My Characters Shout at 4 A.M.

I had my alarm set for 6. Plenty of time to jump in the shower and put on my yoga clothes for my 7 a.m. class. Perhaps even time to read the local paper or take a quick turn around the garden to see what’s blooming.

But at 4 a.m. the characters in my novel started shouting at me. At 4:30 I gave up and got on my computer. They wanted to tell me a couple of ways my novel could end, and I knew if I didn’t start getting documenting them, the story lines might evaporate. That’s happened before although who knows if those brilliant ideas in the middle of the night are all that brilliant in the light of day.

Now that I have several pages of notes, I’m hoping Yvie, Lissa and Dez will let me sleep until at least ten of six in the morning. Does Dez really need to die? Probably, but won’t Lissa be devastated? Depends on the scenes to be written before those things happen – or not. I’m not planning on writing The French Lieutenant’s Woman with three different endings.

I promised to submit something to my Writers Forum for June 6 so I need to pull together 15 – 25 pages. At this point, the scenes don’t flow seamlessly. This is the first draft, after all.

Note: I didn’t have a picture to go with this blog post, so will use one from my garden. That’s a yellow achillea and a purple ground cover geranium. Notice the three leaf clover that should have been pulled, but it adds a different green to the photo.

 

 

Revisions: Writing, BTO & Gardening

Writing

I’m almost finished with my several passes through the first Caribbean book – A Dream Across Time. It will be republished with a new title. The series will be called An Island Tale  and the titles will be An Island Tale – Dream,  An Island Tale – Circle and An Island Tale – Magic. They will be published under my name rather than a pen name – which seemed like a good idea at the time but in retrospect wasn’t. It seems like a lot of decisions in life are like that, but I’m getting a chance for a do-over with this. Not always the case with some life decisions.

I especially wanted to take a look at the dialogue which sometimes seemed to go on longer than it should. There aren’t any real plot changes so I haven’t had to get out my revision towel…yet. In the next couple of weeks the manuscript will go to a copy editor and then move on to CreateSpace for print and Kindle versions. Laura has proposed a cover series which I really like.

I told my Working Writer’s Forum that I would submit something for the April meeting. That will force me to spend some time on the third book – Magic. Those characters are rocketing around in my cranium and need to get on the page.

Bay to Ocean Writers Conference

Last Saturday was the 20th annual Bay to Ocean Writers Conference. We had good weather which is pretty miraculous in that we’ve never had to cancel because of weather. Anny, in the yellow sweater, is the “face” of BTO. She stands out in the cold and greets people as they come toward the building. It’s a welcome for which introverted writers are grateful.

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After ten years, I’m stepping off the organizing committee. Next year I will attend BTO and actually go to sessions. I’m looking forward to that. The day went smoothly, a tribute to the organization of this conference where 200 writers of all stages in their writing life come to learn about the craft of writing, different genres, marketing and publishing issues. We had a few hiccups with registration which wasn’t as organized as I would have liked, but I wasn’t in charge of that. Once we got people through the line, things moved right along.

We had three presenters who had requested AV assistance and they all had sessions at the same time. What are the odds? Chesapeake College had arranged for three tech people to be on hand. So something that might have been a big hiccup, wasn’t.

It was a long day and I was tired when I got home. I’d already told the husband I wasn’t cooking so we ordered pizza which is something we hardly ever do. Two in the morning I was up hunting for antacids. But that pizza sure tasted good going down.

Gardening

The weather here is very cold and windy, but we escaped the snow the rest of the east coast had on Tuesday. We got lots of rain and frigid temps. The daffodils are down for the count.

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I won’t know about other things (like my camellia) until things warm up. I had raked the leaves (which provide winter insulation) out of my garden beds when we had those mild spring-like days. I knew that was risky, but because things were just starting to poke out of the ground I could actually rake the leaves. If that chore gets put off, I have to “rake” on my knees with my hands.

When I sit at my keyboard I look out over a couple of big silver maples. I asked my husband to make me another birdhouse to hang on one of the trees. We hung four birdhouses earlier this year. He had made then several years ago and I finally got around to painting them. The holes are for small birds. I like the bright spots of color both in winter and summer. The one in the lower left corner was a craft birdhouse that finally fell apart. I kept it for the colors which I tried to replicate.

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We gardeners are always hopeful, and the lilac that I see from the window at my desk is in bud. Time will tell if the buds survived the cold of the last few days. If they did, the lilac will be full of fragrant blooms in another two months.

My Critique Group

Last night was the monthly meeting of my critique group, the Working Writer’s Forum, that both Laura and I belong to. It’s where we met and started working together. For the last five years almost all of my writing has been done with Laura and most of it has been screenplays.

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Since Laura has been very busy with her day job, I recently pulled out the first chapters of the third novel in my Caribbean series. I last worked on it almost seven years ago, but like to think I am a better writer now, so I submitted the first 25 pages to the group.

One of our rules is that you have to say some nice things before you make helpful suggestions. So my writing friends said some nice things, and then pointed out that I had forgotten some fundamental rules and made some beginner mistakes.

“I don’t know what these characters look like,” one of my critique group said. Of course I knew what they all looked like. They’d already been in two books. How could I have forgotten to describe Lissa and Yvie except to say they had green eyes?

Another reminded me that “she said” suffices most of the time. Descriptions of how someone says something is not usually needed.

“How about something more exciting in the first couple of pages, a hook for the reader,” a third person suggested. I thought I had a hook, but obviously it was too many pages into the first chapter.

As we went around the able, a number of the group noted some problems with dialogue so I went searching for help. The Writer’s Digest had some suggestions on their website.

“If you want to learn how to write effective dialogue, study the best plays and films. If possible, study dialogue both in performance (live or video) and in print. Read plays and screenplays to get the feel of writing on the page.

And, in the best scripts, what writing it is—pure dialogue unadulterated by music, actor expression, pictures, or narrative transition supplied by an author. Read it aloud to get a flavor of the emotion contained within the word choice made by the writer of the screenplay. Playwrights and screenwriters who succeed at their craft are probably the best writers of dialogue you can study. By looking at such refined gold, you can learn more than from any ten books that tell you how to write dialogue.”

Well, duh, Laura and I have been writing dialogue for several years now. I should be able to do this better. I am grateful to my critique group for letting me know there are things I need to attend to. The pages I sent for last night’s meeting were a reworking of what I had written all those years ago. I need to scrap that version and start from scratch.

When our moderator called for submissions for our next meeting, I said I’d like to submit a reworked draft of my novel’s opening pages. That gives me a goal with a deadline…thanks to my critique group the Working Writer’s Forum.

 

 

Clean-up Time

Laura has been really busy at work so we haven’t done much collaborative writing for a couple of weeks. I’m taking advantage to do some cleaning up…in my office and outside where we’re getting the yard ready for winter.

Outside: I manage to convince myself that outside clean-up is more pressing than the inside. It will soon be too cold to work comfortably outside; however, I think the real reason is that the decisions about what office stuff to get rid is more difficult. That box of assorted computer cords and gizmos always goes back into the closet. What are those things for, anyway? And what if I need something in that box? It’s been nine years since we moved into this house and I haven’t needed anything yet, but you never know.

This is the time of year when I put the bag on the lawn mower and switch over to bagging. That always involves turning the mower over on its side and cleaning out the underside with various sizes of screw drivers. I feel quite virtuous mulching the leaves and grass and putting it on the garden beds. Free fertilizer. And I like mowing better than raking leaves.

We’ll have a hard freeze one of these nights, so it’s also time to bring inside the houseplants that have been living outdoors. There seem to be more every year and I’ll have to take a trip to the garden supply store for more saucers to put under the pots so water doesn’t damage my wood floors. My geraniums always love being inside. They grow to three feet tall and are full of blooms. This window faces northeast and gets some morning sun. The photo is from last February.

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I extended my drip irrigation in one of my beds. That can only be done on a sunny, warm day because you have to fit plastic pieces together and that requires a little give. The first time my husband and I tried to put some drip irrigation together was on a March day. We used a hair dryer to warm up the plastic and putting the pieces together was very difficult. Note to self: only install drip irrigation in warm weather.

I have to order more tubing and parts and will finish that project next spring. The drip irrigation saved me so much time this year. We put it in the window boxes at the front of the house and they’ve never looked so good. Before the drip system was installed, I was watering those window boxes twice a day by the end of August. The irrigation system is on a timer and once that’s turned on in the spring, I don’t have to think about it again.

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The Office: It’s hard to know what to keep and what to pitch, but I’ve long ago run out of storage so I need to try. I did make a dent in a 7′ bookcase the other day when I pitched old software. Some of it I knew I would never use. Some was so old the software downloaded from floppy disks. (I might have a floppy disk converter in that box of computer odds and ends.) I kept the PhotoShop 7 that I got when I took a class at Harford Community College years ago. It does the things I need to do and if I ever have to reload it on a new computer I’ll be ready.

It’s the boxes of writing drafts that I really agonize over. The drafts are on various files and since most of the writing I’ve done in the past five years has been with Laura, we have these files on both our computers. How many versions of our novel Big Skye Ranch do we really need? In fact, do we need to save any paper versions?

Sorting through things reminds me of projects started and abandoned. I found a copy of a romance novel that my husband and I worked on ten years ago. Could I pull that out and get it ready to publish? It was set in the 80’s, before internet, cell phones and iPads. I hardly remember that life. Would readers relate to that story now?

I thought there might be a file of that novel on my old laptop, but I booted it up and couldn’t find one. Retyping 250 pages isn’t very appealing. And last week I had an email from someone who had just read my two Caribbean paranormal/ghost novels (A Dream Across Time and A Circle of Dreams) and wanted to know when the third was coming out. I had to tell her it was not at the top of the writing project list.

I suppose clean-up time is a lot like reworking a piece of writing. What to keep and what to toss? Cold weather is expected this weekend so escaping into the garden is no longer going to be an appealing option. I’m going to have to make a decision what writing project to work on until Laura is able to free up some time.

 

 

 

 

 

Santa Diaries’ Playbook

We thought you might be interested in seeing what a revision page of the movie script we’re working on looks like. Maybe it somehow made its way into the Denver Bronco’s playbook and resulted in their spectacular defeat.

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Figuring out how to make your work better is the hard part of writing…and football.

Writing and Knitting

These are the twelve children’s sweaters I knit last year. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get them boxed up and sent off to World Vision’s Knit for Kids program. Last year people knitted and crocheted 53,728 sweaters, hats and blankets which were given to children living in poverty. These will go in the 2014 count.

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When Laura and I are working on a script, she is the one who is typing it into her computer. Several years ago I decided I could knit while we were working.

These sweaters are very simple and require no counting of rows or stitches.  Essentially just a back and a front that have to be sewn together. My problem is that I don’t like the sewing together part so I tend to put the pieces aside and go on to the next sweater. Eventually I had such a pile I had to force myself to stop knitting and start sewing. Then the sweaters lived in my office for months until I finally packed them up a few days after Christmas and trekked to the post office. Only then did I allow myself to cast on a new sweater.

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Last week we started rewriting The Santa Diaries script. The original script had a male as the primary character because that’s the way the play was written. Not one of those Christmas movies we watched over the holidays had a male as the lead. A couple had a male and a female as dual main characters. If none of the movies that are being sold and made have a male lead, do we really want to try to change that format? So our rewrite started at the very beginning with new scenes and a couple of new characters. And I started knitting again. I predict that there will be several sweaters to be sewn together before we finish this script rewrite.