Write on Wednesday: Is Writing My Passion?

There is alot of foot traffic in my neighborhood early in the morning. Runners, parents with strollers and lots of walkers, many with their dogs. I was out in the driveway on Saturday morning loading wheelbarrows of mulch to dress my garden beds and several people stopped to tell me how much they enjoy watching my gardens change through the seasons. Three people actually told me that gardening must be my passion.

That made me stop and think. I’m a writer. Shouldn’t that be my passion?

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I googled passion in one’s life and here’s what I got. “Knowing your passion in life gives you something to build the rest of your life around. Your passion can be anything that simultaneously challenges you, intrigues you and motivates you. Contrary to the idea that doing what you love makes work effortless, a passion puts you to work.”

Do I only get one passion? And how is passion related to self-identity?

Identity is multi-faceted and mine has evolved over the years. I do know one thing about myself. I’ve always loved learning. Part of my identity is being a student.When I was a young mother, my focus was on my children. A large part of my identity was Mother. When my children were in high school, I went back to graduate school and started working for a paycheck. Four kids in college at the same time was a daunting prospect for my husband and me. We had to plan for that. My work identity became Social Worker. When I retired I had an identity crisis for about two weeks so apparently being a Social Worker wasn’t drilled into my soul.

Is my passion writing or gardening? Certainly gardening is more visible. People driving by our house can see what I’ve accomplished. My body of writing work is not very visible, has not made me wealthy and the hard work of writing doesn’t result in people stopping me in my driveway to deliver compliments.

Writing is important to me. It’s an outlet for creativity and in my life I’ve realized that I get a little crazy when I don’t have some creative outlet. But creativity doesn’t have to be writing. It can be cooking or gardening, or an art project. Writing is not the most important thing in my life, and I suspect that’s heresy in some writing circles. It’s the creative part of writing that makes me boot up my computer. 

Since I am a Gemini I’m going to choose two passions. Creativity and learning. For me they go hand in hand and can be applied to both gardening and writing and any other thing my squirrel brain sees that looks interesting.

 

 

 

 

Write on Wednesday: “Aha” moments

As a former therapist I can tell you the “aha” moments in therapy are relatively easy. It’s changing beliefs and behaviors after the “aha” that’s the hard work.

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Writing is not so different. You start out with an idea. If you’re lucky you may know where the story begins and where it ends. My fiction writing always seems to have “aha” moments in which a character realizes something important. This is usually the beginning of a conflict for the character that will then be played out until a resolution is reached. It’s my job, as writer, to get the character to implement the “aha” realization into their everyday lives. And I have to make that interesting or my reader will put down the book.

But the kicker is that the “aha” moment is often something I didn’t plan on. It just showed up. And I may not know until the end of the book why it happened. In the novel I’m working on a main character gets a specific tattoo on her leg. I didn’t know why. It just wanted to be there.

It wasn’t until I was at the end of the book that I realized there was a reason for that tattoo. Once I knew the reason, I had to go back to into the middle and write scenes that supported the ending. It’s a giant puzzle and sometimes the pieces almost fit…but not quite. I’m still working on it. Getting it perfect is what I’m after.

Damn. Could it be that my own need for perfection is not totally sorted out. It is in most areas of my life, but I want my writing to be as good as I can make it. That doesn’t sound like perfection, so why does it feel like that’s the goal?

 

 

 

Write on Wednesday: Keep the Headlights On

At one of my Working Writers Forum group, one of our members brought in this quote. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  — E. L. Doctorow

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I thought about that again this week. I am now polishing and rearranging scenes so the time line works in the first draft of the third novel in my Caribbean romantic suspense series. The novel takes place in the summer of 2004 on the island of St. Lucia in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. There is a beginning date and an end date.

Things were getting a little foggy so I googled a calendar for that year. I was also able to find out when the full moons happened. I had put full moons in several of the scenes and needed to find out if they fit in the timeline. If they didn’t it required a decision about putting the scene in a different place or not having the full moon be an important plot device.

It’s been eleven years since the last book (Circle of Dreams) and it often feels like I am writing in the fog. So it was heartening to hear a writer like E.L. Doctorow remind me that the whole book can be written that way.  I am hoping the sun will illuminate the final draft.

 

 

Write on Wednesday: Beginnings and Endings

I’m having a problem with this third book in the Caribbean series (no title yet, just Book Three). The two most important main characters are young women who are fraternal twins. One of them always seemed more interesting to me. Yvie is impulsive, often thoughtless, and does not want to spend the rest of her life on the small Caribbean island where she was born.  Note: she was named Yvie in the second book of this series written more than ten years ago. I had no idea she would turn out to be Eve, the temptress. Her name was always pronounced the French way with a long E. Scary how the mind works.

Lots has been written about the importance of the first couple of sentences and the first scene in your book. It has to hook the reader as does the last sentence of the chapter. You want your reader to be so intrigued they want to keep reading. I have the additional problem that Book Three is part of a series but also needs to stand alone in case a reader starts with this book.

I need to figure out which twin will begin Book Three.

This is how Book Three starts if I begin with Yvie who is just graduating from Boston University:

Boston, Massachusetts, May 2004

The tattoo parlor, set between a tiny Thai carryout and a shoe repair shop with a windowful of unclaimed shoes, was in a Boston strip mall that should have been renovated twenty years ago.  Yvie Demontagne didn’t embrace the body art trend catching on with her peers. It was too permanent and Yvie was a person who frequently changed her mind.

This is how the first chapter ends if I start the book with Yvie:

The snake tattoo seemed to be calling her. She knew what her Grandmother Bertille would say. When a spirit calls, you tempt fate if you don’t listen! As much as Yvie loved her island grandmother, she was into some seriously weird mystical shit. That had been three months ago, and now that the tattoo was on her leg, it sometimes felt like the snake twitched. “It’s just a tattoo,” Yvie said out loud as she itched her leg. “Get over yourself. You’ve got a bigger problem.”

She pushed an auburn curl behind her ear, closed her green eyes and cupped her chin in her hands. Yvie just needed to get through next week. Her parents and twin sister, Lissa, were due in Boston for her college graduation in three days, and she didn’t know how she was going to tell them. The news was not about her tattoo.

 


The other twin, Lissa, is studious, calm, caring and envies Yvie’s ability to fall in and out of relationships. She graduated college in three years and has been working at her family’s successful island hotel.

If I start the novel with Lissa, here’s how it would begin:

St. Lucia, West Indies ­­– May 2004

It was a half hour run on back roads to the abandoned Rochers plantation site, much of it uphill. For Lissa Demontagne a daily run was part of her routine, an attempt to keep the bathroom scale at an acceptable number. Close to the top she stopped, hands on thighs to catch her breath, inhaling the scent of the citronella lotion she’d applied to her bare arms and legs.

Jagged columns of sunlight pierced openings where the rainforest had not yet reclaimed its territory. Enormous boulders, hurled skyward in a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago, dotted the landscape and rusted hunks of machinery, remnants of a long-ago sugar cane mill, littered the partial clearing where the old house stood empty.

And here is how that first chapter would end: 

Lissa decided she’d bring Grandfather Marcus here. He knew more about the Saint Lucian rainforest, its flora and fauna, than anyone else on the 238-square mile island she called home. She needed to ask him about the snake, but she wasn’t going to tell him how that poisonous fer-de-lance ended up dead — food for the island’s carrion birds.

I’m inclined to start with Yvie. What do you think?

Write on Wednesday: Hiring a Script Consultant

When Laura Ambler and I finished our movie script for The Santa Diaries, we knew we wanted to hire Dara Marks to help us polish it. Laura had used her in the past on a couple of screen plays. We consulted our checkbooks, took a deep breath and called Dara. We booked an appointment and sent her a copy of the script which was ultimately called Santa, Flawed.

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Laura and I have used writing consultants in the past. We hired two different editors to look at Big Skye Ranch. It was a better book because of the money we spent and went on to be a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It won international awards at the London and Paris Book Festivals and an IPPY award.

A week ago we had our four hour telephone conference call with Dara. We were nervous. What would her reaction to the script be?  It was a somewhat fitful start because the email outline she sent us got hijacked by some virus scrubber on her computer which decided to scrub at precisely the moment she was emailing us. And her dogs went bananas when the UPS man came calling, but after a few minutes of sorting things out, we got to work.

By the end we were exhausted, but exhilarated. Dara told us our script was “highly marketable, it’s got everything, a really good piece, the writing is terrific, there is a strong structure in the script.”  She really said all those things. I took notes! …and then she told us the plot needed strengthening and we could be clearer about the theme. She said the first 25 pages needed to be totally rewritten. Well, that’s what we were paying her for – brutal honesty.

The theme thing is tricky. It’s the universal denominator and the theme drives the characters, the dialog, the setting. Theme should underscore everything in the script. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around because in the past our writing has been more character or plot driven. That’s not to say there wasn’t an underlying theme, but we didn’t spend time really trying to get that down to the bones.

In this telephone consultation we spent at least half an hour sorting out the theme. Turns out the theme is more elemental than Christmas, finding your inner Santa, nostalgia for small town life, or reconnecting with a lost love. The theme of The Santa Diaries script is “we’re all in this together.” We had not known that! Of course, the flip side of that theme is “we are alone” and that is Will’s fatal flaw. If he doesn’t change, he will be alone.

Will is isolated because he has sold out to Hollywood. He has lots of people around him, but they all want a piece of him. His business manager, Josh, whom Will calls his best friend, is a suck-up. Even his girlfriend has her own career agenda. If Will doesn’t find his authentic self (as opposed to his inner Santa) he will never be happy or fulfilled.

There were a couple of times when Dara pointed out that we were still thinking play, not movie. She was right. In the play we couldn’t have Sandy in the hospital with a broken leg. Heck, we couldn’t even get him staged in a bed in traction which is the way we wrote the original script. Sandy in a wheel chair with his leg propped up on a stool had to do. In the movie script he gets to be in a hospital.

Dara suggested that we start with a clean slate for the rewrite and we did. We are now 22 pages into the first 25 (Act 1 up to the First Turning Point). After that it will be more tweaking than a total rewrite as we make sure any changes in the beginning are reflected in rest of the script. All the characters are slightly different than they were in the original play and the script we sent Dara. We hope that gives them more depth.

Will Hawes is a little softer, more redeemable. His father, Sandy, is no longer the paragon of virtue. We’ve roughed up his edges a bit. Brandeee is smarter and shrewder. We haven’t decided if Brandeee and Will are engaged anymore. It always bothered me that Will broke up with Brandeee and moved on to Jessica so quickly.

The point is, do these changes drive the theme to its logical conclusion? We hope to have that figured out in the next month. Then the script will go back to Dara for notes. After that it should be ready to pitch. We think/hope the investment in using a script consultant will be well worth the cost.

Note: This blog was first published June 14, 2013. Gosh, almost five years ago. The script was eventually titled Santa, Flawed. No one bought it, but you can buy it on Amazon formatted for Kindle for $3.99. Using a script consultant was a great learning experience. In reading this post again, I am struck by the importance of theme. Whatever kind of fiction you are writing, figuring out your theme is paramount.

Write on Wednesday – May 9, 2018

Finding the time…

If you are a writer who is passionate about gardening or a gardener who is passionate about writing, spring is difficult. Finding/making time to write has to be slotted in between garden tasks that must be done at a certain time. And often that timing depends on the weather.

We’ve had a cold, wet spring so many garden tasks were pushed forward. Now there seems to be a brief spell of relatively dry days with temperatures in the mid 70’s. I have tomato plants that need to get in the ground so they can have a week of cooler temps before it goes into the 90’s. And seeds that need to be planted. Some of these tasks can be accomplished when I have a half hour. It doesn’t take long for me to put in a row of pea seeds. And sometimes you just have to spend a little time in admiration mode because gardening can be meditative and therapeutic.

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I suppose there are writers who can write in ten-minute slots. I am not one of them. I must shift gears in my brain and “be” in the story. It’s not always so easy to come out, either. So, unlike planting a row of lettuce, writing for me needs a chunk of time. More than an hour if I’m honest. Otherwise I’m just proofing what I wrote the last time I was at my desk.

And it’s not just gardening that gets in the way. Appointments and volunteer activities vie for attention. My daughter-in-law blogged something that hit a nerve. “Sometimes I wish I were not quite so disciplined. It’s like when I tell the husband that I wonder what it must be like to be incompetent. No one asks you to chair any committees, no one expects you to show up and do what you said you would do…people just give you a pass and you can do whatever you feel like doing. The husband says he doesn’t think incompetence sounds that attractive but I’m not so sure.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve gotten pretty good at only raising my hand for volunteer activities I want to do, but I do get asked because people know I’m organized and will do what I say I will do. And sometimes what I’ve said yes to gets in the way of my writing. The thing I am not good at is putting my writing at the very top of the list.

If you have any tricks about carving out your writing time and putting yourself first, please share.

 

Write on Wednesday: Association of Writers & Writing Programs

Last year, in February, I attended the American Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. AWP. People had been telling me about this conference for years – that if it ever came close to my geographic area, I had to go. Last year it was in DC. I could stay with my brother in Georgetown, so I registered. The conference welcomed between 12K and 14K people in the Washington Convention Center and the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Just a few more than the 200 plus at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College, in Wye Mills, Maryland that I attended in March.

You have to be a member of AWP to attend the conference. One of the benefits of membership is their bi-monthly magazine, The Writers Chronicle. It’s an excellent writing resource.

WritersChronicles

All the sessions I attended were panels  with four to six participants. These folks had impeccable credentials, MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degrees and multiple publications. MFA’s seem to acquire a special language with that degree. I had to think hard about fictive culture, breaking the fourth wall, distant third and character maps. Most of the authors who spoke about fiction, wrote literary fiction. A couple of sessions I attended had authors who wrote Middle-grade and Young Adult fiction, but there was not a Paranormal Romance (or any kind of romance genre for that matter) session to be found.

I did think I was going to get close with the session titled “Writing Female Desire.” But my notes only indicate the title of that session, not that I got anything helpful from it. A week later, I couldn’t remember anything about it. Maybe I bailed and went to lunch.

For the most part the presenters were accessible and self-deprecating and regardless of the topic listed in the program, they talked a lot about their writing process.

Here are some of my favorite take-aways about process:

  1. Write for good friends first and, then, the rest of the world.
  2. Write “your” book, not what is currently in vogue.
  3. “I have a turtle tattooed on my back” was what one writer said about the pace of her process.
  4. If the door is stuck [in the plot of your book], don’t bang your head on it, go around and jimmy a window.
  5. What is the “river” that is pulling your book forward? In other words what is the book really about.
  6. Failure is part of the process!
  7. Be prepared for multiple rewrites of drafts. Not three or four but sometimes as many as forty. (That made me want to take a nap!)
  8. Several presenters had taken 10 years to complete a book, although they may have had other things published along the way.
  9. On the panel about women publishing after age fifty, one of the presenters said the pub date of her first novel was a week before she was eligible for Medicare. The room erupted in applause. This session was packed, standing room only and part of the discussion was how women find time to write with career, kids, family, aging parents, etc. #womenwritingafter50

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All in all, I’m glad I went to AWP last year. It won’t be close to me again until 2022 when it will be in Philadelphia. But truthfully, I get more that is helpful to me in terms of writing craft from the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College. And that’s just half an hour away. And at that conference no one turns down their nose at those of us who write romance.