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A good book makes you think

I know I’m taking a chance when I download “bargain” books from BookBub, Choosy Bookworm, and Amazon, or pick up used books at my favorite Arizona bookstore, Changing Hands. I may end up with a book that doesn’t appeal to me, to put it nicely. Looking on the bright side, it can be motivating to realize that if that book can get published, surely I will have no problem getting my novel into print.

That was not the case with the used book on writing I recently bought, “The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing” by David Morrell. I am only 36 pages into the book and I have already gotten my $8.50 worth. (The other used book on writing included in that same purchase, for just $6.50 and to remain unnamed, was barely worth that amount. Even so I read the entire book.)

On page four of “The Successful Novelist,” Morrell states that the correct, and only, answer to his question, “Why do you want to be a writer?” is “Because you need to be.” “Writers write.” A real writer would squeeze writing into any time available, even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day.

The sign of a good book is that it makes you think. (I made that up. I think.) Reflecting back over my younger writing years, this is what I think my writing life should have been. When I was young and energetic, busy with my family, work, and volunteer activities, I should have found a way to say “no” to just one thing. And then locked myself in the closet. (That’s correct. When I wrote in 1987 my very first draft of the book, “Anne,” from which my other books have spawned, I put a desk in my clothes closet. In our open concept house, this was the only place I could escape from the activity and noise. The bathroom was my second choice.)  If I’d been smart enough to lock the closet door and write for fifteen minutes each day, by now I actually might have a book completed and, dare I say, published. Thirty years later.

As I ruminated over how quickly those thirty years have passed with so little writing to show for them, the accountant in me picked up my phone, clicked on the calculator app, and started punching in numbers. If I had spent just a half-hour every day writing, 365 days a year, for thirty years, I would have racked up 5,475 hours writing.

I tried to relate that number to something tangible, such as how many books 5,475 hours of writing equates to. Due to the fact that I don’t have any completed, full-length novels to my credit, I can only draw a parallel to my NaNoWriMo experiences. In the month of November I can write 50,000+ words, without writing every day. I estimate that I spend three hours a day on average writing like crazy during the month, which totals ninety hours. For a first draft of 100,000 words, I quadrupled those hours, 360 hours total. In half-hour increments, that equals 720 writing sessions of a half hour each, or pretty darn close to two full years.

Back to the 5,475 hours that I could have spent writing in the past thirty years. If I divide those hours by the 360 hours to produce a rough draft, I could have easily whipped out fifteen rough drafts. Instead of the four unfinished drafts I have, I could have fifteen. Unfinished. Rough. Drafts. Sounds about right.

P.S. Please go back and read Heidi Wilson’s latest blog post. She issued a challenge. Read the comment section for a hilarious response from Judy.

 

 

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View from the courtyard

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Nothing but blue skies and sunshine

It’s 90 degrees and 100% sunshine where I am in Arizona–and yet I’m sequestered inside, lounging on my bed as I try to conjure up a topic to blog about that simultaneously edifies and entertains our loyal readers.

In the Valley of the Sun there are no changing leaves to wax on about–no doubt you have had your fill of the foliage, whether as a leaf-peeper yourself or via all of the pictures posted on Facebook. There is no question that this was a stellar year for colorful foliage in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Green-thumbed residents in Arizona are planting their gardens, though the sun continues to blister the tender arugula and basil plants. Back home it is time to weed-whack the perennials or continue to cover them at night with sheets as we try to eek out a few more weeks of blossoms.

We have seen numerous vees of ducks and geese, presumably ones that have followed us here from brrrr chilly New Hampshire. Unfortunately, my husband (if I can drag him onto the plane) and I, unlike those real snowbirds, must return this week to furnaces and wood stoves, sweaters and gloves, delaying our true winter migration until after Christmas. In Arizona it is still shorts and sandals, air conditioning and ceiling fan weather.

Our grandchildren are out scorpion hunting–and killing–at night with black lights. The good news is after six days here we no longer check our bed at night for scorpions and we aren’t afraid to walk around indoors without our shoes on. Outdoors–that’s another story.

Our mode of transportation is an open air Jeep Wrangler. The other day I was caught without my sunscreen as the sun beat in through the open roof. (Luckily, I never leave home without my zippered, hooded sweatshirt in tow, just in case we venture into a store or restaurant with the a/c thermostat set at sixty or lower. I plan to launch a campaign to “encourage” businesses to raise their a/c thermostats. Sorry, I digress….) With what I considered a clever defensive move, I whipped on my sweatshirt backward with the hood covering my face. Instant protection. And immediate embarrassment to my husband as we stopped at a ubiquitous stoplight and the women in the car to our left and the man to our right gawked and laughed. At me. (This appears to be a case where ” you really had to be there” to appreciate the humor of the situation.)

With any luck I’ve entertained you. Or made you envious. The edification will have to wait. I’m still on vacation.

 

 

Adios to the gun

Two Thursdays ago I submitted to my writing group for critique my short story “The Intruder” now renamed “He’s All She’s Got.” As usual, my submission generated a fair amount of “positive criticism.”

Our facilitator, John, pointed out that I had “not fully imagined from the inside” the main scene that involved the gun, the intruder, and the tying up to the newel post of my protagonist. I have since attempted to immerse myself deeper into this scene only to discover that I have imagined it to the fullest extent possible. I just can’t write any more realistically about guns and tying up people.

I’ve given my story a hard look–a VERY hard look–and decided to rewrite it with more of a focus on the relationship between the mother and her daughter. I think it best to say adios to the gun scene. What a relief. Eleanor, who has worked tirelessly on a gun scene for possibly years suggested an alternative to my opening scene that does not involve a gun and I’m going to give it a try.  Naturally, this change will ripple throughout the story. It’s all for the good. I am better at writing about relationships than guns.

Once again I am thankful for the input from my writing group. Without their advice, I’d–well, I’d be a wannabe writer without any possibility of publication. With them, my odds are slightly better. When we concluded the discussion of my short story, I made a negative comment about it. Immediately, thousands of miles away, I heard “it’s a good story” and “I like your story.” That was enough encouragement for another go-round. Thanks, guys!

What I find of interest is that when I am working on one project, my short story in this instance, all sorts of ideas for my other current project, (my book, “Anne”) erupt unbidden. I do wonder if all other writers have this problem, or if it just belongs to us procrastinators, for whom it is a means of getting out of what we are supposed to be doing.

Last week I took a break from my writing group and writing as my mother, sister and IMG_0630 - Copybrother-in-law visited from New Hampshire. We relaxed by the pool at their resort, did a few tourist activities, and ate out, naturally. We were pleased we could reward them for their long flight with sunshine and some record-breaking temps in the 80’s. Too bad they had to return to temperatures that were nearly 100 degrees lower (with wind chill) than what they enjoyed here.

Now I will have time to write–the grandkids will be in school, Joy will be working, Steve will be golfing, and, oh, darn, the sun will be shining and temps will be even higher….

 

 

 

 

My (so-called) life as a writer

Technology is great (when it works, of course). For the past two Thursday nights I’ve been able to FaceTime with my writing group back in New Hampshire. I hope the second Thursday was an improvement for them–I used my iPad instead of my iPhone and they added speakers. The only problem on my end is that it’s harder to interrupt someone when you’re an image on a screen!

With the two hour time difference, I had no choice last Thursday but to eat my dinner while we had our discussion. I don’t imagine my slurping spaghetti noodles was a very appealing sight.  That won’t be an option this week as I volunteered to submit. Tacky to eat and present at the same time.

Yikes. What was I thinking? I’ve been much too busy enjoying myself in sunny, warm Arizona (not so much today as we had a storm blow through last night–thank you, El Nino) to find time to write. And we’ve had visitors from New Hampshire. And the three grandkids passed a diluted version of their debilitating virus to me which kept me in bed part of this past weekend. And this coming weekend we have family from New Hampshire arriving.

And…that’s my life as a writer. Full of excuses as to why I haven’t written. But as I look through my two yellow pads of paper, I see pages of notes about both my story, “The Intruder,” and my book, “Anne.” But notes, in my book, don’t constitute writing. And as useful as they are to me, I can’t submit them to my writing group.

My notes on “Anne” pertain to combining my three related novels into one, not as easy a task as I originally anticipated. The process of writing my thoughts down on paper led me to the realization that I am starting the novel with Anne’s story and I need to conclude the novel with her story. My original plan was to end the novel with her daughter Olivia’s story. I suppose if I keep writing notes about the book I’ll come to a different conclusion.

I did have a motivational experience at, of all places, my grandson’s soccer tournament in Tucson. The opening ceremonies included the typical dais with a podium, microphone, and folding chairs. And a replica Olympic torch. Just the sight of the dais (sans the torch) transported me back to a scene in “Anne.” 

Time to write (revise, finish) the damn book!

So heads up, writing group. If I get my act together, you’ll be reading a new (improved?) version of “The Intruder” this week. If I don’t, well…I’ll just have to blame it on technology.

 

Do what you love

I’m still hard at work on the short story (“The Intruder”) that takes place in my daughter’s house in Virginia. I reduced the word count and simplified the convoluted plot line and am now ready to smooth the rough edges, increase the word count, and add complexity to the plot line. I plan to have a draft to submit to my writing group “soon” after we arrive in Arizona. Warning to my group: do not expect it the week we arrive (next week).

Recently I read on a writing blog (not certain which one) that a writer (obviously) keeps a journal for each writing project that she works on. I promptly went to Barnes and Noble, purchased one of their ubiquitous,

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Journal for short story, “The Intruder

always “reduced price,” journals, and started recording my experience revising my short story. I have two entries.

This is the year (I hope) that we get FaceTime functioning so that I can participate in our Thursday night writing group from Arizona. Even if we are only able to communicate via the phone, I will be satisfied. Without the structure of my group to motivate me, I spend my time there basking in the sunshine, resting, and exploring. Add being a spectator at the numerous sports and activities that our three active grandchildren participate in and you can see why I haven’t gotten much writing done these past two winters.

Something that has limited my writing in Virginia is that, as a Christmas present to myself, I renewed my subscription to Ancestry.com. My daughter and I have been researching rabidly various branches of my husband’s family. She’s traced his paternal grandfather’s ancestors back to hanging out with William Bradford, a Pilgrim governor of Massachusetts. (I thought I had done well to determine my fifth great-grandfather was a Minuteman!) It’s an addictive–and at times frustrating–hobby.

Last year in Arizona I participated in an online support group for writers, “Creative Monsters Club,” with other members from around the world. Our mentor, Marcy Mason McKay, has published (among other writings) an award-winning novel, “Pennies from Burger Heaven.” She soon plans to start work on the second book in the Burger Heaven series. I am going to post a review of her book on Goodreads and Amazon, which I have never done before. The quality and detail of the reviews I have read prior to deciding to purchase a book have deterred me from contributing my own paltry review. But I’m going to take the plunge and submit a brief review of this book. Please read her book–my review is optional!

 

 

 

Stockings filled with coal

When you get to be my age, it’s amazing what an almost fourteen hour trip to Virginia, in steady rain, in a rental car with tires in need of replacement, with GPS directions that you find out are not taking you the way you think you are going until it’s too late to change direction, can do to you the next day. And I was only the passenger. The driver started the trip at six a.m. getting thrown to the ground after being hit in the head by the garage door on its downward trajectory. I think you may get the picture why this post will be short and disjointed!

The good news is we made it to Virginia safe and sound, our suitcases already unpacked and clothes hung in the closets with care, the driver still lively and quick. The last leg of our journey to Arizona will be by sleigh, er, airplane, that is.

I survived, and won, NaNoWriMo, with time to spare but not a creative thought lurking anywhere. I’ve printed my 2014 and 2015 winning submissions and lugged them with my original printed book (“Anne”) with a plan to ignore the Arizona sunshine this winter and return home with a completed draft comprised of an amalgamation of all three novels. We shall see…

Over a year ago I wrote a short story that

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Christmas at the Omni Mount Washington Resort

partially is set in my daughter’s house in Virginia. (You may recall the experiment with the weed whacker string.) Another unfinished work. As I walked into her garage last night, after the exhausting trip from New Hampshire, the story engulfed me, reminding me of characters and story lines left hanging, like stockings hung on the mantle filled with coal. They deserve better than that. I just may finish that story this trip.

 

And Santa just may bring me everything on my list.

 

 

Just write it

On our way back home to New Hampshire after wintering in Arizona, we are spending a few weeks with our daughter Jennifer and family in Williamsburg, VA. The region, and our daughter’s house itself, is the setting for one of the numerous stories I have started. And never finished. It is only natural that I am motivated to resurrect the story while we are here.

After nearly a year it’s overwhelming on the one hand and like Christmas on the other to open all of my Word files and reread what I wrote (what seems like) so long ago. Six versions, seven installments submitted to my writing group, and one final complete story. And an equal amount of backstory and plot possibilities. Questions without answers. Questions that deserve answers. Meaning that there really never was a final complete story.

The comments from my writing group come flooding back. One person thought the description of the protagonist’s lunch was unnecessary while another thought it showed insight into the character. That’s just one of the comments I recall.

I do remember that the six versions were driven by the diverse comments from my writing group. I appreciate them all and know, deep down, that they can only improve the story. However, I am assured that it is my prerogative as the author to use any, all, or none of them.

My husband, who paints as a hobby during his retirement and knows nothing of the torture we writers endure, instructed me to pick one option, any option, and just write it. But I can’t seem to find my way out of the whirlpool of plot possibilities swirling around me to commit to just one and do as he instructs.

I know. This is a common thread in my blogs, my discussions with my writing group and my friends and family, in my head. Finish it. Answer those questions. Pick one scenario and stick with it. Has her daughter had an affair with the intruder? Or is she currently having one? Is she still married or recently divorced? Did he steal the Honda Odyssey van or the BMW? Did she ask him to steal her car or just jokingly mention it in conversation? Did the mother, my protagonist, go to the methadone clinic or not? Is there even a methadone clinic? See my dilemma??

For research, I am heading to the garage to have my husband tie me to the newel post with string from the lawn edger to see if it will work for my story. One of my writing group participants questioned the ability of the string to restrain my protagonist. We shall see if one of my questions is answered….

Desire Isn’t Enough

Arizona hummingbird--my muse?

Arizona hummingbird-my muse?

I’ve moved from the bed of the dim, cozy casita to the patio adorned with blue sky and sunshine. Little birds chatter in the palo verde trees. The water fountain bubbling in the background competes with the wind chimes in the tree. Helicopters and Canada geese fly overhead while the thrum of a hummingbird draws my attention to the feeder. A ruby glitter signals this is a male. My muse, perhaps?

I have decided to read outside rather than write inside—the comfort of the bed was about to lure me to sleep at eleven in the morning. Or was it the pressure to write that caused my eyes to glaze over, my lids to droop? Yet here I am, outside, surprised to find pen and paper, rather than my Kindle, in hand. How is it that the distractions of a glorious winter morning in Arizona are allowing me to focus on my writing when I was convinced that I needed quiet and seclusion, and especially darkness, to get words, action, characters, plot, onto paper?

Excuses. I have plenty of them. The environment isn’t conducive to writing (see above), I have too many other things to do (aren’t I retired?), I don’t have the energy (it’s the medicine), my Words with Friends and Trivia Crack opponents are waiting for my next move (life or death situation to some).….you get the drift.

I can’t write on demand–the forces of the universe must be perfectly aligned before I can put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard,

I'm a winner!

I’m a winner!

with words leading to paragraphs to chapters to a book. A completed book. Yet I have won NaNoWriMo two times—a “complete” novel, 50,000 words written in the month of November! How do I reconcile this?

NaNoWriMo frees me. No inner critic sits on my shoulder or on the page. No time for self-doubt, perfection, or the fear of failure that normally trigger my procrastination. No concern over what my writing group will think. And then there’s that deadline. All I need for the other eleven months of the year is to find a way to replicate NaNoWriMo, to accept that my first draft will be a shitty first draft, and my creative juices will flow. Miraculously, I will become a published author. Though I have heard that it also takes hard work, writing every day, perseverance. Oh, and I can’t forget a dash of talent. Desire isn’t enough. And desire is all that I seem to be able to muster.

A few nights ago I was up until one in the morning reading a novel, anxious, as usual, to find out how it would end. Although it was my own 2014 NaNoWriMo submission, I had already forgotten. Now I remember how as midnight on November 30 approached those last few sentences seemingly leapt from the keyboard onto the page, surprising even me. Funny how that happens.

 

 

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