Truth or Dare and SDLRs

I’ve just finished reading “Truth or Dare” by Jayne Ann Krentz. She is one of the most consistent writers I’ve ever come across. She always delivers a quality read, with strong characters and a tight plot. Further, I enjoy her type of story, in which the characters are always imbued with a sense of honor, humor leavens the suspense, and a mystery provides entertaining twists and turns on the way to true love.

The suspense is interesting enough to keep the pages turning, but not so nerve-wracking that it isn’t a relaxing, enjoyable escapist read. I dislike true suspense thrillers because they make me tense, and sadly many romance writers I’ve enjoyed in the past are now writing books that are too dark and suspenseful for me. So I love this particular brand of intrigue, romance, humor and happy endings that Krentz does so beautifully.

One plot point revolves around SDLRs, the characters alerted to trouble by subtle little cues that Something Didn’t Look Right. Unfortunately, in real life people all too often overlook the SDLRs, particularly women. I once heard a police officer speak on the topic who said that most female victims later reported that something about their attacker or their situation struck them as wrong but they didn’t react because they didn’t want to be rude.

Please dwell on that for a moment; women become victims in many cases not because they don’t notice potential trouble but because they have been oversocialized to the point that they don’t protect themselves for fear of offending their attackers. It isn’t nice to be suspicious. It’s rude to refuse to open that door.

This is uppermost in my mind because I had a SDLR moment of my own yesterday. Out for a hike, I came out onto a stretch of road where there are no houses on either side for a little distance. And right on this stretch, a man by himself in his mid-twenties drove past in a pickup and noticed me walking alone. His head turned as he drove past. And he pulled over and turned around just ahead of me on a turn in the road.

The turn put me just out of view for a few minutes, and to my left was another trail entrance that I knew came out onto the same road further up next to a house. I hit the trail and vanished into the woods by the time he drove back to where I had been on the road.

Maybe he suddenly remembered he’d forgotten to lock his front door. Maybe he wanted to ask for directions. Or maybe not. I didn’t like the way he took notice of me, I didn’t like the way he turned around and headed back, and I didn’t stand around waiting to see what would happen. I just took evasive action. (As a side note, I do not make a habit out of hiking or jogging alone because the statistics compiled by the Road Runners of America on assaults on women jogging alone were alarming 10 years ago. This was a rare occasion when my husband wasn’t with me.)

I won’t start my “all women should take martial arts” rant (although I do believe that and intend to sign my daughter up in another year), but at the very least all women should be aware of their surroundings and know about personal safety. Your local police force will undoubtedly be delighted to send somebody out to talk to you about personal safety and what you can do to improve yours. All too often they don’t get the opportunity to prevent a crime.

So pick up “Truth or Dare” for a fun and page-turning read, and give some thought to taking any SDLR moments in your own life seriously. Maybe you’ll be overreacting. Or maybe it will save you.

The great pannini riots

Breaking local news interrupts the writer’s blog today. Trouble is brewing at Easy Times Espresso along with the organic dark roast. I think it’s safe to say the area hasn’t seen such a stir since Fort Townsend was roused for the San Juan Pig War.

The problem? The panninis. Specifically, hordes of caffeinated customers deprived of panninis because the pannini baker is going back to Europe. I don’t have to tell you that hopped-up java junkies on a sugar high without any protein are dangerous characters prone to impulsive behavior and unlikely to fall asleep in the middle of their frenzy.

What will happen when these hard-core coffee drinkers realize the only source of drive-through protein within twenty miles is McDonald’s? I don’t know, but I fear for the cows grazing in their idyllic pastures. And the fencing.


I’m feeling contagious this week. I got emails from two long-time writer friends on the same day saying they were inspired by my sales to make their own writing a higher priority. And my husband has been bitten by the bug and started a novel. His second, he actually tried once before and had the “I have no idea what I’m doing” realization and stopped after 10 chapters.

I had no idea what I was doing the first time I tried to write a novel, either. And it doesn’t help when you come across pointers like “There are three rules for writing the novel, but nobody knows what they are,” (Somerset Maugham) and “Writing a book is like driving in the dark with no headlights,” (E.L. Doctorow).

Fortunately, it isn’t quite that bad. A lot of the rules of a novel become ingrained just by being an avid reader. You gain a sense of what does and doesn’t work, common conventions, genre specific points. The intuitive knowlege of novel ingredients is all stored away in the unconscious mind, which is why you shouldn’t worry if your conscious mind has no idea what to do. To soothe the conscious mind, though, there are plenty of workshops and books and conferences that teach elements of fiction writing and can add handy tools to aid your intuition.

Ideally, the intuitive part of the mind and the tool-using part of the mind work together to get the thing done. How? Well, there are three rules, but nobody knows what they are. Just kidding. Sort of. The truth is, how this process works differs for different people.

Which is why I blog about what works for me and how I do it. What works for me might work for somebody else, too. If not, they can at least cross something off the list and keep looking for something that will help.

In general, I do these things: I write the piece as quickly as I can, not necessarily in terms of daily page count but in terms of speed per page. I do this because I’ve learned that if I go slowly, I think too much about what I’m doing. Generally when I’m onto something good, it’s scary and if I let myself think about that, I will want to back away from what feels scary and tone it down to something that doesn’t make me uncomfortable.

I use music to get the right mindset for a piece. The science of music and how it affects the human brain is fascinating, but it can be distilled into this fact: music alters brain waves. Find the music that puts your brain waves in the right place and it can help your writing session. Although I can’t listen while I work, many people do. I just listen beforehand and in the middle if I start to feel stuck.

I don’t write in sequential order, necessarily. Software makes it really easy to put scenes and chapters where they belong sequentially after they’re written.

I don’t work from a detailed outline. I work from whatever basic idea I started with and whatever research that basic idea made necessary. I write the synopsis when I’m finished, because until the end I don’t know what all is going to happen or how the characters will unfold. Or even what length it will be. Usually things mushroom on me and get bigger, but in the case of my last story, it did the reverse.

I tell myself repeatedly that I can fix it in revision while I’m writing when something bothers me. I don’t write sloppy, but I also try not to stop to look up different words to avoid being repetitive, or read back over my scene to see if I left out sensory detail or some physical action. I look for those things later and fix them after the story is down. The main thing when I’m writing is to just get the bones of the story down. I can flesh out anything I need to afterwards.

I end up adding to my word count in revision instead of cutting, because I do tend to write the bones and then paint in the faces later, but this seems less wasteful to me then throwing away pages and pages of good prose. However, if it takes throwing away 40 or more pages to produce a good book, I’d go with it because what matters in the end is that you have a good piece of work, not how you got there.

Which sums it all up. Whatever helps you get words on the page, whatever helps you cross the finish line and type in “the end”, those are your rules for writing the novel. There is no one right way to write. There are just lots of tools and tips and tricks that work for different people at different times.

Working on Revision

I’m still polishing up my finished story, and since it’s a shortie it seems to be taking longer. It’s sad but true that the fewer words you have, the more each one counts. It’s not easier to write short and in some ways more difficult. This is also my first time through using a different style guide. So this is one of those weeks of faithful effort that doesn’t appear to be accomplishing much.

It’s very easy when writing new pages to track your progress and tell when a day has been exceptionally productive. Revision is harder to track, but I can see how far the story has come since I finished it and started in on clean up. I expected it to take me a week, and today is Thursday, so I’m right on track for being nearly done.

Still, it will be a big relief to reach the point where I can’t improve on it any further, it’s as done as it is going to get, and move on to producing new pages. I always feel sort of guilty, like I’m ditching work, if it doesn’t result in new pages, no matter how much other work I do. But it seems to work best for the story if I’m totally immersed in it and not switching off to other projects at this stage.

Time to polish some more.

Raced to the finish line

I finished Project A yesterday in a blizzard of pages. I wonder if I can write off the purchase of “Want You Bad” on mp3 as a deduction? Everything moved after I started playing that song. I could not get a grip on the hero, and then the musical key made it all unfold.

Now I’m doing cleanup. When I’m done fiddling and fixing, I will send it off and get focused on Projects B and C.

But today, I will make sure to reward myself in some manner for making it to the finish line.

It’s terribly important to celebrate every little success. Every page completed, every plot problem resolved, every story finished is a victory. No matter what else happens, I’ve achieved something I set out to accomplish. This matters to Writer Morale, because some things I’ve written did not sell for years. And even if this story sells immediately, it won’t see publication immediately because that’s just how the system works.

So in the meantime I can go to Easy Times Espresso and have a chocolate breve, pat myself on the back, and know that I finished another one.