Wednesday, August 31, 2011

DearReaders...It's Wednesday!

It's hard to believe that summer is over. Sure, I know that officially summer doesn't end until mid-September or so...but when mornings are cold, summer is over.

Because my summer had some bad spots in it, I think I started rushing things. If you go over to my ezine, you'll note that there are two CHRISTMAS STORIES highlighted. LOL

That's rushing things.

But, why not?

When things are crappy, why not jump ahead a bit to the season of love, forgiveness and giving?

I'm thinking about those things a lot lately because the book I'm writing is about an alcoholic hero who begins to interact with his ex-wife again when he learns they have a child.

This is a guy who doesn't just need forgiveness; he has to forgive his wife for not telling him she was pregnant when she left him.

He "gets through" by reminding himself that she left to protect herself and their child from a man (his former self) who was self-destructive. But he also simply lives in the moment. Can't change the past; can't predict the he lives in today.

As I'm writing about this guy, I'm thinking...he's really got it all together.

And maybe he does. And maybe it isn't such a bad thing to think about happy Christmas with its lights and gifts, goodwill and cookies, happy greetings and turkey...special dinners, parties, a sense of family.

So though it's not quite even September...scoot on over to the ezine and read some Christmas stuff. Make a cup of cocoa. Think happy thoughts. LOL

And if you're a writer, definitely scoot to the ezine. There's a great writing lesson.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Dear Writers Layering

Someone in my recent Journey Steps workshop asked the question if story threads were layering. It was such a great question that I thought we’d post the answer here!

Question: Are story threads what authors refer to when they tell you you must layer your story?


Yes and no.

Story threads give you a great opportunity to show different facets of your main characters by how they react or act in the different threads that knit into the main story. That's a huge part of layering.

But also there are other things that add texture or richness. And sometimes authors also refer to this as layering. I call it adding texture and richness. (LOL) But a lot of authors see this as layering because it shows all the different aspects (or layers) of the story and your characters.

For instance, I'm writing a story about a heroine who left her alcoholic husband and runs into him eight years later...with their child (who he doesn't know about).

The jig is up. He's sober now and wants involved in their little girl's life.

I used the heroine's mom to voice her fears...Are you really going to risk letting him see Trisha?

And the hero's secretary to show that he's much different than the man the heroine left. When he comes into the office shaken after discovering he has a child, she says, "You work harder than anybody here. And finding out you have a child is a shock. You should take the day off."

These aren't threads. They are interactions that display important things that make the story feel more real (richer and textured). And they are necessary. How other people view the situation and the main characters themselves is important to the story.

Involving the characters who populate the hero and heroine's lives also makes it feel more real. (Remember logical next steps and daily events...they might jumpstart a plot, but one of their other big functions is to provide readers with a "real" experience.) So seeing things through the eyes of secondary characters adds texture and richness. Or as some people say, secondary characters show all the layers of your characters' lives.

Now, the same caveat applies to texture and richness (like showing things through interactions with secondary characters, descriptions, and using setting). A little bit goes a long way. If there’s a thunderstorm EVERY TIME your main characters argue or are in a scary situation, readers will think it odd. If secondary characters are ALWAYS commenting on the main characters’ actions, readers will wonder why they’re always around. (And probably tell them to get a life!)

Of course, with shorter book, you have to keep an even tighter rein on these things. With longer books you have more opportunities and options.

Make sense?

Happy Monday..and Happy Writing


Monday, August 22, 2011

DearWriters -- The HEART of your story

Simply put the heart of your story is that one line version of your book that when read aloud makes people go, "Ah, that's cool..." (Or cute. Or fun. Or exciting. Or interesting. Or romantic.)

Like: The hero and heroine must catch a killer but she's already been arrested for the crime and he's the DA prosecuting her. (Now that's cool. You can almost feel the ticking clock, feel the heroine's desperation, feel the hero's impotence as the trial date approaches and he knows he's prosecuting the wrong woman...)


A lonely workaholic hero finds a family when he must help the heroine come to terms with her child's death when they're made co-guardians of his infant half-brother.

That's heartwarming. It's uplifting when a lonely guy gets what he needs when he goes the extra mile to help someone else. We can also almost "envision" the sad heroine, suddenly forced to care for a baby, when her loss is still too close to the surface. We also know there's a baby who needs care. There's going to be floor walking and formula feeding and tooth getting. And we also know this guy is already put upon...yet he pitches in and does what needs to be done.

That one line for THE BABY PROJECT brings together all those different facets. But it also focuses the story so that I (as the writer) knew what I was working toward. Even though the heroine needed help to recover, the character who really needed help was the hero. He was lonely. He needed a family.

So even as I was writing a story about an overworked hero trying to fit the heroine and his half brother into his life, and the heroine's recovery, and the baby's adjustment to new "parents" ... I was also subtly working toward having the hero realize that he didn't want the life he had been working toward for the past 36 years, but he wanted the life Fate was handing him on a silver platter.

The heroine's story is a good one. It's solid and strong. But the real "heart" of the story is the transformation of the hero from the guy he is when the book opens...lonely, overworked, a guy who is able to accept love in his life and hire a bunch of vice presidents to take over some of his responsibilities.

The heroine's story is a "thread" so to speak that forces the hero's story. The addition of the baby into the hero's life also nudges him toward change. But they're not the main story. The hero's story is the main story.

You'll have a lot of layers in any story. But the trick is to figure out which one is the most important. Which thread would get you the most mileage with readers?

To look at THE BABY PROJECT, you might think Whitney's story with the loss of her baby and husband might be the more compelling. But though Whitney is struggling, we know she's smart enough to know she needs to push through. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But eventually.

Our hero, Darius, knows he's in trouble, but he responds to that trouble the way he always does. He will work harder. Readers know this guy is drowning and there's a good possibility he will go down for the third time because he's missing a few of life's puzzle pieces. He doesn't know how to be vulnerable. He doesn't know how to ask for help.

He's gonna drown.

So his story is the heart. Whitney's story is certainly interesting, but in the end the way it supports Darius's story is actually a more important function.

So how do YOU figure out your story's heart?

The best way to do is it by writing a one-line summary...It's a book about a hero and heroine who must catch a killer but she's already been arrested for the crime and he's the DA prosecuting her.

If you can't state your story that succinctly, then maybe you need to do some doodling. Think of potential conflicts. Potential scenes. Potential trouble. Do some doodling about your hero and heroine. Write out some facts about their lives. Their pasts. Their core beliefs. Their parents. Anything, until something makes your breath catch and you say...Wow. That's cool.

Because if the story you choose to highlight doesn't make your heart beat a little faster, doesn't make you say, Oh, that's cool...or interesting...or fun...or scary, then it's not going to hit readers either.

So take a minute. Or a few days. Or two weeks, as I sometimes do. And just think. How could I come up with a really cool book? Or a GREAT romance. Or a wonderful spin on something that's been done a million times like a marriage of convenience?

And then give yourself the gift of writing something that you really, really like. Something you know readers will really, really like!


Friday, August 19, 2011


This week I got back on track with my weight loss. I blamed vacation and life for getting me off track, but as I barreled through this week's troubles, I noticed the thing I've really been lacking is commitment.

What is commitment? Well, as I've said in prior blogs about writing...commitment is the thing that will push you to keep going when you want to quit. Commitment itself is usually inspired by a why -- Why do you want to do this?

For me, right now, it's why do you want to lose this 30 pounds? Well, the answer to my Why is that I NEED to lose 30 pounds to fit into my clothes. Sadly.

But being in possession of several FINE credit cards (LOL!) that's not really motivating me anymore. I can go to Dress Barn, or Bon Ton, or J. C. Penney any day of the week and get a new outfit. (Yeah. Go ahead and groan. I know I'm lucky...this year. God only knows what the finances will be next year.)

Still, buying a dress for the Harlequin Black and White party in New York this summer (Dear God, one of the most fun times of my life...thank you, Jenna Kernan!) I ran into something interesting.

I pulled every black dress in my new inflated size from the racks and took them into the dressing room. I tried on dress 1 and it made me look fat so I shucked it. Dress 2...same deal. Made me look fat. Dress 3 ... fat.

But an interesting thing happened. I studied dress 3 a little closer and said to myself...what if it's not the dress? What if I am fat.

That will rock you to your core.

Why? Because what I was telling myself was that I needed to create a new perception of myself...a new picture for my head. This one of an old fat woman.

Oh. No. THAT was not happening.

So though I've struggled for the first six weeks of this diet, I have that mental picture of myself in my head. There I am, in the dressing room, fat. Not pleasingly plumb. Not cute and cuddly. Not more of me to love. But fat.

The interesting thing that came with that revelation wasn't just the "Oh, crap now I don't fit into my clothes feeling." It was also the knowledge that this was a new me. And I either adjusted to the new me or I got rid of her...Nicely, of course. Through a good diet.

And that's where commitment comes in. If you want to succeed at anything, you have to figure out something that drives you even when times get hard. I can be pleasingly plump. I can be cute and cuddly. But I cannot be fat.


Now, let's see how far it drives me.



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

If it's Wednesday...It must be Dear Reader Day

Where did summer go?

I just looked at my Hospice Volunteer Schedule Calendar Sheet and realized we're halfway thorugh August. My niece Carissa will host her summer breakfast on Wednesday and then next week the kids will be back in school.


Before you know it we'll be at Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas...then it will be 2012.

Sitting here, I'm trying to figure out exactly what I accomplished this year and I have to admit it hasn't been much.

Then I sort of turned that around. My husband retired this year. One of my best friend was sick. My kids are in weird places in their lives and sometimes I feel that I need to stop and ... well, listen. Especially to Michael, who is disabled and still lives at home.

When I started thinking about how much teaching I've done this year not just for RWA chapters, but also through this blog and my website, how much hand-holding I've done, how much downtime I've spent with my husband...I had to wonder...Does getting a lot done mean as much as ... well, having meaning in your life?

I sort of like having more meaning in my life. I certainly like spending more time with my husband.

So maybe life can't be measured in terms of how many books you get done but rather in terms of how many lives you touch?


Monday, August 15, 2011

Starting a New Book

Sorry I'm late! I see a few of you already peeked over at the blog for the new post, but, I just got up! LOL And I had a bad week last week with my friend's funeral etc. So I didn't blog ahead.

But I'm here now.

And we're going to talk about starting a new book. Why? Because I'm starting one. LOL

So let's talk about what I do.

First off, I think about my characters. Who do I want to write about? After all, I'll be spending some serious time with these who do I want to write about? Who do I want to spend that much time with?

Because this book is a spinoff of a book I just turned in to Harlequin, I already have some characters. Including the hero.

The hero's backstory is a bit complicated, so I focused there, digging for my story.

Digging? How the heck do you dig for a story when you have nothing!

Well, with a list of 20...we've talked about that in other blog posts. If you missed it go to the ezine. I think I talk about the list of 20 in this month's issue.

Anyway, the most important thing about a list of 20 is a good question ... so I said, how can I turn the hero's conflict into a romantic conflict?

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I listed his conflict. He is adopted. But when he was 18 he discovered that his adoptive father was actually his biological father. His dad was a real butthead. He got one of his employees pregnant, then paid her to have the baby and sign it over to him. All of which doesn't sound too bad until you discover that he didn't tell his wife the real story.

He conned her into "helping" this poor employee by adopting her child and raising him well. At eighteen he discovers all this and his dad begs him not to tell mom. He's so angry with his dad he can't even look at him. This causes tension for the whole family. So he leaves. And never even writes.

So now dad is dead and the hero is coming home...angry. Not wanting to hurt mom by telling her the truth, but agreeing with his older brother that it's time to come home and try to put the past behind him.

Okay. So I do a list of twenty, trying to figure out a way I can connect this conflict to a romantic conflict and though I came up with 20 ways...and some of them were good...I didn't feel the love in my heart.

And if I don't feel the love in my heart then readers aren't going to feel it either.

So I figured I was still emotionally a bit shaky from the funeral of my friend and I stepped away from the list of 20 and the book. I'd come back to it later.

And for two days I did nothing on the book, and then low and behold, in church (as always!) I got inspired.

This book wasn't about the hero. He's a wounded, grumpy pain in the butt. But the book wasn't about him. It was about the heroine.

Without giving away the story, I raced home, wrote a one-paragraph story summary and then jumped into a could, might, must and should list.

That's right...a list of potential scenes. Some could happen. Some might happen. Some MUST happen to make the plot work. And some should happen.

At this point I don't have a lot of scenes. I'm still getting to know my heroine. I'm thinking about her. Kind of wistfully. Her story is sad. And she deserves something good in her life. And as I think about who she is and what she needs, the manifestation of the story I wrote in my one-paragraph (more scenes, more emotion, more backstory) gets clearer in my head.

Today, I want to get even clearer. I'll be thinking things like...What's the worst thing that can happen to these people? (LOL) How can I get them together? How DOES his story play into this?

As you're reading this, I want you to note how many times I ask myself questions. Why? Because asking questions is the best way to analyze things.

So there you have it. A sort of generic description of how I start a book. Note that I don't yet have a synopsis...but I feel it bubbling beneath the surface. LOL

Start with characters. Don't be afraid to shift focus. See how the story works if one character or another character's story is the "lead." Do lists of twenty. Think about potential scenes and officially write a could, might, must and should list.

But most of all...Know your story's heart.

Hum...maybe that would be a good thing to talk about next week?


Monday, August 8, 2011

August 8 Writer Post

As you read this, I'm probably just getting out of my car, lugging a suitcase, sporting a reddish brown tan and wishing it was last Monday and I was heading for the beach instead of returning!

So...I don't have a post. In fact, I wrote "this" post two weeks ago...and scheduled it! Because though I don't have a post, I do have a new ezine. It went up August 1. I didn't have time to announce it, so it's fresh.

If you're looking for writerly wisdom, the thing has the next lesson in THE POWER OF QUESTIONS workshop for writers.

So click on Susan's ezine. If it leads you to the signup sheet...ignore that (unless you want to sign up). Just keep clicking till you get to the ezine!

Or this link should work...

susan (the tan and rested, who wishes she LIVED at the beach)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dear Readers

I'm late with this week's post because I honestly thought I'd written a Dear Reader letter! LOL

This has been a difficult week. My husband and I had gone to Ocean City because I was burned out. A little crispy critter. I've had some difficult back-to-back deadlines and one of my dearest friends was dying. I desperately needed some time away.

We had several nice days but yesterday my friend's husband called to let me know she had passed.

There is no experience in life that rivals or compares to losing a friend. Someone close to your age...Denise was actually 4 years younger than I am...who one minute is so full of life and the next has a terminal illness.

We walk around so confident in ourselves, confident that we'll have a tomorrow, confident that our friends will always be with us. But really we don't have an assurance of anything...except God. But I won't get into that here. At least not yet.

My point is: Having spent four months very upset about my friend and kind of getting kicked around by some surprising people because I was vulnerable, I can't help wondering...Why aren't we nicer to each other?

Does our society sort of breed a survival of the fittest attitude?

Life really is short. It's also unpredictable. None of us know the number of our days. Or the days of our friends, relatives, coworkers, neighbors.

We don't know if the person emailing with a complaint is in the throes of incredible grief. Of the person who cuts us off in traffic is on her way to the hospital to see her dying dad. Or if the person who almost knocks us over in Walmart is purchasing PJs for her son in the hospital.

We don't know anything...

So why aren't we nicer to each other?


Monday, August 1, 2011

Setting and Keeping Deadlines

A few weeks ago, my editor casually called to accept my latest proposal and asked when I could turn the book in. I said, August 1.

At the time it seemed so far away. Like a wisp of a fluffy white cloud in a clear blue sky.

Then RWA Nationals popped up early this year and my husband wanted to go on vacation on July 31 and suddenly I wasn't just staring at an August 1 deadline. I was staring at an August 1 deadline with no hope of an extension because I'd be at the beach! LOL

Still, when I woke up July 3, with about 4 weeks to deadline, I didn't panic. My already-written proposal contained about 50 pages of a 210 page book. That left me with 160 pages to write in four weeks. Forty pages a week.

So, I fell back into my normal routine. Monday and Tuesday I read what I have already written, doing some revising and polishing. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I write ten pages.

I made that sound really easy, didn't I?

Yet some of you can't write 10 pages a day. You can't say for sure you could do 40 pages in a week...even if you had all seven days. And some of you don't like to go back into your manuscript and polish. You want the whole ding dang thing to be done before you start polishing!

Couldn't agree more.

Why? Because everybody's got to find his or her own speed. You have to find your comfort zones. You have to find your process.

When I set my August 1 deadline, I knew that even if I ended up with only 4 weeks to write this book I could do it. Because that's my process.

So the first truth about setting and keeping deadlines is to know your process. Know what you can do and what you can't do. Make your decisions based on your real abilities! Don't make promises you can't keep.

The second thing to know about setting and keeping deadlines is to make a commitment. You're not going to hit your deadlines if you constantly say things like, "Well, I hope I make it." Sheesh. You're virtually giving yourself permission to fail.

When I have a deadline my self-talk goes something like...I easily do forty pages a week. I love to do the early revising and get caught up on the story on Monday and Tuesday. I love writing ten pages a day. I push myself when I'm tired. I make lists of 20 when I'm stuck. I love this whole ding dang process! I'm lucky to be a writer.

Try telling yourself those things three or four times a day and see if you don't wake up eager to write. Happy to write. Able to push yourself, even when you're tired!

So the two things you need to know about deadlines are ... 1. Know your process. Know how to set your deadlines by basing them on your process. (And don't lie to yourself about your process. If you're a 20-page-a-week-girl, don't say you're a 40, because that will result in procrastination! Don't even get me started on that!) So know your process.

And 2. Commit! Be nice to yourself but do not let yourself slide. Remember the affirmations above. I can do this. I love to write! I'm blessed to be able to write. I do make my deadlines.

Happy Writing

susan meier