Tag Archives: Writers

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda…

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There’s a writer I know who always pens the perfect dialogue. His characters can banter with all the snap and speed of a table tennis tourney, their chatters’ cadence a direct reflection of the intensity of the situation, or in its languor, its lack thereof. Dialogue can paint a vivid portrait of a character’s personality, revealing the level of intimacy between the protagonists, or recreate a historical era with its manner of speech and choice of words. Dialogue, in and of itself, can be your book’s barometer, setting the mood through the characters’ zingers, laments, opines and asides. Prose would be decided dry and lumbering without it, relegating readers to trudge through page upon page of telling not showing, its characters never really coming alive. Knowing this, I think we could all agree attention to dialogue is essential to good writing. But so is too much attention, which is what new writers often can’t see.

There comes a time in every professional writer’s life when the work ceases being written and thus becomes read. From the time it leaves the desk and goes before a beta-reader or an editor, it begins to exist on its own, without the aid of its creator’s vision. What the reader sees is exactly what the writer has put forth, but if what they’re seeing becomes skewed in the transmission, then it’s not the reader’s fault if they don’t “get it.” Dialogue, as stated above, is a wonderfully descriptive vehicle to transport your story along. But if you’re only saying so much outloud then finishing the balance of the information in your head, you’re not getting your character’s message–or your vision–across to your readers.

New writers often have fabulous stories in their heads, but fail when getting them to the page. Often, this mistake shows itself in dialogue, as the characters will say things colored by insider information obvious to the writer, but not so much to the reader. This happens when the writer is so close to the story they unconsciously fill in the missing information. When this happens, try closing your eyes to take a look at the scene, then write what you’re seeing beyond what the characters are saying. When your hero says, “Feeling a bit depressed today?” Don’t wait for the heroine to simply say “Yes,” before the hero rambles on. Imagine the scene from his point of view. Let us see her with her head in her hands. Let us feel her tremble under his touch as she breaks into tears. Do we hear the ocean rumbling below as they stand on the cliff, taste the salt in their mouths? Dialogue’s essential, but if you’re not giving us the complete picture, you’re only getting half your story on the page.

Years ago, ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” after some complaints about all the yak going on during the games, dropped their color commentators from the night’s telecast, simply showing the game with the score on the screen. The experiment was a rousing failure, as the game lost its sense of immediacy, its excitement, its human quality. Dialogue in our writing works the same way, but only when we’re adding the complete picture, by coloring inside the lines. If we don’t, we’re left with just a line drawing, a one-dimensional outline with no substance or depth, a yadda yadda yadda of sound and fury, signifying a lot more work to do!

 

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Diagnosis: Writer – Five Sure-Shot Symptoms

vintagetypewriter_93579-758x485No, you’re not crazy, even though your friends and family think you are. Even so, you have to admit that at time, you do seem a bit “off.” Still, how do you measure crazy against what accurately borders on obsession? I was thinking of this last weekend while lunching with some fellow writers, wondering whether they’re afflicted with similarly bizarre affectations, or if I was I suffering in silence. Odd or not, it’s made me realize that dammit, I must be a real writer, because although I’m not cutting off an ear or anything for my art, I sure am suffering some peculiarities. Such as:

1. Post-it Note Addiction – It’s true. I carry them everywhere. I have pads of them on my desk, in my purse, in the pocket of my course binder. I whip them out to jot down lines of dialogue, character descriptions, plot lines–even the premise for this post. They’re all over the place in my office, and when I’m on  the road and inspiration clocks me, I jot down my genius and stick them to the inside of my wallet so I don’t forget. By the way, they’re also good for shopping lists, as you can stick them right in front of you on the inside of the shopping cart.

2. Drinking Hot Liquids Cold – During the winter months I usually have a cuppa something at my elbow while I’m writing, but I have to tell you, I can’t remember the last time I actually sipped it while it was still hot. Usually the cream’s left a sheen on the coffee, or the tea’s soaked down the string to the tag, an “accident” puddling on my desk, whatever’s in the cup long, gone cold. The opposite effect is true in the summer, when I never seem to sip anything cold: the ice just a memory, the glass dripping condensation. I should probably just yank a bottle out of the cabinet and forget about it. Either way, it all ends up the same place: room temperature.

3. Vitamin D Deficiency – My last routine blood screen had everything come back normal except my Vitamin D level. Apparently deficiencies of this vitamin, which is created by sunshine, can cause depression, chronic fatigue, weight loss (I wish), diabetes, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis. In addition to a disease I thought went out with the nineteenth century–rickets! “It’s not unusual to see decreased Vitamin D levels in the winter,” my doctor had said. “But yours? Don’t you even step out on the porch?” All right, I guessing the LED glow from my laptop isn’t enough, so I suppose it’s supplements until the snow melts and I’m hitting the sidewalk again.

4. Plot-related Memory Loss – Has this happened to you? You’re driving along, trying to work out what exactly Protagonist A is going to leave on Protagonist B’s doorstep, and the next thing you know you’re sitting in the parking lot at work, with no idea how you got there. Or you’re in the shower and you’ve just thought of the perfect setting for your heroine’s vacation. But there’s this bottle of conditioner in your hand, and you can’t remember if you washed your hair first. Whether you’re staring at blank walls or losing threads of conversations, it’s not early dementia–it’s Plot On the Brain. And trying not to think about it only makes it worse. Better to lock yourself in the closet and get it down and over with.

5. You Do It Anyway – This I have found the most telling. You’ve written a bunch of novels, a dozen short stories, more than a few essays, innumerable blog posts, even kept a journal for more years than you’d care to own up to. And although you’ve had some limited success, though nowhere near where you’d like to see yourself, you keep doing it. You finish one piece then start another, because you know if you don’t your axis will tilt and forget the Vitamin D–you’ll feel a deficiency worse than if all the chocolate in the world suddenly disappeared. You can’t help yourself, even on the days when that rejection shows up in your inbox, you still want to do it. You’ll cry and curse and hate the world for stopping you from doing what you can’t seem to give up. But then all of a sudden that perfect line plants itself in your head, and you’re back to doing it anyway. You’re so pathetic. Maybe. Maybe not. But oh man, sometimes it’s such a bitch being us.

Okay, enough whining. Back to work.

 

The Morning this Writer had the Whole House to Herself

Cutie Pie

I’ll have the house to myself all day, so I’ll get up at the crack of dawn and hit my desk by 6:00 AM. I’ll mute my phone, ignore my email, and do nothing but write. Oooh! I love it when I can work in my jammies.

5:30 – Alarm rings. Roll over, hit snooze.

5:31 – Cat finds ball. Ignore tinkly bell and fall back asleep.

5:40 – Alarm rings again. Cat jumps on face. Swat at cat. Miss cat. Knock over alarm. Alarm stops by default. Pull pillow over head. Fall back to sleep.

5:44 – Dream of jingle bells.

5:49:58 – Cat pulls curtain and curtain rod from window, knocks alarm from night table.

5:50 – Alarm rings. Give up, get up and go to bathroom. Tinkly sound emanates from bedroom.

5:55 – Feed cat.

5:58 – Bowl of Cheerios and sliced banana. Get newspaper while cereal soggies.

6:03 – 6:14 – Front page, editorials, comics, horoscope. Take vitamins.

6:15 – 6:19 – “Morning Joe.”

6:20 – 6:47 – Switch to TCM while “Joe” is on a commercial break and become embroiled in pre-code Jean Harlow/Clark Gable rom-com until cat leaps into window at neighbor’s cat reminding you to look toward wall clock.

6:48 – Make cup of tea; visit bathroom while waiting for water to boil, turning on laptop en route. Brush teeth. Spy book on dresser on the way out. Finish reading chapter started the night before.

6: 54 – Return book to dresser.

6:55 – Retrieve tea and head toward office.

6:56 – Visit several email accounts and return email, re: 3 student crises, web course designer, critique partner. Email agent. Sneak peek at Facebook, Twitter, tweet, favorite. Check website.

7: 18 – Bring up work-in-progress. Shrink work-in-progress. Bring up FreeCell. One therapeutic game to get brain functioning. Or two. Three. Four at the most.

7:39 – Bring up work-in-progress. Remember need to look up legal term first. Shrink WIP; go online, homepage, CNN. Check if world blew up the night before. Switch to Google. Find term. Tweet. Check email. Answer email. One more FreeCell. Return to WIP.

8:07 – Emergency email from critique partner. Forestall imminent artistic self-thrashing and proceed to email buck-up. Email is replied to in less than a minute. Send another buck-up complete with happy emoticons. Check Twitter.

8:47 – Return to WIP. Stomach growls. Go to kitchen and make toast, toss cat teeth crunchy treats. Stare out window at trash truck across the lake as toast toasts. Remember forgot to put out trash. Run out door in robe. Return to smoke alarm blaring from toast stuck in toaster. Open windows. Toss toast. Fan.

9:05 – Return to office. Email from agent. Needs immediate proposal for prospective editor. Panic but produce passable proposal in less than ten minutes. Return to WIP, but first retreat to kitchen for cube of 72% cacao dark chocolate while entertaining visions of NYT Bestseller Glory. Return to office and WIP. See cat had jumped on keyboard and now there’s kmsadslvy]e0-vn’aey9-3 rya2932f all over page 78. 79. 80. 81———————

9:16 – 9:19 – Clean up WIP. Phone rings. Seems forgot to mute phone.

9:20 – 9:51 – Chat and play solitaire.

9:52 – Return to WIP. Take sip of tea, notice it’s cold. Go to kitchen to reheat tea. While heating eat forkful of cold spaghetti from fridge. One more. Another. Mmmm….

9:58 – Return to office. Pick up hand weights. Lift. Throw out back. Lay on floor to stretch. Cat jumps on stomach. Yelp. Swat at cat. Miss. Cat circles head, purring. Melt.

10:10 – Remember forgot tea in microwave. Go to kitchen to retrieve. Spy calendar and see it’s wrong day for trash on my street. Go to street to retrieve trash can so don’t look like an idiot. Return to kitchen and retrieve tea. Cold again. Check MSNBC on TV as tea reheats. Go to HBO during commercial break.

Noon – Get up to retrieve tea as credits roll for “Get Him to the Greek.” Dump tea; go to fridge and retrieve pot of spaghetti from fridge. Take to office, shrink WIP and go to Slate.com and read “Dear Prudence” while eating cold pasta with fingers. Phone rings. Still forgot to mute. Chat while licking fingers.

12:49 – Find Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffle from old Christmas stash in desk while rearranging desk tray while still on the phone. Eat, toss wrapper at trash. Miss.

12:50 – Cat finds missed wrapper. Grabs in mouth. Runs from room.

12:51 – Hear a crashing sound from bedroom. Ring off phone. Go to bedroom. Jewelry box and entire contents is now on floor, truffle wrapper on top. Scoop contents, return to box, return box to dresser. Toss wrapper. Cat missing. Eye bed, still unmade.

12:52 – Call day a wash. Return to bed. Bed never so comfortable…

12: 59 – Cat finds ball.

Why Strong Women Need Alpha Males

Alpha you bet!

One of the basic tenets of romance concerns the hero and heroine overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to fall in love. It doesn’t matter if he is a detective, a duke or a ditchdigger—or if she’s a countess or a country bumpkin or a feminist attorney. Their problems can be of class differences or underlying neuroses or even as simple as she hates men who wear Panama hats. Whatever the bone of contention, it has to forceful enough to cause night sweats and rashes, yet still won’t stop them from crossing mighty rivers or hacking through buffalo grass to get to each other. And nine times out of ten, it’ll be the hero doing the hacking because as sexist as that sounds, most romance readers still like their men physically stronger than they are.

All right…don’t get your knickers in a twist. There are reasons for that, and if you’ll just calm down a second I’ll tell you what they are. First off, romance heroines are strong women. That’s right–tough, inside and out. They’re also smart enough to spot a sniveler a hundred yards off. So of course – and here’s the logic – a strong and smart woman is not going to be looking for a man weaker than her. It just wouldn’t make sense, because if he was, she’d barely give him the time of day. She’d be looking for her equal at least, but more often than not, she’d be looking for someone to knock her off her feet. He can’t be anything less than an Alpha Male, someone powerful, smoldering, unrepentant. And looks alone aren’t enough, because our savvy heroine can get anyone she wants with a crook of her little finger. Her man, in any form he takes, has to be everything she’s looking for plus. Plus equaling that inimitable quality only she can define, and recognizable the moment she meets him.  Because when she collides with someone who can actually best her, it’s such mind-blower she’s instantly intrigued, whether for good or for bad, for love or for hate. And from there, the chase begins.

I can hear you saying, but that’s not realistic. Most men have foibles, shortcomings, are far from perfect. But this isn’t the real world, my dears–this is fantasy. Yet in so many ways, it isn’t. Fact or fiction, real life or not, don’t we all realize something in our object of affection that no one else can? Aren’t we privy to insider info maintained for our eyes only? Of course we are. Because only when we’re in love do we open up our hearts, to share the things no one else can see, to an enraptured audience of one. Who would want it any other way?

Writing isn’t all glam and cocktails, you know…

romancing-the-stone-special-edition-20061016035744678-000Have you ever seen the movies Misery or Romancing the Stone? Both feature writers banging out the final paragraph of their books before they triumphantly type THE END, culminating with either an elaborate ritual or an all-encompassing snif of enormous satisfaction. Now although it’s true that most writers look more like Kathleen Turner sporting a red nose and a dirty bathrobe than James Caan with his Dom Perignon, it’s also true that if there’s a writer out there who is really and truly done when she types THE END, then I’ve yet to meet her. The fact is it’s the rare person who emits perfection the first time.  My best writing usually comes through in the rewrite, which I’m sure is true with most: it’s all in the editing.

But there are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to the nip/tuck of the edit (perhaps more, but I’ll just focus on two, or we could be here all day.) The first is the “just write it!”, the second is to edit on the fly. Both have their merits, and neither method is wrong.

The average novel is anywhere from 75,000 to 125,000 words, or 300-500 double-spaced pages, most falling somewhere in between. For a work of this length, I’ve known “just write it!” writers to pump out 200,000 to 300,000 words before they finally take a breath and fan the smoke off their laptops. Many take their inspiration from such methods as Book In a Week or NaNoWriMo which instructs participants to just get it out–no editing, no going back over what’s been written. The point is to get the words down and create a first draft, and worry about the revising later. The main thrust is to get the ideas out. I believe this method works well for people who plot their story out beforehand, who work from outlines, or, to take the opposite tack, who write best in stream-of-consciousness. Like a virulent case of verbal vomit, “just write it!” writers throw it all against the wall, deciding to see what’ll stick after it dries.

I prefer to fix on the fly and edit whiile I write. Unlike my plotting, I’m deliberate in my revising. Usually I go back to edit before starting another writing session, whether that session is a couple of hours worth or from the day before. Most of the time I do both, and always if I set it aside for a while, as I’ve done now by revisiting the novel I put aside last year. The advantages to this is it keeps the story fresh in your head, lets you and fix plot or continuity problems, and you’re certainly writing more concisely and compactly, as you’re choosing your words more carefully, not just pumping out the first thing that flies into your head. Of course, there’s always the chance, with constant revisiting, that you’ll drain the life out of your prose. The last thing you want to do is beat it into an over-processed, mechanical bore. But this method does help if you tend to lose track of your story, working even better if you’re actively writing every day and on a deadline.

Neither method is right for everyone, and you may work best under a combination of the two. The important thing is you’re writing, and if it takes a bit of the nip and tuck, or more than a few Joycean interior monologues to get you going, then damn the Spell Check–full speed ahead!

 

Guest Post in Chuck Sambuchino’s WRITERS DIGEST column!

large_logoOver the weekend my wit ‘n wisdom was featured in Chuck Sambuchino’s fabulous Writers Digest column. It’s called “The Writer’s Journey: How Much (can) Someone Possibly Stand?” What I’m talking about is how much a writer has to go through to get where they want to be, the hours, the sacrifices, the research, etc. Here’s a snippet:

So there’s this, there’s all of this, and yet as hard as you work, shuffling schedules to make room for those two blissful hours alone, polishing that manuscript until it screeches surrender, querying in bunches and crossing your fingers, there it comes again, that blasted, callous bit of communication that so effortlessly denies you entrance. So you steal more hours, polish some more and once again type that header: QUERY: Historical Thriller 80k–and it’s almost as if you’re stuck in a copier churning out denied, denied, DENIED.

DENIED. Yeah, we all know what that’s like. Rejection, requery, resubmit. So why do we do it? What pushes us on. You don’t the answer to that, right? If you don’t, then, ask yourself, why not?

Welcome to the Glam Life of a Deadline Writer

IMG_2318Hello all. Yeah, that’s me, looking like shit because I’m flying for three weeks now on about five hours of sleep a night. I believe it’s around two o’clock in the afternoon, who knows, because I’ve been up since six and since my office is down the hall from my bedroom, “getting ready in the morning” has lost all imperative. My morning ritual is getting up and turning on my laptop, checking the weather on my phone (because looking out the window is SO old school) shuffling into the kitchen, pouring a bowl of Cheerios and shuffling back to get a glimpse into the outside world via the New York Times online. Then it’s go make a cup of strong tea (thanx to pals Kate and Susan who’s supplied me with some diesel-strength loose), and off to Rex-land, the subject of which you’ll find out shortly. I think I last got a shower before noon about three weeks ago. Did you know that bras are not for indoor wear? My hair is actually past my shoulders, but who would know? I haven’t worn socks since May. I cannot remember the last time I ate a meal sitting down at a table, at least at home. All the rest have come out of paper containers. I got a modem upgrade from Comcast a month ago, but the box is still sitting unopened on my chair. My back hurts. IMG_2338

This is what my desk looks like. Those cherries have been sitting there for four hours, and the seltzer is warm and flat. The only time I’ve been getting out is for the summer class I’m teaching, but that’s three nights a week, so I never really see natural daylight. My ass hurts. I need to pay my utility bills, but it’ll take too much time. The only online time I have is to look up things like “French curse phrases” and see how things are pronounced on Google Translate. I need a pedicure. I need a massage. My husband hates me. My cats are scared of me. Got to go. I’ve already wasted too much time writing this.

Buy my book. Please.

Holy Cats! It’s been a long time!

IMG_1335It has, hasn’t it? I mean it’s been soooo long I’m back to wearing shoes! Truth–I wore my first pair since May yesterday, and today me and the husband even went to DSW and dumped $168. (If you have to ask, sweetie…) Anyway, I suppose you’re just dying to know what I’ve been doing. Well, not writing, if you must know, which is extremely bad when you’re a writer. But I’m also an instructor of writing, or as my still outstanding college loans keep reminding me, at the university level, and four classes and two graduate mentees have really kept me from doing much else. But don’t get me wrong–I love teaching, but I also love writing, so now that things have calmed down, I’m almost back to my former and soon-to-be-current career. And I’m kickstarting it by co-hosting a workshop at the Connecticut chapter of the Romance Writers of America’s annual Fiction Fest this weekend at Mystic.

I’m really looking forward to it, not only to get back into the mix, but to take some really great workshops with some really great writers. You see, writing is just like any other profession, and then again, it’s not. Like any, you have to keep up with current trends and who’s doing what out there in the world, especially because writers do so much of what they do alone. But every once in a while we come out of our cave and seek out our own species, and I promise to bring back a report and as many photos as I can sneak without using my camera as a social weapon or a third-person filter. Writers live a lot of third-person reality, and every now and then we have to get out into it. Really! Continue reading Holy Cats! It’s been a long time!

PAPERBACK RELEASE DAY – Wanted: Wife

Andy 2

It’s Release Day for paperback Wanted: Wife! As you may have gotten from my post yesterday, there’s nothing like seeing your work in old-school print–that is if it’s old school after all. It just feels too new and fresh. As of this morning, Amazon already had almost exhausted its stock, so it must be selling somewhere. Just like the U.S. Treasury when it runs out of money, I just suppose we’ll have to print more! I received a nice little shipment of books from Avon’s own Carly Bornstein yesterday (thanks, sweetie!) and I took one of those copies around to my local Barnes & Noble’s Community Relations Manager, Susan Hogan. I thought if I brib–er, gifted her a copy, she might be persuaded to stock a few on her shelves. Turns out she already had some on order. Hey! Wasn’t that nice! And she also went a step further saying she’d like to have me do a book event. Well! Way more than I expected. So we’re looking at late summer/early fall, you know, right around the time it hits the New York Times list. I will most definitely keep you posted.

Many thanks to all the usual suspects who brought this day around–editor extraordinaire Tessa Woodward, my most glamorous agent, Marisa Corvisiero, Avon indispensables Carly Bornstein and Caroline Perny, fellow writer, beta-reader and head-smacker (when necessary, which is often) Linda J. Parisi, and all those wonderful people out in the dark. From my desk to yours, thank you.

Old school still matters

victorian-couple-22I’m sitting here with my head in a towel, just out of the shower, writing this. The immediacy of tomorrow just struck me and I had to make note of it, as it’ll be the first time I’ll see my fiction in print–in print the old-school way that is, how every writer still works to see themselves. Although print these days may seem quaint, it’s a technology that’s survived five hundred years and there’s a reason for that, to get it in down in writing  denoting a seriousness, the permanence of ink still resonating. With so much of our documents now virtual, it’s a charge, at least to this writer, to heft her own book in her hands, a tangible confirmation of her creative ability. I’m sure most other writers feel the same, at least most of the writers I know do, although there are some who don’t and that’s fine. But there’s just something about books in general that get to me. It’s the smell of ink and paper and the space they occupy, whether in a bookstore yet to be adopted, or packed into your own shelving, indicating a concrete database of accomplished cultural knowledge. I have five tall, crammed bookcases myself, a compendium of the varied aspects of my life, from my undergrad and graduate studies, to textbooks I use for teaching, signed books by favorite authors from my bookselling days, my reference for research, the non-fiction feeding my political bent and inner historian, to rows and rows of fiction as varied as James Joyce, Mark Twain and Dorothy Parker to Diana Gabaldon, Lisa Klepas and Khaled Hosseini. And now one more, decidedly personal.

Which you can buy by going right here. I see a space on your shelf it’d fill perfectly!