Guest Post

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Organized confusion?

I read with great admiration Mahala’s work at organizing her writing research, back-ups, notes, and blurbs. I looked at my documents ad infinitum and, taking incentive from Mahala, threw out the contents of two 3-inch ring binders. Some of those pages dated back to year 2000. Ergo, useless. I felt refreshed, in control . . . organized!

Then I looked into my office closet and realized I still can’t take more than two steps in before I’m blocked. Boxes holding reams of paper stacked one atop the other and on top of those lie, in perfect horizontal filing posture, more pages of research, newspaper clippings, notes, and blurbs. The reason I can’t file away any of those documents is because I have picture frames leaning against the drawers of one of my lateral file cabinets. (Ha!)

I prefer to think we writers must necessarily be somewhat messy in our physical lives since our minds are always off somewhere—re-writing a scene, polishing dialogue, re-naming our protagonist because we spotted our pitch-perfect name in another story. Yesterday I spotted the title to one of my works-in-progress listed under another author’s accomplishments. You know what that means . . . not only changing my title but also changing some dialogue. Sigh.

I’m willing to accept that the most current reason I’m forever foraging for my keys, my cell phone, and my coffee cup is because I’m thinking about the Seascape Writers Retreat. On Sept. 18, I’ll be honing my writing skills in Connecticut with seventeen other mystery writers (including fellow Lyrical Pen Tracy).

I expect to get some honest, blunt feedback but hoping for at least one atta-girl. I sure don’t want to hear my baby is ugly, but I’m determined to listen. It’s the only way to make the story better.

I, and I’m sure Tracy, will share more about our experience later.


Oh, if you’re in the market for some writing software, you might check out the reference below. It doesn’t seem too expensive. I don’t personally own it (I'm not that organized), but it did get some endorsements from other writers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Novel Experience

It's so nice to see sunshine. It's been storming for over a week and my poor Cavalier, Hannah, has alternated between a state of panic and confusion after her medication to stop the panic. Today her eyes look normal, and she is her usual self, begging for food every other minute.

Yesterday, I was so stoked when the sun glazed me in perspiration as I headed out to run errands, I took a swing by the library and did some research for my new novel. I'm trying to firm up the time period, and what better way to do that than research fashion, accessories, and makeup for the time. Sounds trite as I type it, but it made perfect sense to me yesterday. It took three trips from my car to get all the books I found into my house. I have a tendency to go overboard when doing research; however, I feel smarter and more writerly {is their such a word?} just staring at them stacked high on my desk. I found great information on churches, schools, etc. and just couldn't avoid piling them in my basket.

A couple of good things did come out of the rainy weather. Since I couldn't use the computer, stove {a nice bonus,} television, etc., I sat at an eight foot table I've stationed in my dining room and began to wade through all my notes and critique feedback on my current novel - those from different groups of writing friends that I hadn't input yet and whittled down the three foot stack to two nine inch stacks. By the end I was sipping on a glass of peppermint schnapps and wondering why in the world I thought I could write a novel. Short stories, personal essays, magazine articles - yes I had done all that, but a real, honest-to-goodness full length novel. Who did I think I was? A couple of more sips of the ice cold brew {I keep the bottle in the freezer by the way} and new ideas started to pop out all over the place, and I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that MY novel will be Faulknerian in its Southern greatness.

Although I didn't get much sleep last night because my mind was unbridled in its enthusiasm to write and re-write scenes and to find places where more narrative summary would work, and on and on, and although my only inebriation today is from the communion wine, I'm thinking with a tad more logical resolve. I have a lot of work to do and am really excited to make the revisions I envision and study the notes from writing peers and take this baby on home. "They" say editing is easier than writing cold. I'm about to find out if "they" know what they're talking about.

I have a feeling Lily Tomlin was right when she said: Things are going to get a lot worse before they get worse.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Don't Be Afraid

Writing/critique groups are immensely helpful. I've been critiquing with one group of writers for four years and what a joy it has been to see each other get published and realize that each of us had a little bit, or a lot, depending on how you look at it to do with that success. During that time, I've also met with other groups, submitted manuscripts for evaluation at conferences, etc., and every time, whether I agreed totally with the critique or not, I have found them to be helpful. Sometimes, it just gets me thinking - how did the reader see it, what could I have done differently to lead them where I wanted them to go?

I was terrified in my first critique. My years of professional experience in management, which often included speaking to hundreds of people in workshops, went right down the tubes. I will never forget sitting in the Barnes & Noble cafe in Destin, Florida, feeling like I was five years old and attending my first day of kindergarten and knowing beyond any doubt that my parents' expectations of me were never going to be met. Thank God, I hadn't eaten before coming and was just sipping on Coke, or I might have lost my cookies right there in front of all those people I was trying to impress.

I quickly learned when the lady across from me was dripping water and trying to pretend it was a hot flash - at twenty-something? - I don't think so, that she was as nervous as I was. We were saved when the show-off at the table decided to read hers first. It was horrible, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Talk about flight of ideas. We had been given instructions before hand, and I drew heavily from the "say something positive first" side of the handout. There was no plot, so I couldn't go there. There was no setting, so I couldn't go there. I did what we all do from time to time. "Interesting idea. Interesting characters. I liked the way so & so responded to so & so." And in that moment I realized, every piece has some redeeming value. Sometimes you have to plunge to the depths to find it, but it's there somewhere. I would like to tell you my short story got rave reviews, but alas it didn't. It did, however, have a plot, and the other writers at the table did find it, so I felt pure success. {It doesn't take much to push me along.}

There are on-line groups, local and national writing organization groups, library groups that have critique groups, so go on-line and you're bound to tumble into something. It may take a few tries to get the group that fits your needs the best, but the value-in-return is worth every painstaking moment you search. {Hope you like the word group.}

A little vinegar with the honey never hurt anyone, and it makes a great salad dressing.


Thursday, August 6, 2009


I was going to write this Monday, but I got sidetracked . . .

I have developed the art of procrastination into an art form. (Ask anyone who knows me).

I can look like I'm working on something, to the point that casual onlookers could testify in court that I was on task and not fear charges of perjury, and yet not actually get anything done.

I can spend hours with the appearance of someone deep, deep at work, right down to sweat-tinged brow and bloodshot eyes and be no closer to completion than when I started.

I can click between my current WNIP (work-not-in-progress) and Spider solitaire so fast that it can't be registered by the human eye, in case someone is checking up on me.

It's a gift and a curse. On the one hand, I can sometimes wheedle out of doing dishes or going grocery shopping because I am "writing."

On the other hand, I can pinch a deadline so tight it bites me back. Take this past weekend for example. I spent three days in writing hell. And I have no one to blame but (mostly) myself.

August 1st was D-day for me, as in several writing Deadlines were due.

I had three novel scenes to submit for a mystery writing retreat that I'm attending in September with CJ: the opening scene, a scene that introduces a main character, and another complete scene from my WIP. Since this is a new project, I had to start from scratch.

August 1st was also the deadline to submit to the anthology Christmas is a Season! 2009 (Linda Busby Parker's Excalibur Press). I had been working on a story but had set it aside to do the retreat pieces.

Let me interrupt myself here to say that the way I deal with stress when something has to be done is to do . . . nothing. And the corollary is also true: the more that needs to be done the less I do. Again, this is true—ask anyone who knows me. These deadlines had me in total paralysis.

That's not to say I didn't look like I was working. But let me illustrate my "Writing Process":

I sit facing a blank Word doc, and contemplating what to write for the scene sample for the Seascape retreat. After a couple of games of Spider, I type:

Aggie did not feel welcome.

Why not, I wonder? I play a game of Spider. I realize she doesn't feel welcome because of the doormat. It's not a welcoming doormat. So? What kind of doormat is unwelcoming. Play two games of Spider because I win the first one. Launch Internet Explore, do a Google search, and spend an hour looking at different types of doormats until I find one that will work. Game of Spider, followed by a 30 minute false start with a bronze doormat with filigree around the borders, which I ultimately discard because it's actually kind of pretty. Spider. Google. Finally settle on one of those bristly kinds. Type this:

Aggie did not feel welcome. The doormat at her feet looked like it was made from the backsides of

Of what? A bristly animal. Spider. Google "bristly animals". Spider. Type:

Aggie did not feel welcome. The doormat at her feet looked like it was made from the backsides of feral boars. And instead of "Welcome," "DOBBS" was printed in thick block letters.

Okay for a rough draft, but not quite enough oomph and that last sentence still needs work. Spider. Revise. Rewrite:

Aggie did not feel welcome. She looked from the welcome mat that looked like it was made from the backsides of feral boars to the brass gargoyle doorknocker

So, thinks I, what might a gargoyle doorknocker look like? Spider. Google doorknockers. Spider. Revise:

Aggie did not feel welcome. She looked from the welcome mat that looked like it was made from the backsides of feral boars to the brass gargoyle doorknocker the leered at her with chilling blank eyes. Not welcome at all.

So, after four hours of working, I have 40 words, which averages out to about 6 minutes per word. And that only includes the time I was "actively" working and not the time spent skimming my writing books for clues on how to write a scene, looking at opening scenes in 8 or 10 novels on my book shelf, and the other 40 games of Spider that I played while "in deep writerly thought."

And, now that I look at it, if I had had more time, I'd revise it again to:

Aggie did not feel welcome. She looked from the welcome mat made from the backside of a feral boar to the brass gargoyle doorknocker leering at her with chilling blank eyes. Not welcome at all.

See? Now it's down to 35 much crisper words.

And that's the real problem with being a procrastinator. As the deadline approached, I no longer had the luxury of 8 minutes per word. As it was, I wrote for 3 days solid without bathing, and barely breaking for bathroom pit stops and to refill my coffee mug.

I finally uploaded the Seascape Retreat files at 3:30 in the afternoon on Aug 1st. And "finished" and emailed my story for the Christmas anthology at 2:30 in the morning (I know, technically it was Aug 2, but I crossed my fingers that Linda would still accept the submission. And, because she's so gracious, she did!)

The downside, besides nearly killing myself and going blind, is that I didn't get to run any of these past my crit group. The pieces went out into the world raw and wild. While on the one hand, the attendees at Seascape may feel they got their money's worth after slicing and dicing my ms pages, it's embarrassing to know you've sent out work that isn't your best polished words. On the other hand, there's a good chance my story won't make it into the anthology because it needs too much editing. Why would an editor take something that isn't polished when she has stacks
of manuscripts that are nearly publishable as they stand?

So, I'd tell you that I will never procrastinate again, but chances are you'll see another blog post just like this one some time in the future. Just ask anyone who knows me.


(PS. I think this one is full, but for future reference, CJ and I are attending the Seascape Writing Retreat in Madison, CT. It's a mystery/crime writers' retreat hosted by authors Roberta Isleib, SW Hubbard, and Hallie Ephron held at a house that was originally owned by Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas. Cool!.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Old Habits Die Hard

School is upon us, Christmas crafts are in the works, fall writing beckons, but old habits die hard. The rules that school begins and white shoes are worn until after Labor Day, Christmas starts in December, and nothing serious crosses our minds till early September is a hard one for me to abandon. School for my granddaughter starts August 10. It's still 95-100 degrees every day in Mobile! Who wants to wear an impermeable burgundy jumper and layers of clothes, especially shoes in 100 degree weather? You can bet the minute she hits the car every day for at least a month, her shoes will be off and her bare feet dangling in front of the ac vent. And concentrating will be difficult for both of us, but it's a must that I face the focus fairy (how's that for alliteration?) along with her. I promised myself that on her first day of school, the serious edit and revision process of my novel would begin, so next Monday at 7 am, I'll sort the stacks of critique feedback, pull out my notes from all my conferences and classes last year, and get serious. Luckily, I can work barefooted.

If you are a cozy mystery fan, check out Charles Finch's "A Beautiful Blue Death." I have read and loved every one of Anne Perry, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie's mysteries, and Finch is on target managing to bring all three of them alive in his new book series. His style is more classic, almost literary, and I found his characters, settings, and narrative summaries came alive. Hope you enjoy them.

By the way, Tracy has made it easier for you to join our friends group and post comments, so get those cards and letters, well you get the idea..........

Consider a writing group. It's a great way to get feedback and make new friends. Mahala