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Sydney Carroll

My Plot Bunny is a Poodle!

For this cycle’s theme of weirdest plot bunnies, I’m sort of at a loss: all of my bunnies are weird! I write about what I love, and that includes a few things that are fairly niche. Semi-obscure middle aged musicians as romantic leads, 1950’s tourist traps, muscle cars, the nobility of rescuing a rundown motel, and a marine invertebrate or two have all inspired my stories. Not usually all in the same one, but hey, the rich tapestry and all that…

But one element has always found it’s way into my story: the dog–usually a poodle. It might not be a main character (or it might be), but he or she is always there. Why? Because every word I’ve written this past 20 years for school, work, or this insane journey called writing fiction for publication, has been supported and accompanied by a fluffy friend curled up at my feet or right by my side, including these words I’m typing today. Sometimes life may be hard, stressful and sucky, and every word may feel like a hard-earned failure. But all along, no matter what, I’ve had the uncomplicated love of a fluffy little friend. So, to Rosebud and Busco in Doggie Heaven, and Leonidas (pictured below), I dedicate this post to you.

Do you have a special pet you’ve written into a story, or one who’s just a writing buddy? I’d love to hear about them!

S Carroll Lee Selfie

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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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A Space to Create

It’s just a little nook at the top of the stairs, but it’s mine, all mine. Some time ago, I wrote a post about my goal to have a writing space of my own. At the time, it was only a frustrating wish, as we had recently gotten our floors refinished, and all the random boxed stuff that hadn’t been put away yet was stacked all over my area, which had never really been set up properly in the first place. Fast forward a year or so, and I’m happy to finally update. I have a space to create! It’s a little more cluttered than I’d like, mainly because it doubles as a sewing studio due to our square footage constraints. While it’s no pæan to sleek modernism, it’s functional and decorated with love and inspiring bits of this and that. Allow me to give you a tour!

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Pending projects, fabric stash, happy art, including some my grandmother painted… and most importantly, my writing buddy.

 

All the necessities, including the giant glass of iced tea!

Antique motel postcards, and vintage patterns help put me in the creative mode for both writing and sewing. There are also the obvious necessities, especially the giant glass of iced tea!

My knockoff Hans Wegner Rope chair, the perfect place to sit and ponder.

My knockoff Hans Wegner Rope chair, the perfect place to sit and ponder.

Hello, who's this? The vintage gown I hope to wear to the Rita/Golden Heart Awards banquet at RWA Nationals in San Diego! She's still in rehab, but I have every reason to hope for a glorious recovery.

Hello, who’s this? The vintage gown I hope to wear to the Rita/Golden Heart Awards banquet at RWA Nationals in San Diego! She’s still in rehab, but I have every reason to hope for a glorious recovery.

 

Well, that’s the grand tour of a tiny, happy place! What’s your space like? Are you lucky enough to be all Virginia Woolf with a room of your own, or do you have to make do with a corner somewhere? Does it make you happy? How have you made it yours? I’d love to see or hear about it!

 

Happy Writing,

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I sew vintage!

When I’m not writing, working the day job, or wife-and-mothering, one of the first places my imagination goes is to the sewing table. I first learned to sew in high school following the instruction of my mom and grandmother. In college, I worked my first retail job in one of the lowest-end fabric stores imaginable–I mean, really–there was no 100% cotton in the whole store. Since then, I’ve have had on and off bouts of sewing obsession. And thanks to former Bad Girl Frances Fowlkes and her wonderful print dresses, I’m in the throes of one, now.

Where writing is mental and emotional, sewing is physical and mental. As a writer, I have a lot of angsty moments: sending off queries, waiting to hear feedback, and the never-ending doubts about the story, direction, and everything, not to mention life’s moments that make me too wound up or pissed off to write a coherent paragraph. There’s something about cutting out fabric, pinning and planning that’s therapeutic. It makes me focus on something immediately in the present, and it’s challenging enough that I’m not obsessing about whatever is bothering me. And then, there’s the potential! The real appeal of sewing for me is taking an idea and making it real…kind of the same thing as writing, now that I think about it! When I think about sewing, I imagine what it will be like when I wear the creation I’m imagining. A cocktail dress for a RWA conference, a gathered skirt for work, a vintage muu-muu maxi dress for patio time this summer.

About 80% of my sewing projects are vintage patterns or reissues of vintage patterns. I’m not a full-on vintage girl all the time, but I like to incorporate the aesthetic whenever I can. Since many of my stories are set in the past, wearing vintage gives me an opportunity to feel what my characters feel–the rustle of petticoats, a nipped-in waist, stockings and garters. Also, the pattern art is the best!

So here are a few of my latest obsessions, finished, planned, and in-progress:

Here’s me in Butterick 6285 (skirt), with a petticoat underneath. I liked this so much, I’m working on a second one!

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And, now for the planned/pending stuff! This is Butterick 6318. I’m planning to do this in black and white seersucker for graduation and RWA. And I may have cut my hair shorter based on how much I love this pattern art…

 

Butterick 6318

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A play suit/bathing suit cover up (I’m doing the short version in an umbrella print):

simplicity 8085

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, last but not least, the vintage muu-muu for après-swim patio time! This pattern is circa 1967 and it’s almost finished. The plan is to wear it on Mother’s Day while doing absolutely nothing.

simplicity vintage mu-mu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So do you sew or have a craft that makes you semi-obsessed? I’d love to hear about it!

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Pre-published? What’s your path?

beach pool signpostOver the past couple of months I’ve been slowly wading into the querying process for Smiling Underwater, the first book in my series about women who perform as mermaids at a tourist trap in 1950’s Florida. I’ve sent out about a dozen queries so far, and I’ve had several full requests. Out of those, two Nice Rejections, in which the agents said extremely complimentary things, although no dice. Still waiting to hear on the other full from this batch, as well as a larger handful of partials out there in the void. Meanwhile, I wait.

So what do I do while I’m waiting? Get my next batch of queries ready for submission, first of all. Continue drafting Book Two. And then/simultaneously, question my entire existence as a writer! Maybe that’s too strong, but there is definitely something about sending one’s work out into the world that brings out the hardcore doubts. What if my subject is too niche? What if there’s too much romance for women’s fiction or too much women’s fiction for romance? What if the time period makes it unmarketable? What if, what if, what if……(insert downward spiral here). So with that going on along with the pressures of upholding my title of Last Unpublished Bad Girl Blogger, I realized I needed a plan… or several plans.

Plan A is to carry on as if I have no doubts. I’m this close, and The Call could be right around the corner. Priority One is to sign with an agent, as my ultimate goal is to be traditionally published, ideally in trade paperback. Hard cover would be nice, but I’m not getting ahead of myself! During this time, I’m writing the other books in my series.

Now, for a brief interruption by our sponsor, Writer Doubt…. But what if I can’t sell this book? Won’t my whole time writing Books Two and Three be a waste if I can’t sell the first one? Glad you asked! That brings me to Plan B.

Plan B applies only if the work is good enough. If I continue to get complimentary rejections, contest finals, and excellent feedback from beta readers, I veer onto the other path. My story is niche. I get it. But I’m not the only one into that niche. I believe I could be successful self-publishing or releasing through a small press with the right research and effort. So that’s settled, then.

The one trouble with this is the open-endedness of the query process. When do I know it’s time to take the other path? How long? How many agents should I query? All of them? It might take a year to hear back. And if I batch out my queries over time, that’s…. yikes. I want my work out there. Some of this might stem from being the last unpublished Bad Girl on the blog, but most is that I’m ready, despite the doubts. That means I need, not a new plan, but an amendment.

Plan A (i): Carry on parent Plan A, as I write the other books in the series. If I haven’t sold by the time I’ve finished Book Three, I implement Plan B. And I’ll have three books!

And as Plan B unfolds, I begin Plan B (i): write the contemporary that’s in my brain-queue, and when it’s ready for submission, resume Plan A.

So that’s my planned path. I’m sure things will change, because they always do, but at least I know where I’m going, and that’s gone a long way to ease the doubt. Fellow unpublished writers: do you have a path mapped out? And published peeps, what did you do? Drop me a comment–I’d love to hear about it!

Happy writing,

 

 

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The One That Got Me Hooked!

sight for sore eyes coverEver since we started the current blog topic of the books and authors that inspired us to become writers, I’ve been wondering exactly how to approach it. I’ve been a reader since I was three, and a writer of stories, poetry, and embarrassing handwritten fan fiction for almost that long, it only occurred to me to try writing novels fairly recently. What flipped that switch was an intersection of some ideas, a creative itch, and a summer full of free time. I’m a visual person. I love stories that draw me into their world, that make me feel like I’m there–and I strive to achieve that in my own work. Also (and you may not believe this about me), I’m a talker. I love to tell stories. It’s probably this desire to entertain people as much as anything else that made me a writer.

There are so many authors that I love and have read religiously for years, but if I had to choose the most inspiring one, it’s the incomparable, late, Ruth Rendell. She was the epitome of the lifelong author, publishing her first novel in the 1960s, and she continued to write up to her death this past May… and in her later years, she did it while also being a Member of Parliament. She’s deservedly one of the queens of British mystery, because of her long-running Inspector Wexford novels, but my personal favorites are the more psychological studies she creates in her standalone books, both as Ruth Rendell and the more Gothic/Literary ones penned as Barbara Vine. Seriously, folks, there are more good books written by this lady than I can count! Do you like dark humor? Do you like razor-sharp insights into the stranger aspects of human nature? Do you like getting into the mind of the villain or weirdo character? Plots that weave the lives of random strangers together with shocking consequences? How about being immersed in London’s neighborhoods and atmosphere? If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, my friends, then you owe it to yourselves to get on closer terms with this legend!

It all started innocently enough, about fifteen years ago, with A Sight for Sore Eyes. I found it on the shelf of the public library, where I was looking for some non-algae based reading material (I was in the midst of writing my Master’s thesis at the time…now that was riveting prose, let me tell you). I meant to read a few pages, take a little break before getting back to the scientific journals and my computer. Later, I realized the day was gone, it was the middle of the night, and I’d done nothing but read that book and pee since coming home from the library!

Her prose is cool and spare, no extra words anywhere, but you are right there in that story, witnessing the making of a sociopath. And sort of understanding him, if not actually rooting for him. And OMG, the hooks! Hooks at the end of every scene! The creeping dread and ominous buildup–and the absolute creepiest of poetic justice at the end! All bow down to the Queen, people.

Even though my light women’s fiction is about as far away as you can get from what you might find in the pages of a typical Ruth Rendell book, she still inspires me. Her hooks, her settings, the absolute realness of the inner and outer worlds of her characters…. if my stories could achieve half for what she did on the daily, that would be a lifetime achievement for me.

So what do you think? Have you ever read any of her books? If you’re a writer, do you have a favorite author who writes in a completely different genre? And most importantly, do you need any more awesome Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine recs? Hint: A Dark-Adapted Eye is just as awesome as ASFSE, but with added WWII intrigue!

Happy (and creepy) Reading!

 

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If I can do it…

you can do it gif

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I’m fresh from the Georgia Romance Writers Moonlight and Magnolias Conference for a much needed weekend of bonding with my fellow authors. Attending conferences always renews my enthusiasm for my work and recharges my creativity. Then, like always, life gets in the way again and tries to shove my writing to the backseat, somewhere under the preschool papers and the towel I keep there in case the dog pukes on a road trip.

This year, though, I had the opportunity to attend a craft workshop led by Candace Havens: Fast Draft/Revision Hell. This was an amazing experience! In Fast Draft, she explains a process that will lead to–you guessed it–extremely fast drafting! How fast? Pretty much fast enough to get a bare-bones, messed up first draft of a novel done within a two week period. Now, I’m not going to be spreading her trade secrets around, but I will tell you this: a big part of her method is about accountability, and moving forward. Sounds like obvious, common sense, but somehow, it all clicked like it never would have in a million years had I not heard it in the way she presented it.

I’ll admit, I’m not really fast drafting as she prescribes it. I have a manuscript to finish, and with about 30% left to go, I was sputtering on fumes. So, as soon as I got home, I decided to apply her techniques to my situation, and as of Day 3, I’ve accomplished so much, that I’ll be finished within about three more days worth of similar output. It’s not quite the true fast-drafting output, but it’s easily double the word count of what I’d previously considered a “full” writing day.

I’m not a fast writer. I fiddle and fuss, I re-read and edit as I go. That’s against the rules in Fast Draft! I still deliberate over what I put on the page, but I keep moving forward. You mean moving forward results in more productivity? I know!! Imagine! Ooh! Ooh! Guess what else!! I quit wasting so much damn time! Instead of starting the day with email and internet nonsense, I wait until after writing time. I leave my phone downstairs. In my writing time, I just write. And damn, if it isn’t working!

Accountability is also a big motivator, so I’m checking in daily with fellow fast-drafting Bad Girlz for a daily review of our respective ass-kicking and name-taking. I don’t know exactly how something so simple works so well, but it’s totally clicked and I’m feeling the magic. If any of you feel like you need that little extra kick in the pants to really get motivated and get some results, I highly recommend this workshop!

Oh, also, Candace says it’s very important to reward yourself after making a goal. So here’s a GIF of the bassist from the Clash taking his shirt off….. You’re welcome.

 

simonon

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

 

 

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Just Get to the Point, Already!!

pirate-treasure-map-23094030This series of posts about things we always screw up as writers was eerie to read. I’ve freaked out and messed up in all of those ways, and then some. So when it came time to write my own take on the subject, I wondered where in the world to start. Then it hit me–knowing where to start is my thing!

I am getting better at this, I swear. But it’s a struggle. I ramble. I enjoy setting the stage. I want to work in descriptions of the clothing, as well as a good dick joke or three. And oh, Lord, how I love my characters’ back stories! Actually getting my book distilled into an elevator pitch is about as traumatizing for me as being trapped in the elevator as it plummets from the penthouse. Here are a few highlights of my guilty past. At some point in my writing career, I have:

  1. Written a (supposedly steamy) rock star romance where the hero and heroine don’t meet until around page 100.
  2. Written a story so chronologically, it literally left nothing out. Including the character getting ready for bed, falling asleep, waking up, and having breakfast. Each day.
  3. Begun a story with the heroine packing her suitcases, and then driving to the destination where the story will actually take place, at some point in the near future. After she checks in to the hotel down there, of course.
  4. Wondered if a prologue might be a good place to sneak in another awesome flashback.
  5. Lamented the demise of the sweeping, 800 page sagas that I used to check out from the library in high school. Why can’t I write something that takes a good fifty years or so to really get going?

It hasn’t come easy, but I’ve learned. And am still learning. And when I forget and let my natural tendencies take over, I have my wonderful Bad Girlz to nudge me back on the path to find my story… or at least take a look at the freaking map 🙂

Happy writing,

 

5 Comments

Do You Change Your Game Near the Finish Line?

Wow, this summer is whizzing by! And if I say so myself, I’ve pretty much been winning it (just don’t count the vegetable garden or the state of my housekeeping, or my committed daily exercise regimen). I’ve been places, done cool stuff, seen family and friends including some much needed R&R with my BadGirlz, and even managed to get some sewing projects to turn out nicely. I may even have a new day job in the works. Best of all, though, is my writing progress. I’ve gotten some great feedback from critique partners and contest judges, and my current WIP is at the 75% mark. I can see, smell, and taste that finish line! So why are things getting weird?

 
I wish I knew, but it’s happened before… pretty much every time. By this point in the drafting process, I feel like I know the story inside and out. I know all the whats, whens, wheres, whys, and hows of everything that needs to take place to get me to The End. All this momentum, and motivation, too—and then I sort of stall out on my current scene. I’m usually a very chronological writer. I start on Page One and plug away until I get to the last page. But then, usually at about three-quarters through, all the later scenes start making too much noise in my head. The Black Moment, the bleakness after, the resolution scene that’s so sweet I can’t even stand it—all of these start feeling realer, better, and way easier to write than the thing I’m working on. And the thing I’m working on happens to be a decently juicy scene, too. Whole sections of dialogue, fully detailed descriptions, and awesome one-liners are now bouncing around in my head for scenes that are a couple of chapters down the road. My current scene feels like homework in comparison.

 
So, I’ve decided to go rogue. I’m writing the scenes down in another file, to be cut and pasted into the manuscript when the time comes. It’s resulting in word count and getting me closer to the ending… but it feels like I’m cheating. Cheating on my process? Bitch, please. For a good two years there, you didn’t even have a process. Maybe this is my process? Linear up to a point, then whatever’s going to get the job done. And the same sort of thing happened back in the old days, too. So I might be onto something. Like previous posts from Heather and Sophia, there is no one right way to do it. But I’m sure there are also more wrong ways to do it than stars in the Milky Way….

 
So how do you write as you approach the finish line? Do you do scenes at random when the fancy strikes, or are you a stickler for chronology? Do you have a tried and true process, or try different things each time?

6 Comments

That Slippery Synopsis!

sumner 4No, it’s not Man-Candy Monday. Though I believe he totally qualifies, Bernard Sumner has joined me today because of his creative process. A founding member of Joy Division and the somewhat reluctant frontman of New Order, the finest band of the 80s, nay, OF ALL TIME, Bernard Sumner has said that writing lyrics is a struggle akin to breaking a horse.  Well, sweetie, I get it. That’s exactly how I feel about writing a synopsis.

And shall I say it’s been awhile? The last time I had a project in the synopsis/submission-ready stage was….well, longer ago than that last time I Googled shirtless pictures of Bernard Sumner–and that’s been way too long! Sheesh, sometimes we get so busy, we neglect the really important things in life.

But anyhoo…the synopsis. I’ve read so many advice blogs, so many “magic” formulas. Some of it not-so-great (write a one-sentence summary of each chapter et voila), some of it very good, and usable–if I wasn’t hopeless at the whole process. All of this just increased the dread. I spent half a day writing and deleting the same opening sentence. My wild horse stood in the corner, snorting, stomping, and glaring fire.

Since I was getting nowhere, I was forced to return to my notebook. While not to the extent of a couple of fellow Bad Girlz (ahem, Jenna P and E. Michels), I’m a plotter. Before I write, I begin with a loose outline of the plot, including as many scenes as I can visualize at that point, and a definite direction of my story arc. I also do some fairly detailed character descriptions, with a focus on each one’s GMC. Each character sheet includes back story, the romance arc, and his/her individual character arc, referenced back to the events in the outline. All of this is hand-written, semi-stream of consciousness, and a total mess with arrows, doodles, and crap written everywhere.

And then, a funny thing happened. I realized my synopsis was already there. I had the loose plot, and my characters’ motivations, and their turning points. I only had to put them together in an interesting way, and not make it too damn long. That’s where the best internet advice came in. I found these pointers here and here.

  1.  I used third person, present tense, active voice.
  2. I hit the highlights, and left out most of the details. Just a general summary of the beginning, middle, and end, including resolution of conflict.
  3. What I did spend precious word count on was the emotional aspect of my story. I made sure I gave my characters a little background, and gave an impression of their motivation.
  4. One of the best pieces of advice I read was to tell the story in a conversational style. Before, I either fell into dry summary, or resorted to “In a world where…” Both were hard to do, felt unnatural, and produced sucky results. I even added a quote and a joke or two.

And you know what, I think it worked! There are a lot of great articles online for synopsis help. If some of the things you find strike a chord, but you still don’t know where to start, my advice is to return to your outline, or character sheets, or your beautiful color-coded plot board as the case may be. If you’re an incurable pantser, and you don’t have anything like that, it’s worth it to try. By investing the time beforehand in my story arc and my characters’ GMC, the advice gelled.

I may not have Mr. Sumner’s lyrical chops (it takes years of experience to get away with rhyming things with stinks), but do I have a synopsis!

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