Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Years Eve!

Hope you're ready for 2008, 'cause the countdown starts soon! See you all next year... have a happy and safe holiday!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Comes but Once a Year

Maven Jacqueline BarbourAnd aren't we all glad for that?

As much as I enjoy the holiday season, I'm always relieved when it's over. When all the gift-giving has ended, all my loved ones have gotten at least one thing they desperately wanted, and the hurry-scurry of feeding and entertaining house guests gives way to the normal routine of feeding and entertaining only the people who live here.

Well, let's face it--it's a relief to have the "big one" over with. New Year's hasn't been a major holiday for us in ages. When asked what I was doing when the clock struck midnight, my usual response for the last decade or so has been, "Looking at the inside of my eyelids." I don't expect this year to be much different.

But I am still looking forward to the menudo at my mother-in-law's house on New Year's Day. Aside from the fact that she's a fabulous cook, the best thing about it is that it's at her house. (Would it be childish of me to say "Neener-neener" at this point?)

YOUR TURN: Are you glad or sorry to see the holidays go? What's the best and worst thing about Christmas (or whatever "big" holiday you celebrate)? And what are you looking forward to in 2008? Inquiring minds want to know!

P.S. Just got my best Christmas present. Waiting for me in my inbox this morning was a contract offer from Cobblestone Press for the novella I wrote last month, The Gospel of Love: According to Luke. Yay!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiday Cheer, brought to you by Amazon and UPS!

Maven Lacey KayeI've included a few Christmas images for your viewing pleasure. My family was very generous this year, purchasing lots of stuff off my Amazon wish list. (You, too, may purchase things off my Amazon wish list. Just go to Amazon, enter my name, and click Buy Now! It will ship directly to my door! Thanks! ;-))

As you can see, I got a preorder of Becoming Jane. (Yes, I intentionally folded her out of the picture. James McAvoy. Yum.) I know, I know, lots of folks were not impressed with this fictional account of Jane Austen's life. I say chill, people! It was fictional. It says so right on the back of the DVD.

I also received one of my most-wanted research books. Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World is a book I'd be devouring right now if I weren't blogging. Which reminds me, maybe I'll go do that. I desperately needed to read this to give my current manuscript that extra little something.

Did you get anything this holiday season you really, really wanted? Did you return something horrid for something you really, really wanted? :-) 'Fess up!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Boxing Day!

Maven Darcy BurkeToday is Boxing Day! Which we don't celebrate here. And why not? There are so many fabulous things to love: charitable activites (this comes from the Middle Ages when feudal lords boxed up supplies and/or food for their tenants), sporting events (a big yacht race starts annually in Australia and it's a huge football day in the UK), biggest shopping day of the year in Canada (and probably the UK also - they even have "Boxing Week"), and my favorite, second Christmas. What's not to like about a second Christmas?

About the only boxing day tradition I plan to engage in today is eating the boxed up leftovers. We had a partcularly tasty ham and gorgonzola au gratin potatoes. Mmmmm. I used to shop the day after Christmas, but not in a long, long time. And I don't think there's a yacht race anywhere local.

Though we observed a lot of British traditions, I don't recall doing anything special for Boxing Day (I sure don't remember a second Christmas - I'd have carried that one forward!). But then, do we need another holiday? Especially one that has apparently turned into another opportunity for gross consumerism?

What are your end of year plans? Family time? Something exciting? Cram some 2007 goals in before the deadline's up on December 31?

On a total side note, I have to share that we enjoyed a semi-white Christmas, which doesn't happen very often in our neck of the woods. The forecast said a chance of light snow in the late afternoon, but we got very steady snow for several hours, beginning before noon. Not quite enough to build a snowman (our neighbors with two acres were able to fashion a couple of little ones), but enough to make snow angels and make my little snow angel, Quinn, happy as a Christmas elf.

Peace to you and yours.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays!!

Maven Carrie RyanThis week I'm going a little "blog-light" as I'm having way too much fun with my family to think about writing :) However, Erica re-posted her wonderful post about goals that bears re-reading. I remember reading that post last year and sitting down and really thinking through my goals of 2007 and I plan on doing the same for 2008. I hope everyone will join me and together, we can keep each other accountable :) Plus, it's pretty cool to look back on all of your goals and realize that you reached a lot of them :)

OK, must run now -- Santa came last night and there's lots of fun to be had this morning :) Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Critique Partners as Crutches

Maven Jacqueline BarbourLast Saturday, I finished the novella I started writing at the end of November. I intended to jot down a few notes so I wouldn't forget the idea, but the story simply started to flow out instead, and I wound up writing 22,000 words in just over twelve days. 22,000 words that I really, really liked.

I was planning to send it out for multiple rounds of critiques: a first round to find the "big" problems, a second to take care of the layering and smoothing, and possibly one more after that, just be "sure." But after getting it back from its first round (thanks, Emma and Ericka!) with almost no red marks on it at all, I decided to just clean those tiny things up and submit the story to Cobblestone to see how it would fly.

Of course, now that I'm waiting for a response, I'm wondering it that was wise. Maybe I should have gotten more feedback before I sent it on. What if something is horribly wrong with it? What if it sucks? What if...

But wait a minute! Do I believe in the story I wrote, or don't I?

The answer is, I do believe in it. Is it perfect? No. But a thousand critiques won't make it perfect. And if there's really something terminally wrong with it, another critique probably won't help!

The truth is, I wrote this story very differently than I've written anything in a long time. I simply let myself go. I didn't send it to anyone scene by scene to "check" that it was okay. I tried not to second-guess myself for a change and simply told the story I wanted to tell, waiting until I got to the end to find out if it worked or not.

Doing that and then being brave enough to submit it to a publisher even though it had only been read by two other living souls made me realize how much I've come to rely on my critique partners' to write my story. And while I'm not for one single, solitary second bad-mouthing my fabulous CPs or the concept of getting critiques, I see now that my critique partners had become something of a crutch to me. Their input and reassurance absolved me of the responsibility to think for myself and trust my own instincts.

In retrospect, I'm sure that one of the reasons Unbridled finally ended up in the rubbish heap is that I had too much feedback on it. Too many cooks spoil the broth; I was trying to please so many different people and their idea of what the story should be that I lost my story altogether. (And here, I have allow Maven Lacey to crow, "I told you so!" She did, at least a year and a half ago, and I stubbornly refused to agree with her. Well, she was right! She's welcome to hit me over the head with the clue gun she tried to give me back then if she'd like.)

This isn't to say I'm giving up on having critique partners altogether. Mais non! I wouldn't dream of it. I just know I need to be more judicious about when I get feedback and from how many people. I'm going to keep smacking myself on the hand until I learn to wait until after I've written "the end" to hit send!

YOUR TURN: How/when do you get feedback from your critique partners? Do you feel you need someone to read the story as you go so you know your plot isn't based on an unbelievable premise, your hero isn't a jerk, and your heroine isn't TSTL? Or are you able to write your story all the way through to the end and then turn it over to your CPs, knowing full well they may tell you that you've just written 90,000+ words of complete garbage that can never be redeemed?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cue End of Year Panic

Maven Lacey KayeWe had a lot of "Writer Life" posts this week, I notice. Here I was going to blog about goals but that seems boring in comparison. Maybe instead I will tangent into the mysterious, often terrifying world of Completing Those Nitpicky Tasks That Comprise 80% of the To Do List and Offer 20% of the Return.

Right? I mean, we don't get bragging rights for taking the trash out. Who but you cares if you finally vacuumed the floor mats in your car?

Man, I hate this nitpicky stuff. Things like moving websites over to hosts that don't suck or charge far too much for horrible, horrible service. (I'm looking at you, Netfirms.) Unexciting stuff like taking back 23 items to 27 different stores trying to return all the crap you promised yourself you'd return if it didn't fit/look good/work out/become necessary over the next three months. Really nail-biting issues like whether you can afford Christmas this year or if everyone should just get rocks, but then you decide rocks are actually pretty expensive when you think about it.

Chores like folding up folding tables and folding chairs. Watering plants that probably won't make it through New Year's. Cutting back cuticles. You know, the $%#^ we have to do to separate ourselves from the chimps.

Is anyone else scurrying to get things done over the holiday break? Or did you just say screw it, I'll get it next year? What's the one last thing you really, really want to do before Father Time pays a visit in, oh, a mere Twelve Days or so?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why Oh Why Do We Do The Things We Do?

Maven Darcy BurkeI was working in my daughter's first grade classroom last week when her teacher was reading a story. She announced that she'd be reading historical fiction. (Yes, in first grade they have learned to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction, and apparently subgenres. No, I did not explain the sub-genre of historical romance fiction.) Her teacher decided to read from one of her favorite books - Little House on the Prairie. I'm sitting over in the corner cutting out Christmas trees for an art project thinking, "Yay, Little House!" Laura Ingalls Wilder's books were among my favorites, as was the television show.

Which got me thinking. Were those the first historical fiction books I read? Perhaps. What did they have to do with my enduring love for history and historical fiction? Was it my ability to identify with Laura despite growing up in a different century? Was it the details of her historical life? Was I desperate to wear a long, pretty dress and wear my hair in ringlets like Nellie Olsen?

Probably all three. Another historical fiction book I fell in love with was called My Enemy the Queen. I looked it up because I'd love to have a copy. Not only to reread it twenty-some years later but to have that first book that I remember reading that made me love historical romance. Color me surprised that it was written by Victoria Holt! I remember reading Victoria Holt, but never realized this particular book was hers.

My love of British history is due in part to My Enemy the Queen (probably the reason I've had an interest in Elizabeth I--it's a book about Elizabeth and her cousin Lettice Knollys--since a young age and cite her as the person I'd most like to meet), but I would be remiss if I didn't give credit where it was due, namely to my British grandparents whose house was stuffed with all manner of British bric a brac, much of it detailing the 20th century history of the royal family. (Do you have a Queen Elizabeth II coronation commemorative ashtray? Neener neener.)
Are these the reasons I write historical romance? That, and because it's what I primarily love to read. History fascinates me and I can't elicit a specific reason beyond what I've already mentioned. I love, love (and have mad respect for) books that weave fiction and history so closely that you barely know what's real and what's not. I guess I'd love to do that some day.

Why do you write the genre or subgenre you write? Can you pinpoint something that led you down that path? Do you have a dream project or something you're dying to do some day?

Post-script to last week's post: I'm happy to report that my heroine from Beauty and the Bandit is holding up just grand. In fact, I wrote a scene Tuesday in which we're beginning to see the first curve of her arc. Exciting stuff!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What we learn from books gone by

Maven Carrie RyanJust recently I posted my "slush pile" story on Fangs Fur and Fey (you can read it here). As I was thinking back on all that I've written, I realized that which each novel attempt I learned something really important.

My first book was a western set romance -- an idea I'd come up with in high school and wrote when I graduated from college. After typing The End, I ran spell check, printed it out and read it out loud (my poor cat) on a Saturday afternoon. Sure I made some edits, but nothing major. And then I queried about 7-8 agents. While some requested fulls, nothing ever came of it.

What I learned: First, I didn't like the research. I didn't like having to figure out how far a horse could travel, whether they had shoe-laces, when the phrase "wait a second" came into being, etc. It was hard. Second, I learned that authors generally brand themselves meaning that, at least in the beginning, they build a readership by writing similar books. No way was I going to brand myself writing western romances (one big reason other than the dread research was that westerns were not selling!).

How I changed: I decided to write in worlds I knew and to write books like the ones I was reading and loving (the last western I'd read had been back in high school when I'd originally plotted that first book).

Taking all of this into consideration, my next book was a RomCom along the lines of my fave authors Jenny Crusie and Jane Heller. I got pretty much to the end, a lot of it not fleshed out enough, and then sat down to write the query letter. While writing the query letter I realized there was a fatal flaw that started on page one. This flaw dealt with not only the external conflicts, but also the internal and made the RomCom not quite so Com.

What I learned: First, I tend to write dark and had to really pull myself back whenever I felt myself veering away from light and fun. Second, know your conflicts and make sure they're solid and believable.

How I changed: I chalked that book up to experience and went to law school (taking four years off from writing).

Book number three was the oft mentioned YA chick-lit, Dead Bodies and Debutantes (I was reading a ton of chick-lits and less RomCom, hence the shift in focus). I wrote it out of order, thought I had the whole plot in my head, and accidentally queried too early (in my own defense, it was a pitch workshop with a fantastic agent and no one realized she'd be requesting pages). As soon as she requested pages from me, I polished up the first three chapters and sent them to be critiqued. CP said to cut, action started too late. So I cut Chapter 1 and then Chapter 2 and polished again.

But I also didn't want to send the partial out without the rest of the book written "Just in case" the agent asked for the full. So I tried to finish the book but spent a lot of time writing scenes out of order, trying to put them in order and failing, and whining. So I sent out the partial, sure I could finish the book in a week if necessary. It wasn't necessary -- DB&D was rejected.

What I learned: Finish the &%*# book!!! And once you finish it, don't just run spell check and read it out loud like I did with my first book -- really edit the sucker. Get in there and rip at it and make sure the motivations and conflict work and are consistent and ramp up the tension.

How I changed: I swore I would not, under any circumstances, query on my next book until it was done and thoroughly polished. No matter how close I felt I was from the end, no matter how little I thought I had left to edit, no matter whether a CP jumped the gun and pitched the idea to her agent.

I've read time and again that with every book you write, you grow and learn. I'm a big believer in that. Not only do you learn the types of lessons I talked about above, but you also learn the nuances of pacing, of dialogue, of story-telling and translating ideas from your head to paper. These are just examples of what I learned from some of my larger projects, but I learned from other "failed" writing as well.

From my attempt at a YA vampire book I learned not to chase trends, especially when you're heart's not in it. From my attempt at a Caribbean RomCom I learned that sometimes a great idea just doesn't translate and you have to set it aside. From my "descendants of Gods and Goddesses" book attempt I learned that even the idea you think is totally creative and hasn't been done, might have actually been done.

What have you learned from past writing projects?

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Two Hardest Words

Maven Jacqueline BarbourAnd no, I don't mean "I'm sorry."

I just got back from our elementary school's "Winter Program" performance. Our oldest son is in the fifth grade, and they were the last group to perform. As they were singing Let There Be Peace on Earth, it suddenly hit me that this is the last time I'll ever see this particular child on this particular stage. And I admit it, I got the teeniest bit weepy. Because I see the end of a phase in his life--in our lives--approaching.

I've been thinking a lot about endings in the past couple of days because I am almost finished with the novella I started a couple of weeks ago. In fact, with any luck, I should be writing the words "The End" on it today.

Yesterday, when I realized how close I was to the end, I realized that this will be the first manuscript I've completed since January (when I wrote another, slightly shorter novella in about two weeks). And although I do have a vague recollection of having finished a (terrible) novel when I was in junior high or maybe high school, the only other manuscript I've ever written through to "The End" is now gracing the Magical Mulch Pile.

What is it about endings? I seem to have an awfully hard time with them. It's not that I don't want to write "The End." But for some reason, it's something I find hard to do. Partly, perhaps, it's that I have so many stories I want to tell, I have a hard time sticking with one all the way through, but I don't think that's the only issue. I have a sneaking suspicion that the main reason is that I know when I finish the story, it's done. Over. Told.

Now, I know there is no first draft on earth that's really done. But still, there's something about seeing the characters through to their happily ever after that means saying good-bye to them. Their arcs are completed, their GMCs resolved, the plots wrapped up in neat little packages. All that's left to do (hopefully) is some tweaking around the edges and then send them out into the big, bad world (which, as we know, is a very subjective place fraught with peril).

So, just as it's hard for me to watch my oldest son growing out of one phase of his life into another (which is bound to be fraught with peril--we are talking about middle school here!), it's hard for me to allow my stories to grow up.

The good news is, I plan to write "The End" today, anyway, no matter how hard it is!

YOUR TURN: Do you find it hard to let your stories and your characters go? Or are "The End" the easiest two words for you?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Absent Middle

Maven Lacey KayeYesterday, Maven Darcy's post on character arcs got me thinking about my own love/hate relationship with C/A.

OK, as I write that I see the fallacy in my description. It's not that I hate C/As. I LOVE C/As. With the fire of a thousand Maven Darcy suns. What I hate -- hate, hate, hate -- is when the character changes through a process I can't see. So, for example, take the secondary character you love in Book Wonderful. You can't *wait* to read about him in the next book in the series, Book WonderfullER. But when you open BWII, the character you loved as a secondary character has (often) taken a tumble into a black pit of despair. The happy sidekick with the sexy grin (but not sexier than the hero's!) was beaten in a duel/spent the last year and a half of his life in an enemy prison camp/married and then lost some other wife you never saw/suddenly has pressing concerns never hinted at in the first book.

This seems to happen ALL THE TIME. Drives me crazy! I would guess that the author didn't have the character's full story in mind when she wrote book 1. He was a place holder, the friend or mentor the hero in book 1 needed. When she goes to write book 2, suddenly the character has no history, no depth to support a good GMC/conflict with the heroine. So she makes a Tragic Event occur in his past, and whammo, instant tortured hero.

KEEP THE CHARACTER THE SAME BETWEEN BOOKS!!! My thinking: if you want to make someone entirely new up, then make someone new up! Then I won't be disappointed the sidekick I loved isn't back to be the hero.

A variant on this is the hero who suddenly transforms by the end of the book for no reason. Most often, this is a function of the first time he sees the heroine at home and hearth. Suddenly, he recants his rakehell ways and determines to become a simple landowner. After all, she looked so hawt in her walking dress, sun-kissed cheeks and wind-blown hair! Nay, he shall never be a Society Sir again! It's corn and sheep from here on out!

Noooooooooooooo!!! Why do people have to change for True Love to exist? That's... well, it's a purely romantic thought. Obviously, I don't want my rakehell tossing up the skirts of anything in heels. But at the same time, why does his *character* have to change?

I believe working within the confines of the established character builds more conflict, not less. Take, for example, my rake-cum-landowner hero. It's ok for him to decide he wants to live in the country if there's a REASON. A good reason. Usually shown through some sort of conflict or problem he and the heroine work out together. Not because he had a houseparty, she showed up with her chaperone, and they got it on in the gazebo. Maybe because the rake secretly has a passion for roses, and the heroine can't stand large crowds. But just tossing off their old characterizations to embrace the family values of a quiet, private life wherein they shall boink like bunnies and make many generations of happy little dukes...I'd rather have them not change at all than make a mysterious leap in logic.

What about you? Do Epilogues often make you cringe? Have you ever hated a subcharacter you loved in one book the minute you found out he'd been beaten/imprisoned/impoverished/widowed just before his own story starts? What do you think is appropriate character growth? Do you prefer steep arcs or more gradual ones?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Maven Darcy BurkeI did two things Tuesday. Well, more than two things, but two things that led me to this post. First, I worked on incorporating Maven crits into the first 60 pages of Beauty and the Bandit. I did this now because I didn't want the scene crits to pile up too high (lesson learned from Glorious!) and because I wanted to read those first 60 pages and see how my story, and particulary my hero and heroine, are holding together. The other thing I did was watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. What do these two things have in common with arc? Wait for it.

My heroine in BATB is rather self-centered. Her arc will take her from a narcissistic Society snob to a caring woman who will, oh heck, if I tell you, it'll ruin it. Suffice it to say she changes a whole lot. At least I hope she will. It's mapped out on the storyboard that way, and time will tell. It's a bit of a daunting arc if I think about it, so for now, I'm just writing away and trying not to think too much outside of the confines of the scene I'm writing. Now as I'm reading through several scenes together, I can see if her arc is matching the storyboard. And no, I didn't get through the 60 pages yet. I had a preschool board meeting tonight and, oh yeah, I had to watch Harry Potter.

Yes, had to. I'm a complete Harry Potter-phile. Love the books, love the movies. Even admitted Daniel Radcliffe has some pretty decent biceps in this latest movie (say otherwise, I dare you!). I'm taking the Maven Lacey route today, so bear with me, I'll get there. I'm watching this movie and completely appreciating J.K. Rowling's mastery of character arc. How on earth does she manage Harry's arc over seven books? Seven books! There are no spoilers here, so don't worry if you haven't read all of the books. All I'm going to say is that when you look at his arc and the overall theme of the books, you will be awed. (Again, I dare you to say otherwise!)

Managing your character's arc is tricky business. To do a really good job, you've got to know your character better than they know themselves. And since you created them that should be easy, right? There are lots of tools you can use - character interviews, information sheets, a storyboard. One thing I'm trying in conjunction with the storyboard is tracking character emotion/state of mind in scenes, whether it's their POV or not. In BATB, I'm finding that the hero's and heroine's voices in BATB are very strong, which is helping to keep their arc on track. At least I think it is. I'll let you know for sure.

What tools do you use to track character arc? How do your character arcs play into your theme? Do you gut-check your arcs as you're writing the story on the first pass?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One opinion in a highly subjective business

Maven Carrie RyanAs y'all know, I was out of town last week on vacation (it was unbelizable!! -- seriously, did you expect me not to use such a fab pun?) When I got back I had two fun bits of mail waiting for me. The first was a form rejection from a literary agency I'd queried 5 months ago. The last line echoes what so many form rejections say -- this is a subjective business, another agent may feel differently, and keep trying.

And they're totally right because you know what the second letter was? My first advance check from my agent. Ironically, a similar thing happened when I sold my book. I floated home from work with stars in my eyes and Publishers Marketplace announcements swirling in my head to find a form rejection letter waiting for me.

I have to say, these were the two best rejections ever. Because they were both a flat out (yet polite) "No!" from very respected agents (who I really thought would love my project). And yet, clearly their opinions differed from other agents and other editors because, well, my book sold :)

When I first started querying, I used to read that line "this is a subjective business" on so many form rejections and think "sure it is, but that doesn't mean you're not supposed to love my work!" And yet, I can't think of a single writer who didn't get a form rejection on a project that went on to sell (yes, I know they're out there, but my mind is tired tonight).

The authors at Fangs, Fur & Fey have been posting about their paths to publications (mostly from the slush pile) and it's fascinating reading. So many form rejections, so much dedication and perseverance.

I know how easy it is to get a form letter and think "the agent hated it, I stink, I'll never make it." But I'm here to tell you that one agent's form rejection is another agent's sale. At least, that was the case with me :) It really is a subjective business.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sometimes, You Have to Admit You're Beaten to Defeat Defeatism

Maven Jacqueline BarbourHow's that for a crazy, convoluted title for a post? I promise that I'll make it make sense before I'm done, though.

You see, since last summer, I've been battling with the dilemma of how to fix my first manuscript, Unbridled. I'd written the first draft through all the way to the end, but I knew there were places that needed a lot of work. The Black Moment and its resolution weren't quite right. There were scenes that needed to be cut or reimagined to improve the flow of the story. And then, there was the problem of "the beginning."

The irony of the last problem is that several different versions of the first 20-25 pages of that manuscript had finaled in various chapter contests. So what was the problem? Well, it kept finishing third, for starters! But the bottom line was that it just didn't snap and pop the way I knew it needed to in order to get the attention of an agent or editor.

I reworked the opening (more times that I want to admit). Over the summer, I came up with a new version that I liked quite well. The first 35 pages were absolutely rock-solid. Funny opening line, good internal conflict for both characters, good setup for the romance. And then? Then, I got stuck.

Badly stuck.

I couldn't figure out what came next. I brainstormed. I wrote a synopsis that, on paper, made sense. But when I tried to write the scenes demanded by the synopsis, they felt forced. The sexual tension was non-existent, and the sub-plots were taking over like kudzu.

To make an already long story short, I reached the point where I realized the time had come. I'd been fighting to salvage a manuscript that simply wasn't salvageable. Writing it--or, more often, sitting there staring at the computer screen and not writing it--was making me depressed and even more neurotic than usual about my abilities. (See, none of the Mavens has a corner on the neurosis market!) I was starting to feel like a no-talent loser/hack because of this one book, and it was threatening to keep me from writing anything at all.

And so, with some reluctance, I consigned Unbridled to the Magical Mulch Pile (that's an Erica coinage, BTW, in case you didn't know) once and for all. Almost instantly, I found I was able to write again. A lot. And while what I wrote wasn't even close to perfect, it didn't feel like utter dreck, either. I'd gotten back to telling the stories I wanted to tell, and that made all the difference.

The lesson? Some stories just don't pan out. Some manuscripts just can't (or shouldn't) be fixed. And sometimes, it's better to admit when you're beaten and move on than to keep revisiting a failure. Besides, we learn from failure. I know I will never consider having written Unbridled to have been a waste of time. I'm a much different--and I like to think, much better--writer as a direct result of every mistake I made writing that book.

YOUR TURN: Have you ever put a manuscript in the Magical Mulch Pile? Why? How did you know it was the right decision?

P.S. In a final twist of irony, I heard on Wednesday that Unbridled finaled in Launching a STAR. But I am resolved. Even if it were to hit the jackpot by winning and getting a request from one of the final judges, I won't be tempted to pick it up again.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Power of Perception

Maven Darcy BurkeHappy Thursday Mavenland. I'm veering into unchartered territory here. I spent all day Tuesday in a legal proceeding (my husband is an attorney) and found myself thinking about truth.

What is the truth? I looked it up in my ginormous Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary. I won't bore you with all of the definitions. But number 6 is interesting: an obvious or accepted fact, as is number 9: agreement with a standard or original. Now, what is obvious? Obvious to me or obvious to you? Obvious in the way that Speedos are completely unflattering? (Wha? That's not obvious to you?) And, what is "accepted?" Accepted by all or by a majority? Accepted by a five-year old or accepted by a Harvard professor? It is generally accepted that necessity is the mother of invention. Do you suppose whoever invented ice cream had some urgent need for something sweet and cold and creamy? Hmm, I think I digress…

We talked several weeks ago about the senses. We use our senses to perceive the world around us. Our world is our truth. And not all of us will deduce the same truth based on those senses. Maybe you have a pair of socks you swear are black (and they probably were once - don't you hate when they go navy on you?), but someone else says they are blue. Or you say the wine tastes like licorice and cherry and someone else says currant and tobacco. To you, your color or your taste is the absolute truth.

Are there some things that are indisputable facts? (Another of the definitions.) Absolutely, but even they are debatable by some (ask anyone willing to engage in a discussion of evolution - I'm so not doing that here). My point is, everyone has truths for better or for worse, for right or for wrong. We can't help the filter by which we perceive everything around us. In fact, it is what makes us.

Now what does my rantgent (that's a rant-tangent and yes, a new Mavenism) have to do with writing? We talked last week about point of view and perception plays into that big time of course. Perception is also why one person loves a book and another hates it - perhaps even for the same reasons.

So, how do we reconcile the truth with so many perceptions out there? That's my question to you. Oh, and while you're at it, give us the truth about Speedos.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

No Rights Make a Wrong

Maven Lacey Kaye

No, the Mavens aren't trying to mess with your head by mixing up the days we post. It's actually Wednesday...perhaps either to your disappointment or joy (if you had a sudden panic attack wondering where Hump Day went).

I think the first week of December must be the last week people think they can schedule stuff and still have you "be" in 2007. Is it busy this week or what?! Maybe it's just me. Hm...let's see if I can tie this into my post somehow...

(It just wouldn't be Maven Lacey's day if we didn't wander around looking for the point, I'm thinking.)

Anyway, in the spirit of this week's pseudo-topic, I want to talk about mental roadblocks. Some uber-devoted followees might know I recently was offered a leadership position at work.

No, I'm not going to blog about work!

/Lacey ducks from Maven Erica's bat

Ok, I'm sort of going to blog about work. Like Erica says, I only know me best. My point here is that some really, really uber-devoted followees might recognize the position I was offered as the same position I meant to take when I launched last year's Lacey Plans to Take Over the World plan on my blog. (There's no link because that one really *was* about work and I decided to take it down.) But let's pretend you saw my 10-step plan for World Domination.

(This was before I hooked up with my "friends" who had the same goal... What's that about keeping your enemies closer?)

So I had this plan for how I was going to finagle my way into this lead position. It was a great plan. Completely foolproof. I started out pretty gung-ho about it. w00t, have coffee. w00t, get one step closer to World Domination. But after a couple of months -- right about when I started seeing some real progress -- I got out the excuse brakes and started applying them. Hard. Appeals for me to complete certain things went procrastinated. I started to hide from high-visibility projects. I put off a super-major milestone on my list -- for NINE MONTHS -- because... because... because... Uh.


Why'd I do that?

Oh, right. Because I was afraid to succeed.

I knew I was afraid to succeed. My master plan was moving me along with a little more momentum than I'd expected, partly because it was even better than I'd predicted (muah ha ha ha) and partly because other people removed roadblocks for me. I knew that as soon as I got to my first deliverable, I'd be swamped with responsibility i.e. work. And wait a minute...I have other goals besides World Domination. Like, uh, writing. Becoming an author. Selling lots of books. Touching people's lives.

Okay, so now you're thinking that I put on the brakes at my day job and threw myself into my writing so I could catch up to where I wanted to be if I wanted to balance out my progress. And you would be wrong. Because think about it: If I suddenly sold, what would happen? Contracts. Revisions. Copy edits. Galleys. Promotion. Marketing. Promotion. Writing more books -- ones even better than the first, but in way less time. Promotion.

As I watched the writers around me drop like flies (flies with Good Deals), I started to panic some more. What if I sold? What would I do if one day I woke up and I had so much responsibility i.e. work I didn't know where to start?

I said this to someone the other day and it made her laugh (I think; darn you, Yahoo!), but whenever I start to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of new responsibility I look back at some of the things I never thought I could do, didn't know where to start, wasn't sure how it'd end, but did anyway. Like thermodynamics. WHAT was I going to do with that class? Was it *really* necessary for me to take that course? Was it *really* worth 80 hours of my life? Was it really completely out of my scope of normal understanding, and have I *ever* used it...ever?

Truthfully, no. But if you count all the times I've ever held it up as an example of something I could acclimate myself to and be successful at despite all odds, then yes.

What is your thermo class? What do you measure your threshold against when you get to feeling a little overwhelmed with what COULD go right? Have you ever put the success brakes on to sit back and focus on...nothing? Do you ever remind yourself that we only live once?
(er, depending on various beliefs, I suppose :-))

Monday, December 3, 2007

Breaking Our Own Myths

Maven Carrie RyanA while back, I wrote about the myths we create about how we write. I just can't remember where to link to it :) Those of you who have read my blog before will get used to the fact that I'm sometimes repetitious either because the same thoughts are on my mind and I feel like expelling them or just because I can't remember that I've already blogged about this topic. Either way, this is what's on my mind so I'm going to blog about it again :)

What I mean by myths are things like "I can't write without X," and X being ANYTHING. Like plotting, purple post-its, music, quiet, hot tea, a computer, etc etc etc. Go ahead, think about it and fill in the following blank: I can't write without _____________.

For me it would be "I can't write without *the* first line." I don't mean any first line, I don't mean a first line that's okay, I mean *the* first line. It's like a shot at the beginning of a race: the first line enters my head and I'm outta here. Here are some of my former first lines:

From Pledged to a Stranger, my first completed romance novel:
"I won't do it, mother."

From Game, Set, Match (hate that title), my second completed-ish romance novel:
"It all began when Katie dropped William Peterson's liver on the white-tiled floor. 'Oh, damn,' she said against her surgeon's mask as she glared at her male assistant, Rodney, who was making no effort to quell his laughter."

From Dead Bodies and Debutantes, my incomplete chick lit YA:
"Truth be told, I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be."

From The Forest of Hands and Teeth, "My mother used to tell me about the ocean. She said there was a place where there was nothing but water as far as you could see and that it was always moving, rushing towards you and then away."

What's funny is that the only one of those books I didn't ever finish (mostly) is Dead Bodies, and that's the only book where I changed the first line (I lopped off a few chapters). Coincidence? I can remember when each of those first lines entered my head. I remember the rush, the "this is it!" feeling I had, and how the words just tumbled out after this first line.

There's a part of me that loves this little foible of mine. But there's another part of me that thinks it's stupid, useless, unhelpful, and a myth that should be broken. Here I am, wrapping up edits for The Forest of Hands and Teeth and about to start on Untitled Book 2. I have the world, I have the characters, I have some idea of the thrust. But I don't have the first line. And I'm letting that stop me from writing.

And really, do we writers need another thing to keep up from writing? I think it is *so* easy to convince ourselves that there are certain things we need when we write. That we can only write in cafes or at night, etc. I think some of these things are grounded in reality (maybe you need to go to a cafe to get away from the kids, maybe you need silence because otherwise you can't hear the characters in your head). But sometimes we allow these things to become excuses. It becomes too easy to say "I need at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time if I'm going to write and since I only have 20, I won't spend that time writing," or "I have to warm up with my book's music playlist to get in the mood and since I don't have the songs on this computer, I can't write."

I know that I HATE writing by hand because I can't keep up with the words in my head. But then I remember when I was writing Game, Set, Match and how at night, when I was falling asleep I'd have these epiphanies and I'd scribble them down on pieces of paper. Maybe hand writing is not my preferred method, but I can still do it.

So I challenge all of us to break our myths, if only to prove that we can. To try writing that first scene even if the perfect first line hasn't arrived. To hand write or write with music or in a cafe or without that perfect name for our characters. I'm not saying we have to change forever, but just step outside our own comfort zone once in a while. Because as soon as we allow those myths to take charge, we start losing control of our own freedom to write. And eventually one of us is going to end up like a pro football player wearing the same unwashed mis-matched socks every time she writes because they bring her luck.

We make our own luck! So this week I'm on vacation in Belize and promise to write some on Untitled Book 2 even though I don't have the first line. And just in case that first line magically appears, then I'll write by hand a bit just so that I remember how! Happy writing everyone!

Friday, November 30, 2007

An Enchanting Take on POV

Maven Jacqueline Barbour

I apologize for being a little late this morning. I normally write my posts a few days ahead of time, but my latest WIP has been chirping like crazy in my head, and I'm afraid I got so wrapped up in it, this post slipped my mind.

Lacey's post yesterday about Hugh Laurie and how he communicates the character of House on screen even though you never get inside his thoughts was a great setup for this topic, because I want to talk about a movie I saw last week. Specifically, the new Disney film, Enchanted.

First, I have to give this film a little plug (which it may not need, as it's apparently doing well at the box office). I loved this movie. It was sweet without being saccarine, pokes a little fun at the whole Disney milieu without becoming mean, and is very, very romantic. Before all the men who read us Mavens run away tearing out their hair, let me add that my husband, who is usually quite curmudgeonly when it comes to "chick flicks," also loved this movie. My kids all loved it, too, although my youngest (five years old) wrote in his school journal that he liked it even though "there was kissing."

So what, you may be wondering, does a movie have to do with point of view? Aren't movies more "third person omniscient" than "third person limited?" I suppose in some global sense, that's true. Since you're never really able to get inside a character's head and find out what he or she is thinking, and since when the characters are interacting, you're privy to both their facial expressions and gestures and all the other techniques actors use to communicate emotion and state of mind, movies are closer to third person omniscient in POV.

And yet, in Enchanted, I nearly always felt as I was watching that I was in one character's POV more than the other and, more, that the filmmakers had done that deliberately. Obviously, when only the hero or the heroine is in a scene, it's easier as a viewer to decide whose point of view to "identify" with in that scene. But when the hero and heroine are interacting with each other, how do you choose?

In the case of Enchanted, I found myself instinctively identifying the POV as belonging to whichever character was being more strongly affected by what was going on in the scene. I always found myself sharing the point of view of the character for whom whatever was happening would seem most inexplicable or emotionally wrenching.

So, what does all of that say to point of view in writing? After all, we can put the reader directly into the characters' thoughts and feelings and make it absolutely clear who the reader should sympathize with, so how can this observation about a movie help?

Well, here's what it did for me. It drove home to me again the importance of writing each scene from the perspective of the character for whom what's happening is most pivotal, meaningful, or life-changing. That's easier said than done, of course, because most scenes (especially between the hero and heroine in a romance) have an effect on everyone involved in them.

Of course, if you're writing in first person (and not doing shared first person like Audrey Niffenegger in The Time Traveler's Wife or third person/first person mix like Diana Gabaldon and Elizabeth Peters), this isn't an issue. You've only got one point of view to deal with. But even then, you have to choose which parts of a story are relevant and meaningful to that point of view character and only tell those.

YOUR TURN: What are some tricks you use for deciding which character's POV to use in a scene? If you write first person exclusively, do you find that freeing or limiting in terms of showing the "whole" story? And have you seen any good movies lately?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

10 Reasons to Love Hugh Laurie (Ok, maybe just 3)

Maven Lacey KayeIn the comments on Tuesday's post I promised to tell you about the super-awesome POV invidualizer tool I use to give each of my characters their own particular voice. Some of you expressed disappointment you would be made to wait until later in the week to find out exactly what my process is. Well, since it's Thursday and I'm the Thursday Maven, wait no more! My super-awesome semi-secret POV individualizer tool is...

My tv.

Wait! Wait! Come back! It IS a good tool!

On tv and in film, actors make characters, right? We know characters come from screenwriters. But screenwriters can't make characters without actors. Ergo, screenwriters need actors. (And vice versa)

As writers of books, though, we don't get actors to make our characters come alive. I propose that our characters be actors. Problem solved!

But wait--how do we do that? In my career as an industrial engineer, I've learned working backward is usually the easiest way to figure a process out. As someone who is both lazy and a huge proponent of standard work, I have come up with a theory for turning characters into actors--starting with looking at actors who create great characters.

Many of us use photos of actors or models to help our muse along and to keep details of facial features and height, etc, consistent. I think it's not a big leap to use actors to help us hear characters. When an actor is in character, he's not who he is in real life. But there are elements of his own style (or hers) that creep in to make us love that character's actor. (Consider this your author voice.)

You're following, right?

So what makes the difference between the actor and the character? Think about this: some actors can't play characters. They can only play themselves. We know which ones they are: actors who consistently behave the same way in every movie, regardless of their role. Ok, now that you know who they are, forget about them. You don't want to use one of them to help your muse. What you want is to think of someone who really, really makes the character for each role he or she plays. Come up with someone really talented and then -- write this down -- steal them.


What Would They Do?

See the difference between copying a character and copying an actor? We writers are all actors, in a way. We take plain words and make them into riveting, emotional stories. How do we do that? A lot of the time, it's through making really captivating characters and then hurting them really, really badly. But a character with no reaction isn't a fun character to watch hurt. Likewise, someone who makes you smile *must have something about them that makes you smile* while they're making you smile. It's all in the delivery, baby.

When I sit down to write a scene, I get into character first. I usually go back and read a few pages of their last scene (even if it's 30 pages earlier) before I start writing. This reminds me of their voice. Then, while I'm writing in their voice, I'm constantly acting out the scene as I picture that actor in my head behaving. Not looking, but behaving. That's because I am the character looking out. Knowing what the character looks like isn't helpful to me. Knowing how that character behaves and using it to communicate the world around him is the key to finding that specific character's voice.

In short, I am a really big fan of my characters interacting with their setting, and anyone who's ever had a crit from me can probably tell that. If you're locked in your character's head and they're not acting then you're either getting internal narrative or dialogue. Think about Hugh Laurie's character Greg House. Do we ever get internal narrative from him? No. But do we need it to feel like we truly know and connect with him? No. Why?

Cues & Things Hugh Laurie uses to communicate Greg House to me:

  • A glass whiteboard

  • A ball

  • A cane

  • His sneakers

  • His motorcycle

  • His printed tshirts

  • His PSP

  • Vicodin

  • Coffee

  • The individual relationships he has with each of his coworkers -- no two are the same; he never behaves the same way with any two people (because he has individual opinions of each of those people, even though he very rarely ever says so (positive or negative))

  • The way he stands

    It's impossible for me to imagine anyone but Hugh Laurie playing House because Hugh Laurie has taken what began as words on a page and made them into a real person. Have you ever gone to and listened to him interview? Hugh Laurie is NOTHING like House. Similarly, you'd almost never recognize Hugh Laurie's characters in Black Adder unless you knew to look. Many fans may not know he had any role in Sense and Sensibility--because you weren't watching Hugh Laurie; you were watching Mr. Palmer. He is a fabulous actor and yes, he is my muse.


    How do you do it?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

POV for Hump Day

Maven Darcy BurkePOV can be a tough thing to master (as is finding a relevant title for this post, apparently). I write in third person, mostly from the h/h POV. That said, I have a nasty habit of slipping into omniscient or near-omniscient from time to time (a friend who read my Golden Heart entry called me "Jane Austen-esque," which I took as a grand compliment!). I'm still working on that aspect.

Today I'd rather muse about male vs. female. Specifically, how one sex interprets thoughts/actions from the POV of the opposite sex. I wrote a scene in my hero's POV recently and got a Maven crit that has me thinking. How accurate is too accurate? My heroine kissed the hero (in the first scene) and displayed a shocking lack of inexperience (this is set in 1816 England). The hero is now at a social event in her presence and is thinking back on that event. He thinks to himself that she "kissed like a whore." I originally wrote it as courtesan, but realized the hero would have no experience with a courtesan. However, he does have experience with whores since his mistress of late is none other than the local madam. To him, the heroine kissing like a whore is not a negative. Au contraire, it's hawt. Men like that, right? Right? The Maven crit pointed out that most women would read this as a negative. She's probably right, but it still doesn't change that for a guy, it's a true and wholly unnegative (is that a word?) thought.

I'm still mulling how to tweak this because I think it's a valid crit, but I'm torn because it's exactly how my hero would think of the kiss. However, we can't get into the business of explaining our POV character's every little thought. We have to find the place that is true to the character without turning off or confusing the reader. I'm still searching for it.

Your turn: How do you walk the line between what your POV character says and does vs. how it's perceived/interpreted? How do you stay true to the character's voice in the face of potential misunderstanding? I hope those questions make sense to someone.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Voice and POV

Maven Carrie RyanOne of the things I've spent a lot of time thinking about recently is voice and POV. How do the two interact? Where does one end and the other begin?

Just over a year ago, I was working on a chick-lit YA called Dead Bodies and Debutantes. I was writing it first person POV (the protag's name was Jess) and I had her voice down. It was so easy to slide into Jess's world, to see things the way she did. She was acerbic, insightful, judgmental, and somewhat unhappy to be a deb. She was a ton of fun to write.

But then I started a new project for NaNo 2006 (long discarded) -- another YA chick lit written in first person POV. After about 10-15k words I realized that my new protag was sounding a lot like Jess. Too much like Jess. But I didn't know how to change that.

My answer was to start another book (The Forest of Hands and Teeth) with a character as far away from Jess as possible. I wrote in first person POV present tense, in a new world, with a somewhat detached narrator. My new character -- Mary -- was nothing like anything I'd ever written. And because she was so different, I was able to let go of Jess. Mary wasn't really meant to be permanent, she was more of a palette cleanser, a diversion and bit of fun.

Of course, now my problem is letting go of Mary. A few days ago I sat down to work on Book 2 and read JP what I'd written so far. "Great job," he said. "Although it sounds an awful lot like Mary." Naturally, the character I was writing was a boy and should have sounded NOTHING like Mary. Sigh.

My temporary solution is a new book, a new world, a shift from first person POV to third. Sloughing off all of the old in order to make room for the new. But I wonder if I'm the only person who has problems with this. Did I find my author voice in writing Forest of Hands and Teeth, or did I find Mary's voice? How do I pull myself apart from her? Is this just a particular problem with first person POV -- you climb so deep into one person's head that it's hard to see anything else?

I wish I had insightful answers to these questions, but I don't :) Just my musings as I turn from one project to the next and try to find a new mind to inhabit for a year. What do y'all think about the barrier between author voice and character voice?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Best Laid ... Turkey?

Maven Lacey KayeHappy Thanksgiving, my American friends!

For the rest of you, Happy Thursday. (Thursdays by themselves are pretty good, eh? 1 day closer to Friday! w00t)

So yesterday in the comments I hinted at a storyboard perk. Yes, besides it being fabulously fun and a great road map of your story, there's a great non-linear benefit: Storyboards aren't synopses.

Right? I mean, a synopsis has to make sense. It needs to flow. You can't skip B from A to C because the reader won't infer the path between. But with a storyboard, you can do whatever you want. You're the only audience. If you're not quite sure yet how the hero will accomplish tasks a, b, c, and d, who cares? You can figure it out when you get there.

Let me explain with an example. According to my storyboard, in Scene 3:

  • Roman doesn't want to be bought

  • Can't remember the baron

  • Buying drinks/being treated to drinks

  • Decides to approach Jonathan and ask for an investment opportunity

  • Walks to his club

  • Knows he's in a bind financially

  • Feeling vulnerable

  • Takes Biddle's bait re: wits game

At first glance, that's a lot of stuff going on for one scene. You would NOT want to try to go line by line like that in a synopsis, and if you did, you'd be locked into your solution pretty tightly. But with a storyboard, you get two perks. One is that if you don't make it to one of those points, chances are you can stick the note into another scene box downline. Two, you have complete freedom as to which elements come first, which come second, how they show up, how you maneuver your character into any of them, etc.

I realized this when I was trying to think of a setting & action for my scene. Sure, part of it has to take place at the club because that's where the betting book is. But there are other points to this scene. Like, how does Roman approach Jonathan? When? Does he summon Jonathan to his house (one idea I toyed with)? If he did, Jonathan would be pretty ticked off. On the other hand, Jonathan could be at the club. But I happen to know Jonathan doesn't go to White's. Hmm. Does Roman walk to Jonathan's house? Now that seems pretty likely.

Okay, so how does the scene start? With Roman walking to the club (or Jonathan's house)? At Roman's house? At the club with a simple mention that he walked there, not rode? Do we start with the wits wager or Roman's search for employment? Is Roman in a good mood when he's discouraged, or is he a jerk about having to lower himself to admit defeat?

My point is, as long as I incorporate the elements needed to move into the next square on my storyboard, I can do it however I want to. Plotters and Pantsters unite!

Like Celeste did yesterday, tell me about a scene you waffled on, why, and how it turned out differently than you'd first imagined. And have some turkey for me! I'll be taking a nap.

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Synopsis?

Maven Jacqueline BarbourNot me!

Call me crazy, but I actually like writing synopses. There's something cathartic about jotting down those broad outlines of the story. And I heart writing them a thousand times more than hooks, query letters and, worst of all, log lines, all of which will probably give me fits for the rest of my life.

Back in my school days and during my brief life as aspiring academic, I never outlined a paper until after I'd written the real thing. If a teacher required an outline be submitted before the paper, then I wrote the paper, wrote the outline, turned in the outline, then turned in the paper. Because until I wrote the paper, I could never predict what I was going to say until I actually said it. And I had to write the paper in absolutely linear fashion, from the first line to the last. Until I was ready to write the introduction, I couldn't write any of the rest of the paper.

And that's pretty much how I write fiction. I have an overarching idea for the story and often have bits and pieces of scenes and dialogue worked out in my head, but I have to approach everything in strictly linear fashion and I never know what comes next with any real certainty until I've written what comes before.

Then how can I write a synopsis for a one hundred thousand word book, you ask? Well, when I start a story, I do have a pretty solid vision of what I need to write a synopsis. I know my characters' internal and external goals, motivations, and conflicts. I know what the main turning points in the plot are and more or less where they'll occur. And without all the details to get in the way (the actual book), it's pretty easy to write a summary of the major elements, because those are the only things I know about the story when I start.

So what's my problem with synopses? Following the darn thing once I get it written! I have no trouble writing the synopsis out of the gate. The trouble is that the story that flows out of me too often bears only the vaguest resemblance to the synopsis I wrote. Darn those details!

YOUR TURN: Are you a plotter or a pantser? Can you see the broad outline of the story before you write it, or do you literally fly the whole way by the seat of the pants (a la Maven Carrie, who just thinks what the worst thing that could happen next is and goes with it)? Either way, do you hate synopses? And what makes them so darned hard?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The best laid plotting boards...

Maven Carrie RyanI have always wanted to have a plotting board. Both of my critique partners make these amazing plotting boards (aka story boards) that I am in awe of. In fact, lots of fab authors do it (Diana Peterfreund, Maven Erica, Julie Leto). Sometimes they arrange the plotting board before writing, and sometimes after writing in order to help with edits. Sometimes the different color post-it notes stand for characters, sometimes for conflicts. There are any number of ways to construct a plotting board.

Since I never plot anything out ahead of time, I decided that I'd construct *my* plotting board to help with editing. So one weekend, I dragged JP all over town looking for a science project board because I wanted to do this right. Not finding anything I gave up on the project entirely. But then, in a bout of pure need to have a plotting board (and insane jealousy at everyone else's beautiful boards), I high-tailed it to the local drug store and purchased everything I thought I'd need: poster board, colored post-its (two different packages so I'd have the neon and the pastel colors just in case), different colored pens. Then, I spent quite a while dividing my piece of poster board appropriately. I even used math!! And a tape measure!!

Ready to go, I sat down with a hard copy of my novel and my brand new supplies. But wait... did I want to use the different colors for characters? And if so, what color should each character be? Should the male characters have more manly colors so I could differentiate them at a glance? Should I give all the gross colors to characters who didn't make it through the story? What about the dog - what color should he get? Or should I use the colors for plot points? But if I use colors for plot points, what are my plot points? And should romance plots be the pinkish colors? And if so, what would green stand for? And what color makes me think of religion? And now that I'm thinking about it, these post-it notes are too big for the chapter squares on the poster board so I can't really have more than one post-it note without either cutting them or covering up other post-it notes. And if I cut them, I might as well go out and buy the smaller ones...

Which is why my plot board looks like this and usually resides behind the hunt-board in my dining room:

I'm not kidding when I admit that all of those thoughts flew through my head when I sat down to create a plotting board. This is the reason I never outlined in law school even though EVERYONE outlines in law school. I always got caught up in whether different section headers should be bold or underlined or italicized or if I should use lower case letters or numbers or put extra spaces between paragraphs.

Really, anyone who read my blog when I was querying will be familiar with my insane inability to deal with these sorts of minute and often inconsequential details. In the end, plotting boards just don't work for me. I'd love to have a visual representation of my book, and I'm sure it would make things easier. But if I'd tried to follow through with this project, I'd still be at my dining room table trying to decide if the bright orange too closely resembled the other orange and what two characters I could assign to the colors so it wouldn't get confusing. Really, I'm not kidding.

Instead of creating the plotting board, I just forced myself to sit down and edit. Sometimes, you just have to figure out what works for you, even if that means you don't have a really cool project to show off to the world (*sob*).

What about y'all? Have you ever tried something that's supposed to help with writing, but for some reason just fell flat for you? Do you plot board? If so, how do you handle the details? What tricks do you have to make writing/editing easier?

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Best Laid Plans

Maven Darcy BurkeLast weekend, Mavens Erica and Lacey and I spent a fabulous two days plotting a book each. We storyboarded our turning points and each and every scene. It was so fabulous we decided to do it again this past weekend. Erica was coming south to Portland to stay with me anyway, and Lacey got an oil change and washed her car in anticipation of joining us Friday evening.

And then Life happened.

Raise your hand, writers, if Life has happened to you. In this case, Life came in the form of Illness. What started as a cough, turned into pinkeye and then ultimately became a mild case of pneumonia and an ear infection for my daughter. Mr. Burke came down with a nasty sinus infection, which he passed on to me, and my son picked up the pinkeye and the ear infection, but, thankfully, not the pneumonia. Meanwhile, Maven Erica was staying with us and I'm crossing every finger and toe that she doesn't come down with one or, heaven forbid, all of the above. So far, so good (*knocks on wood*).

Not only did this week of sickness kill our retreat plotting plans (curse you, Illness!!!!), it also pretty much killed all of my writing time as I scrambled to care for sick people and keep the house remotely ordered. Did I mention I was trying to do NaNoWriMo? I doubted I could write the whole 95,000 word draft, but I hoped to get the NaNo count. What I'll end up with is a kick-butt storyboard (which I already have - w00t!) and hopefully about 20,000 words.

Life happens to me. All. The. Time. I still manage to achieve goals, but some are harder than others, given whatever Life happens to deal me. My new goal is to have the first draft of this book done by the middle of January for The Return of Mavens Erica and Lacey for my RWA chapter's Debra Dixon retreat. I qualify that goal by saying I have no illusions. I'm sure Life will happen again and I will adjust accordingly. To me, the important thing is to keep setting goals and keep pushing forward.

Your turn: What do you do when Life happens? Any Life happens stories you want to share?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hi! My Name Is Jacqueline. And Jackie, and...

Maven Jacqueline BarbourAnd a few others I'd rather keep to myself.

I decided early in my writing career (such as it is!) that I wanted to use a pseudonym. I had a lot of reasons, which you can read all about here. The primary one remains protecting my family's privacy, a goal I admit to achieving with only mixed success up to now. I also feel, however, that an author's name is an important aspect of marketing and branding the identity of her books, and frankly, my real name is both rather vanilla and very difficult to pronounce!

The upshot of my decision to hide behind secret identities means I am now the proud owner of three pseudonyms:

  • Jacqueline Barbour, under which I'm writing "traditional" (whatever that means any more) historical romances set in the Victorian period.

  • Jackie Barbosa, under which I write erotic historical novellas (and I gotta give props to Maven Darcy for coming up with the surname Barbosa; I freely admit to never having seen a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, so I'd never have come up with it on my own and it's simply fantastic!).
  • Barbara Louise, newly-signed editor for Cobblestone Press.

I might need at least one more pen name, too, since I've picked up a first person contemporary piece I started over the summer and have fallen back in love with the story. Both my other pen names are historical "brands," so I'm not sure I'd want to use them for this book.

While I obviously think psuedonyms have advantages, there's also a downside. The first...and most important that I have a hard time remembering at any given time who I'm supposed to be. Which name do I sign at the bottom of email: Jacqueline, Jackie, or Barbara? Which name do I use when I answer the telephone? (This led to a particularly funny incident when I was at RWA National in Dallas over the summer, which I'll have to relate some other time.)

My tendency to forget who I am becomes particularly acute, however, whenever I'm asked to write a bio. (And it wasn't just the Mavens looking for bios this week. Cobblestone wanted one for my editorial self, too.) In a way, I suppose I do think of each of my identities as different people, with slightly different characteristics I want to highlight.

So, should you be inclined to learn more about me (or my selves, as the case may be), you can follow the links below:

As for a bio for the real me, well, I'm afraid that's yet to be written. To paraphrase Monty Python, I'm not quite done yet.

YOUR TURN: Do you have more than one identity (whether or not you have more than one name)? How do you feel about writing bios? And do you have any suggestions for my fourth pen name? I'm all ears!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Bios are for Losers: Maven Lacey Hedges and Hides


Hello, faithful readership, new readership, and other soon-to-be-devoted followees! I'm Maven Lacey -- the Thursday Maven -- and I am ready to do my part to achieve Maven World Domination. To that end, I recently decided it was time I started behaving like an adult instead of an oversexed, stoned teenager. Starting with stopping my habit of saying things like oversexed, stoned teenager.

As you may or may not be able to tell, I haven't gotten very far on that point. I have, however, inched a few baby steps in the Writing Fabulous Pieces of Mind Control Software category... Er, I mean writing scenes for my book which certainly has NOTHING to do with mind control, domination or software.

Most of you are aware that I'm the Process Maven, the List Maven, She Who Demands a Status Report Maven, and all-around wonderful Task Master Maven. Basically, I'm the puppeteer and Maven Erica is the marionette.

KIDDING! Not even close. I blog humbly at the mercy of Maven Erica and my fellow Mavenettes. With that in mind, I shall run back into my cave before anything really exciting about me can make it onto the internet. After all, upstaging Mavens is a bad, bad thing.

RANDOM QUESTION: What is the absolute best way to spend a Friday evening? I have one coming up here pretty soon and I tend to waste it on...sleeping.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Yes, My Name is Darcy Elizabeth...Burke

Maven Darcy BurkeAnd no, my mom was/is not a big fan of Pride and Prejudice. My middle name, Elizabeth, was my great-grandmother's middle name, and Darcy was/is just a name she liked. It was that or suffer the humiliation of Lothar von Wolfgang Lange should I have been a boy. See, my parents had agreed that Dad would name the boys (hence my older brother is Richard Helwig Lange, III) and Mom would name the girls. Mom really wanted a girl and Dad threatened her with Lothar von Wolfgang. Thank goodness for the double X chromosome!

So, that's a little trivial tidbit about me. What else? I guess I'm extra-writerly because I have three cats, 2.6 according to Mr. Burke. He says that to get a laugh because one of our kitties has three legs. She lost a leg to cancer almost four years ago (she's doing great!) and is sometimes known as Hippity-Hop, though I prefer to call her Kira. In addition to Kira and her sister, Maura (they are 8), we share our home with Belle Kitty, a beautiful fourteen-year-old Maine Coon.

You might think that's a full house, but of course there are the Burkettes. Quinn, my daughter, is six and in first grade. Zane is 3 and in preschool. Lots of high-energy fun at Burke Manor! Oh, and of course, I must mention Mr. Burke, my husband of nearly sixteen years. Mr. Burke is an attorney specializing in general business litigation and construction law. I support Mr. Burke's firm by keeping his books.

Aside from writing, bookkeeping, mommying, and wifeing (is that a verb?), I like to cook, scrapbook, work in the garden, and, of course, read. I also enjoy wine tasting and since we live on the edge of Oregon's fabulous pinot noir country, it's super convenient. And, uh, expensive if you aren't careful.

Your turn: What do you wish you had more time to do? Do you like wine? If so, what do you like to drink? Ever had Oregon pinot noir? (Warning: it's addictive!)

Hi! I'm the New Maven

Maven Carrie RyanI couldn't be more excited to be the newest addition to the Maven family. Clearly, I've been trying to wheedle my way in here by being a guest maven time and again :) As the newest Maven, I thought I'd take the chance to introduce myself a bit.

I started writing seriously in 2000 after graduating from Williams College (home of the purple cows). After shelving two manuscripts, I decided to take time off so I could get the kind of hip urban life that would allow me to write chick-lit books (ha!). During that time, I went to law school, fell in love, and chick-lit books evolved so that they no longer had to be set in a big city (d'oh!). After graduating from Duke Law School and starting day jobs, my boyfriend, JP (a fantastic speculative fiction short story writer and trial lawyer) and I decided to start taking our writing seriously again.

That was just under two years ago. In September I signed with Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich and about a month ago I sold my post-apocalypse young adult book -- The Forest of Hands and Teeth -- to Delacorte in a two book deal! I'm still in squee mode, even after handing in my first round of edits yesterday!!

I'd love to say I have this amazing and interesting life outside of writing, but unfortunately I just don't have the time! I'm a full time lawyer with a big firm, working in their Trusts and Estates department (before that I litigated for two years). Now that fire season has started, I love nothing more than to curl up in front of the fire with JP and a glass of wine and play the "what if" game.

Oh, and because every writer has a cat, here's one of mine.

Your turn: Any questions for the new maven? Any of you want to share something about yourselves? What you love to do in your free time?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We Have a Winner!

Robynl, come on down! You're the winner of the autographed copy of Deanna Lee's Barenaked Jane. Please email us at mavens [at] to claim your prize.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Interview with Publisher and Writer Deanna Lee

Guest Maven Deanna LeeToday, it's the Mavens' pleasure to introduce Deanna Lee, multi-published author of numerous books, including The Penetration Diaries (is that a killer title or what?), Undressing Mercy, and Barenaked Jane, and co-founder/owner with fellow author Sable Grey of Cobblestone Press.

We invited Deanna to guest with us today because Cobblestone has become since its inception as much a community of writers as a publishing house. As writers themselves, Deanna and Sable bring a unique perspective to their role as publishers and the community their efforts have inspired is certainly an outgrowth of that perspective.

Before we turn to the subject of the writers' community that's grown up around Cobblestone Press, could you tell us why you decided to start an epublishing house in the first place and give us a bit of Cobblestone's history for those of our readers who aren't familiar with you?

Sable and I came to the idea of Cobblestone one night during a very long conversation about ePublishing. We had very firm thoughts on what an author-friendly publisher should be and we knew that could create that kind of environment. We started researching the market, publishing, and went to work immediately on a five year business plan. We founded in January of 2006 and opened with our first six books in June of 2006. We’ll be exploring print in the next year or so on a small scale, as we believe firmly in planning well and executing ideas with precision. Anything else would be a disservicee to the authors we are honored to publish.

Cobblestone's online forum and weekly release chats have fostered a strong community of writers at various stages in their careers. Was that intentional or a happy accident?

It was certainly what we wanted! I love other writers and it’s nice to have a place to go online where you can share writing news and find others to challenge you to improve. The weekly chat is our way of connecting with both authors and readers regularly. At Cobblestone we have a very transparent communication process because we believe it to be important. We utilize forums, Yahoo groups, and blogs in an effort to keep everyone on the same page and in the game. I think it works very well.

One of the things many writers struggle with is balancing their writing time between garnering advice and support (often through online communities) and actually writing. How do you manage this and what do you think is an appropriate balance to strike?

I don’t sleep. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you live on espresso shots and ambition. Okay, so seriously I think the friend of any writer is a schedule that you can follow. It does absolutely no good to set up a schedule you know you won’t follow or make a word count goal you know you can’t meet. Challenging yourself is good, but setting realistic goals will prevent you from becoming discouraged quickly.

What kinds of experiences did you have with RWA chapters and writing communities before Cobblestone?

I am a member of the RWA, but I joined after I was published. I’ve belonged to writing communities in the past (good and bad) and on the whole I recommend them to writers at every level. Writing is a very solitary craft and it’s easy to isolate yourself. Isolation isn’t healthy for the creative soul, no matter how much you might think so. We need intellectual stimulation and other writers can provide that in spades!

What advice do you have for writers seeking online or live communities to participate in? Are there certain things writers should or shouldn't do in a forum environment?

I do caution against overly social writing groups. You want a proactive WORKING group—not a place where people exchange recipes and complain about their spouses/jobs all the time. Granted, those places can be a great deal of fun but they aren’t productive and often they can draw you into drama that leaves you mentally and emotionally exhausted. A writing community should be a place where you recharge your batteries, not be a source of constant drainage.

While it hardly needs to be said, I also caution everyone against bad behavior in forums. The news of bad acts travel four times faster than the news of good deeds. Our writing world is rather small. If something negative gets posted about me on a forum that I don’t belong to, you can bet I’ll get 10 copies of the post in my email from various people within the hour of the posting. No forum or news group is truly private. So, please don’t put anything in writing you don’t want the world to know.

How do you feel about the practice of writers posting their works-in-progress to an online forum? Good idea/bad idea?

Critique groups can be an invaluable resource as long as the members trust each other and participate equally. I don’t recommend posting your work on a public forum because it can be viewed as a form of self-publication. If you are going to critique on a forum or group, make sure that it’s only available to members and don’t leave your work up there indefinitely. One of the best online sites for this is: , but I recommend you go there with body armor on. Those writers can and will be hard core when it comes to critique.

Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about Cobblestone Press?

Beyond how absolutely fabulous we are? Well, on November 10th, Karen Wiesner will be joining us for a day long Q&A session about her book “First Draft in 30 Days” –you only have to be a member of Main Street to participate.

In January we will be holding our second FREE online writing conference. More information on the Words in Motion event can be found here:

YOUR TURN: Deanna will be available today to answer any questions you might have, so please, feel free to comment and ask! Deanna will be giving away a signed copy of Barenaked Jane to one lucky commentator, so post away!

And thanks, again, Deanna, for being with us today!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Who You Talkin' To?

Maven Lacey KayeWe're talking about online communities over here in MavenLand this week, and you can't really talk about online communities without talking about publisher-sponsored contests and forums. Ok, well, maybe you can, but it's my day so we have to go along with what I want to talk about.

When I first got the idea to try writing a novel, I went directly to the homepage of the authors I read the most at the time. Up to this point, I had only used their websites to figure out the order their backlists were supposed to be read and to get sneak peeks at new titles. I would savor excerpts and cover art and wish away the months before I could have that new book in my hot little hands. ARC was a term I'd never heard before. I had never even considered the possibility I could get a book before it was due out. (I didn't know I could find a book early by looking around town, either, my point being that I basically knew jack about the publishing world, period.)

From my favorite authors I found the Avon Authors Forum. WOW. From a reader's perspective, this was a goldmine. I could not BELIEVE all my favorite authors (because at the time, I read Avon authors almost exclusively without even realizing it) were collected right there in ONE place. And many of them were online, chatting with readers! They hit the discussion boards at least as often as I did!

From there, I found three sources of information: 1) Jenna Peterson, who is always, always generous with her time and knowledge, 2) the Aspiring Romance Writers loop, run by a fellow discussion board member, and 3) Romantic Inks, which at the time was called Romantically Inclined (which, turns out, if not entered into your browser correctly is also a porn site).

At each of those points, I made connections with other human beings. Those connections built upon each other so quickly that the internet became addictive in record time. I mean, SHOCKINGLY fast and surprisingly hard to quit. I would have told you three years ago that I would never, ever be addicted to things like online message boards, blogs, and email. It never would have crossed my mind as a possibility. But the very first time I saw someone respond to my comment on a forum... *chills* It was crack.

(I see Blogger has added an option to have comments posted after yours emailed directly to you. That's like crack on crack.)

Anyway, I think FanLit and and the American Title contests all provide that first hit of crack for a lot of people. We start out as readers, or as readers dabbling with that first, second, or sixth book idea, and then we find out... people can read my stuff! I don't even have to be published! It's crack on speed!

Is crack speed? I have no idea.

So I know FanLit, in particular, did a great job of bringing all of the above together. They had a discussion forum, real, live multi-published authors commenting (on YOUR work!), blogging, and the like, and then they had a publishing venue for the masses. It was like the perfect trifecta of addictive, engaging crack, and it was perfect.

I just used perfect twice. Gah. That's how good it was.

I think the top really blew off when the people on the forums (using actual crack to stay up 36 hours in a row) realized there were other people on the forums who had blogs. Whoa. And those blogs were linked to other blogs. And the next thing you know, mom1974 is able to read through the archives of suzie59 and bam! instant connection. It's like you know that person. Only you don't. Because it's the illusion of the internet.

And now one of those imaginary people is at my house. Because we're all really real people, floating around Al Gore's internet, hoping to run into other real people -- preferably ones who will publish our books (and ones who will read them) -- making the internet that elusive mix of anonymous and not, creepy and absolutely perfect.

Just don't get me started on those SciFi people. Weirdos! :-)

Tell me: when you first got hooked on the internet, what was your biggest surprise? Was it that there's actually normal people on the internet? Was it that you could stand to look at yourself in the morning after spending all night chatting with a complete stranger through this backward, still-motion chat technology we call message boards? Was it that you can learn some stuff on the internet that's not only true, but actually useful? Have you ever met anyone online in real life through a venue that wasn't the National conference?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Community of One

Note to Robynl: You won the signed book from Stephanie Rowe's backlist for posting on her interview! Please contact us with your information, and congratulations!

Maven Darcy BurkeEver wonder what writers did twenty years ago? RWA had been founded, but the Internet was still just a twinkle in Al Gore's eye (or had it started up by then - I admit I'm not particularly savvy on Internet history). Did some writers simply go quietly insane with their bunny slippers and stained heart-shaped coffee cup? (And how on earth did they live without an online thesauraus, Wikipedia, or E! News?)

I think there's a general belief that writers are solitary people, loners, even. But today's online communities in the form of chat rooms, email loops, and blogs perhaps argue against that. Given the number of writers I "see" online, I'd say writers are seeking to connect in a way that writing for publication prohibits. It's like doing theatre vs. a movie. Actors might say that theatre is much more gratifying because of the live audience and the instant gratification (I always thought it was, but then I've never done a movie). Participating in online communities might just offer the same rush for the writer - instead of waiting for your book/article/story to be published, you can write a blog, post to a critique loop, or chat for immediate results.

For me, online communities are great because I can take them or leave them. Some weeks I'm feeling chatty and curious, while other weeks I want to stay in my cave. In that respect, I guess I am my own community (well, you must count the Burkettes!) and I kind of like that. To be a writer, you have to exercise extreme self-discipline and, let's face it, you better like your own company. I'm fortunate in that I have the Burkettes around and even Mr. Burke since he often works from home, but since none of them are writers (currently, though Mr. Burke has aspirations, I believe), it's not the same as a community of like-minded/focused people.

How would you describe yourself? Do you like to fly solo or do you prefer a support group? Or maybe you like a little bit of each, which, really, makes the online community thing just about perfect.

Manuscript Mavens

Manuscript Mavens