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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Call for Halloween Stoires!


Okay, I don't know about all of you, but I LOVE Halloween!

When I was young, I couldn't get enough. When I got too old to trick or treat, I began decorating the house, putting speakers into the windows with the spooky sounds, and enlisted the help of a younger brother, and a couple of nephews to be my "spooks". I had one hidden in a pile of leaves, who I had rustle around and maybe make some noises. One was dressed up as a dummy, seated next to our door with his gloved hand flopped over the railing. He was instructed to not move until someone came to the door. And then he would merely move his hand. Believe me, our house was dubbed the "spookiest" house in all of Cortland--it was one of few 2 story houses along the main street, back then. And if anyone wanted the coveted prize (hand dipped caramel apples, me and my family made ourselves), then they had to get as far as the door. Moooahahahahaha!

Any of you have any stories you wish to share about your favorite, Halloween? Or your worst? It can be spooky, or just something fun/funny, but it has to be true.

Please feel free to send it to me at loreleibell4@gmail.com I'll post the stories here--one per week--throughout the month. If you have a ghost story, instead, I'll take those too, but again, it must be true.

At the end of the month, I'll pick the best out of all, according to the responses, and send the winner a small Halloween gift! I like to treat as well as haunt and scare!

Okay. You've only got 30 days and 8 hours until Halloween before my contest is over. Let's see what you've got!!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

WORDSMITHING 101 - Part Two: A Collection of Words

I don't know how long I've kept a notebook filled with just words, but I have kept one for a number of years.

Why?

Well, you never know when you might need just the right word for some sort of scene you're writing. For instance movement. Getting your characters across a room, or across a street can either give your prose strength, make the image strong in the reader's mind, or convey the emotion of your characters. Let's face it, the action can be depicted with one very well placed noun or adjective to describe something as simple as walking, or movement. You don't want it to be a boring section where people are just walking somewhere, like you don't have the time to go to the trouble of actually doing your job—writing. You are a Word Smith. Your job isn't simply to get from point A to point B to get to the juicy moments in your story. Consider this, your novel is a long piece of prose. It's not just scene upon scene, upon scene, and in between there's people moving from one place to another and boom they just simply get there. Make the journey interesting.

If you write every sentence, and take time to consider each and every word you use, you'll become a much better writer. Let's see how we can improve upon a couple of sentences in a scene I've written for a third novel.


Hobart pulled into the parking spot, and we got off his Harley. Without a word, we walked in and sat in a booth across from one another. The waitress came to our table, and filled the coffee cups, and left our menus before us.

Not bad. But not all that exciting. You could improve upon it by adding some more descriptive words, action verbs or, by adding -ed to a noun, making an adjective to help create more descriptive phrases.

Now read how I've edited the following sentence to make it somewhat more exciting to read.

Hobart pulled his Harley into an empty slot next to a restaurant. Without a word, we breezed in, and slid into a booth across from one another. The waitress swung by and filled the coffee cups, depositing our menus before us.

Why is this better? Because of the words I used to show what each person is doing. The two didn't just walk in, they breezed in. I could have used the word sauntered, but I wanted it to sound like they walked more with purpose, a little quicker than a stroll. Plus breezed sounds sort of cool, making the two sound somewhat different from everyone else who walks into that restaurant.

They slid into their booths, instead of sat. When your characters sit, do they just sit? Or do they fold themselves, plop, slouch, deposit themselves into the chair? Tell your reader how they actually did the sitting. It conveys so much more when you chose a better word than the usual, tired words like sat, or walked, or looked.

The waitress didn't just come by, but she swung by. She's in a hurry, but she's doing her job, and doing it well, hitting all her tables with as much aplomb as she can.

I have three different notebooks where I keep a lot of these special words, or phrases, and they pile up all the time. One is a handy small notebook, about 5.5" X 4", which I keep on my desk within easy reach. It has all the quick words I need. I snatch them from books I read. Sure. Why not? If you see how another writer has made the most mundane thing like walking seem like something more, and it pops out at you, write it down on a slip of paper (I use an index card and keep it in the book as I read it).

After grabbing words either from the Thesaurus, or a novel, get yourself a new spiral notebook—doesn't need to cost much. With a dark marker, or thick ink, at the top of a page write Walking/Running. Now skip several pages, and at the top of another, write Looks/Stares/Gaze. Again skip some pages and write Voice/Tone. As you go along, you'll think up more subjects.

Sometimes I have sub-categories where I have it broken down into more detail such as Eyes, Lips, Expressions, and anything else I think I can break down smaller, specific categories.

For instance, under EYES: Eyes slipped shut in bliss . . .

Under LIPS: Lips crimped into a smile . . .

Under GAZE: quizzical gaze or his gaze cut to me. . .

Under LOOK: disapproving look . . .

You will find that any good book you pick up the author has found more interesting ways of saying something mundane. A simple “look” across a room could have significant meaning. How do you convey that meaning? Is that person angry? Happy? Does the look make the other person feel uncomfortable, desirable?

I suggest you get started on that notebook writing great words, or phrases down that you come across when you read, things that make you think, “wow that's a better way of saying it”. The more you make note of how another author writes, your writing will improve. Even jotting down some of what is written to examine how it was put together will help you improve your writing too. Make sure to have a smaller spiral notebook for your desk, so that while you're writing, you need that special word, and you can't quite think one up, you can grab it from your notebook.

Next week's subject: DIALOGUE!

Happy Writing!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Elusive Scene/Chapter

So, you're writing along, you have the plot all figured out, you're deep into your novel and each time you come to the end of a chapter, you know what comes next. But at some point, somewhere along the way, you come to a stumbling block. You aren't quite sure what comes right after the scene or the chapter you just wrote. There has to be a bridge here, placing all your characters either in the right place where they should be, or frame of mind, or you have to introduce a scene--and you know how that scene will go, but this one section just isn't coming.

Don't panic!

Some like to call this "writer's block". Okay. We'll call it that. But I'm stubborn. I refuse to call it that. I don't get writer's block. You don't either. Trust me. You don't.

With me so far? Stay with me. Breath in . . . breath out. It will be okay.

I don't know that I've ever gotten through a whole book without having a moment where this happens. I'm somewhere between scenes or chapters, and I need something to happen. It doesn't have to be a huge something, but somehow there has to be a bridge of how we got from one section of the book to the next. A lot of times it may be just before the big climax--because you know what your climax will be.

There have been articles written on this aspect of writing--which we are not calling "writer's block"--and there are particular tips that, if you don't know them, I can pass them along.

First. You do not panic. Okay, you've gotten to that particular point. I do think you need to just sit back and breath. Go for a walk, bake something; do something that doesn't involve the writing muscle.

If for some reason you still don't know what you can put in this one section, just go ahead and write whatever it is you know comes next. Just do it. Keep writing. Write all the way to the end. No one is going to tattle on you. No one is going to berate you--and don't you dare do that to yourself!

A lot of things can happen in our lives to just make the writing so difficult, we don't need to bop ourselves on the head to make things worse. The one thing I don't like to do--any more--is give myself a daily page goal. Unless you are realistic about it. I know I have written (and I mean hand-written) 20 or more pages in one solid day of writing. That was back when I used pen/pencil and paper. Now, I've no idea how many pages I can write, mainly because I go back over and re-write it. That's how I am. I can't help myself to do the re-writes because I know what I've written was rough, and I know I can do better. Anyway, it's okay to have a goal, just don't berate yourself if you can't make it. You will make up for it when the writing goes easier another day.

This scene I didn't write for Vampire's Trill, had gone forgotten for probably a month, because I'd been wasting my time trying to hone it down to a word count of 120,000 words for the eBook publisher, who I no longer am going with. That I needed to pare it down, meant that a whole chapter and new character had to go.

Ah, but wait, I went with the POD, and no longer did I have the word count problem. I could re-introduce this chapter (which I always ALWAYS!!! save. Never, never delete your scenes, you never know where, if and when you may want to use them, save them in a separate document).

So, I'm going along, repairing the manuscript and reading through for clarity and so forth and come back to this hole in my book. Remember, about a month had gone by. I've got my new character Jacob,who is an incubus, who followed Sabrina (protag.), from his world into hers. She doesn't know how to get rid of him. And she really needs to because Jacob would really cause me--the writer--a bit of a problem with the way the climax has to be. I spent the week just mulling over various ideas. I don't put anything down, except very brief notes to myself of how this might work, or what she could do. She could call her next door neighbor who is a witch, and ask her to open up a portal and send him back. But that would involve a whole frigging chapter, and I just didn't want to do that.

And then lightning strikes. Well, not really, but you know what I mean. This is the moment where you have this "oh, duh, this would be so easy, why didn't I think of this before?" sort of moment.

So, yes. I wrote it. It consisted of mostly dialogue, and I don't believe even took a whole page. And by golly, I was able to get her from that strange moment (no, I'm not telling what happened to Jacob, but the issue was solved), to the next moment where Sabrina gets a phone call, and she knows it's urgent--because she's clairvoyant--and I've already got the whole climax written, and the ending is written, but I may have to go through and see if it needs a little tweaking, etc. But I didn't let that elusive scene bug me. In fact I nearly forgot all about it. Almost like putting it into a "time-out" because it was so naughty, and I wouldn't let it bother me. I merely knew, because of experience, that the time would come and I would be able to write it.

We writers are on a continuum of thought. I like to call it a continuum because it is. You will realize after a few years of writing that the ideas will come, and you barely have to sweat it out. The only time I sweat it out is when the words come too fast and I can't keep up on the typing pad of my computer. And that's a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say.

Happy writing!

Monday, September 20, 2010

WORDSMITHING 101 - Part One The Connective Writing Spirit

As writers we stand alone in that we are probably some of the few people who can stand our own company—for hours at a time. If asked the question: “If you were to be stuck on an island for a year with only one other person, dead, alive or imagined, who would it be?” A lot of us would most likely choose a character from one of our books, or another person's book, and think, “I'll get that novel finished finally.”

We are drawn to places like Staples, Office Max, or the office supply aisle in any store, to brows the pens, paper, notebooks, thinking of ways to use them. We all have our favorite color pens, paper, and brands.

If we're really into having a little fun, we're most likely to be found at a bookstore, drinking a chi latte, or mocha caramel-something-or-other. We may have our laptops with us (if we own one), and at some point will brows the magazines for the latest writing news, and then a good deal of time will be spent in our favorite genre section checking out what our favorite authors are up to, and see who is new, dreaming of our books appearing on the shelves right next to one of these authors.

If we get a call from a friend, or relative who we have not seen in a while, and they ask if we want to go to lunch, and we're in the middle of the scene, we're split between our loyalty to the page, and that friend/relative. Many times more than not, we usually decline, make up an excuse (because who would believe we'd spend so much time just writing, and that this is a viable excuse—unless, of course you are considered a “professional” writer and you've been making money this way?)

Yes, we might be the few people on the planet who are very comfortable with being alone with our thoughts. Because, lets face it, our mind is ripe with a fantasy going on all the frigging time, day and night. Speaking of which, we suffer from lack of sleep because we may have to get up in the middle of the night (yeah, when every one's asleep and can't bother us), to get to the computer and work on that scene or dialogue that just won't shut up, or that you know if you don't get it down, it might never come back. And when you get finished with it and think, omg, is this the best thing I've ever written or what???

We give ourselves restraints on our lives, knowing that if we don't plant our butt into the chair before the computer screen, the job ain't gonna get done. We need time, a quiet place, and as few, to no distractions as we can possibly have. The island for a year starts to look real good when job, kids and a few other things begin to push us around, keeps us from our “happy place”.

We are of one spirit. I know all of you out there have these qualities. I'm so happy to have you, whoever you are, in my life, and hope to gain new writer friends, and eventually readers as well, to join me.

I plan on continuing this WORDSMITHING 101, on a weekly basis, give tips, ideas—many of them basics for beginning writers, and maybe a few seasoned writers who tend to forget some of the basics, or for those of you who need a little boost in moral. We're all made of the same stuff. We are creative people, nourished by the smallest things, like a song, something we see, or experience. We need to connect with one another, to know that we are not alone!

So, if you read this today, and have a like-spirit, and enjoyed this entry, return here next Monday. I plan on doing a piece on words, and helping you create your own collection of words, so that you will become a better wordsmith. Future Wordsmithing issues will cover "creating suspense", dialogue basics, and more when I come up with them.

Friday, September 17, 2010

There May Be Light At the End of the Tunnel, After All

I did the math on how long ago I may have written my very first vampire novel, and it was approximately 28 years ago. Back then, it was under the genre of horror.

Vampire novels are under their own genre(s). They are paranormal romance, or urban fantasy. Call it whatever you may, the vampire is here to stay, and it has more fans now, than it did back when I began writing.

And this is a good thing, in a way, because we've moved away from the vampire being the totally nasty, vicious villain in our stories--thank goodness! I was always so sick of vampires being the villain. I would watch the Hammer films of Dracula with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and for once I wanted Christopher Lee to out smart Peter Cushing and just do something astounding,and get away, plus get the girl in the end.

So, my point of this post is, I may finally, after these many years get my vampire novel published.

Yay.

When I think about the many times I tried to publish one, and only get rejected (there were good reasons for the rejections, believe me), I go numb. I see rejections from publishing houses that no longer are in existence. Well, I'm still around, so that's something. And I kept on writing despite the fact I struggled with dyslexia all this time--and never knew it until I was in my 40's!--and something about my writing just didn't jibe with whatever the publishers wanted, or, later, the agents.

Well, now we're into the era of POD's, and there are good things about them, and there are bad things about them. I'm not going to go into that, as that's not what this post is about. My husband commented that he didn't like how fast or easy it was for anyone to get published these days, and I countered him with, "It's the only way I can get published now." Yeah, he saw my point, and wouldn't take it away from me. But I won that argument hands down.

I neither have the patients, the time, nor the emotional set-up any more to even deal with an agent. I waited all summer long for an editor of an eBook publisher to tell me if she wanted the rest of my book or not. I don't have time for such b.s. and when I couldn't get her to tell me straight out if she wanted it or not, it really frustrated me. She simply wouldn't tell me. I didn't like being strung along like that. And since my Internet went down, and I had to get a new e-mail address, I guess I'll never know if she did "get back to me" about it. I no longer care. I've moved on.

I'm sure I'm not the only one out here who holds down a full-time, or even a part-time job, while writing, and doing everything else. I'll be 60, in a few short years. I really don't want to be driving a bus into my 60's, but I will, if I have to. But what I'd like to have is a couple of novels out there, and I don't care if I'll never be on the best seller's list. It would be nice, but it most likely isn't going to happen.

What I can say is, I'm published. I have some books out there, and if someone is interested, they can buy one. It is the one accomplishment I set out to get, and by God I have done it, and hopefully in the near future will have more than just one book to my name. I took a chance with the first one, and found out that people do like my writing. I got it from at least half of the people who bought one that they really liked it, wanted to read the "next one", etc. That is worth more to me than being a New York Times Best Seller. I actually created something that people enjoyed as much as I loved creating it.

The contract from Copperhill came to me in the mail this week, and until I get a few things answered about two points, I'm not sending it back signed. I've got an idea that if they want a happy author who might get the word out that they are easy to work with, they should be happy to answer my questions--which they have been doing so far--and make me feel comfortable with the process.

I'm hoping for a fairly decent cover, and good editing process (which I've read has three stages for this company--which is rare for a POD to offer at no additional cost--and they charge nothing for any of their services. Which, in a way, is how a POD should work if you ask me.)

Well, this is my update. I've kept things sort of mum, because I wasn't sure what to expect, and still don't. I'm unsure as I wade into these waters, what's in them. I don't want to trust that this will work out.

Stay tuned.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Minor Characters Have Lives Too


Jason Stackhouse is a minor character, and yet is developed well in both the HBO series, "True Blood", and in Charlaine Harris' books.

Minor characters. Every book has them. They need to live and breath in the reality of the world you have created. They need to have opinions, needs, personalities, ups and downs in life. And, if they do have a shift in their emotional development, what will it be? It must go from one thing to another, from bad to better, or from good to bad. It could be a flaw in their make up, and they strive to change it, or in the way things develop around them, there can be no other way that they can't change to some degree by it.

Maybe someone dies, someone they love. That would have an effect on them emotionally.

Also, if this character has some influence on the main characters, is a relative, perhaps, or maybe they are involved in the resolution some how, and what they do, or how they react to one minor thing, brings about the major thing/change.

So the big question of this post is:
Do you know what makes your minor characters tick? Why are they there, in a scene? Could you do more to turn them into three-dimensional figures? Have them speak a little differently. Not everyone speaks exactly the same. Some people like to repeat pet words, like “absolutely”, or when they greet someone, “Hello, there”, or “How's it going?” Some men might say the other person's name first in a greeting: “Chet, how's it going?” and a nod.

Do they have a quirk? A tick? Some characteristic, maybe in what they wear, or refuses to wear. I know of one college student who I worked with, that no matter how cold it got, he always wore the baggy shorts, I don't care if it was 20 below, he always wore them like he was damned to prove he was impervious to the cold.

Go ahead, use people you know—even barely know—to help you create a memorable character with some aspect of what they look like, or how they act, how they talk. Mix and match, too, if you need to in order to keep their identity a secret. And it's okay to use a character in a movie, as long as it isn't someone too well known, and you aren't encroaching on copyrighted material.

Developing your minor characters may not seem an important, but you are building a reality, and your cast of characters need to have certain qualities to help a scene feel real, or keep it from becoming bland. You don't want your readers to become bored with a scene, so you may need some flamboyant character who's either a little off, colorful, talks nasty, or more colorful, tells jokes, whatever. You know that you have people around you who are like this, so, next time you're with co-workers, relatives, friends, make note in your head how they act, what they wear, or how they wear it, and how they speak, or things they like or dislike.

As a final note, if you are writing a series, you may want to bring this character into the next book a little more, and so making them stand out, lovable, or however you want them, you need to introduce them in the best possible way so that they are memorable. There may be something about him/her that no one knows about who can come into play, or be of some vital importance down the road. Developing this minor character may become vital when you need an ace up the sleeve, and you've run out of heroes who can come to the rescue. Or, someone who might become your next villain.

To sum up, pay attention to your minor character's traits, if they need to be fleshed out in your notebook, do it. Even though you may only have him/her minimally in the first story, you may want to use them for another book. So keep your notebook, and add to it as you need/think of things.

Just like movies, you need to keep that character just on the edge, people surrounding your main characters play a role, even if its to build on a scene. They need the personality, reasons to do whatever they are there to do.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Just Things



Anita's book made it to my mail box today. I'm very excited about reading her book. Ever since I read a little blurb about it--and I'm not even sure how I was ever sucked into her site--probably curiosity--but sure am glad that I was. I hope to begin the book soon. When I'm done I will post a review, so be looking for that.

I've also been working on some ideas for some posts, just been busy trying to get back to the routine of working. Catching up on things has been a little hard. But getting there. I have many friends spread across the spectrum of age, as well as people I once worked with, and I hate loosing track of them. So, keeping in touch is important if it's via phone, or e-mail, and I love letters. My mother-in-law used to write the best, nicest letters. She was "the letter writer" and I think it is a lost art, and that is a shame. I think everyone out there who reads this should take out a pen and paper and scrounge up a stamp and send a loved one, or a dear friend a letter, if only to say hi.

I've been working on ideas for posts, as I've said. I'd like to do some on characters, and on other basics. As well as some things that have been a bit of a pet peeve to me. That's about all the little "rules" that the "experts" put out there and they've been harped on to death, and yet many, many best selling authors get away with breaking these rules again and again. I'm not sure why that is. I can only guess that the story was so wonderful that the agent and the publisher simply ignored the rules--here and there, and allowed the author's voice to shine through.

Voice. That's it. All those of you new writers who stop by here, PAY ATTENTION: you must develop your own voice.

How is this done?

I want to examine this as well. It took me years to find mine. I tended to try and sound like other authors (Barb Bell had told me, when I'd send her things of mine). It takes a lot of practice to find it. Eventually, one day, you just find it.

Hopefully after my busy weekend I'll have something new to post on character. I'm going to use the HBO show "True Blood" to help me make my points. So, I'll be in and out all weekend long, here.

Through trial and error and I'm sorry, but time as well.

A writer who begins usually has no voice, or eventually mimics the "voice" of one or two of their favorite writers.

This is fine.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Gradual Return to Normalcy


The woman who was my husband's mother died peacefully, last Monday night at home. Her name was Barb. She touched many lives. She was the kindest woman I've ever met. I loved her deeply, like my own mother. She thought of me as her daughter and welcomed me into the family with open heart.

You see, we were alike in many ways. For one thing--but not the only thing--we were both writers of poetry, fiction and prose. I know that if she had been allowed to pursue her dreams she could have been a published author a few times over. She had met with a New York publisher back in the day when you could. She told me she knew someone who knew someone, and that was how it happened.

When she went to meet with this publisher, he had said he liked her writing, however what she had written was not a subject he felt she had a good grasp on. He told her to send him something else. I gather she didn't have anything at that time, but maybe went to work on the next thing that interested her. This was a story about the historical south, and that was right about the time that a very well-known book similar to hers hit the bookshelves and then was made into a movie ("Roots"). Thus, I think she lost interest in that piece, feeling that another similar book would not do so good.

Barb later wrote a story about Crazy Horse, the Lakota spiritual leader. She took the stories that she found about him, and wrote a fiction version of it. During the years she and her husband lived in the west and Arizona especially, teachers, and at least one Native American, read it and urged her to get it published.

Now, you all know how hard it is to get even an agent to accept your work. Having possibly 30 years pass since that meeting with the New York publisher, I knew that Mom wasn't quite up to par on how to approach the publishing world in today's dog-eat-dog market. She didn't own a computer. There would be no way she would be able to approach the market without one. I could have done some of the leg work for her, but I was never asked, and she didn't seem to want to do it.

In 2001, Barb suffered a stroke in. It took a while for her to recover from that, but she did. After that, her desire to write sort of faded. Which is a shame.

Also, what was a shame was that--and I can say I know with absolute certainty--she wasn't encouraged to work on her writings to the degree, and/or given the time of quiet solitude she would have needed to do so. It was said in my presence, "What am I supposed to do (while she writes)?" by her husband. Every writer knows that if you have a spouse, and you wish to pursue a writing career, you need the hours alone, uninterrupted, to work on whatever you are working on. You need them to be supportive, and allow you that quiet time, even if it means you leave the house and go somewhere to get that uninterrupted time. It's understood, this is like any job you go to. It must be respected, and understood by all family members that you are working, and unless the house is on fire, you can't be bothered.

In retirement, Barb and Jim were nearly inseparable. They left the aria when they were about my husband's and my age (early 50's). They worked/managed camp grounds in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. I know that Mom worked on the writing when she could. She wrote while riding along side in the truck, much like I do. Which is fine when you are writing short pieces such as poems, prose, or--in my case--a journal. But a novel needs hours of thinking time without interruptions, and she never got this. So, I'm very sad about this. I'm anticipating that I may be the one approached about getting her novel, Lord of the Plains into a POD publisher. But we'll see.

Other things of more importance take precedence, of course, and I'm sure that the typed manuscript is all the way in Arizona in a box. But it was mentioned that they were going to get it published the last time I spoke to both Mom and Dad. He wanted to see her see it published. Dad has no idea what it is like to approach the market now, or even back then. It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't a clue that you don't just show someone your book manuscript and it magically gets published. Or that anyone can do this. Or that any manuscript would be accepted.

Well, I needed to tell you all about Mom. She was a delightful woman who will be so deeply missed. My husband was the baby, and I know that his time with his mom when he was young are tender memories that he will cherish. I know that we all wish that they would have moved back here for the last few years. But that's another story which I won't go into.

What is a balm to my hurting soul is that she's no longer in pain, and she's with God, and I think it won't be long, she'll get her wings and fly down here and watch over us all (much like my own mother has been watching over me all my life). I keep her warm smile in my mind's eye, knowing she's already right here, watching. Still encouraging me, like always: "Never give up. Never stop writing."

Thanks Mom.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010