Tag Archives: writing

Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Doing

20140727-215433-78873443.jpg

Been a long time, kids, but I can assure you that the work I wasn’t doing on the blog was more than made up by the hours and tears I spent on the latest iteration of my WIP. I can honestly say that I never have I ever worked harder – and more emotionally – on any piece of writing.

It all started a few months ago when I finished my latest Southern Humorous Contemporary Romance and sent it to my agent, the brilliant Allison Hunter. Allison liked it, but she made a suggestion: why not rewrite it into an Inspirational Romance?

Now, on the surface, that seems like a fairly straightforward idea. When you write about the South, you are going to be writing about religion. They don’t call it the “Bible Belt” for nothing. And as a believer myself, I always incorporate religious matters in my stories. To me, a fully-developed character has to have beliefs and practices, even if they aren’t a major discussion point. It’s background information that informs their actions and reactions throughout, just like their educational level, emotional outlook, and life experiences. So all I need to do is bump up the characters’ church attendance, tone down the love scenes, and lose the profanity, right?

Oh, yes, so you would think. But y’all know me, and you know that I can make a tempest in the tiniest of teapots. And, to tell the truth, theology is not a tiny teapot to folks here in the South. We take our religion seriously, and we don’t have much tolerance for opposing viewpoints. My parents’ church, for example — it never had much more than 100 active members, and usually had far less. But I can name at least three other churches in the area that were formed by breaking off from that congregation over theological arguments. That’s why, as you drive through the Deep South, you will find a church every mile and a half. We keep splitting and merging, like some kind of weird chemistry project, until we find a church that agrees with us on all the important points.

I grew up hardshell Baptist in the pine woods of North Florida. If you’ve ever been to a public event here in the Panhandle, you’ve probably run the gauntlet of the teenagers giving you Gospel tracts and inviting you to their church. That was me growing up. At certain times, with certain preachers, our church didn’t allow girls to wear pants, and teenagers were not allowed to swim with members of the opposite sex (a.k.a. “mixed bathing”).

I grew up, went to college, and did a lot of questioning. I married an Episcopalian and quite happily converted. Wear pants now without a second thought, and haven’t worried about mixed bathing in years. I am still, to my mind, a devout person, but my beliefs are miles and years away from my Baptist childhood.

So being asked to write an inspirational romance gave me visions of myself in heavy lip-liner and bouffant hair, with my mascara streaming down my face in the best Tammy Faye tradition. If I mentioned Elmer Gantry once, I mentioned it a hundred times. I just couldn’t see myself writing inspirational romance. I was ready to quit altogether. And several people close to me said that I should do just that — that anything else would be selling out.

So finally, I sat myself down and asked myself, “Self, what exactly is the problem here? You are a believer. You pray, and attend church, and you feel the presence of God in your life. Why can’t you write a novel where the main character does too?” And I answered myself, “Well, sure, I can do that, as long as the characters don’t have cheesy, mealy-mouthed beliefs that would offend me in real life. I can write someone who struggles with the whole good-and-evil issue, someone who wants to believe but has questions. I can write someone like me and my friends.”

And then, I started writing. As I wrote, I had to reassess all my beliefs. Why, in light of everything I see in the world, do I think God cares about us as individuals? What is the purpose of living a Godly life? For that matter, what is a ‘Godly life’? I couldn’t understand my characters and their actions unless I knew what they (meaning I) believed.

This was the hardest writing I’ve ever done in my life. Harder in a more personal way than any of the legal briefs and memoranda I’ve written, harder than any essay question on any exam. Every word in every scene was important, and each one had to be part of a cohesive belief system that I could live with.

It’s done now, and I’ve sent it out into the big wide world to sink or swim on its merits. I hope it will sell. I think it may be the best writing I’ve ever done. It’s certainly the most heart-felt.

I won’t deny my hopes for this book. I’d love for it to hit the NYT bestseller charts, and be a movie starring Keira Knightley and Henry Cavill, who would take me out for drinks before we hit the red carpet for our premiere. I’d love to go on Good Morning America and tell Robin Roberts (another good Southern girl) all about it. But even if none of that ever happens, I’m happy.

I wrote a book that people told me I could never write. I wrote it in a way that maintained my integrity. I used it as a springboard for examining my beliefs in a way I never had, and I am satisfied with the answers I found along the way. So whatever happens, I win.

(But a nice, 6-figure, 3-book deal wouldn’t hurt…..)

Advertisements

Just Keep Swimming!

I had a rough day yesterday – I got exactly what I asked for, and I whined like a two-year-old when I actually got it.

I’ve finished a book. Well, finished in the sense that I made it all the way from “Chapter One” to “The End”. The writers amongst you will understand that now the real work begins.

I sent my little ms out to my crit partner, aka The Book Midwife. She is one of the most insightful readers I have ever met, and she pointed out exactly what was wrong with my story. Indeed, a lot of her comments were things I knew, but was refusing to acknowledge, hoping that readers wouldn’t notice. (Yeah, right.)

So when my darling DeAnn gave me her thoughts, I thanked her and buckled right down to work, right? Oh, kids, y’all know me better than that!

I pouted. I cried. I stomped around the house swearing that I was done writing. (As if the people in my head would allow that.). I misbehaved badly.

And then a friend – one who knew nothing of my tantrum – posted the quote below. I think it was a sign from God, the universe, the Force, or whatever you conceive the higher power to be.

I’ve apologized to DeAnn, and I’m doing so again now. I’m sorry that you gave me exactly what I asked for and needed and I was too childish and self absorbed to take it graciously. I wish I could promise it will never happen again, but my capacity for childish behavior exceeds all bounds. I can say that I deeply appreciate all the work she did, I value and agree with her comments, and I will TRY to be better in the future.

And as far as my writing, as Dory told Nemo: just keep swimming!

20130813-083358.jpg

Image

Thursday Thought: First Drafts

20130808-084612.jpg

Thursday Thought: Anais Nin

20130801-063244.jpg

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing.

Tunesday: Summertime

Summer is fast approaching here on the Gulf Coast. Just yesterday, it seems like, we were shivering and suffering in the bleak desolation of February’s 50-degree days. Yeah, okay, so winter isn’t that bad down here. But we make up for it between May and October.
Yesterday was not bad, by Emerald Coast standards — it was about 88, with 80% humidity. That’s going to seem downright pleasant in a few more weeks, when we regularly top out in the high 90’s, and the air is so wet you’d swear you can wring it out like a dishrag.
And every year, I know it’s getting to be summer when I catch myself singing that greatest of odes to the lazy, crazy days — Summertime. I’ll get in the car, turn the AC all the way down to “Frigid Wastelands of Siberia,” peel my collar off my neck, and realize that I’m humming about jumping catfish and good-lookin’ mamas.
Yesterday, as I was driving along, discussing my plot with Bridget, my muse, and my two main characters (schizophrenia works for me!), Mr. Gershwin’s lyrics kept sliding through my head. Oh, the cotton is so, so high.
Many of you know that I always have a soundtrack for my books — songs that help me get into the character’s heads and experience their emotions. My current WIP is a Southern romance/women’s fiction involving a city girl who ends up living at the family fish camp in rural South Georgia. Yesterday, it hit me — I am nothing if not obtuse — the absolutely perfect song for a story about long, hot days sitting on the dock with a cane pole and an ice-cold Co’Cola: Summertime, as performed by the South’s First Lady of Heartfelt Lyrics, Miz Janis Joplin of Port Arthur, Texas.Listen to it here.
Does that make you wanna grab an innertube and run jump in the nearest swimming hole, or what?

20130604-082803.jpg

Writer Wednesday – Candi Wall and Agent/Editor Shop

As y’all know, I am now an agented author. (cue applause) But that’s pretty recent, and I sure know what it feels like to be out there in query hell. Which is why I love my friend Candi Wall so much — she didn’t just endure the torture that is the submission process, she set out to find a way to make it better.

So today I’m turning my little blog over to Candi to explain what Agent Shop and Editor Shop are all about:

As if the question ‘Wanna pitch to an agent or editor’ isn’t enough.

Hello! A huge thanks to all my wonderful hosts as I run all over cyberspace talking about Agent/Editor Shop at the Musetracks blog.
In this crazy world of easy access to information, it’s also easy to miss huge opportunities, or forget! Because I get so many comments that writers either forgot, or didn’t know Musetracks did pitch sessions, I asked a bunch of fellow writers, bloggers and readers to help me spread the word.
For those of you who don’t me, I’m Candi Wall, one of the authors who co-contribute to the Musetracks blog. Jennifer Bray-Weber, Marie-Claude Bourque, and Stacey Purcell are my super smart co-contributors and goodness knows where I’d be without them!
I’ve been hosting acquiring Agents at Musetracks for almost two years, and only recently, we decided to add editors as our guest. We’ve been lucky to have agents like Melissa Jeglinski, Jessica Alvarez, Mollie Glick, Becky Vinter, Kevan Lyon, Scott Eagan, Lois Winston, Jill Marsal, Michelle Grajkowski, Kimberley Cameron, Emmanuella Alspaugh (now Morgan), Laura Bradford, Jenny Bent, Sara Crowe, Weronika Janczuk and Stan Soper.
Our guest editors thus far have been Rhonda Penders w/ The Wild Rose Press, Jennifer Miller w/ Samhain Publishing, Debby Gilbert w/ Soul Mate Publishing, Beth Walker w/ Secret Cravings Publishing, and the editors at Books To Go Now have booked three dates in the future!
What we offer is a ‘Pitch Day’. I only take 30 pitches, and only the first thirty VIABLE pitches that come in on pitch day will be seen by the agent or editor. And I will warn you, I’m a stickler for following guidelines. If you don’t include exactly what is in the rules… I delete without prejudice. And I delete quite a few. (And yes, I receive plenty of hate mail.)
You can find us here:
Musetracks and there is a sidebar with Agent/Editor Shop dates and attending professionals
You can find the rules for pitching here:
Musetracks Agent/Editor Shop rules Please read them carefully!
I’ve also created a Yahoo group so writers can sign up to receive Agent/Editor Shop updates. I only send messages with agent/editor attendance updates, reminders of pitch dates, and any information about the contests we run on pitch day. Usually a giveaway or a chance to comment for the Top Pitch Slot. You can request to join here:
Editor/Agent Shop Newsletter Group
Easy as pie! We welcome every stage of writer and at Musetracks, we strive to help other writers, the way we were all helped when we first started out, and the way we are supported today.
Hope to see you all at a pitch day, and if not, feel free to pass the word along to others.
Happy reading and writing!
~Candi

A little about Candi:

Candi Wall is an author of contemporary romance, and YA.
Her début novel PRIMITIVE NIGHTS released from Samhain in Jan 2013, and STAY, the first in the Changing Tides series releases from Samhain on Aug 6th 2013.
She’s a mother of four (21,17,12,9), a rescuer of six (4 dogs & 2 cats), proud auntie of too many to count, a soon-to-be grandmother and great-auntie, a retired Cub Scout leader of 16 years, an avid animal lover/protector and ex-animal control officer. Oh yeah, and wife.
You can find her here:
http://www.candiwallbooks.com
Twitter
Facebook
Goodreads
Musetracks

Exactly What Hemingway Said

20130417-210608.jpg

The first draft of anything is shit.
― Ernest Hemingway

(It’s good to know that Papa would say my WIP is exactly what it should be at this point.)

No Guilt! (Well, Maybe a Little ….)

Okay, I admit defeat. I started the year off with the best of intentions. I didn’t make any of those stupid “I’m going to lose 50 pounds, learn French, and completely organize my house” resolutions. I just said I would write my wordcount goal daily and blog three times a week.

Alas, even with such minimal expectations of myself, I have come up short. I will say (patting self on back) that I have met my wordcount goal about ninety percent of the time so far this year. But the blogging…..

Just a quick glance over the past few weeks will reveal my failure. Nope, I don’t blog three times in one week — one time in three weeks would come closer to being accurate. But I’ve decided not to beat myself up over it.

See, I now consider myself an author. I have a published novel, an agent who is submitting my two completed (and one partial) books to publishers, and I being successful in meeting my productivity goals there. I am also a lawyer with a pretty darn responsible job in a local governmental agency, and I get my work done there, no questions asked.

I have two daughters, one in college and one in high school, and I’ve been married for 29 years. I volunteer with the local historical society and we are active in our church.

In other words, people, I am doing my share. I would love to be a Constant Blogger, but if it comes to the choice between keeping up with my fiction-writing goals and typing up a couple of hundred random words for a blog, right now I think my time is best spent telling my stories.

So I’m going to stop feeling so darn guilty about the blog. I love making my opinions known, and I’m glad some of you are enjoying it. I’m certainly not saying that I’m giving it up. But I just don’t have the energy to feel guilty about it.

So that said, I really will try to post more often in the future! I hate not doing what I said I would!!!

Point of View: The Devil is in the Details

Tom Hiddleston, my darling Loki in the Avengers Movies, explained his mindset when playing the bad guy as follows: Every villain is a hero in his own mind. In a similar vein, Sir Winston Churchill noted how society determines who is right and wrong: History is written by the victors. If Richard III had gotten that horse for which he offered his kingdom, we would remember him less as a man deformed in body and soul, and more as a triumphant protector of his country.

I started writing when I was in elementary school, though (luckily for my friends and family) I never let anyone read those early efforts. One of my favorite books as a child and beginning writer was The Worst Room in the School by Lois Baker Muehl. It told the story of some misfit kids and how they came to be friends — standard middle grades fiction. But the thing that stuck with me about TWRITS was that Ms. Muehl shifted the narrator’s point of view; each chapter was told by a different student in the class.

This was amazing to my 9-year-old self. There wasn’t a good guy or a bad guy — every one of the characters was just trying to do the best he or she could under the circumstances, and their actions made sense when you knew their motivations. As I remember it, an early chapter was told by a teachers’ pet, who made it clear that the class bully was evil incarnate. But then the bully had a chapter, and when I realized why he was acting the way he did, it was far more sad than evil.

As an avid reader and a sometimes writer, I’ve been fascinated by the way a few changed words, a couple of omitted details, can change your understanding of the good guy and bad guy. Certainly, in my career as a trial lawyer, I learned how to shade my word choice and choose the right details to stress, so I could convince a jury that the defendant was or was not guilty of various charges. In fact, as a young showboat moot court member, I once did a demonstration where I argued against myself — playing both prosecutor and defense attorney — and did a damn fine job for both sides!

I recently had a demonstration of this in my own life, where the omission of a few details and the emphasis put on various aspects of a situation changed its tenor completely. I don’t like to hang my private life out on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, so I’ll just say that, when I heard the story, I couldn’t believe it was the same incident I’d seen. What I’d understood to be an unfortunate change of plans because of an unforeseeable family problem was presented as a terrible personal attack on a friend. If I had perceived it the way it was told, I’d hate the “villain” too.

That’s not to say that the person who related the story was wrong in his/her perception of the event. Absolutely not. That person’s emotions, motivations, and perceptions are also real. Feelings were hurt, and for that, I’m terribly, terribly sorry. But there are, in fact, two sides (or more) sides to most stories, and lashing out in public is rarely constructive. It only raises the feeling of victimization on both sides, and makes real communication impossible.

Of course, in fiction (as in real life), POV characters rarely change their minds. The way they perceive events, the way they remember them, is generally set in stone. They say a person who is absolutely convinced in their own mind about a fact can pass a lie detector with flying colors, even if he or she is absolutely, demonstrably wrong about that fact.

I guess as I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to internalize the lesson my 9-year-old self learned from Ms. Muehl’s little book — except for the odd Pol Pot or Ted Bundy, there are no good guys and bad guys, there are just people doing the best they can for reasons that make sense to them. If I can incorporate that into my characters, I won’t end up with flat cardboard “heroes” and “villains,” but with three-dimensional characters my readers can believe in.

Monday Muse: Advice from Kurt

For today’s Monday Muse advice, I’ll just turn it over to someone who has forgotten more about writing than I could ever learn – here’s Kurt Vonnegut’s advice for writing fiction:

20130318-133112.jpg

Eight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

— Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.