Monday, May 19, 2014

Hop Like a Writer

Some hop, but that's not how I roll...
My friend, blogger, writer, and fellow #Write2TheEnd facilitator Kim Jorgensen Gane, of GANE Possible, invited me to participate in this blog hop, in which writerly people discuss writerly things. I am honored to be included.

Being a part of such a blog hop is a great excuse to be able to talk about one's own writing. ("I didn't ask the questions! They did!")

So, for those of you who've been wondering what I've been up to -- especially if you follow me on Twitter and see me posting pictures of falcons, researching the history of crossbows, and talking about the crazy crush I've developed on the character who was originally the novel's antagonist, but who looks (in my mind) so much like Christian Kane it's impossible NOT to love him -- come, hop with me!

Blog Hop Questions: 

1.) What am I working on/writing? 
My current project is an epic historical fantasy set in pre-Arthurian Britain. "Before Camelot, there was Shalott."

KNIGHT FALL -- the tale of a good guy who goes bad, a bad boy who tries to be good, and the women behind the scenes who are pulling their strings -- is the first of three books in the series.

Finishing the trilogy is my top priority for 2014. If I don't, several longsuffering beta readers who have been waiting for this story have sworn to lynch me.

2.) How does my work/writing differ from others in its genre?
The problem w/ dream casting: characters steal the story...
I rarely write characters who are black and white. I'm more interested in the subtle, seemingly insignificant, everyday happenings that can tip the balance of allegiance. History in hindsight often follows a path that seems clear and true. But to those living through it, their choices are much murkier.

My writing spends time with the people who don't realize (and, if I do my job right, neither does the reader, at first) how much hinges on every decision they make. I want to tell a story that explains the origin of legends we accept as canon. That involves focusing on the people relegated to the shadows at least as much as those who have stolen the limelight.

3.) Why do I write what I do?
This project began as an obsession with Tennyson's poem "The Lady of Shalott." First, I wrote the screenplay, focusing on the tale of star-crossed lovers -- a damaged knight on the edge of legend, and the imprisoned girl who holds his heart.

But the story stuck with me and insisted on more attention. So I spent a NaNoWriMo November turning script into novel, which resulted in 80,000 words and the realization that I had enough story for three books. The project overwhelmed me because I didn't have the time to dedicate to it, so I shelved it while I wrote a few books for clients and edited a major project for the USHJA. But my medieval characters -- especially the aforementioned antagonist, who has now commandeered a starring role in the entire series -- wouldn't leave me alone.

Why do I write what I do? Because I can't shake it off. I can't shelve it. The characters in it are as real to me as people I know. And I'm the only one who knows their story. If I don't write it, no one will.

4.) How does my writing process work?
My process is different when working on contracted projects for other people. But I'm going to answer this question solely with regards to working on my own, "spec" stuff....

At the beginning of the year, I made a resolution to dedicate a portion of my time every day to working on my own writing projects.

This may seem like a no-brainer ("A writer writes!"), but it was the end result of a difficult, soul-searching process. See, I write a lot. All the time. Much of the day. But I had allowed working on others' writing projects -- helping with research, or brainstorming, or editing, or book-doctoring, or mentoring, or muse-ing -- to take precedence over my own writing.

Why can't I get the blasted ball rolling...?
One day, after working for eight uninterrupted hours, I realized that I had put in many eight-or-more hour days over the past few months, but hadn't written Word One on my novel. I talked about it, made copious notes in the wee hours of the morning when my characters interrupted my dreams and insisted I pay attention to them, and dreamed of that wonderful day when I would have nothing to do but write.

But that day never came. If I allowed it -- and for the greater part of the past few years I have allowed it -- I spent my creative energies helping other people solve their writing problems instead of working to solve my own.


I wrestled with the question through most of the last holiday season. It took me weeks to finally hit upon the reason:

Working on my own writing was fun. Really fun. And for some inexplicable reason, I had allowed myself to make "fun" synonymous with "not important." Therefore, I was only allowing myself to do it when everything else -- clients' work, laundry, meal-making, housework, chores, etc. -- was finished. Which never happened. Kind of like my writing time.

So, since January, a huge part of my process has been to reclaim my writing time, to jealously guard it, to value it, and to make it a priority.

I rent studio space (which I affectionately call The Burrow). The space is mine, all mine! It contains only items directly related to my current project. Every single thing within its walls pertains to my work in progress.

I go to The Burrow at least four days a week. There, from 9 a.m. till 3 p.m., while the kids are in school, I write.

I start the day old-school, with a cup of coffee, a pad of paper, a pen, and my dog at my feet. I write out my next chapter longhand, as long as the muse strikes.

(I have learned that I am weak and the internet is my kryptonite. If I come to work and immediately fire up the computer, as I used to do, hours can evaporate as I check my emails, get on Twitter, and follow the various rabbit holes of social media. Since I know my own weaknesses, I choose not to feed them. I will not get on my computer until I have at least one whole chapter written down. Then, if I fall down a rabbit hole, at least my day has been productive, and I have dedicated the best part of myself to my writing, instead of watching YouTube videos of funny dogs.)

So far, this process is serving me well. I'm making regular, solid progress on the book, and am loving where my characters are taking me. As the school year comes to a close, I have already informed my family that I will keep my writing schedule during the summer. I refuse to let my commitment waver. I am blessed to have their support. (My husband is an alpha reader, which helps, because he keeps clamoring for the next chapter...)

I guess my short answer to the question is that the biggest part of my process is making my writing a priority.

Enough about me.

I am thrilled to pass the Bloggy Hoppy torch to YA fantasy writer Alyson Peterson (@crzywritergrl) and crime novelist Marguerite Ashton (@msashton_writer). Check out their posts next Monday, Memorial Day, May 26.

Alyson PetersonAlyson Peterson is an amazing writer, with acerbic wit and snappy snark to spare. (She's also a fabulous artist, but that's another story...)

She writes about wizards and displaced heirs and interplanetary mayhem and magical horses. If you like young adult urban fantasy, you should be clamoring for a publisher to discover Alyson and get her books in print -- STAT! My 11 year-old daughter is an avid reader, who ranks Alyson's books right up there with Harry Potter and the Warriors series. Seriously. She's that good. Someday you'll see.

In the meantime, while she's waiting to be discovered, she blogs about life at Dirty Green Jello. Go check her out. She's aces.

Crime writer Marguerite Ashton is a founder of the popular blog Criminal Lines and Co-founder of the Crime Writers’ Panel. There, she works alongside Joe Giacalone with other panel members to educate writers on the importance of showing accurate portrayals of criminal investigations and law enforcement procedures in their novels.

Marguerite's radio show, Criminal Lines Radio airs bi-monthly, bringing together law enforcement and authors in an open forum.

A member of Sisters in Crime, Marguerite grew up in Colorado, but now resides in Wisconsin, where she is currently working on her next book. (Which I've read and helped edit. You'll love it! I promise!)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Four Words Every Writer Needs to Hear

(Note: this is an updated version of a post from several years ago. Why? Because every writer STILL needs to hear these four words...)

In 2000, while attending the Maui Writer's Conference, I had an eye-opening, life-changing experience. I had scrounged up money that was earmarked for things like house payments, food, and insurance (you know: frivolities) and had jetted halfway around the world hoping to further my career.

I had been a featured presenter at some smaller writers conferences, had a finished YA manuscript, and a screenplay that had held its own in the Nicholl and Austin film competitions. Other than some magazine articles, I had nothing of note in print. The Maui conference appealed to me because it featured panels on both screenwriting and fiction writing. And because it offered pitching sessions with Real Live Agents. And so, knowing I had much to learn (and hoping to find someone who thought I was brilliant and who signed me immediately), I went to Paradise.

I learned many things.

One of the most painful was that I had no idea how to pitch. (How fast can you say "crash and burn?" Believe me, it takes longer to say than to do!)

One of the most helpful was that the agents & film industry professionals were not interested in eating me alive. (I am eternally grateful to Alison Rosenzweig for suffering through my first-ever pitch attempt. My thoughts: "Oh my God, I'm babbling and I can't shut up! Someone please kill me now." I can only imagine hers. She let me regroup, kindly offered some suggestions, and let me practice on her. Bless her.)

But by far the most influential thing I discovered was that Someone Out There believed I would make it.

Here's what happened:

After a panel discussion with Hollywood insiders on the realities of the film business, they fielded general questions. Someone asked the inevitable "Why does Hollywood keep saying they're looking for great writing while churning out bad movies?"

(I remind you that the year 2000 saw such film releases as "Memento," "Requiem for a Dream," "X-Men," "Gladiator," "American Psycho" (which I still maintain is a comedy), "Castaway" and "Chocolat." Ok, it's true, it also inflicted "Scary Movie," "Charlie's Angels," "Me, Myself & Irene," and "Battlefield Earth" on humanity. But still: it wasn't a terrible year...)

The panelist, a VP of Production at Paramount, answered the question using the analogy of ordering ice cream to feed a group. Individual members of the group may like various flavors, but the group as a whole probably won't all agree on something extravagant like Double Chocolate Macademia Nut or Salted Caramel. And so, in the end, everyone goes with tried and true: Vanilla.

This kicked off a spirited discussion about the ills of the industry and a general trashing of the state of filmmaking.

Finally, I couldn't stand it. I stood and said that I was happy every time I went and saw a bad movie. It gave me hope. Because as long as Hollywood continues to make bad films, I find it easy to believe with all my heart that they need me.

Afterward, the Paramount bigwig tracked me down, introduced himself and shook my hand. He told me he liked what I'd said. Then he said the four words that I'd been desperate to hear:

"You will make it."

I remember very little of the rest of the conference. Four years passed before I got a book deal. I'm still working at finding the chink in the film industry's armor that will let me in. But those words, coming from someone who wasn't related to me, fueled my determination to persevere in ways that the speaker will never know.

I daresay that there is a secret to sticking with any artistic endeavor through the inevitable rejections and dry patches that accompany a creative career, and it is this: Find someone who believes in your success and who tells you that you will make it.

If you're in southwestern Michigan this summer, and looking for a community of writers who will band together to jointly support you while kicking your butt to achieve the goals you have set for yourself, I encourage you to consider joining us at the #Write2TheEnd Writer's Workshop, beginning in June. If you're not in southwestern Michigan, consider starting your own #Write2TheEnd chapter.

Even if we don't immediately achieve our goals and realize our dreams, knowing that someone out there is pulling for us to do so encourages us to make progress on them. And progress, not perfection, is the key to ultimate success.

If you're a writer, an artist, or a creative soul, and you are looking for a reason to keep on keeping on, here it is:

Keep learning.

Keep creating.

Keep growing.

Keep putting your work out there.

Never give up your dreams. And one day, you'll see --

You will make it.