Are You With Me?

Well, the holidays are behind us and most of 2013 lies ahead. If you’ve made resolutions for the year, my best wishes to you for carrying them through. For me, there is one goal for 2013—complete one of my WIPs and have it on track for publication.

Image credit: Microsoft clip art

How are the WIPs going? Why, thank you for asking. Let’s see…. Continue reading

Either I’m Getting Stronger Or The Molasses Is Getting Thinner

Even the President of the United States has to put up with unsightly public work near his home. There’s no particular reason for this photo with this post. But the juxtaposition struck me when we were there last Saturday. Well, not at the White House, but in DC.

With a title like that, you might think I’ve lost my marbles. Wait, that might be the subject of another post. Let’s try again.

Maybe you’ve seen my recent comments about revisions feeling like I’m slogging through a sea of molasses. For those of you unfamiliar with the substance, it’s a thick, brown, gooey syrup made from the by-products of sugar-making. I’m not particularly fond of it. Continue reading

Some Thoughts On Writing Meghan’s Previous Story — Before The New One Starts

Yes, you read that title correctly. So much for a break from writing another Meghan Bode short story on the blog. Those of you who said she wouldn’t fade into the background were absolutely right. This week is my break. A new adventure begins next Tuesday, whether I’m ready or not.

But first, I want to share some of the thoughts that crossed my mind while writing about her brush with forensic archaeology. Continue reading

A Writer’s Less Than Supportive Subconscious

I was wondering what to post today. Meghan is still recovering from the heatwave and doesn’t feel very poetic. She’ll be back soon. But Sunday night, my subconscious decided to help. Well, I hope it was help. But I can’t rule out taunting. . . .

I thought I’d be dreaming about spiders this weekend thanks to Susaartandfood’s recent post. If you haven’t checked out Susie’s blog yet, you should. She tells great stories and shares fantastic recipes. But no such luck. Honestly, spiders might have been better than the dream I had Sunday night.

In that dream I found myself at one of my undergraduate colleges (there were two—I transferred). I walked past a classroom and saw my old freshman English professor. Of course, he hadn’t aged a day, but I recognized him by the copy of The Little, Brown Reader by his desk. (Yes, strange. Remember, this was a dream.)

I happily walked in and introduced myself as one of his former students. This, after all, was the professor who in the real world told me my writing had a great sense of style. And I was one of only two students to get an A for the course. The dream world students sat there as if this was an ordinary occurrence.

He politely asked what I was doing. Did I tell him I was an archaeologist as I do in real life? No, I told him I was writing two novels. And I started telling him about Summer at the Crossroads. I tried an off-the-cuff elevator pitch.

It was horrible. I kept saying things like, “Oh, I should have mentioned,” or, “I know it sounds strange, but trust me, it works.” I apologized for not having a pitch perfected yet. And my happiness deflated with every word as he shook his head and his interest waned.

He did perk up when I tried to explain Catherine’s idea that vivid dreams and déjà vu, for example, are glimpses of our lives in other universes. But what caught his attention wasn’t those two examples. No. It was “favorite fantasies of an alternate life.” I had to explain I didn’t mean those kinds of fantasies. He was disappointed. (And, guys, I apologize for my subconscious stereotyping your reactions.)

As I lamely finished, he said,” I thought I remembered you, but I was mistaken.”

Mercifully, I woke up.

But you can imagine how I felt Monday morning. If this was my subconscious trying to help with an idea for a blog post, it could have given me something more encouraging.

After all, writers are an insecure lot. Okay, maybe not all. Some have a healthy dose of self-confidences and others could share their overabundance with the rest of us. But most of us question our writing, if not every day, then maybe once a week or a few times a month.

I’m certainly in a questioning state of mind these days. That may be what triggered the dream. I know the Muse gave me two good stories. But even as I work on the revisions, I ask myself—can I turn them into good, well-written books? That’s where my self-doubt comes into play. I know it will pass. At some point I’ll read a section that I like and will think, “This is good.” And my confidence in my writing will return. But that could happen any paragraph now. . . .

Does self-doubt grab you often? How do you subdue it?

When The Going Gets Tough

Hey—get back here!

Where do my characters go? You can see one of them running away from me at right. I think it’s Jack Trainer. Madeleine O’Brien might have gotten out the door ahead of him.

As many of you know, I’m in the midst of rewrites and revisions to my novel Death Out of Time based on my beta reader comments. And some of the characters are being less than helpful. That makes the work harder than it should be.

I honestly think rewrites and revisions are harder than writing the initial story. Think about it. That first draft shapes the story in a writer’s mind (at least it does in mine). But when readers consistently point out problems such as too many characters or too complex a plot, a good writer recognizes there is a real problem. Changes must be made.

At this stage, I don’t think it matters if you’re an outliner or a pantser. You’ve got to figure out what to cut, what to revise, what to add, how will that affect other parts of the story … you get the picture. And that’s never easy.

Part of my problem is in the tunnel that I envision between my world and that of my characters. When we first finished building it, the tunnel was wide and clean. Ideas flowed smoothly between us. But as we worked on the early drafts, we ignored the garbage piling up on the tunnel floor. What garbage, you ask? Oh, things like discarded dialogue tags, cut characters, and pooh-poohed plot twists.

This is not Jack Trainer. It might be David Monroe.

As I look at the tunnel floor after two drafts, I see a ton of garbage. And it’s hard to maneuver around it. The floor needs a good cleaning. But am I getting help with that? HA! Who ever wants to help with housework?

No, most of my characters are on vacation somewhere. Maybe sitting on a tropical beach in the South Pacific. Or hiking in the Rockies. Or maybe they’re just hiding out in their homes with the blinds drawn, hoping I’ll go away and finish the work on my own.

To be fair, a few folks are helping. I’ve got some lovely imported Spanish wine set aside for David, Valerie, and Ortzin. Hmm, that last character’s name might have you wondering…. Remember, this book centers on time travel. That’s all I’m saying about him. 🙂

I’m ready for the Muse to step in. She has the power to find the truant characters, round them up, and make them pull their share of the load on the revisions. But I have this sneaking suspicion she’s drinking mojitos with the gang on the tropical beach.

The reality is this. I have to find them, round them up, and make them work with me. And to do that, I have to pull my writing brain together. Revisions are hard. Part of me has a hard time settling down to do it. And that part has gotten too much of the upper hand.

So if my comments on your posts are getting shorter, or I sometimes only leave a “like” when I used to comment, it’s because I have to spend more time with the books. My novels are the reason for the blog. I hope you’ll understand.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I just got a tip that Madeleine was spotted at a nearby shopping mall….

You’re coming with me, O’Brien.

PS. On a fun note, I typed the opening scenes of my WIPs into the “I Write Like” web site. I stole borrowed the idea from Kathlis’s recent post. You get a comparison to famous writers based on your word choices and frequencies. It was fun. According to the site, my opening scene for Death Out of Time is reminiscent of Jack London. Hmm. That’s not bad company.

As a lark, I entered the opening scene for each alternate universe of Summer at the Crossroads. While these all deal with the “same” woman as a main character, her life is different in each universe. And, apparently, so is my writing of them. I got the following results:

Catherine Donnelly = Ernest Hemingway. Trust me. I do NOT write like Hemingway.

Katharine Donnelly = Raymond Chandler. Um, I really don’t think so.

Kathryn Donnellan = Dan Brown. Wow. Mega sales, here I come! LOL

Katarina O’Donnell = Anne Rice. Hmm. More mega sales! I’m not holding my breath. 🙂

Nurturing The Dream

Today marks an anniversary for me. Three years ago, I sat down at my computer and began writing a novel. I never planned to do any such thing. But as you can read here, thoughts and events came together. And the Muse conspired with some characters to allow them access to my brain and hands. Until that point, I had never seriously considered writing one novel, let alone two that will have multiple sequels. This isn’t a dream I’ve carried with me since childhood, or even early adulthood. I didn’t start writing novels at 15 or 22 or even 30. But somehow, writing a novel became a dream as I started the physical act of writing one. (That sounds rather circular or mystical. And yet it fits.) Three years ago, writing became fun. I do it all the time in the day job, but the reports have little room for creativity. They have specific formats and information requirements, and they are certainly not meant for entertainment. But novels? I can go wherever my characters want to lead me. Sure we argue at times about the best way to tell the stories, but it’s all good-natured. (And they usually win.) Still, as I continued to write in 2009, the dream took shape. Soon, it wasn’t enough to write a novel (or two) for myself and a few close friends and family. I wanted the books to draw a wider audience. I wanted them to be published. I finished revisions to Summer at the Crossroads in early 2011 and queried a few agents. While I did, I worked on finishing a draft of Death Out of Time. Many of you already know neither book is published yet. Summer wasn’t ready for primetime. I made the same mistake many first-time writers do by querying it too soon. Rejection hurts. We all know that. But what amazed me more than anything was the fact that the dream didn’t die. I kept writing. I didn’t know I had it in me. Somehow, in all these years, I never knew this part of me. I’ve kept it going as I completed a second draft of Death Out of Time and sent it out recently for a beta read. There’s a lot of work ahead before that book is finished. But when it is, I’ll start the query process again. Will I have better luck the second time? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that if I can’t attract an agent’s attention, I’ll e-publish the books. I owe it to my characters to make their stories public—when I’ve done them justice. But until then, the dream needs nurturing. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into being lucky enough to get published and find a reading public for a book. I study writer, agent, and editor advice for writing a good story and querying novels. I learn about  independent publishing and what’s needed to become successful if I go that route. I read books and see things that work (and don’t). I evaluate my own writing to see if I make the same mistakes I find elsewhere (I do). That learning process never ends. And I blog. I recently topped the 100 mark on followers, and my site views just passed 5,000. Some established and popular bloggers might laugh at those numbers; that could be their numbers for a day. But for me, that’s darn good for five months of blogging about me. Most importantly, I’ve found an incredibly supportive network of fellow writers and other wonderful people, and we all encourage each other to keep going. To keep following our dreams, no matter what they are. And I’m thankful to each and every one of you who has taken time to stop by and read some of my posts. So where will the dream be in another three years? Completed by the publication of the first two novels? No, I don’t think that would be the end of the dream. I think it will continue to grow and develop, as long as I keep tending it. Now that it’s been planted, I want to see how it unfolds. How about you? Has a dream surprised you by taking hold of your thoughts? Have you kept at it through the hard times? Did it continue to grow as you reached the original goal?

Good Mystery Recommendations?

On another note, my husband is looking for a good mystery series to dive into. He’s enjoyed writers like Henning Mankell, Stieg Larssen, and Kate Atkinson. Does anyone have any suggestions for him? Thanks for your help!

A Writer’s New Year Confession – I Don’t Hate Adverbs (Or Adjectives)

The poor adverb. What did it do to turn everyone against it? How does a perfectly legitimate part of English grammar become a literary pariah? Was there a “dark and stormy night” moment that led a secret conclave of agents, editors, and publishers to decree it is no longer welcome? “A curse on adverbs! We will no longer accept manuscripts that use them! So let it be said and done!”

I know adverbs get overused, especially when we tell when we should show. And a story written in 2012 that’s full of “he said forcefully” or “she said wistfully” constructions will never escape the slush pile. And okay – sometimes they’re just redundant to what they modify, as in “He ran quickly.” I get that.

But adverbs are all over my drafts. And they serve a useful role there. Adverbs are my place holders as ideas rush out and my fingers can’t keep up with them on the keyboard. Later, when I’m editing, they remind me what I was thinking. “He reached clumsily for his keys” can be revised to “He fumbled for his keys.” Or, “She said gently” reminds me to make sure her dialogue makes that feeling clear.

You can see them in this early draft from Death Out of Time:

Madeleine suspected it had fallen soon after it was erected and had quickly been covered by soil and grass. [passive, too]

Or

But then she added more firmly, “Of course—the carver could’ve transposed the numbers.” [ooh – not just firmly, but more firmly]

I feel the same way about adjectives. When I look back on those early drafts, they’re everywhere, too. Summer at the Crossroads was full of “doublets.” For example:

Even though they hadn’t seen each other in three years, they quickly moved on to more philosophical and retrospective issues, something they had always done, even as teenagers. [check for adverbs, too]

Or

They decided on a split of pinot gris for the evening meal, opting for its cool and crisp citrus accents on the hot and muggy evening. [I got two doublets in there]

All right, that last one is total overkill. In my defense, the story was only two months old at the time. But some schools of thought would strip those sentences down to nothing – “The wine refreshed them,” or something like that. I want a happy medium. Just as I like body and flavor in my wine, I enjoy some descriptors in the books I read. It’s probably no surprise that I’m not a Hemingway fan.

And so, I won’t remove them all when I polish the manuscripts. After all, they’re part of the language for a reason, right? I believe there’s always a place for a few of them, well-placed, within my novels. And if the day comes when I’m lucky enough to attract an agent and publisher, I plan on fighting to keep them in the manuscripts – or at least some of them. (Excuse me a moment – the Muse just fell out of her chair laughing. . . .)

My argument is that sometimes we have to tell instead of show to move the story along. And an appropriately placed adverb (or adjective) can speed that telling along. Is that so bad? Sometimes that gently/roughly/irritably/calmly modifying word . . . just . . .  sounds . . . right.

So who’s with me? Who can give adverbs (and adjectives) a little love?

PS. And now for a random thought on the rule of “show, don’t tell.” What are writers? Story tellers. What do writers do? We tell stories. Just a thought.