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March 2017

Shenanigans! (Part 2)

As EMichels said in her previous post, sometimes the best way to begin your writing process is with some non-writing activity that clears the brain. With three different projects staring at me from my monitor, and less and less time to write with each passing year, I knew what I needed before I dove in: one of my closest writer friends to help me talk through the challenges, a day away from reality to cope with the pressures, and some shronking to kick back and relax. I bring you, more shenanigans!

It is way more difficult than it seems to get these distance pics just right! I’m supposed to be pinching the peach butt. Does it work?

EMichels is supposed to be biting the peach butt. After three minutes of setting up this shot and five minutes of me sitting on the sidewalk and giggling uncontrollably, I’m fairly certain we were not successful. We did entertain ourselves and a dozen or so passersby though.

Getting into the tiny cop car seemed a cute idea at the time. But a small child, I am not.

Finally, here’s EMichels doing some invaluable research on horses and cowboys for her upcoming series.

After my day of shopping, I was lucky enough to have a long girls’ weekend in Charleston, SC. The weather was perfect, the food delicious, the beach walks and talking and laughing, and even crying were exactly what I needed. Probably what everyone needs from time to time.

Folly Pier from our condo’s balcony. Folly has a piece of my heart and always will.

Sunset at Bowen’s Island. If you like seafood, but have not been to Bowen’s, get thee to there anon!

Last week was a must-have for me, and I’m so grateful I had the time and opportunity to reconnect with friends and have non-stop fun for 5 straight days. This break gave me the rest I needed to forge ahead with my projects and kick off my process yet again. 🙂

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Shenanigans! (Part 1)

For those of you wondering where the heck I’ve been lately, I took some time off to get my out of control personal life back under control. And I did it!!!!! The construction project at my house is FINALLY over now! My in-laws have officially moved in with us. I repainted the section of the house that we re-purposed after the completion of the addition. I tiled floors.  I moved artwork. I bought furniture. And then when everything was finished, I sat down at my computer and stared at the blank document of my next project…

And I stared. And I stared some more.

The problem was that after spending so much time wrapped up in my real life craziness, I had to remember how to slow down, how to sit still, and how to get back to what I love—writing.  But how do you slow down when you’ve spent the past year going far too fast with no breaks?

My solution to shake off the real world and get back to work is the same as always: Shenanigans!

So, I met up with Heather McGovern last week for a day of shenanigans with plenty of shronking, laughter, and fun. What exactly is shronking, you ask?  Shopping + Drinking = Shronking You heard it here first. 🙂 I highly recommend shronking for shoes with friends. It’s the best! But back to my story…

There’s an outlet mall located at the midpoint between our houses, and it’s the perfect spot for a day trip to get together. First, we met at Starbucks to catch up on all the latest gossip…

This is our, “Look who I found pic.” What??? You’re at Starbucks today too?!?! What luck!

Then it was time to shronk!  And we came prepared with our Yetis and the ingredients for mimosas!

Just walking, chatting, and shronking…

We were in the dressing room at Ann Taylor Loft when we heard the news that our fellow Badgirlz, Jeanette Grey and Tanya Michaels finalled in the RITAs! We jumped up and down with excitement.  Then since we had mimosas in hand, we toasted them!  Congrats, girlz!!!!!!

A store or two later, I saw some bright orange pants in Banana Republic.  I knew that McGovy needed to try on the orange pants just as I knew that she needed to pose like a tiger in those pants while I made tiger noises and took her picture.  Rawr!

Then in the Gap we found matching shiny butterfly shirts! I’ll repeat this for dramatic effect, MATCHING SHINY BUTTERFLY SHIRTS!!!!!  If you go to RWA this summer, you might see these shirts since they’ll be making an appearance there.

It was such a fun day! And this is only the first half of our shronking shenanigans! Make sure to check back on Thursday for McGovy’s post with the other half of our adventure.

What do you do to shake off the craziness of the real world?

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Getting It Done

For as many writers as there are, there are equally as many processes. This is why it always grates on my nerves when people tell you there is only one way to write. Spoiler: there’s not. You can write in a beautiful journal while floating on a boat in the middle of a lake; you can write on a cocktail napkin while in a karaoke bar; you can scribble on the back of a receipt while in the pick up line at school; you can write on a typewriter, an iPad, your phone, a laptop, an ancient desktop, Post-It notes, a spiral notebook from the Dollar Spot, a waterproof pad in the shower, your hand if you’re really desperate…

I think you get my point.

We each have a way that works best for us, usually something we’ve figured out through some sort of trial and error. I’m going to tell you what works for me. If you’re able to pick up a single tip and add it to your toolbox, great! If not, that’s cool too. You do you, boo.

First things first: Pinterest

Before I do anything at all, I go trolling on Pinterest. I need to have a visual representation of my characters before I can delve into anything else. I like to add their pictures (several, if I’m honest…some casual, some laughing, some serious, and of course bare chest pics of the hero) to Scrivener so I can see them as I move on to my next steps.

Speaking of…next up: Character Questionnaires

I’m not going to go into great detail about these, because I’ve done so lots of times before, but I would be lost without my questionnaires. They allow me to get to the nitty gritty of my characters and see what makes them tick.

Once I know that? Let’s plot.

Uh-oh. The dreaded P word. Yep, I’m a plotter. I’ve tried probably a dozen different approaches when it comes to plotting, because I’m always looking for a more efficient way to do things. As such, I’ve developed a process that works pretty well for me, which is a combination of several different techniques, including the Snowflake Method, Tentpole Method, Beat Sheets, and old school outlining.

Now that all that’s out of the way, it’s time to for music!

I switch between Pandora and Spotify, depending on if I have specific songs I want or rather just a certain feel of the music. I like to switch things up with each manuscript, but I have a hard time picking out songs for my characters specifically. Music is more about an overall feeling to me than something easily pinpointed, so I just roll with it.

Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Writing.

Once I’ve got all those things in order and am ready to dive into my new project, I do so by participating in Pomodoros (pomos for short). They are short bursts of work followed by small breaks. I prefer 25 min work/5 min break, then a longer 30 minute break once I reach 6 sessions. After testing my productivity, I found this allows me to get nearly double the words in an hour as I would if I wrote straight for that hour. It doesn’t matter the time of day or where I am (though strategically adjusting any mess in my house so it’s out of eyesight is imperative to me). I’m one of the lucky people who can write at home, at a coffee house, at a park, outside, inside, wherever. Just so long as I’ve got my earbuds, I’m good to go.

See anything you do, too? Anything I should think about adding to my routine?

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My Process (aka Whatever Works)

I always find it fascinating to read about the writing process for other writers. Some have certain hours during which they write. Others have a page or word count goal that they must reach each day before they allow themselves to quit. Some write at a desk, others on a laptop while curled up in bed. As I read these tales of productivity, I can find something in just about every one that I use as well. You see, my process has evolved over the years into what I like to call Whatever Works That Day.

As the years have passed, I’ve found my attention span shrinking. So I tend to skip around a bit as the day goes along. I’ll illustrate how I’ve been organizing my days this week, for instance. I have three upcoming deadlines: a final proof on my October Harlequin book is due back this Friday; a partial on another Harlequin book is due Monday; and a bunch of short stories I’m judging for a contest are due back a week from Friday but I have to FedEx them back, thus they need to be sent back by next Wednesday. To keep myself from zoning out doing one thing for two long, I’ve had my laptop set up on my breakfast counter where I stand and proof a few pages at a time. Then I’ll go to the dining room table and judge a couple of short stories. Then I plop down on the sofa and write on the partial longhand while watching TV. This crazy method serves several purposes:

  1. I don’t get bored or zone out working on any one thing for too long at a time.
  2. I’m making progress toward all three deadlines.
  3. I’m getting a little bit of exercise by moving from one work station to another, standing at one of them, instead of sitting in one spot for too long.
  4. There’s a bit of reward built into the writing portion. I’ve mentioned this works for me before, how I write X amount and then I get to watch a segment of a TV show that would naturally fall between commercials; then I have to write X amount again.

On days like yesterday, when I had to run some errands, I deliberately did some of my proofing before I ran the errands so that the errand trip served as a break from work and not just a way to delay starting on it. Sometimes I’ll do this with exercise — I’ll work for an hour or so, then stop and take a 30-minute to hour-long walk, then come back and work some more.

The view from one of my favorite writing spots.

Sometimes I use a change of scenery to jump-start my writing. I find being near water relaxing and peaceful, so I’ll either take a notepad and pen down to the local park and sit at a picnic table or pack my beach chair and umbrella over to the beach and alternate writing with staring at the waves.

I remember when I was first starting out and attending conferences, soaking up all the words of wisdom of writers who’d been at this writing game a lot longer, that I’d hear all these “right ways” to be productive. Now, about 20 years in, I realize that there is no “right” way. It truly is whatever works on any given day to get words on the page. And it’s okay if it differs from one day to the next. In this one instance, it’s not the journey that matters but the destination.

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You Can Do It!

Do you mind if I vent for a second? I know other people have bigger problems than I do–hell, the entire country has Problems–but there is something that’s been getting me down lately. Homeschooling my thirteen-year-old daughter, who we had to pull out of public school due to some chronic health issues. To be clear, I love my daughter–I love both of my children–and her health is critical to me. I am willing to make sacrifices for her well-being, absolutely.

But, in the other column, have you met teenage girls? To paraphrase that Merc with a Mouth and noted child psychologist Deadpool, teenage girls are characterized by long sullen silences and mean comments. This is how I’m spending all day, every day. With a moody teen who misses her friends and is understandably frustrated about her circumstances. Add to that my struggle to remember what little I ever understood about 8th grade Algebra and it’s amazing my life hasn’t become a looping gif of Bridget Jones’ “I choose vodka” declaration.

This time last year, my kids got up, went to school (on the days my daughter felt up to it), and I had the house to myself. For hours! Oh, the glorious solitude. I got to write and play in my own make believe world and, shockingly, got PAID to do it! What kind of nonsense adult job is that? Now, I still have deadlines for books but far, far fewer productive hours (and as a result, fewer paychecks). I wonder if I’m driving my daughter away with all this togetherness. I wonder if I’m too impatient with her. I worry that I’m not enough to keep the former honors student caught up academically with her peers. I say to my husband a dozen times a week, “I can’t do this.” And, yet, since it’s getting done, apparently I….can?

Reluctantly, perhaps. Inexpertly, for sure. With a side of tears and swearing, absolutely. But I am managing something difficult in spite of the self-doubt. One day at a time.

I’ll bet you a dollar there’s something in your life you want to accomplish but you doubt your ability to achieve it. Maybe it’s lose a little weight or learn to knit or write a book or make the world a better place and you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do this.” I bet you another dollar that you absolutely can.

I do not love this new homeschooling arrangement, but my daughter is making straight A’s. We’ve both been learning about algebraic formulas and the Articles of Confederation and how animals adapt to their environment. It is not a perfect educational environment and our progress is slow, but we’re damn lucky that we have the resources and computer and flexible schedule to attempt what other families might not be in a position to try. And I don’t write as fast as I used to, but the fictional voices are still there, talking to me at odd moments, and I record snippets of dialogue and ideas for scenes in the Notes section of my iPhone. Yesterday, I put sentences on a page–not as many as I would have liked, but a paragraph exists now that wasn’t out in the universe before, and I created that.

Books are written one sentence, one word, at a time. Keep slogging forward. Those words add up. One of our math problems last week was whether it would be better to take a job that paid a million dollars for thirty days (where do I sign up?!?!) or a thirty day job that paid one penny the first day but doubled salary every day. To steal from clickbait headlines, THE ANSWER MAY SURPRISE YOU. Pennies add up. Steps walked and calories counted add up. Calls and emails to politicians about important matters add up. And the more you do, the better you feel. Start small–hell, start tiny if you need to. Keep your expectations reasonable and be patient with yourself, but do not listen to that stupid, petty voice that sneers “You can’t do this.” It is wrong, and I believe in you. Surround yourself with people (in your physical world or online) that echo that belief and cheer you on and, in the meantime, I’ll share with you these wise words from Christopher Robin that I’ve hung on my own wall as a reminder.

Now get out there and kick some ass—-slowly, and in manageable tasks with occasional setbacks. But that’s okay. An ass kicked in slo-mo is still an ass kicked.

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I’m Hip Deep Into Lent

It’s blogger’s choice, and I think I want to talk about. . . . Lent. (We could also spend some quality time on how much I love my new cover, but probably not today)

Why Lent? Why not. Last year I was working on the second draft of the novel that will become my fourth release from Kensington, Bless Her Heart, and the Lenten season gave me an idea to punch up the story I was writing. I already knew that my preacher’s wife was going to sample each of the Seven Deadly Sins, but what if she also gave up church for Lent? That lead to this scene:

By this point in the Ash Wednesday service the minister had moved on to Matthew. He droned on about “not looking somber as the hypocrites do” while we fasted. Finally, we got to sit down, and the sermon began. Dour-faced Reverend Ford spoke about the traditions of Lent, the excesses of Fat Tuesday as exemplified by Mardi Gras—that actually sounded fun. He admonished his flock to make sacrifices that would bring them closer to God but pointed out that sometimes it was better to add something to your routine rather than to just give something up. He talked about his preteen daughter giving up soft drinks and how his wife vowed to get up fifteen minutes earlier each day for a devotion.

In essence, we were to find something that hampered us for being the best person we could be and to either add something to address it or to give something up if it held us back. If you drank too much, then give up alcohol. If television kept you from your family, then give that up. If you were unhappy about your physical health, add an exercise regime. The sky was the limit, he said, as long as we examined ourselves and looked at what was holding us back and keeping us from being the person God intended us to be.

Maybe Chad should look into giving up profligate spending and adultery.

No, I needed to think about myself. Not Chad. Chad would mean nothing to me just as soon as I could figure out how to divorce him. I needed to think on myself and what I needed to do because Liza was right: I wasn’t happy.

What could I give up—or add—for Lent? My husband? Nah, he’d taken himself away. Having a baby? That had been taken from me, too. Chocolate? Too trivial in comparison to the other two. What was something I had too much of, something that made me unhappy because it wasn’t good for me. Something—

Church.

The word came to me as if the Lord himself had whispered it, but I knew that couldn’t be the case. Why would God tell me to give up church? That made absolutely no sense. Of course, church did remind me of Chad, and I needed to stop thinking about him so it made sense in a crazy, weird sort of way.

Come to think of it, Chad hadn’t believed in Lent or giving things up. He said that was something Catholics did.

Heck, if Chad thought it was a bad idea, then maybe it was the absolute best idea for me.

If I still missed God after forty days, I could always come back to the fold. Maybe I could even find a different fold, one that better suited me. Having the bank foreclose on Love Ministries might end up being one of the best things to ever happen to me because now I was forced to look for another job and, goodness knew, I hadn’t been doing anything more than stumble through life the past few years.

But giving up church? That’s so. . . wrong.

And what has doing all of the right things done for you?

We’ve just begun Lent, an interesting religious ritual that I’d never really heard of until I started attending the Wesley Foundation at the Unversity of Tennessee. This concept of giving something up was completely new. And daunting. Over the years I’ve given up Cokes, alcohol, desserts. One year—and that was the most painful—I made myself get up 15 minutes earlier than the required time. The idea was to read from a devotional. If I couldn’t do that, at least I had made myself get up instead of hitting the snooze button. I’d love to tell you that habit stuck, but it did not. (It did, you will note from the excerpt, give me a trait that I could give to another character, though. Poor thing.)

This year I’m fasting from social media. When I kinda got meaner than I should have on Fat Tuesday then I knew it was time to take a break. In my defense, I don’t have time for anyone who is mean to my friends. I am not here for that. Either way, I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t want me to call people delusional on the Book of Face. Even if the person in question clearly is. Wait. What? Did I say that? Clearly I need to atone some more.

At any rate, if you don’t see me on Twitter or Facebook, it’s because I’m allowing myself only 30 minutes a day. I think my mental health is improving a little. Besides, it gives me more time to write my Congresspeople.

Now, here is my challenge for you: what is something you can write about that others might not think about? Ever thought about having a book center on Lent? Or the Cokesbury Hymnal? Or death by fire ants? Or a funeral home? Is there anything that you know a little something about that would bring a unique perspective to what you write? Readers, help us out and tell us about some of the most unique premises you have come across.

Oh, and my husband’s dreams of being my houseboy would be dashed if I didn’t mention that Bless Her Heart is now available for preorder at

Amazon

Bam!

Barnes & Noble

soon to be FoxTale, the keepers of the shot glasses

Google

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Where, oh where, did my little plot go?

Last cycle’s topic was plot bunnies and I ended up posting something else, but since this is an open slot, I thought I go for a re-do…

‘Where do you come up with your plots/characters?’ is a question I often hear. Mostly from non-writers, but I know some writers struggle coming up with plots as well. Sometimes it can feel like *everything* has been done so many times there’s no way to make it new and fresh. Keep in mind that two people can write similarly themed books, but they will end up completely different. A writer will always bring their own experiences into the story.

Personally, I get many of my ideas from music. I’ll be toodling down the road taking my kids to school or soccer or gymnastics and my mind will start to wander as it does when I’m driving the same route for the millionth time. A song will come on. And, if the storm is perfect, a story seed will be planted. For me, the characters and plot emerge simultaneously and are dependent on one another. I keep a notebook in the car (or your phone’s notes section works well too) and jot down the idea before I lose it. I have notebooks full of book ideas, some quite well developed, that I have no time to write. (Good problem!)

The other place chock full of ideas is the news or special interest stories. I’m going to scan the current headlines….brb… See, here’s a story about Beau Biden’s widow, who is now dating his brother, Hunter. Stepping back, the premise and conflict would make for a great romance, historical or contemporary.  One of my favorite recent clips is of two 5th graders, Zoe and Noah, on Ellen who have a love-hate relationship. I want someone to write their story all grown up! Childhood frenemies to lovers is a great trope. And don’t get me started on all the political stuff going on…a political thriller about a CNN journalist (*ahem* Jake Tapper) who uncovers a Russian conspiracy and has to go on the run from bad guys? Yes, please!

I also want to mention something authors don’t talk about too much…It’s called writing ‘On Spec.’ It’s where a publishing house has a concept in mind and they tap a writer to make it happen. My Cottonbloom series was supposed to be a spec project, except I couldn’t write the idea my editor suggested (for reasons I won’t go into here.) So my editor told me to brainstorm some new ideas. But, there were constraints. It had to be a “summer themed” series with an overarching plot to tie the books together. The release dates were set before the story had been conceived. I pitched what came to be the Cottonbloom series to my editor. She loved it and the rest is history.

I’m currently writing another spec project for my editor. This one was a little different in that my editor handed over a high-level synopsis of what she wanted. Now, some authors might consider this as constraining to their ‘muse.’ But, I thought the concept was interesting and am taking it and running with it. Plus, a good author/editor relationship means you can change things as the story develops. Which I already have. If the opportunity to write on spec presents itself to you, don’t dismiss it out of hand, you might find it interesting. (By the way, Entangled is always looking for spec writers. Check out their Wishlist page.)

If you’re still having a block coming up with something that excites you, go through #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) on Twitter. Editors and agents detail in general terms the kind of manuscripts they’re interested in. It might just get your creative juices flowing. The downside is that by the time you actually have written it, the agent/editor might have moved on, but that doesn’t matter if you’re excited about it!

Where do you get your plot/character ideas?

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