Tag Archive | writing

The Crazies on The Porch

imageLast night I arrived in New York City for a writer’s conference. Coming from New Mexico, it is always a shock to get off the plane and be instantly thrown into the hustle bustle of true “big city” life. It always takes me a few days to adjust and get into the rhythm of the controlled chaos. I feel like I’m going crazy at first, like I just don’t have the mental fortitude to deal with all the noise, the crowds, the lack of space. In New Mexico there is no “lack” of space to be sure.

My great solace as I sit in my bed, listening to the chaos that never seems to end below my window, is that I get to see the three women who’ve become so important in my writing life–the Crazies–as we call ourselves, Dana, Liz and Pam. We’re about as different as the contents in a bowl of fruit, a Northern apple, a Midwestern pear, a Southern peach and a Southwestern chili (yes, chili is classified as a fruit.) Different in our make up, our creativity, and our style–but still fruit.

We met a few years ago at a writer’s workshop in Scituate, Massachusetts–at a bar, the preferred hangout for most workshop attendees and conference goers, and immediately hit it off. Our differences and sameness seemed to mesh into our own perfect union of crazy. After a few days of divulging our life experience and the real and made up characters in our worlds, the word “crazy” came up. “Crazy” in the sense of addled, eccentric, mad, deranged, or just not quite right. We discussed that in most regions of the U.S., “crazy” was not a good thing, something to be pitied, or ashamed of, something not discussed, when Liz piped up, “my family is from the south and we just put our crazies on the front porch.”

After a hearty round of laughter and a toast to all the”crazies” in the world, hidden away behind closed doors, or out loud on the porch, we decided that the term fit us pretty well and we christened ourselves, “The Crazies on The Porch” with great confidence and pride.

Since that moment we united as sisters and talk every couple of weeks through video chat. We also send each other our work for editing, brainstorming, new beginnings, and polished endings. Sometimes we just talk about our lives. We are all crazy, in every sense of the word, and we are not alone. We have each other.

 

Writer’s Process Blog Tour

Greetings! I’ve been tagged in The Writing Process Blog Tour by my friend and fellow LERA (Land of Enchantment Romance Authors) sister, 2014 Golden Heart®finalist, Shelly Alexander to tell you about my process in writing a novel.

Process is one of the things I love to talk about with other writers. I love to hear about what makes them tick and how they get their stories down on paper, or on the computer screen. Some writers are pantsers, they sit down and let their fingers fly, telling those stories by the seat of their pants. Others are plotters, with pages and pages of scenes, dialogues, outlines, beginnings and endings. I fall somewhere in between. I like to think of myself as a puzzler. I start with a plan, an outline – the frame of the puzzle – and then I add the pieces, usually in a linear fashion. This is the way I work actual jigsaw puzzles. I start with the outer frame and then work from the top down, filling in the pieces.

As a part of the blog tour, here are four questions every writer must answer:

What am I working on right now?

I am working on the first book of a three book series titled Waiting In The Wings. The story is a historical mystery and takes place in 1917, New York City, in the glamorous, glittering world of the Ziegfeld Follies.

Here’s my pitch:

One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle - Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star

One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle – Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star

Grace Michelle, an introverted, aspiring costume designer in the Ziegfeld Follies, 1917, has everything she wants; pretty good for an orphan who once lived on the streets of New York City. When her sister, Sophia, the star of the show is murdered, Grace’s protected, comfortable life is shattered. She must step into the Broadway spotlight as Ziegfeld’s newest star to find her sister’s killer. When she discloses a secret from their past, Grace becomes a target and soon discovers the horrific truth about Florenz Ziegfeld, the man who raised her as a daughter.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to take real life characters from the past and breathe new life into them. I am particularly drawn to smart, strong women who were mavericks of their time. Although Grace is a fictional character, she is comprised of many of the women I researched for this novel. Some were actresses and some worked behind the scenes. Many of my secondary characters are real people who worked for Florenz Ziegfeld on Broadway from 1917 -1920. And, of course, the man himself, Florenz Ziegfeld has a starring role in my story.

It was fun for me to learn as much about these iconic figures as I could and then recreate their adventures (in pursuit of fame and fortune) in the theater and on the road. I like working within the confines of history, but expanding on that history and as I imagine what could have happened. After all, as writers, aren’t we all asking that BIG question, what if?

Why do I write what I write?

I’ve always thought I should have been born in a different era. I am fascinated with certain periods in history and can actually visualize what my life would be during those times. I’ve traveled to many places around the world and in a few of those places I have had an intense, visceral, almost spiritual connection with my surroundings. And no, I don’t take drugs – it could be my overactive imagination, or maybe I really did live in those times and places. It’s all a part of the cosmic question, who are we?

How does my writing process work?

As a history buff, I absolutely love getting lost in research. I often take two to three months to research a historical person, place or event. Sometimes, I’ve even been lucky enough to travel where my story will take place.

Once I have a character and setting in mind, then I will start to form the story. I like to use a four-act structure I learned from Lisa Miller’s Story Structure Safari class, comprised of the set up, the response, the attack and then the resolution. Once I figure out vital story components such as the Inciting Incident, Call to Action, Defining Moment, etc, then I start to outline scenes. I use sticky notes on poster sized foam core boards. On each sticky note, I will jot down what I want that scene to be. I map out all the scenes in the story and then I sit down to write. Here’s where the puzzler part comes in. Often, as I write, my characters will say or do something I never expected – which can change the story line. If this happens (and I LOVE it when it does) I have to make the puzzle pieces different shapes to fit the new puzzle. My motto for writing and for life is: Always have a plan. If the plan changes, adjust and make a new plan!

Once I have a first draft, I walk away from it. Sometimes, I don’t look at it for weeks, months, maybe a year – or several – as it’s been for Waiting In The Wings. I am usually working on more than one book at a time, so the separation isn’t devastating. I think about my stories all the time.

Then come the revisions. Revise, revise, revise. I work with a fabulous critique partner and together we work to make our stories as perfect as we can. Sometimes I share my work with other writers and always, I share my work with readers (a select few, of course) because the reader is really the one who counts. At times, I’ve used a professional editor and the experience is invaluable. I highly recommend it!

So, that is my process – for now. Life and writing is full of change.

As writer’s we all have our own process and our own way of telling our stories. All are different and all are fascinating. I’d love to hear about yours!!

 

What Do You Need In A Workspace?

What do you need in a work space to feel comfortable and get those creative juices flowing? Natural light? A comfy chair? Things neatly organized and in their place? These are some of the things that are essential to me. It took me awhile to figure out just what it was I needed.  My first office was set up in my daughter’s room after she left home. It wasn’t as bright as I liked and it was still . . . Jessica’s room. I suppose it will always be her room – not my office. I tried a sunnier spot in the house – the living room where a beautiful antique desk resides. While I loved the spaciousness of the desk, and the flood of sunshine streaming through the french doors,  there were always distractions:

The dogs outside the glass door, their happy faces begging, “come play with us!”

The refrigerator right around the corner.

The food pantry next to it. (It’s amazing how those two beckon when I’m trying to write!)

The TV.

I finally settled on “The Zen Room.” This was once a patio off the master bedroom that was converted (poorly) into a hot tub room before we moved in. We tossed the ancient hot tub, put up dry wall, and added beautiful windows. When we first renovated the house, this room would be the “exercise room” complete with Yoga mats, a treadmill and plenty of UV light. However . . . the room never got used. I started taking Yoga classes at a nearby gym. I ride horses and play tennis and relish the fact that these activities keep me outside. And really, who wants to use a treadmill? Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for folks that do – I just don’t have that kind of attention span!

So – the Zen Room became my office. I purchased a swanky glass and metal desk and a nice cushy chair. Don’t underestimate the importance of a comfortable chair! I used to write while sitting on a straight backed wooden kitchen chair. Why do we do things like that to ourselves? No wonder I could only sit there for 30 minutes at a time while my poor back screamed in protest. I also have a sweet little armchair for reading and relaxation. Unfortunately, the cats have taken possession. As you can see, Louise (of Thelma and Louise) is comfortably napping on a manuscript cushioned by a pillow.      

The ribbons and trophies you see are not writing awards. (Alas!) They are horse showing awards. While they once resided in a plastic storage container, I decided to hang the most important ones along the long wall of my office. I wanted to be surrounded by my accomplishments. As most of you know, the writing business is rife with criticism and rejection. While we are supposed to take it like a champ, rise above it and work even harder, sometimes it sucks. A lot of times it sucks. Every once in a while we need to be reminded of our successes – even if they have nothing to do with our masochistic yet preferred craft.

I can happily say I love spending time in my work space. It’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but with an oscillating fan and a space heater, those problems are remedied. The cats think it’s their room, but luckily they are willing to share. Whether I am staring into space in an attempt to come up with ideas for new stories or diligently at work on a story in progress, my work space is conducive to creativity and long hours in the comfy chair.

What do you need in a work space? Please share your thoughts!

Struggling With Type A

Why aren’t there more hours to a day? Could we please extend the week to nine days? Just think of what we could accomplish. It would be so much easier to get the household chores done, grocery shop, take care of the kids, finish the laundry, work our day jobs, work out, have hobbies, blog endlessly, stay active on social networks and, oh yeah, finish that novel (or novels).  If we had that kind of time we would be so much more effective and we’d be able to set even more goals. Does this sound like you?

You might be struggling with Type A.  First, I must state that I am not a psychologist, nor am I an expert in psychological behavior or theory.  The words you are about to read are in no way based in science, psychology or fact.  Just a little research on the internet.

Since originally published in the 1950’s, The Type A and Type B personality theory, although controversial in the medical and science communities since its publication, still persists as a way of describing personality types.

The general characteristics for Type A include: impatience, taking on numerous tasks, obsessive with time management, competitiveness, intolerance for tardiness, wordiness or anything  they feel is wasting their time, irritability, and a tendency to be a “workaholic.” They are also proactive, ambitious, caring, truthful, and always try to take care of others.

Type B characteristics include: apathy, lacking organization, poor time management and procrastination.  On the positive side they are patient, relaxed, easy going, have little or no stress in their lives and reap the benefits of better health.

The Type A has a constant sense of time urgency.  There is never enough time to complete the monumental task they’ve created for themselves, because there is another waiting to be conquered just around the corner.  When a challenge has been met or perhaps even an award given, the Type A will revel in the moment, celebrate, and then move on to the next big achievement, because perhaps it can top the last.

And speaking of challenges – everything is a challenge.  Conquering challenges and achieving goals helps relieve the insecurities that drive Type A to be the way they are.

The Type A personality is known to successfully handle many tasks at once.  They are usually involved in several unrelated activities while performing all of them well.  After all, failing is not an option.  Restlessness is a common anxiety suffered by the Type A.  If they aren’t doing something, they might feel guilty or become depressed. Life is out there to be lived and Type A has to do it all.

Competitive by nature, Type A personalities often engage in highly competitive sports and/or activities.  While competing against others for that prize or accolade, their fiercest opponent is themselves.  There is always the challenge to be better.  This may be treading into the waters of perfectionism, but I’m proposing that the Type A and the Perfectionist are kissing cousins.

Having said all this, I have to confess – I struggle with Type A. Sometimes I fantasize about sitting on a beach with a cocktail and letting the day lazily slip by, but when I am at the beach, I’m good for about two hours.  Enough relaxation already.  Let’s get something done.

While sitting at the stop light, which seems interminable, my mind is racing with all I have to do for  the next few hours and that usually works its way into the next day. And, damn it, the light has been green for at least ten seconds. Why hasn’t that bozo moved forward yet?

And then there’s the schedule.  Certain things have to be done early in the day and certain things done in the afternoon.  After those are accomplished, there’s the shopping, laundry, and general upkeep of the house.  Oh, and lunch with friends, and then there’s that tennis match, and is it Sunday night? Mad Men is on, but maybe I should TiVo it because chapters seven and eight really need those revisions.  Darn, I did commit to critiquing two chapters for my critique buddy, and I scheduled myself for that weekly blog.

Does this sound familiar?  What’s a Type A to do?  Sometimes we just need to STOP.  After that tennis match, maybe hang around and have lunch with the girls.  What about going to a movie in the middle of the day?  What if we decided to revise chapters seven and eight tomorrow?  Promise to NOT log onto the computer for the entire afternoon.  What about reading one book in its entirety instead of three at a time?   After all, it gets hard to keep the stories straight. Spend time with family just talking. Sometimes after a hard morning of working horses, I just sit and watch them eat grass.  Play with the dogs. Veg.

We need to be kind to ourselves and stop putting endless amounts of pressure on ourselves to constantly achieve.  We need to embrace the Type B lurking somewhere in our psyche.  For me, it’s a daily struggle, but I only have one mind, one body and one life and I want to enjoy it. So, I think I’ll go have that glass of wine and watch the sunset.

But, there’s that next book I wanted to research . . .

Writer’s Weekend in the Woods

 Last weekend I participated in a four day Master Immersion class in Deep Editing with Margie Lawson in Golden, Colorado.  Four of us converged on Margie’s home for four days of Deep Edits, Manuscript Analysis, Dramatic scene editing and empowered conversation about writing.

Day One started at 4:30 pm when we all met at our log cabin hotel, the Eldora Lodge , conveniently located next door to Margie’s home. After we freshend up, we reconvened at Margie’s to get busy with work – and to have a scrumptious dinner prepared by Carole, one of our fellow Immersioners.

First on the agenda was a Cognitive Style Quiz.  What we learned from this test was which side of our brains was more dominant.  It also allowed Margie to see how we learn and the best way to utilize our talents.  Then we took a Style Survey, which again, zeroed in on our personalities and how we intereact with the world around us.  The survey depicted our personality “colors”.  Red: competitive, directing, self-certain and adventurous.  Green: emotional, impulsive, optimistic and enthusiastic.  Blue: accomodating, stabbilizing, deliberate and patient.  And last but not least, Yellow:  Precise, perfectionistic, analytical and logical.  All of us had predominately GREEN styles – including Margie.  We named ourselves the Blonde Enthusiasts. As you can see from the photo, we are all blonde.  But that wasn’t the end of our commonalities.  There are too many to mention.  I am just dumb-founded about how four people from all over the US can come together and be so much alike.  It was one of those serendipitous events!

The next three days were long but productive ones!  From 8am to 9:30pm or later we learned about the Deep Edits System, created by Margie, to analyze your manuscript in terms of dialogue, setting, visceral response, internalization and tension.  Rhetorical devices for Fiction Writers to really add punch to our stories.  Writing Dialogue Cues Like a Psychologist – dialogue cues share subtext.  They inform the reader of non-verbal conmmunication.  We also learned how to Power Up Emotion: The four levels for Writing Success: Basic, Complex, Empowered and Super Empowered. And Writing Body Language Like a Psychologist.  93% of communication is non-verbal.  Learning how to use body language in your novels is a valuable tool to build your characters.  It’s also not easy to do!

When I signed up for the class I was concerned about a number of things.  Would I be able to keep up?  Would I be able to work all day and still have some brain power by 5pm?  Would I be able to be around people for 13 hours every day?  Would we take breaks? To my surprise and relief, I was able to deal with all of the aforementioned.  We ate well, slept well and all got along famously!  We took hiking breaks in the beautiful Colorado mountains (the weather was perfect!) and we even got to go into Boulder for shopping and a terrific dinner at the Russian Tea room.  It was a tremendous experience.

If you ever have the opportunity to be “Immersed” in learning what you love, I highly recommend it!