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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

#WorkshopWednesday - You Never Know

I'm currently reading Pat Conroy's The Lords of Discipline for the WSJ book club, and I think this may be my favorite Conroy novel to date. I've been highlighting like crazy on my Kindle, and today, this passage jumped out at me:

It's a sentiment I can identify with, to a certain degree. I didn't start riding horses because I felt inadequate, as Will suggests here, but I did begin to identify myself with my horsemanship. I was always meek and shy, but once I laced up my boots and walked down the barn aisle, I was a confident, capable adult before my time. There are moments when I think that I lean too heavily on my identity as a writer. And I for sure still feel that frisson of energy when I'm at the barn, in my element.

But the point of this post is this: You never know what's going to resonate with a reader.

As a reader, I love those moments in a book where I feel like the author is speaking directly to me. Those are moments of "Yes! That! Exactly that!" The moments when it seems that an author who lives in a different city, a different state, a different country, who lives a different life from you, says something that touches on your own reality. That's amazing. That's the cool shiver of human connection across oceans and generational gaps. That is magic.

Likewise, that same author, through his or her characters, will share sentiments that you may not share, but which are no less real. Sentiments you feel closer to after having come to "know" someone who thinks this way - even if he or she is fictional.

So when you're a writer, that's the challenge: to create scenarios that readers will respond to with something real and raw. You want your readers to feel that cold chill, that hot rush. You want them to say, "Yes, I've felt that."

Inevitably, there will be detractors. But it isn't a case of the writer being "wrong." It's a case of the detractor having no frame of reference. My message to writers is this: write a truth. Write your truth. Write your character's truth. Because that's a reader's truth, and you never know which line will resonate with which reader. Never worry about the nay-sayers who systematically downgrade your work. I never do - I listen to the sweet words of fans who were touched for the better by my characters. Write the story that you need to tell - you never know who it might help.

Friday, October 21, 2016

#FicPromptFriday 10/21/16 - Back In The Saddle

Emmie/Walsh fluff

10/21/16 – Back In The Saddle

“Should I be filming this? Hold on, lemme get my camera turned on.” Becca wrestled her phone from the pocket of her breeches, already grinning in anticipation.

“Don’t you have something you’re supposed to be doing?” Walsh asked, and gave her his flattest, most unimpressed look.

“Lunch break,” she chirped.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

#WorkshopWednesday: NaNo Prep

I write backwards. That is to say, I don't work off an outline. Sometimes, a scene hits me so strongly - usually while I'm driving and can't write it down, ugh - that I have to open a new Doc and write it out so I can plug it in later. But for the most part, I start at the start and work through to the end, working off a mental outline. It's only after I'm done that I make a written outline, during editing, to ensure all the plot points connect. I like the organic process.

But NaNoWriMo is coming up, and that means 50k words in one month. It's a hard run to the finish line, that doesn't allow for dithering or second-guessing. So you've got to get organized ahead of time. So what's a non-outliner to do?

Prep work.

World-building isn't just for fantasy writers. The landscapes of your book - states, cities, countries, neighborhoods, houses, bookshops - go a long way toward making the story and its characters feel like real people. And world-building takes time and research. Before NaNo begins, ask yourself where your characters live and work, and what those places look like. Study photos, and small cultural nuances. Get on Google Earth, zoom down onto the streets. If you're making up a town, write out a list that contains as many details as you can provide. I've got maps, first-hand accounts, old photos, and history texts to help me with mine.

Character Study
Get to know your characters well beforehand. Whether this is through listing their traits, or writing short drabbles about them, it's important to know the characters inside and out so you'll know how they're going to move the plot along, and how they need to grow and adapt throughout.

Plot Outline
This is the biggie. It's important to leave room for organic story flow, but in order to hit that word count goal, you'll need to sketch an outline for your book. My project is a story I'm going to break into segments and insert within the larger body of the whole book. So I'm coming up with an overall outline, and then deciding where I need scene breaks; good places for the story to pause. I'm starting with the overall arc, and then refining it so that it fits the ready-made gap that it needs to fill.

Time Management
Create a writing schedule that you'll be able to stick to for the month, give or take. Be sure to include breaks for meals and snacks, time for exercise, and the all-important down time. I write best when I'm reading engaging books, so have reading material at the ready. Get your story playlists in order on your iPod and have them at the ready. Plan to get plenty of sleep and keep yourself away from social media as much as possible - it's a productivity killer!

Most of all, remember that, at the end of the day, this is just a silly thing writers do to help with word count, and if you don't reach your goal by the end of the month, no sweat. Good luck, writers!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

NaNo Prep - The Emotional Part

Tomorrow, I want to talk NaNo prep for #WorkshopWednesday. The practical, organization of thoughts before you launch into the month-long writing marathon. But the physical prep is only part of the process. In order to tackle 50k words in one month, you have to be completely committed to your story and characters. So today I want to talk about the emotional process: how I picked my NaNo project, and what I hope to achieve with it.

I'd be willing to bet most every author has computer files dedicated to half-formed, partially-written novels, some decently started, some no more than scraps of ideas. Creativity doesn't take a break, but it isn't possible to write everything at once, so you have to prioritize.

In years past, I've juggled multiple projects during November, focusing on overall word count rather than completing one book in particular. But this year, I'm dedicating NaNo to one project, with the hopes that the novel will be complete by December first. That project is Walking Wounded, and I'm using the pressure of November to ensure that I commit to and finish the darn thing.

So why did I pick this novel instead of, say, American Hellhound? Several reasons.

  1. This book is ambitious. It has both contemporary and historical storylines; covers topics I've never written about, and which required quite a lot of research, including first-person interviews; and handles a range of delicate topics across the board, both past and present. It's also a chance for me to try my hand at present-tense narration. It's the kind of book, the kind of story, that makes me question my own writing ability, and in that sense it's exhilarating. I have to push myself to grow, and I most definitely want to grow as a writer.
  2. Anyone who follows me knows I have eclectic book taste, and that I read largely literary fiction of all sub-genres. For the last two years I've written nothing but outlaw bikers, and while that's been fun, and while I'm so appreciative of the reader response, I really want to try my hand at something more literary. NaNo gives me a way to designate time specifically for this book, to ensure I dedicate myself to it completely.
  3. I really care about these characters, and have for a while now. I also get little creative shivers about the story itself. But, as it deviates from the Dartmoor pattern I've set up the last two years, there's a small voice in the back of my head that worries about this book being accepted. During NaNo, there's no time to wonder and worry. You just write, and worry about whether anyone will read it later.
  4. This story has flowed easier and more quickly than anything I've written in the last six months, so I'm taking that as a sign and going for it.

Mostly, though, when I thought about marathon-writing, about my sore back, and too much caffeine, I could only imagine doing it with this book. So in the end, the decision was a no-brainer.

Tomorrow we'll talk about getting organized and ready to tackle all 50k words in one month. I'm feeling very thankful that I still have two weeks left to plan!

Monday, October 17, 2016

October Reading

Happy Monday, I come bearing book recs.

Last week, I read The Nightingale for book club, and this weekend I devoured The Trespasser by my favorite currently-writing author. Great reads for early October nights.

The Nightingale

This one's been at the top of the NYT list since last year, so I'm a latecomer to the party. I'm a natural-born skeptic, and hesitant to read anything that's all the rage; I generally circle a book like that for a while, sniffing and testing the wind. In this case, the hype was well-deserved.

The novel tells the story of two very different sisters and their journeys of survival in occupied France. In them, we see contrasting, and complimentary kinds of strength; we suffer and grieve alongside them. Hannah's prose is precise and hard-hitting; she pulls back the curtains and shows us the horror of the War in a way that feels visceral and current.

I've always had such a soft spot for great WWII stories, and this one is no exception. I think that War, and the men and women who endured it, show us the highest and lowest points of humanity. It's the full spectrum, packed in a few years. There's something heart-wrenching and hopeful about war stories.

Make sure you have tissues on hand for the last few chapters; it's a tear-jerker.

The Trespasser

Tana French's first book, In The Woods, released in 2008, and I've been a fan since. Her Dublin Murder Squad series has all the ingredients of my favorite kind of book: smart, artistic, literary prose; powerful imagery; a subtle attention to human detail; a grounding sort of griminess that keeps it all rooted very much in reality. And I love her characters. I think that's what I love most about her mysteries: the narrator is not merely a set of eyes through which we see the action, but a person we grow to love over the course of the novel, no matter how flawed or prickly.

In The Trespasser, we catch up with Detectives Conway and Moran again, and in a lot of ways I was sad we've already had Steve's book, because I could read another one from his POV. Antoinette is not the heroine for any readers looking for a female lead who is romantic and malleable; I actually quite liked her. Perhaps because I feel like I understand her. But probably because Tana French is just that good. In contrast to Cassie - the other female D we've followed in the past - Antoinette had a very blunt, factual way of looking at the world, not prone to exaggeration...but she wasn't immune to Steve's what-ifs. Not as much as she would hope, anyway.

Dark, and smart, the kind of writing I dream of producing someday in the future, Tana French always delivers, and never fails to remind me why I love to write.

Friday, October 14, 2016

#FicPromptFriday: 10/14/16 – Friends With Daughter Benefits

Sly/Layla from the Russell Series. This one takes place shortly after the epilogue of Keeping Bad Company, after Mark has come home.

10/14/16 – Friends With Daughter Benefits

“And then this is us.” Layla concluded the house tour in front of her half-open bedroom door. She’d taken Mark through the whole place – unimpressive as it was – and walked him into Mick and Wes’s rooms, shown him her garden, detailed all the renovations they’d undertaken so far. The house was more remodeled than not, these days.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Progress Report

Walking Wounded
  • 47,571 words
  • Estimated finish date: Dec. 1
  • Favorite line of the day:
    “Oh God,” Sandy says in a low, strong voice. Not shock, only maternal love. “Oh God, baby, I’m so sorry.” Her hand leaves his arm and cards back through his hair.
                The ticking clock on the wall counts out thirty seconds. The fridge hums quietly to itself.
                “Would you like a really big shot of something out of the adult cabinet?” she asks.
                Luke manages to nod.

American Hellhound
  • 2,511 words
  • Estimated finish date: Jan. 2017
  • Favorite line of the day:
    • It struck Maggie, suddenly, like a physical blow, that Ava was a long, long way past the girl who’d come home from college a few years ago. She was still slender and beautiful. But there was a new sharpness to her eyes…and a new understanding. Motherhood had both honed and softened her, that powerful contradiction of fierce and gentle that a woman found when she realized she loved something so much she’d kill to protect it. She’d always felt that way about Mercy, though – and she had killed for him.

Dear Heart
  • 43,046 words
  • Estimated finish date: Jan. 2017
  • Favorite line of the day: So much time wasted now, as they danced around one another, trying to relearn old rhythms irreparably damaged by the traumas they’d survived since they knew each other last.