Sunday, October 12, 2014

Corn Mazes--The Secret Gold Mine

           If you have been to The Hamptons in the fall, you probably know all about Hank's Pumpkin Town. Maybe you went with your children to pick pumpkins, or $45 dollar baskets of apples. Maybe you got lost in the corn maze and had to call for help. Or maybe you were stuck in the traffic jam it causes on Montauk highway each October and shook your fist out the window. 

          "I'll get you, Pumpkin Town, " the man in the Range Rover swore.  He had five minutes to get to the Hampton's Film Festival. "One night I'll mow that corn maze down!"

Whatever the case, Pumpkin Town is a secret gold mine. Not only for Hank the Farmer, but for writers as well. Writers you ask? Yes! Some of my best ideas for romance stories have come from wandering corn mazes. It's true! 

So if you are suffering from writer's block, need a break from the computer, or simply want to enjoy the beautiful autumn weather, I highly recommend finding a corn maze near you. 

Have you been to a corn maze this year? I want to know!

Happy Writing!


Monday, September 29, 2014

When Real Life Interferes with Writing

What do you do when you've got a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise) and have something happen that stops you in your tracks? How do you deal?

This is an issue I'm working through right now as a matter of fact, and it's one I've dealt with in the past. So let me share some of my experience and let's just hope it helps some of you one day...

In Spring 2009 I signed a 5-book deal with Kensington. The deadlines were tight. The first novella was due in a month. The three novels were due only a few months apart. And then in late August of 2009, my mother - my best friend and business partner - got sick. She died right before Christmas of that year and I was still on the hook for more books that I had no desire to write.

I remember sitting with her while I was wading through edits, which actually brought about one of my fondest memories of that time. You see, her uncle had been a famous writer in the Netherlands and she said she remembered sitting with him as a child while he worked at his desk, doing what I was doing - working through edits. She was just a little girl, playing on the carpet at her uncle's house while the family visited, but she remembered that little, special fragment of memory that I'd never heard before. It touched me. It made me think that somehow, through the generations, we'd all come full circle in a way.

After she passed, I had to literally force myself to write those last two books. Kensington was wonderful. They gave me a bit of leeway and my editor was a doll. But I was still on the hook. I had to take myself away - literally making myself leave the house and sit in coffee shops, fast food places, etc. Anyplace I could sit for an uninterrupted hour and write a few words while my world fell apart. That was my strategy then, and it worked. I met my deadlines. I handed in the books. They may not have been my best work ever, but I fulfilled my end of the deal and did what I had to do.

Fast forward to earlier this year. One night I tried to go to sleep and couldn't. By the next morning, I was being taken by ambulance from my doctor's office to the E.R. I had emergency gall bladder surgery that night.

In the interim from 2009 to now, I've made the leap from traditional and small press to indie publishing. I'm a happy, so-called hybrid author, and loving every minute of it! So I knew my "boss" would understand if I was a little delayed on the rather intense writing schedule I'd planned for earlier this year. I did, in fact, have to switch a few things around as I spent time healing from surgery. I didn't write for about two solid weeks, but in that time, I kept track of my calendar and kept adjusting plans for the rest of the year.

I plan about a year out, tentatively. I'm more solid on the next six months. And I'm very definite for the next three months. I adjust my spreadsheets as I go, changing plans as the stories and the real world demand. I've learned never to commit to dates farther out than the next six months or so. If you're prolific, like me, then that'll be enough for your fans to chew on while you are busy producing the work. Better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around.

So I recommend every writer keep a spreadsheet or some other kind of calendar that lays out exactly which book they'll be working on and when. Major events in your life should be noted and reasonable estimates of the number of words you can accomplish every day should be used. I have a spreadsheet that calculates how long it'll take me to write a book based on 2,000 words/day, which is about my average. Sometimes I'm faster. Sometimes slower. But I can usually average out to about 2k/day.

If I know approximately how long I want a certain story to be, I can calculate when I'll be writing it and when I'll finish. I suggest padding a week in there for unforeseen stuff that might arise and then adjusting as the work progresses. I look at my calendar spreadsheet every single day and adjust based on what I accomplished - or didn't - that day. But then again, I'm a planner by nature.

I mentioned that I'm facing a delay at the moment... You see, I've got a nasty cold. Enough so that I haven't written in three days and I still feel pretty miserable. I've had to adjust my writing schedule each day to account for the lost time and move the finish date back a bit. But that's what the padding was for and things will work out. The book will still be ready for my intended release date and all is well in my little world. I'm glad to see that I have at least learned from the past and am able to apply what I've learned to current events.

Hope you all can gain something from this little peek into my process. What do you do when you encounter an unexpected delay?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Love is in the Air - 10 Romantic Prompts

The last time I posted, I listed ten prompts for writing in several different genres. Today I decided to do one on just romance. The idea was suggested to me by fellow writer, Patty Blount, after she read the other article. So here are some I found online. Hope they get your mind whirling and your heart thumping.

1. Write a story that looks at the lives of many people from different backgrounds and cultures. How does the journey to romance happen differently for each couple?

2. It's Valentine'sDay.  A day of romance and love; too bad the hero and heroine despise each other (or do they really?) and are both locked in a closet, basement, or bathroom together.

3. Your heroine is looking through old photos of loved ones that have passed away. In one of the photos she sees something strange – something that shouldn’t be there. What does she see? She tracks down the photographer who has long passed away but his son or grandson offers to help her. What happens?

4. Your heroine has just been kidnapped and your hero is really the only person who can save her.
Why has she been kidnapped and who took her? Why is your hero the only person who can help her? Why is he reluctant? For example, maybe he thinks she’s better off with her kidnappers or maybe he doesn’t think he has what it takes to rescue her and he’s afraid to fail.
Does your hero know your heroine and if so, how does he know her? If he doesn’t know her, what happens when they first meet?
5. Allergic to love. What happens if your hero or heroine breaks out in itchy hives and is constantly nauseous when they fall in love?  Do they hope they will desire a dermatologist and have to live on Tums for the rest of their lives?
6. Mistakenly overheard conversation. What was the conversation about. Who overheard it?
7. Mind Linked Mates. Lovers share not just their lives and beds but actually their consciousness.  (my take - what if two people, who don't know each other, can "hear" the other in their heads?  How do they meet? Do they even want to try a relationship knowing what each can do?  Or what if a couple wakes up one morning with this special talent?  How does it effect the relationship? Can their love survive it?)
8. Somehow, two gifts cross paths and end up in the wrong hands. The recipients meet to exchange them. Who were the gifts meant for, and how did the mix-up occur?
What happens when the recipients meet? Do they take an instant disliking to each other? Is it love at first sight? Do they find that they are related somehow? Or maybe they knew each other years ago, and it took this mix-up to get them back together?Try to write this for different genres—you could write it as a comedy, then as a romance, then as a thriller.
9.What if… Friar Laurence’s plan had worked, and Romeo and Juliet had succeeded in running away together?     
  Finish the sentence.
10. She was expecting so much more but instead she got . . .
What did she expect? What did she get?  Did the thing she receive end up being much better in the long run? 

What prompts can you think of?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Do Multitaskers do anything well?

My mother calls me the ultimate multitasker. Yep, I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, as the old TV commercial used to sing, but I often wonder in a life filled with a book publicity business, writing, being a wife, mother, and holding down a part time job means I don't do anything well.

I'm not published in fiction yet. And, aside from kicking the dog and complaining, I wonder if my writing isn't as up to par as it should be because I'm focused on promoting other people's careers. Don't get me wrong, I love my clients, but running a publicity company wasn't what I sat out to do.

It just happened.

The whole wife and mother thing was a conscious choice. So, I don't slack there. At least, I don't try to.  I'm not Betty Crocker, and I don't do much entertaining, but hey, I've got five jobs!  I try to be there, for everybody, my husband, kid, mother, clients and co-workers included. But I'm not sure how I wound up with the reputation of being good at all things.  Maybe I'm not. Maybe, it's hype.

I use my ability to multi task to ward off depression.  The theory is I can't feel down because I have too much to do. And, believe it or not, it works.

I make lists.  I don't follow them so much, but I make them. And, I don't follow rules. Nope. Rules stand in the way of getting sh*t done. I've never stopped to see what's left in my wake, you know, what's left over after Hurricane Jennifer blows through. Maybe, I should.

Maybe, its time to stop doing ten things at once and focus on the matter at hand. Maybe, a little focus might put me as my own priority. Maybe, I can learn to just be a tasker, and shave off the multi.


What do you think?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dark Passion

Of course I'm referring to the chocolate brownie from The Blue Duck Bakery.  

To me, writing and chocolate go hand in hand. I'm passionate about both, so why not indulge in both simultaneously? It took me awhile to type with one hand and eat chocolate with the other, but I've improved a great deal.

Oh, the romance stories I write while nibbling on dark delights. 

I can also eat Choclate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream and type at the same time. It is all about balancing the spoon.

Your impressed, I know.

But it amazes me how two words...

Dark Passion

can invoke such a myriad of images and meanings.

What do you envision when you read those words?  I want to know!

Happy Writing!


Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day...and getting back to work.

In honor of the holiday...I'm going to make this short and sweet.

Labor Day marks the official end of the summer and for many of us it signals the start of our Fall routines. Here on the East Coast, September starts the school year - a good time to reflect and think about how anything is possible with the right attitude and choices. We start routines, start new projects, and live more on a deadline than during the carefree summer months.

But to be honest, my favorite thing about September is shopping for school supplies.

New pens.

Pads in every color.


I think my kids have been more than a little scared to shop with me at this time of year for a long time - I may be just a little too giddy for them when all they can think about is going back to school. While I'm happily dancing down the aisles tossing notebooks and colorful paperclips in my cart, they're usually trailing behind with scowls on their faces.

Have I mentioned all the Post-It Notes are usually on sale? For those of us that use colored sticky notes for plotting, buying on sale is even more important!

This year, I hope you take a few minutes to think about the new opportunities the new season will bring and the new choices we can make.

I wish you all happy shopping...think of me as you toss those Post-its into your cart :)

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Big Finish

Most of us have been there... those final few pages needed to finish the manuscript. The pressure is on and you have to tie up all the loose ends and somehow bring everything together to a satisfying conclusion. Should be easy, right?

I'm at that point with my current WIP, the third part of a trilogy. So the pressure is really on. Not only must I bring the book to a good conclusion in this final chapter or two, but the entire trilogy. Lots of plot threads running through all three books that have to be stitched up and sealed with a kiss.

So the question is - how do you do it? There are varying schools of thought on this process. Some people wing it. That used to work for me when I was writing the first books in a series or shorter works, but it doesn't cut it now where I have casts of thousands and lots of moving parts all over the story line.

Some of you are plotters. You do that sticky-note thing or storyboards or whatever works for you. Sadly, I don't work well that way. If I think every single thing through too far in advance, I no longer have any enthusiasm for writing the book. I do a basic plot and then see where it leads me. No offense to all you plotters out there, but that's what works best for me - and now, after having written and published over 50 works, I finally know what my process looks like. Everyone's is different.

So what do I do? Well... it's a little confused and somewhat complicated, but it works. Now that I'm down to the final few scenes, I make a hand-written list of all the characters who need to appear in the final scenes with little notes if they have to do something in particular to tie up any of my loose plot points.

At this point, my loose outline tightens up. I try to make a bulleted list that outlines all the small details I need to cover. At that point, I just work the list and write all the little pieces I need to fill in the blanks.

In the case of my most recent WIP, there's a final climactic battle scene where large groups of paranormal creatures and humans are up against an evil enemy. The trick is to not lose track of any of the combatants, since they all should play some role in the battle.

I counted it up and I have at least 35 different characters who have been named at different points in the trilogy who are all involved in the battle in different ways. I have to come up with convincing tasks for each of them, splitting them up into groups in most cases, but a few will deal with very specific threats in the battle. It's like choreographing a ballet, in a way. Only the ballet takes place completely on paper (or your ereader screen, as the case may be).

In addition to those 35 named characters, there is a supporting cast - the chorus, if you will. They have to be kept busy too, in support roles. It's challenging, but a hugely satisfying thing when it all comes together into a believable dance - in this case, a battle.

One of the key things to remember is that you can't ignore any special abilities the named characters may have already established. If you ignore something that could have been a simple solution in order to give your protagonists the spotlight, you're going to have to explain it. So, for example, if you have a demolitions expert in your supporting cast of named characters and something needs to be blown up, you either let him/her do it, or you come up with a reason why they can't and someone else - usually your lead character - has to do it.

As I said, I'm in the middle of doing this right now for my upcoming release. It's fun, but really intense and is best done all at once - or as close as you can get. In my case, I'm dedicating this week to working on this particular part of the book. I'll be reading and re-reading everything multiple times to make sure I don't miss anything obvious and I'll be putting in long hours writing the new parts each day.

If action/adventure isn't quite your thing, I can see this sort of strategy working in other genres as well. Start by making a list of all the characters you need to use in your final scenes and anything they need to do to tie up loose ends of your plot. Then use that list to make a bulleted list of scenes you need to include and work your way through them until you finally get to those ultra-satisfying final words: The End.

Good luck!
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