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Saturday, July 11, 2009

From Thrillerfest...
Andrew Gross - Get in a scene fast and then get out.
From Thrillerfest...
Lisa Gardner - End your novel with the character that had the most at stake.
From Thrillerfest...
Gary Braver - Write about the underdog.
From Thrillerfest...
Steve Berry - Start the story as close to the end as possible.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Great Storyteller

Happy (belated) Birthday America!

Of course, I think of my brother-in-law, Brian, on every patriotic holiday. Actually, I remember him everyday, but red, white, and blue holidays are special.

MSgt Brian McAnulty was killed in Iraq on December 11, 2006. He was a lifelong Marine. His funeral celebrated his military service. He touched a lot of people and had a wonderful influence on his fellow Marines.

Until the day Brian came home in a casket, I'd never seen him in his uniform. There had been pictures, but when he visited he never wore his dress blues or camouflage. Brian was a Marine through and through, but I'll always remember him as a great storyteller.

One of my favorite stories was about a young Marine who reported to Brian. The Marine was deathly afraid of squirrels. Yes, deathly. The kid would rather jump off a cliff than face a squirrel. And the Marine had good reason. He'd been attacked by the small beasts on three occasions. (Guess it's like being struck by lightening...)

I wish I could remember all the details. But on a training mission in the mountains of California, the young Marine tried to rid the West Coast of the little buggers and Brian had to subdue the rampage. (No animals were seriously hurt in the telling of this story.)

Brian told us stories from his time in Paraguay, Iraq (Desert Storm), Korea, and Burundi. Places my family will never visit. He could describe the landscape and the conditions he endured. He could paint colorful pictures of the people (maybe not the most ordinary people you'd ever meet, but the typical crew Brian used to find). And he could make your mouth clamp shut with descriptions of the local cuisine.

Brian had his own voice. It contained a lot of four letter words and slang. (This could be a military thing, because my dad has a similar voice when talking about Vietnam.) He had a great sense of pace, humor, action, and suspense. He could draw a crowd and keep them hanging on until the last word.

To my knowledge, Brian never took a writing course. Storytelling was one of his many natural gifts. I wished he'd taken a class. Not to stifle his natural voice or correct his language, but so we'd have a few of his stories to read after he was gone.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Product Placement

We've seen it in movies and on television. Jack Bauer drives a Ford SUV. Simon Cowell drinks Coca-Cola out of a super-sized red cup. And everyone uses Apple computers. (According to Apple products have appeared in 11 number-1 movies this year.)

I've heard rumors that authors are getting in on the action, but there is little evidence that writers are being paid to promote Prada or Budweiser. Instead, characters just seem to have brand loyalties. (Think James Bond or Carrie Bradshaw.)

I see no issue with paid product placement in novels and would like to volunteer my books to the manufacturers of the world. I do have my standards and will only use products I love (or my characters need).

And until these marketers coming knocking, here's a list of products I'd gladly plug.

Secret Clinical Strength Anti-Perspirant/Deodorant - Great stuff. My heroine will apply this deodorant before going into a fist fight to save her daughter. Even in a tank top, she won't stink when she lifts her arms to throw a punch.

Dark Chocolate M&M's - I've mentioned them before in previous blogs. They are my favorite candy and I'm willing to have my protagonist addicted to them as well. Maybe she'll eat them for breakfast with her coffee because she's recently given up adding artificial sweeteners to her beverages.

Facebook - There's an obvious problem with using technology in novels. Thrown (my in-progress novel) will not likely be available until 2011. (This is me being optimistic.) By then, Facebook may be out, Twitter may be out, and something completely new will be capturing Ashton Kutcher's attention. teenage characters will be avid Facebook-ers.

Entertainment Weekly - The hilarious best-friend/sidekick character will have a subscription. She'll read the recommended books (even if the magazine seems to only like memoirs). She'll schedule her TV viewing using the "What to Watch" section. And she'll collect the covers featuring anyone from Twilight.

And, of course, all of my characters will have iPods, iPhones, and use Macs. If Apple is good enough for ...
17 Again
Hannah Montana The Movie
He's Just Not That into You
Madea Goes to Jail
Marley & Me
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Race to Witch Mountain
The Proposal
Watchmen's good enough for me.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Revision Road

Last night I finished another revision of Thrown, my novel. This should be an exciting time. A time to celebrate and brag. But this is my third trip through the novel writing process and I've learned enough to know the end is still a long way off.

Remember the long distance running scene in the movie Forrest Gump? He ran from his home in Alabama all the way to the ocean. When he got there, he turned around and kept going. When he ran to the other ocean he turned around again and kept going.

The first revision is my initial run to the Pacific Ocean. It's a nice place to be, but I know I'm going to turn around and keep going. The second draft is the run to the Atlantic. I'm usually in better shape and it goes faster. I pause to breath in the salty air before turning around. Again.
And I don't know when or where the journey will end.

In total, Forrest ran for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours. When he finished he turned to his followers and said, "I'm pretty tired... I think I'll go home now."

So far, Thrown has taken me six months and twenty-nine days. And while I'm pretty tired, it's not time to go home. I'm heading back to the sandy beaches of the Pacific (or is it the Atlantic?).

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Writing Vice

As a relatively unpublished author (I estimate that I've published 2000 of the 500,000 words I've written in the last 7 years) I have little advice to offer other writers. No substantiated tips on editing, publishing, or reaching new readers. However, I can share my tricks for motivating myself to produce.

This started last summer when I was doing a seventeenth edit on my second novel, "My Life According to Barbie." An editor from a big name NY publishing house had requested some changes. A lot of changes actually, including the title which might be my favorite 5 words in the entire book. I agreed to this next revision even without a contract, but I found myself having a difficult time getting motivated. So I developed a vice (or a system of vices).

Coffee. I didn't allow myself a cup of coffee in the morning unless I was parked in front of my laptop. Caffeine addiction can be a real motivator early in the day.

Peanut M&M's. To get editing done during the afternoon nap time I lured myself to the desk with peanut M&M's. And now they have dark chocolate peanut M&M's. I'll write a chapter for a handful of those treats. (Note: M&M's also work well to keep the word count up. Try one M&M for every fifty words produced.)

Red wine. Ohhh the benefits of a pinot noir... It's good for your heart and really gets the creative juices flowing. So when the house was quiet I'd pour a glass and get to work. One bottle of Estancia can last three nights of productive writing.

My vices will not work for everyone. A writer needs to develop her own. Gummi Worms. Smoking. Tequila. Chips and salsa. And hopefully too much of a good thing will only lead to a higher word count.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Weight Watchers for Writers

If you've never been fortunate enough to attend a WW meeting, here's how they work...

When you arrive at your weekly meeting, you get in line for your weigh in. (Usually you commiserate with the woman next to you about how "bad" you were that week.) Then it's your turn you step on the scale - not before removing shoes and emptying your pockets of cell phone, keys, change, and lint. Only the WW employee can see your weight. She jots it down in your progress folder. If you lost weight, she'll congratulates you. If you gained weight she'll ask you where you went wrong?

After your weigh in you join the others for your "group session". A WW leader kicks off the meeting by giving out prizes (like bookmarks, stickers or key chains) to those who've lost 5lbs, 20lbs, 10% or attained their goal weight. If you are a success this is your chance to share your story and receive polite applause.

The final portion of the meeting is run by the WW leader. She gives out recipes and advice for the upcoming week. (Fat-free Cool Whip plus fat-free pudding plus a can of light fruit cocktail equals 3-point Thanksgiving dessert.) Your hour is over. You say good-bye to your fellow WW classmates and vow to do better next week.

This is the kind of writing group I need.

Each week I'll carry in my typed pages. As I wait in line I'll ask the guy next to me, "How did ya do?" Of course, he'll have done great - finishing his third novel of the year.

When it's my turn, I'll hand over my pages to the woman running the word-count machine. I'll make excuses as the calculator churns.
"The kids were sick."
"My in-laws came to visit."
"HBO ran an Entourage marathon."
The woman behind the table will shake her head. 819 words. Not a good week when my daily goal is 1000.
"Stick with it," she'll say to be encouraging. "Everyone has an off week." Or seven.

I'll sit alone as the meeting begins. I won't want anyone to ask me for my numbers. The leader will hand out pens to those who wrote more than 10,000 words in the last week. A new journal will go to the few who've completed their novel. And a paperweight to the one gal who signed with a New York publisher since our last meeting. She'll receive around of jealous applause. (And I'll be certain to ask for a reference when I get to that step of the publishing process.)

The leader will then pepper us with encouragement and advice.
"Get up early and write before anyone else in the house is awake," she'll say.
"Set daily goals and share them with your spouse. Ask for support."
"Don't waste time writing in a diary and definitely do NOT blog."
"Write what you know."
"Remember JK Rowling received 12 rejections on her first Harry Potter book."

And even though "12 rejections" is nothing. I'll leave the meeting feeling revived, enthusiastic, motivated, on-my-way to greater things, and a bit hungry. I'll rush home to my computer (with drive-thru in hand) check e-mails, pop on Facebook, update my Blog (something really short), check the clearance sandals on and then, if time allows, I'll write.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Launch

Thanks for visiting my blog. I have some high hopes for this site and would love to hear your feedback. You can comment here or send me an e-mail.

Please come back and check out my online drama "Step". (A continuing saga about a fictional step family.)

I will also be chronicling my writing career. Cry (and drink) with me during rejections and celebrate (and drink) with me during the small successes.

And of course, there will be the occasional family anecdote. How can there not be?