Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Maggie's Journey, book one, is set in Seattle, Washington Territory, in 1885. I knew the story of the characters, but I wanted more information about Seattle in that time period. I'd been looking for books and online sites I could trust, and I wasn't finding much. So I was feeling as though I were writing in a cave, with no sense of the setting.
I'm a real people person. I love to interact with them. When I became a professional writer, I worked at home. . .alone. So I started volunteering at the local public library. I learned about books and library services.
I hadn't thought in a while about all the wonderful things a library provides. So I looked up the Seattle Public Library on the Internet. I searched the site until I found the Research link. I sent an email asking for help. All I asked for was possible titles of books and maybe a few links. I wasn't asking the research associate to do the work for me.
I hit the jackpot!!
What I received back was a list of links and the actual text of one out-of-print book. The book covered Seattle by decade. I printed up only the pages I needed. And one of the links led me to a gold mine of pictures. The Seattle library had scanned literally thousands of historical photos, and they had them listed by decade, too. The file containing the photo also had information on everything in the picture--the buildings, the people, the streets, the date taken, and the photographer, if known.
I was able to print up as many of the pages as I needed to give me a feel for the place. I had a lot to use in my book, including the street names, what they looked like, what businesses or homes were there. And a multitude of other information.
When the book comes out, I'm going to donate a copy to the Seattle Public Library in thanks for all the help I was given by this research associate.
When Maggie's Journey releases October 4, you'll be able to walk with me on Commercial street, or go to Pinkham's variety store. You'll meet the people who live on Beacon Hill and a doctor who practices at Providence Hospital, as well as a young man who graduated from Territorial University.
In the meantime, check out Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico, my book that released last May. You'll go from Boston to Golden, New Mexico, by way of Los Cerrillos. And you'll meet gold miners, and a preacher and his wife who run the hotel. Oh, yes, there's also a strange love triangle that needs straightening out.
What makes a historical novel most interesting to you?
Monday, June 27, 2011
I didn't hesitate. Definitely before.
Before the contract I wrote for the sheer pleasure of it, I could take my time with the manuscript, work through it at my own pace, tweak it here and there. I could spend as much time as I wanted to with no pressure from deadlines or editors, no worries about finicky reviewers or unsatisfied readers. It was just me and my ideas, me and my words.
Before the contract the stories flowed easier, the creative fire burned brighter. The joy was in the process, nothing else.
After that first contract things changed. Deadlines rule the day now, schedules and marketing and interviews and social networking. It's not just about the writing anymore, not just about the story. I can't write at my own leisure; I have to write every day if I'm going to meet deadline.
And with deadlines looming and pressure to top my latest offering and sales numbers swimming in my head, the creative fires need to be stoked a bit more than before, tended more often and diligently.
Now, don't get me wrong, I still love writing, still love weaving stories and bringing to life interesting characters, but the joy isn't just in the process anymore, in fact, it's less in the process and more in the finished product and aftermath.
Being published is very satisfying in a narcissistic kind of way. There's great joy in knowing other people are reading your work and enjoying it. That they are intrigued by the thoughts in your head. Now my greatest joy is in hearing the feedback of satisfied readers, knowing the hours I pour into a book, the early mornings seven days a week, the re-writes and edits, no matter how painful they may be, are all worth it because I'm making a difference.
And that's the dichotomy of writing under contract. The result is just as important as the process and intimately dependent on it. Often, what you get out of it is proportionate to what you put into it.
And isn't that just like life?
Now how about you. If you're a published author, did you enjoy writing more before being published? If you're not-yet-published, does the prospect of being published with all it's deadlines and expectations scare you?
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I'm going to Piggy-back on Jillian's blog and share this list with you that I borrowed from my agent. The video is even better titled...29 WAYS TO STAY CREATIVE! I hope the link works for you to watch it, if not it's on Youtube.
1. Make lists
2. Carry a Notebook everywhere
3. Try free writing
4. Get away from the computer
5. Quit beating yourself up
6. Take breaks
7. Sing in the shower
8. Drink coffee
9. Listen to new music
10. Be open
11. Surround yourself with creative people
12. Get feedback
14. Don't give up
16. Allow yourself to make mistakes
17. Go somewhere new
18. Count your blessings
19. Get lots of rest
20. Take risks
21. Break the rules
22. Don't force it
23. Read a page of the dictionary
24. Create a framework
25. Stop trying to be someone else's perfect
26. Got an idea write it down
27. Clean your workspace
28. Have fun
29. Finish something
I like #11 and #21.
Which one is your favorite?
What would you add to the list?
Sunday, June 19, 2011
If you've ever had difficulty getting motivated to do anything I suggest you go out to your local library or favorite bookstore and pick up a copy of this little gem.
For instance, from pages 60-61 Steve recommends you Find Your Inner Einstein. I've never even imagined that I could have an inner Einstein. E=MC2. Do I have an inner Einstein? I don't think so.
But then I read Steve's pages. He says that Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Wait a minute! Wait just a minute. Maybe I do have an inner Einstien. I have imagination!
Steve goes on to tell us about a song for teenagers that Fred Knipe wrote so that teens could visualize themselves succeeding at what they wanted to do:
"That's you/in your wildest dreams/doing the wildest things/no one else can do. If you/just love and keep those dreams/the wildest dreams/you'll make yourself come true."
I LOVE THIS! It's motivating to me. Steve goes on to say,"But the greatest thing about active dreaming is not in the eventual reaching of the goal-- the greatest thing is what it does to the dreamer."
Are you making yourself come true? How? What are you doing? How do you stay motivated?
Friday, June 17, 2011
The more books I write the more I begin to realize that a novel is usually written in about 15-20 good sittings, with about three to five times as many bad sittings in between. As writers, we pray for those days, hoping that the novel will just 'happen'. Most of the time this is wishful thinking; but on those days when the story and the characters and the tone are all right, you land in the zone. No way to stop it. Wouldn't try, even if it were possible. That's just all there is to it.
As a result I often find myself wanting to skip the bad sessions, the ones where you can't seem to stay away from Facebook, and you absolutely HAVE TO check your email every five minutes to see if something new and cool has come in. Or anything at all for that matter. Those days when suddenly you realize how badly the house needs cleaned, or how desperately you want to indulge in that pet hobby of yours.
However, I find this to be virtually identical to my walk with Christ. I don't give up the day-to-day walk just because they aren't peak days. I want to, and I often try, but it's the act of being faithful, day after day, pushing through the rough sessions where nothing is gratifying, and nothing is working, where you are able to find the magic. Only by the discipline of doing what we are called to--every day, do we find ourselves having that one day when it all seems to fall together, and it feels like a glass of ice water in the Sahara.
And that's why we write.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
Many of us would like to forget our childhood. But try as we might, some things stick. In this category, are parental proverbs. You know, those sayings, quips, attitudes, and responses from our parents that tend to niggle into our disposition. So just when you think you’re not like your father, he comes falling out of your mouth.
Anyway, when my son Chris was taking a course to receive his teaching credentials, one of his assignments was to write down three sayings from his upbringing, three parental proverbs that have influenced him, positively or negatively. This piqued my interest, not just because I’m one of the parents he was quoting, but because as I get older mature, the kind of imprint I’m leaving has become increasingly important to me. What am I leaving my children with, philosophically speaking? Further compounding my interest was this: when our kids were young, I used certain sayings repeatedly, believing they were teaching tools. So what did my twenty-something, math-Mastered, boy remember?
These were the three parental proverbs Chris noted:
- YOUR HEART IS LIKE A DONUT — A blatant rip-off from the Donut Man, a Children’s CD. Translation: Your heart has a big hole in the middle that only God can fill. Cars and friends and money and possessions — nothing! — can fill the vacancy in your soul apart from a relationship with your Maker.
- WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE — A cheesy, cultural cliche with ancient roots. Translation: We can never transcend ourselves. Moving from house to house, job to job, church to church, or state to state, will not solve your problems, bucko.
- LIFE IS NOT FAIR — A simple maxim that modern man sorely needs. True justice will not be had till the end of the age, when the Judge of all the earth does His thing. Until then, bad men win, good men suffer, and the undeserving get what they don’t deserve. Deal with it!
So what parental proverbs do you remember from your childhood, and are they good or bad? And what quips have you employed as teaching tools for your children?
Saturday, June 11, 2011
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Shocking truth number one: Editors are people! Oh yes, that sounds obvious, but it’s something I’ve had to learn for myself. Before I was published, I was well aware that my manuscript was not perfect. I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with it, but I knew that I was a newbie and had little idea what I was really doing. I would think “Oh, when I get an editor, they’ll fix it.” I think I had promoted “Editor” to some Big Brother machine that would strip away all my story’s imperfections so that what was left behind would be perfect. Then I learned that editors are people. They have families, they have heavy workloads, they have deadlines, they have sleepless nights. They make mistakes. Mistakes? No! An editor is supposed to stop me from making mistakes! But they’re human. They’re just people. My editor on The Strange Man was very encouraging and said that there were just going to be some things that slipped by to print. Some punctuation was going to be wrong, misplaced, or forgot entirely. Some sentence might not be the brightest star in the universe. While it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to be lazy, it was sort of liberating, but it forced me to realize a terrifying truth:
The book is not going to be perfect. I’m not going to be perfect. I worked on my debut novel for ten long years and there are still mistakes. There are things that now, mere months after its release, cause me to think, “D’oh! I should have changed that!” It’s not perfect. It never could be perfect.
And I have to learn to live with that.
All of that leads me to my second realization:
Shocking truth number two: When the book’s not perfect, your editor won’t get the blame :p The author takes the critical paddle to the metaphorical rear end for whatever flaws the book possesses, and that’s how it should be. What’s interesting is that we all know that, as a human race, we are imperfect creatures, yet we still demand perfection. Perhaps there’s a larger struggle of Law vs. Grace, but you certainly don’t look at your plumber after he’s done a so-so job on fixing your commode and say, “Ah, well. It’s close enough. You tried and that’s all that matters. None of us are perfect.” No, we expect perfection from those who serve us—entertainers included—though we know that we, ourselves, are not perfect. An interesting dilemma.
In the case of writers, maybe the Reader doesn’t know that we’re just human, not superbeings with magical powers. Or, perhaps storytelling is a kind of magic and, for awhile, we’re able to give others reason to believe in our power—yet when you slip out of the correct POV for a scene or use one too many adverbs, the magic is destroyed. The illusion is ruined, and the magician is alone in the spotlight, revealed to be just a man.
I learned all of these lessons from my first book. So, for my second book, I came at it with a whole new take: My editor is just a human, not the end-all, be-all of my book’s outcome, but merely a player on the team. And perhaps most importantly, I am responsible for my book. I am responsible for growing as an author, for catching the things the editor might not, and for working three times as hard as my editor at making the book as perfect as it can possibly be.
I will still make mistakes. My second novel will not be perfect, but perhaps I can fool you with my illusions for a little while and maybe, just maybe, make you believe that I can do magic :)
These are some of the “cold water to the face” moments I experienced starting out as a writer. To the writers in the audience, what things did you have to learn the hard way? To everyone I ask, how do you deal with imperfection in your life or your job?
Monday, June 6, 2011
Friday, June 3, 2011
We are social beings and it is innate in us to want to connect with other people, fictional or otherwise. We want to empathize with them, share a common bond, a common enemy, join arms in a common cause or fight. That's how God made us. So the challenge is to create characters with whom the reader can relate.
When someone sits down to read a book she doesn't just want to read words on a page that, put together, tell a story. She wants to experience the story, and she wants to experience it through the characters. She wants to walk in his shoes, feel her pain, experience the love, the anger, the deep hurt or frustration or panic.
To achieve this connection I constantly draw on my own experiences, my own emotions, my own background, trials, triumphs, and screw-ups (and there have been plenty). I get real honest with myself and do some soul searching. And I take a chance that the experiences I've had and the emotions that have stemmed from them are not that much different than the experiences and emotional responses the reader has had. See, humans share the same basic struggles, the same basic emotional blueprint, we strive for basically the same things (if viewed in very broad strokes).
So here's a couple challenges:
1) Don't be afraid to be honest with yourself when creating characters. The reader will never know the pain your character felt at the loss of a loved one was really the pain you felt when your husband walked out on you and your kids.
2) Give your characters real emotions, emotions you've felt and lived through.
3) Make your characters flawed people, everyone of them. Because we're all flawed, we all have inconsistencies, annoying habits, shady pasts, prideful tendencies, fears, and self-esteem issues (some of us more than others, I'm sure).
4) Give your characters messed-up relationships to work through. We are relational people but often we're not very good at relationships.
Question for you: Do you agree that characters are what keep readers turning pages, not the plot? That if a reader cannot connect with the characters the story is just a story, and turning pages will become a chore?
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
His Amish relatives came to the funeral. They were an Old Order group from Kansas who wore the traditional black and white clothing. It was interesting to hear them reminisce about Marlin and even more so what they chose to remember him by, it was so Amish. He had a bird call no one could quite figure out what bird it actually went with, if there was one at all. He had an incredible work ethic that is so common for the Amish, and he loved to sing! Amish are big singers, they sing for two sometimes three hours straight at services. Can you imagine? My throat’s dry already:) And he clapped his hands, which isn’t so uncommon for any of us who sing worship songs, but not for hours. He loved his students unconditionally, and prayed without ceasing. We’ve all heard comments like that, but Marlin truly lived that way.
What would my friends and family say about me? Probably not about bird calls, singing and clapping. Maybe the work ethic part. And I do pray, but still not compared to Marlin. Would something profound or really deep come to mind? I hope so, but probably not like the comments I heard about Marlin.
I tell you all of this two-fold. Because many of you are writers, and we all know how important it is to be accurate with the facts when writing. I often hesitate when there is an opportunity to interview someone, or make a connection with a person who might have some insight on what I’m writing about. But I’ve learned to seize the moment by visiting Amish/Mennonite churches and taking a trip to Lancaster. I have come to find out people are usually eager to answer questions for you, and your story will be a lot better for the effort.
But more importantly, this experience has made me think about how people will see me when it’s my time to go. I’m learning how to make my life simpler, yet memorable and perhaps little things like bird calls and singing your heart out are more important than I thought:)
Question…What is your interview style, and how do you find people to interview?
Personal Question…If you could write your obituary what would it say?