Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Writing a Book is Like Cooking a Turkey

It's really easy for it to be overdone.

You know what I mean (or maybe you don't). You glance into the oven, prick the poor dead bird (yes, that's what I call the turkey every year), think that it might need to be cooked a little more. One thing leads to another (potatoes, kids, husband, cats all causing trouble) and before you know it a half hour has passed and poor-dead-bird is still in the oven. You hurry to take it out, praying it isn't bone dry and inedible. Once you taste it you're both relieved and disappointed because it isn't bone dry and it isn't inedible, but it isn't quite the moist, delicious poor-dead-bird you'd hoped it would be.

How, you might ask, does this relate to writing a book?

It doesn't, but I can make this analogy work and I will. :0)

I've been reading a lot of manuscripts lately and have found a big problem with one in particular. Go ahead, ladies, panic! LOL. No, it's not yours. It's...mine. With so many deadlines looming it's inevitable that I'll have to spend hours of sleep time awake, hunched over my computer, staring at my own worse-thing-I've-ever-written book. And, yes, that's what I call every manuscript I write. As I read, I often find that I've overdone a scene. While not precisely wrong, the conversation or action is not precisely right either. Thus, the taste isn't exactly bad, but it's not exactly what I was hoping for (see, told you I could get the analogy to work!).

Perhaps you've faced this in your own writing. You're reading through and you think - this seems a little off. There's nothing obviously wrong, it's just not as right as you want it to be. If this happens, don't try to cover the spot up with a ladle of gravy or a pile of dressing. Unlike turkey, a manuscript's problems can't be masked with wonderful side dishes. Instead, ask yourself two questions - Is this what s/he would say here? Is this how s/he would act (react) here? Be honest with yourself. Use everything you know about human nature and your own characters to come up with the truth. Otherwise, asking the questions will be an exercise in futility.

The key to creating great stories lies in creating believable situations and characters. If you can't answer yes to both those questions, the scene must be rewritten to be a more realistic reflection of life.

I've got an example of some really bad writing saved on my laptop (yes, it's my own). If I get back here today, I'll post it along with the rewritten scene. If nothing else, it should give us all a good laugh before we go into the hectic holiday season!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where Do I Go From Here?

In the world of publishing, that's a question that's often asked. Published or unpublished, most authors get to a point where they wonder what direction their writing should take. Often this comes in the wake of rejection, bad sales, or disappointing reviews. At such times, it may be tempting to turn to something new, try a another genre, play with different POV. Maybe give up on writing altogether.

There's nothing inherently wrong with going a different direction when we hit a brick wall. Sometimes it's exactly what we should do. More often than not though, finding a way around the wall is going to take a whole lot longer than knocking it down. All we need are the tools to do so.

The fact is, the industry is tough and fickle. Jumping from genre to genre in hopes of getting it right is a waste of effort and energy. When we have passion for what we write, but are feeling uncertain about the market or our own ability to be successful in it, the answer isn't to give up on our dreams, but to push harder. That means different things to different people. To me, pushing harder means putting myself out there more (and boy do I hate being center stage). It means setting goals that are reasonable even while I dream of bigger things. It means accepting where I am now, embracing it, but still looking forward with an eye to next month, next year, even next decade. It doesn't mean I will never switch genres or try something new. It means that I will keep doing what I'm doing while I'm exploring other options (like longer books or family drama).

For others, pushing harder may mean taking classes, reading books on writing, attending conferences, entering contests. It may mean asking for advice, joining critique groups, or putting a manuscript in front of a freelance editor.

Or it may simply mean continuing in exactly the same way, trusting (as Joshua did) that the wall will eventually fall down.

Write for Him.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

An Awesome Opportunity

SH Romantic Suspense EDITOR PITCH Challenge
Rae-eHarlequin - 10:41pm Nov 12, 2006

We're at it again! And this time, we've got another of your favorite lines for you to send your inspirational romantic suspense to! Steeple Hill Romantic Suspense is looking for YOUR manuscript and Editor Krista Stroever will be on hand to take your pitch!

To enter, send a 1 to 2 line logline of your manuscript to Hosty Rae by December 6th.

Five entries will be chosen by Krista Stroever and those will be announced on December 15th.

Pitches will happen the week of * December 18th, at *1pm EST. But read the rules below to ensure your entry can be accepted.

• You MUST be able to enter and post inside the eHarlequin.com chat room. If you are unable to use the chat room and your submission is chosen, we will be unable to offer you another venue option and it will be unfair to an entrant who is able.

• You MUST have a completed manuscript that is targeted to Steeple Hill Romantic Suspense. Editors have the option to request partials or fulls but aren't accepting across the board.

• You MUST be available at the given chat time. As stated above, we will be unable to offer another venue or time option.

• Please include your member name and your full name along with your submission.

Logline Specifications

Challenge Specifics: This challenge is 1 or 2 lines (as written by the author, please gramatically ensure the sentences do not run-on in order to fit more in.). This should not look like a large paragraph.

Challenge Description: A logline is a 1 or 2 line description of your ENTIRE ms, primarily what marketing hooks each ms might have (ie: Beauty & The Boss, Cowboy Lover, Pregnant Bride) but it's more than that. You will need to lay out the hooks, the conflicts, the characters and the plot premise concisely.

In a query, it would go at the top of the letter, for a pitch, it might be all you use, and you have a better chance of getting editorial attention if you know this skill well because they now have a speedy way of discerning what you're trying to do in the story.

Also loglines help keep the query pages short and you can be more expansive in the synop. (I've also found that if you put it all into those two lines, you now have a small thesis statement from which to build the synop itself.)

When pregnant Lindsay Lawson is left at the altar, no one is more suprised than Hank Handler, the man she works for, that he steps in as the role of the groom. But is the handsome, quiet rancher there to help her save face...or does it have something to do with the long-standing rivalry between their families?

* these are tentative dates and the actual one will be placed in here.
* Only non-published writers may apply.

Balance Anyone?

For years, I've thought my biggest problem as a writer (aside from the fact that I'm homeschooling four kids and can barely find the time to do it!) was pacing. Dragging stories, dragging scenes, dragging chapters. My first drafts are always filled with all three. Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I realized that my real problem isn't pacing, it's balance.

In order to keep a romantic suspense story moving along, each scene should further both the romance and the suspense. In my case, I've also got to build in a faith element. Every chapter must flow smoothly and bring the hero and heroine closer to all three things - the resolution of the suspense/mystery, the realization that s/he can't live without the hero/heroine, and a deeper understanding of her/his relationship with God.

That's a lot of stuff to fit into a chapter. Done wrong, the details of each element may become either overwhelming (which slows down the story), or none existent (which prevents the story from building in depth). Good balance of elements within the story leads to smooth transitions that allow our readers to say, "Oh, yes, of course that's what she would do (feel, think, say)." It also creates a story that compels the reader to turn pages as she (or he) lives each moment, each realization with the hero and heroine.

And, of course, that's what we want.

As you move through your second draft, ask yourself how each scene furthers the elements of your story. Work hard to tighten your writing so that it doesn't distract from the story. Above all, don't be afraid to make changes as you strive to create a compelling and well-balanced manuscript!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Playing Nice With Others

I use to say that to be a success at writing a person had to -

A. Have some natural story telling ability.
B. Be a better than average writer.
C. Be persistent.
D. Have a good attitude.

It seems there's something I forgot. Apparently, a successful writer should also know how to play nice with others. Or so my agent informed me. Though not in so many words. According to Steve, my editor said that Harlequin wanted to offer me a contract for another continuity story because, "Shirlee knows how to play nice with others."

Now, perhaps you think that comment belongs more on a grade school report card then in a conversation about an author. Me? I was glad to know that my editor thinks so highly of my ability to work with a variety of people. The thing about a continuity is that each author writes a book, but each book is intricately connected to the other books in the series. Lack of communication, unwillingness to bend and change, hard-lined stances on one's own vision of the story don't work when authors are creating a six book project. What works is a willingness to listen, eagerness to tackle problems as a member of a team, and an ability to see the book you're creating as a group project rather than an individual acheivement. Doing those things is like playing nice on the playground - it creates friendships, champions, and an atmosphere of fun and accomplishment.

Even if you're not published and doubt you'll be offered the chance to write a continuity in the near future, this lesson is a good one to keep in mind. As much as good writing and great story telling can sell your book, a bad attitude and an inablity to accept that you're just one member of a very large team can ruin your career.

I suppose in some ways it's about being humble, about knowing that the books we create can only be their best with the help of others. After all, no one likes arrogance and everyone wants to be acknowledged for what they do. But mostly, it's about living lives that are testimonies to what we believe. It's about having the same gentle spirit as Christ. A spirit that accepts, that appreciates, that loves. It's about being the people He wants us to be.

And really, that's the only way to true success in anything!

Play nice!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Maybe You're Wondering

Where I've been. What I've been doing.

In answer - I'm here. I'm doing the same thing I was doing a month ago when I posted. Teaching, cleaning, writing. Writing, teaching, cleaning. Cleaning. Writing. Teaching.

Actually, I do more teaching and writing than cleaning, but since you don't know where I live and can't come for an unannounced visit, let's pretend that my house is spotless, my kids are all seven grades ahead of their peers, and my writing has sprouted wings and is soaring. Isn't fantasy grand?

Reality is much more messy, cluttered, chaotic.

And maybe, just maybe, it's more fun, too.

After all, there's something to be said for the unknown, for facing each new day knowing that it won't go exactly as planned, for looking at your kids and knowing they're going to say something, do something, act in some bizarre way that you didn't expect, for writing a manuscript that just won't fall in line with your carefully plotted vision. There's something to be said and that something isn't all bad. Spotless is nice. Organized is great. Success is wonderful. But, like money, those things can't provide joy, love, or faith.

So maybe it's time for all us over-achiever, supermom, superdad, gotta-have-everything-just-right people to let go, let God, and let life happen while we laugh and cry, run and dance.

And enjoy every blessed moment of it.

Just something to think about on this too-warm November day.

BTW, I just sold my ninth book to Steeple Hill. Wow! I can hardly believe I've come this far.