our critique partners make us better but only if they’re willing to call you on the shortcuts you accidentally take.

2016 hasn’t been kind to my creative process. I have clawed and scratched to stay some semblance of on track. If any one of these helps another writer to keep his or her head above water, then my work here is done.

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The Big Ravenous Drooling Bear (aka Deadlines)

Deadlines. Those little bastards. Most writers probably keep a planner of some sort and have deadlines circled in ominous red or big lettering like BOOK DUE or a three-fire alarm will issue from your electronic calendar. Deadlines are something we as writers must live with lurking in our lives. Hopefully, you picked deadlines for yourself that were doable and maybe even comfortable. However, one thing we never build into our plans are things out of our control like…

Acts of God!! *cue ominous music*

In my case, it was Mother Nature roaring through my neighborhood in the form of a tornado. Which, by the way, are extremely rare where I live in the upstate of South Carolina much less in December! Curse you, Global Warming!

We’re fine, the house will be fine. We’re getting a new roof, new fence, new shed. All fixable. The point of this post is not to host a pity-party, but to emphasize that sometimes things happen that are totally and completely out of our control. It might be weather related or health related (ours, our parents, our kids) or election related or maybe a friend needs us to drop everything and help.

As writers we have the flexibility to handle these crises as they happen, right? Maybe, maybe not…

One thing I learned after I accepted an offer of publication was that some publishers set their schedules months, sometimes up to a year, in advance. This is especially true if you are with a Big 5 publisher and got a print deal. Print requires a massive lead time, 4-6 months ideally. This means your book has to be fully edited (developmental, line, copy, page proofs, and a final proofread) before it heads to print.

For example, I have a book releasing in print August 1st, 2017. That book was due to my editor on November 1st, 2016. If I slip *my* due date, the entire process gets shifted and hardship falls to the publisher. Moving publishing dates that have been set for months is not good. (<–understatement) In other words, do not be late with your manuscript!

Not only do lead times figure into the equation, but if you are lucky enough to sign a three-book deal, you generally commit to due dates for all three books. This can commit your time for at least a year out! If you fall behind with the first book, what happens to your next two?

Back to my tornado…my plan was to hammer out the rough draft of my next book before the kids got out of school for Christmas break and before I receive edits on that book I turned in November 1st. My husband was actually scheduled to be out of the country for a week and I was going to work my butt off.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. My husband caught a flight home to help me deal with everything. We lost power for two days. People have been in and out of our house for the past week, driving me and the dog insane. Needless to say, that rough draft is not going to get finished before break.

However, that’s okay, because I have time built into my writing schedule. First off, let me get this out there…I am *not* a procrastinator when it comes to writing. In fact, I don’t understand people who do procrastinate. My anxiety would be off the charts.

Because I don’t procrastinate, I don’t bother to count days until my deadline and space out word count. Instead, I always write like my deadline is a ravenous bear chasing me even if that deadline is months away. I would rather build up a sizable lead on my bear instead of feeling him breathing down my neck. I ignore my deadline and try to get the book written as quickly as possible. This way if something happens that’s out of my control, like a tornado, or even something in my control, like I wrote myself into a corner, I’m not scrambling and panicking at the last minute. And guess what? I’ve always turned my books in early. That’s right, hate me if you want:)

This post is a cautionary tale about life and writing and things out of our control. If you are a procrastinator then…STOP IT! Don’t put off writing until that bear is huddled over your chair, drooling down your neck. You never know what might happen. And, no one wants to get eaten by a bear, right?

(**Sometimes though, really bad stuff happens. Stuff that’s more important than deadlines. That’s when you need to go to your agent and editor and have a ‘Come to Jesus’ talk about the future. That’s totally understandable**)

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Putting Writing First

Hey there everybody! This is my first post coming to you from the other side of becoming a parent for the first time. I’m the happy mom to a healthy two and a half month old girl.

And you know what else? I’m still a writer.

2016-11-13-dc1Before my tiny one came along, I have to admit that I had my doubts and fears. Kids take time and energy, and I always felt like I was barely meeting my word count as it was. How would I ever manage to keep up once I had parental responsibilities?

The answer, some days, is that I don’t. Kiddo has a bad day—or worse, a terrible night? Yeah. The words might not flow. Hell, I might not even get a chance to open my laptop.

And even on the good days, it sure isn’t easy. There are too many things to do in a day, and my tiny human needs so much. Even when she isn’t desperately, angrily in need of something, the guilt I feel that I should be doing more—playing with her, reading to her, teaching her calculus (okay, fine, maybe not that one…yet) is intense. The house needs cleaning, food needs cooking, laundry needs doing. It’s so easy to let the time just slip through my fingers. As I see it, in our current phase of life, I basically get to pick one thing to get done in a day outside of basic baby, life and household maintenance.

So here’s my secret—my incredibly easy, nearly impossible secret: I choose writing. Any day it possibly can be, I make that my one thing I get done.

This means my husband may come home to a disaster of a house. It means we might be having takeout (again). It means I may have to put on my headphones and pretend I don’t hear my daughter crying while my husband does his best with her.

It means I may only get about half of my pre-baby daily word count in. And it means I may have to be okay with that.

But it also means I continue to make progress. I don’t lose sight of the one thing I was determined to keep up with even after becoming a mom.

Make fun of me all you will. Tell me I’m hopelessly naïve or that I’ll see just how impossible it is once the tiny human becomes a little less tiny. You might be right. But here’s what I’m telling myself right now:

I take care of my kid, myself and my family. But after that? No excuses.

I put writing first.

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Notebook Nirvana!

In keeping with Sophia’s excellent gift recommendations, I propose to add one of my dearest obsessions to the list: notebooks! You can never have too many, there is no place or situation that could not be edified by a notebook’s inspiring, yet practical presence. The more notebooks you have, the more opportunity to jot down dialogue, plot ideas, grocery lists, or random attempts at spelling if you have a pre-K human in your family! And if all that fails to grab you, what about all the pretty colors?? Of the infinite variety to choose from, here are a few of my picks:

For the purist, what could be better than the classic moleskine notebook? I’m partial to willow green:

moleskine-notebook-willow-green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or, you could choose something more whimsical based on the writer’s genre or favorite things:

mermaid-notebook

octopus-notebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about inspiration from a favorite book? I’m totally getting this for my Harry Potter-loving niece:

harry-potter-notebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Historical Fiction folks:

victorian-notebook-etsy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any Southern girl needs a monogrammed one:

monogram-journal-etsy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And last, but not least, for the author(s) in your life who are under insane deadline dilemmas, publisher problems, or egregious edits, you need this:

okay-journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, from me to you, Happy Holidays and Happy Writing (in an awesome new notebook)!

Love,

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