Monday, September 24, 2012

Writer on a Plane

I'm not sure what time you're reading this but if it's morning for you there's a good chance I'm on a plane...Going to Aspen, Colorado to see my youngest get married. Not only is this a bittersweet time for me, but also ... it made me think about writing.

Allen getting married is bittersweet because it reminds me that he's growing up. Well, grown up, technically, since he's thirty. And I missed a lot of his childhood because in the 80's when women first came into their own in the workplace, overtime, sixty-hour weeks, community service for your corporation were all the norm. We were thrilled for the opportunity.

Fast forward a few decades and now we're seeing that we missed a lot of important things in our children's lives. If I were writing a late-fifty-year-old Mom, I'd make sure she had some regrets. And that her children, potentially the hero or heroine, had missed having her around.

There was an article in today's paper about a seventy-something woman in my area who was appointed spokesperson for our symphony. When I looked at her picture, the first thing I noticed was that the pin on her suit was virtually on her shoulder. I sort of chuckled, thinking, I remember some of the ladies I worked with (around her age) doing that -- having a pin so high it was almost by their ears -- and I thought...what a great detail for a story.

Last night, at the gender reveal for my niece's new baby...the color of the icing between the two layers of the "reveal" cake tells us the baby's family will use any excuse to have cake...I saw my nieces Lainie and Maddie both using their hands to swirl their skirts...and I remembered doing that as a child. But I also thought, Hum. Good detail for the little girl in my new story.

Details are all around. Things that grab a reader and instantly provide characterization. Who doesn't know a mom from the 80's with regrets about too much work? Who doesn't know a grandma or great grandma with her pin way up on her shoulder? Who doesn't know a little girl who swirls her ruffled skirt because it's fun?

Details like that ground a reader. So look around. Pay attention. The best ways to capture readers and pluck them into your scene are all around you. They're in daily life. The best place to find the reality you need to ground your reader is ... well, in reality.

Happy Monday


Monday, September 17, 2012


I don't do a lot of guest blogs, but I do enough that this summer when my organizational system failed (Verizon somehow deleted ALL of my messages...thanks for that, btw.) I missed things. I missed deadlines to submit blogs. I lost emails that had addresses of contest winners. I missed going to blogs that had already been submitted to answer comments and chat.

My system of depending on old emails to remind me was a ... bad one.

And as a former legal secretary (back in the days when legal secretaries did a lot of paralegal work and kept track of EVERYTHING in a case) I hung my head in shame.

So I thought back to those days and set up a calendar/schedule system that wouldn't fail. And I put it on paper. No more system fail for me. (Thanks again, Verizon) But also, I created a Book of Everything.

Every password
Every reviewer
Every blog appearance
Every contest I'm hosting
Every winner of those contests
With check marks that tell me if I've sent the books!

I have birthdays in the book
Twitter handles for people I don't normally tweet but might someday want to
I have notes on how to use Goodreads
I have a list of contacts for workshops (emails of course)
And contacts for blogs

I have a list of people who make covers for self-pubbing
And a list of people who edit
People who format

You know...rather than go on and on...Let's just say I have lots of lists. They are my memory (in some respects), not because I'm slow and dull, but because it's easier to have a book I can lay my hands on to find just about anything I want, rather than have to stand for five minutes trying to remember how to do something or find someone.

I know there are probably better, more technologically advanced ways to do this, but have one computer crash and you'll be glad you have a Book of Everything!

Anyway, my point is...

We no longer get to write a book, revise the book, read the AA's and cross our fingers, hoping for sales. We have to do a lot of things. I started off my career being reasonably organized but technology crept up on me and one day I woke up realizing I was so far behind I might not ever get caught up. And I had to go to work on promoting myself and using social media. Everyday I learn something but at least now I don't forget what I learned!

So, though you don't have to create a paper notebook like mine, you should have some systems in place. At the very least, you need a list of passwords (which you probably don't want in your computer), along with a list of email contacts and a solid calendar that doesn't just keep track of things, it comes with reminders about a week before things are due!

It's never too early to have a contact list, a blog list, a reviewer list. Start them now before you're on book #50 and you'll have smooth sailing long before I did. LOL

Happy Monday


Monday, September 10, 2012

Coming up with "fresh" stuff...

Two months ago, I started my 49th book. As you can imagine, by book 49, it's a little difficult to come up with something you've never written before. As a category romance author, I have to stick with hooks. Not just the things I'm known for writing, babies and kids, but I also have to add a billionaire, or marriage of convenience, close proximity, nanny or something that adds to the experience our readers are looking for.

And because I am giving readers the expected child/baby, as well as a well loved hook, I then have to spice up the story with something special.

In book 49, I'd decided cupcakes were the way to go because who doesn't love a good cupcake? But, seriously, can a woman support herself and three kids selling cupcakes in a small town? I didn't think so.

I turned to my trusty list of 20...

I wrote: What are twenty cool, interesting jobs I haven't yet explored in a story that could enhance the story somehow? But on second thought, I changed the question a bit. I said...

If I could be anything right now, what would I want to be?

Because my niece was in the throes of planning her wedding, the idea of becoming a wedding cake baker jumped out at me. (At about #13 on the list! LOL) And when I began investigating the you bake a cake, how you decorate, how you make those great flowers and edible decorations...even how you deliver a cake...I found videos on YouTube.

The videos made it very easy to get a good handle on the job so I could subtly insinuate the "cake baking" stuff into the story. The research on cake delivery actually provided journey steps (or plot points) for the story. I didn't just drop her occupation into the story. I used it to make the book fresh and interesting.

Not boring! LOL I didn't info dump. I didn't force readers to endure entire segments about her job that were dropped in with no rhyme or reason. I incorporated her cake baking into the plot. And, of course, made the hero a lover of cake. LOL

I took an online workshop last month that dealt with figuring out your career and who you are/want to be as a writer, given by the great Mary O'Gara. At one point, she said, write a list of 5 jobs you wish you could try in your lifetime. When we had done that she said, "Now figure out ways to incorporate these into a story...because researching them will be fun, using them as part of plot will be fun because they are things that already interest you..." And I jumped up and down like Horshak on WELCOME BACK KOTTER. I said, I did that! I did that! I just did that!

I told the class Mary was correct. The research was fun, invigorating. Using the career as PART OF THE PLOT was a challenge. A fun challenge. And in the end, I had a book that was fresh and interesting.

So...The next time you're beginning a book, do as Mary suggested. Come up with a list of five careers you'd like to try and virtually try them in a book. LOL Or do as I did and come up with a list of 20 careers for your hero or heroine which are fresh, interesting, different, that might freshen up your story a bit. Or at least enliven it with unique scenes and a fresh perspective! And then research it until you can actually make it part of the plot.

You'll make yourself happy, but you'll also come up with a fresher story!

Happy Monday!


Monday, September 3, 2012

No Info Dumps...

But give us something. 

I recently read a few contest entries and the one thing that stood out was the lack of info dumps. It was impressive -- sort of. I get it that most writers hate those big sections of a character "thinking" about his or her past as they walk to a door or drive up to a house, but I'm not convinced readers do.

For one, reading those contest entries I was struck by how little I knew about each character. Which meant not all of their actions were properly motivated to me. Things like: After the way her boyfriend treated her, she wouldn't let another man insult her...don't tell me much. Seriously. After the way her boyfriend treated her, she wouldn't let another man insult her...says to me that her old boyfriend insulted her. But how? And is it really enough to warrant her being bitchy to a stranger -- who had done nothing to her? Because that's what I see a lot in contest entries. Strong heroines, willing to stand up to and even insult the hero, all in the name of some unknown thing that happened to her  in the past. And if I don't know what it is, then I might not like your heroine.

I get it that you don't want info dumps, but you've got to give us something. Something clear and substantial that will show us motivation and in that motivation a reason to root for the heroine not question her. 

By the way, this doesn't mean the hero needs to know (or visa versa). For story purposes, you can string him along as long as it fits your story. But readers need to know motivation. 

So take those nice one-line character hints you've been taught to write and fill them with meat. That simple one line above could have tons of info in it. In fact, if you want a little homework I'd suggest you take a few minutes and pack that line with some meat! Change it around a little bit so that we get a fact about what the heroine's ex-boyfriend did, something that would make her sympathetic rather than overly sensitive.

I think that could be fun.

So here's my attempt... After the way her boyfriend announced his engagement to another woman  at a party she thought was meant to show her off as his new girl friend, she didn't really trust men anymore.


After the way her boyfriend fired her at a board of directors meeting to save his own behind, she really didn't trust anyone anymore.

What's yours?

Happy Monday

susan meier