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.
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 <a href="http://www.outwestnewspaper.com/pigwars.html" target="blank">San Juan Pig War</a>.
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.
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.
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.
The creature is indeed alive, and I wrote 17 pages yesterday. I'm fast and prolific, but that's still a really good day. I'm still following my outlining-from-inside (bat sense) list of scenes that I have up to the next major plot point, so I won't need to pause and look for the next one for a few days.
Time for the Offspring! And remember that <a href="http://www.nanowrimo.org/" target="blank">NaNoWriMo</a> is just around the corner. Get somebody else to bake the turkey this year and sign up!
I'm rocking out to the Offspring this morning. My theme song for two current projects is "Want You Bad". "Behind the Wall of Sleep" by the Smithereens is the musical trigger for another. I could only find the unplugged version on mp3, which is unfortunate, but I hear the electric version in my head just fine when it plays. (Side note: I love that companies are finally getting smart and selling mp3s for individual download. Why make people buy the whole CD if they only want to buy 1 or 2 songs?)
I don't know why, but I don't think I've ever written anything that didn't have a theme song I listen to to get into writing mode. I can't listen while I write, it's too distracting, but the right song sets the stage every time. I'm not the only writer who does this, but I wonder how common it is. The creative process fascinates me, I'm always wondering how productive creative people do what they do.
A lot of it is simply the right frame of mind, bravery with no holds barred. Rollo May wrote a good book about this called "The Courage to Create". I call it driving with no brakes.
I wasn't feeling very brave yesterday, but I found the Offspring, I lowered my sights, I remembered it was only a book, and suddenly the missing pieces snapped into place and just like that, the thing is alive. I love that moment when lightning strikes and the creature stands up and walks. Good stories write themselves, I just get out of the way.
*sings along* "Your one vice is you're too nice...I want you to be bad, bad, bad, bad, bad..."
This morning I was feeling a little stressed. I read my post-it notes of quotes on my screen, and Julia Cameron's leaped out at me: "Keep the drama on the page". Wise, wise Julia. What do the other quotes say? "It's only a book." Lawrence Block. And aother Block quote (I didn't meant that pun, honest) "If you're blocked, lower your sights."
So I'm destressing, lowering my sights, remembering that it's only a book and getting ready to read somebody else's.
What's on my list? That Familiar Touch, by Dara Joy, novellas of the Matrix of Destiny. If you didn't know this book was available, either (I found out by poking around her website), you can order it here: <a href="http://www.officialdarajoy.com/MarketPlace/marketplace.html" target="blank">That Familiar Touch</a>
And I really, really have to read the last Dark Tower installment. I can't believe I haven't read it yet. I want to read about the field of roses. I wonder if it will be the fire of roses from literary sources past. Probably, because Stephen King is literate in spades. I have loved his work since I read "The Stand" and realized he was quoting T.S. Eliot. I said, "This man is the greatest writer in America". That was about 20 years ago, and now he's finally getting the recognition he always deserved for his contribution to the body of American literature.
Which means that Kathleen Woodiwiss can take his place as least appreciated American literary genius. Her prose is gorgeous. A friend of mine said, "It's like she writes in color and everybody else is black and white". Why is it that genre writers have such a hard time being seen for the literary quality of their work? Just because a book is bleak and depressing does not make it Great Literature. And just because it's horror or romance doesn't mean it isn't.
But this post isn't about literary recognition, it's about reading. Why do we read what we read? It entertains us, amuses, uplifts, encourages, distracts, gives us food for thought. People going through horrible times find a place of mental rest in a book, and they reach for romance, horror, science fiction, something that will take them to another world and let them forget about trouble for a little while. It's a wonderful thing to have a good book on a tough day, and it's an honor to have the chance to give somebody else something that might distract them, too. Writing fiction is the greatest job on earth. If I can make somebody laugh on a dark day, then my life will have had meaningful impact.
I've had several recent posts about e-publishing phenomenon <a href="http://www.ellorascave.com/index.asp" target="blank" >Ellora's Cave</a>, so I thought I'd even things up a bit by talking about <a href="http://scheherazadetales.com/enovels.html" target="blank" >Scheherazade Tales</a>, the e-publisher of my first book, Yule be Mine, and the e-publishing revolution in general.
In order to understand the e-publishing revolution, the state of things in traditional publishing has to be understood. Namely, that there are fewer publishers today because publishing companies have been bought up by giant corporations with an eye to the bottom line. Wanting to make a profit isn't a bad thing, because a business that doesn't make a profit can't stay in business. But condensing the publishing world to 10 options with an eye towards commercially viable proven commodities means that a lot of good books and good authors are falling through the cracks.
Consider, for instance, that traditionally good books have gone through as many as 30 rejections before finding a publisher. Books like Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. Books like A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l'Engle. 30 rejections. 10 publishers. You don't have to be very good at math to see what this means. I can't even begin to guess how many good, well-written, important books are languishing in desk drawers and file cabinets for lack of more options.
Welcome to the revolution. E-publishing is stepping in to the gap and buying up those books. Electronic format means lower costs and the ability to take more risks without going out of business in the process. The internet provides a powerful medium for distribution. Print on Demand technology means that it's possible to get a book into print without breaking the small, independent publisher's bank account.
Everybody wins. Readers have more choices. Good books find markets. Writers are able to reach an audience even after the big 10 say no.
And for me, personally, it means that a wonderful story I've always loved is going to reach an audience this year because e-publisher Scheherazade Tales was willing to take a chance on an unknown writer. Yule be Mine is a book that had no potential market at all outside of e-publishing, because the three traditional publishers for short romance that exist had already turned it down and trying to sell a short single-title romance is harder than trying to sell thermal underwear in hell.
So thank you, Deborah, for your vision for Scheherazade Tales and your willingness to take risks. And for writers with good manuscripts that have no traditional market, what are you waiting for? Join the revolution.
Took a trip to Waldenbooks in Silverdale, WA today to see Ellora's Cave books on the shelves and talk to them about my upcoming releases. Those books are flying off the shelves! They can hardly keep them in stock. I got two from the incredibly picked over selection, and I wouldn't be surprised if they're out of stock tomorrow.
They assured me that they would be delighted to stock extra copies of my books and arrange for me to do a formal signing if I like, or I can just come in informally and sign the copies on the shelves. Everybody in the store is very enthusiastic about E.C. Clerks are recommending them to customers, and customers are hauling them away.
It's easy to see what the enthusiasm is about. There's something about a trade paperback that says "not your ordinary paperback" to begin with. And the stories are not just steamy reads, they are fully three-dimensional books, full of action and emotional complexity and rich characterization. This is not your mother's romance novel! And for those of us who love speculative fiction, it's very female oriented. Much as I adore SF/F, it is largely male oriented and the female empowerment in speculative romantica is tremendous.
On a less happy note, I've had to turn off comments on the blog because I kept getting spammed. This is also why I haven't added a forum. I simply don't have time to monitor the site for spam and obnoxious posts. But I welcome comments and would be pleased to hear from anybody by email. Just use the contact link on the site to send a message.