Friday, February 28, 2020

"...Came In Like a Wrecking Ball....

By Charlotte Bennardo

This month, the first topic is about Hot Breakfast month but I rarely do hot breakfasts because it's easier just to eat a bowl of Raisin Bran. Everyone is out of the house very early so there's no one to cook for and I taught my boys in middle school they have to be responsible not only for their own laundry, but for their own breakfast.

The other topic for the month is how do I get started on a project.

I'm in a restaurant, or walking down the street, or reading the news- and BAM! A new idea hits me like the wrecking ball in that Miley Cyrus song/video. My brain goes into overdrive, instantly formulating plot, twists, endings, characters. In a few minutes of frenetic brain activity, I have a general concept for a new book. Hopefully I remember to write it down, because the next day, another idea might hit me and crowd out the details of the other brilliant idea.

Once written down, I go to Wikipedia (hush for a moment, you'll see where I'm going with this) and get basic information. At the bottom of each Wikipedia page is a list of citations. I sort through those which are solid: academic papers, news reports, memoirs, non-fiction books, etc. (See? not all Wikipedia is bad). I probably spend several days Googling info because I get sidetracked, as more thoughts about plot and characters and possible other stories slam around in my head. Sometimes, it gets a little crowded in there...

Photo by Ana Bregantin from Pexels 

I make copious notes. As a former newspaper reporter, magazine writer, and paralegal who had to write concisely, I don't want to omit anything that might be important to the story later on. Many times, I have too much information, which requires me to sort through for the most salient facts. Many times throughout a manuscript, I refer back to my notes, or have to do more research, so that's on ongoing thing. Plus, I try to find pictures either of the characters or something that has to do with the idea. With Sirenz 3: A New Trend, I kept a copy of Sirenz 2: Back In Fashion on my desk because it has the picture of Hades and it helped me remember his character (such a suave beast). 

I always have a beginning and an end, so it's that whole middle part that's tough. Over the years I've discovered that being a 'pantster' (writing by the seat of your pants- whatever comes to mind) is great for beginning a novel, but not sustainable for the whole book. So now I outline; one sentence per chapter. Then I'll go back and make it several sentences per chapter. Usually I try to create bios for my main characters: what they look like, their flaws, a secret they have, a bit of background, etc. I don't like to make their profiles too specific because they have to tell me about themselves as we more forward into the story. 

And then I write, for hours on end when I can, or every 15 minutes I can take a break from other things that need to get done in my life like cooking, cleaning, errands, etc.

Once the draft is done, I put it away as I work on revisions for a previous manuscript. I always have several I'm working on, whether it's a #NaNoWriMo project from a previous year, or an old manuscript in the 'fix me' drawer. After that revision is done, it's back to my new project to do the first of many run throughs and revisions. 

Not rocket science, but it works for me.

Eating What Faulkner Ate for Breakfast Doesn't Make You Faulkner

In 1950, William Faulkner was so famous that he was pretty sick and tired of people wanting to come to Oxford, Mississippi, to get a look at him. He was also annoyed with the fan mail he received. "Now I get stacks of letters asking what I eat for breakfast and what about curves and linear discreteness," he wrote to a friend. "Suppose I ought to answer them, but I don't."

Why would anyone care what William Faulkner ate for breakfast? Because he was William Faulkner.

At this very moment, I could read any number of articles online or in magazines that will tell me which eye cream Jennifer Lopez uses or what trick Kerry Washington swears by for her glowing skin or which diet plan Jennifer Aniston follows to stay so slim and trim. And I could buy said eye cream or try said trick or eat said food and guess what? I would still not look like J-Lo, Kerry, or "Rachel."

But hey, the eye cream might be worth a try, right?

Same thing with writers. People always want to know the "tricks" or routines successful writers use. And sometimes they're especially helpful. No kidding--I'm reading a book right now that lays out which page of a manuscript each plot point should fall on, and it's amazing. But if William Faulkner ate squirrel dumplings for breakfast every morning, that doesn't mean that if I do the same, I'll suddenly become the writer that Faulkner was. (Thank goodness because I don't want to eat squirrel dumplings.)

So far, the only successful "trick" I know of for writing comes from a shoe company: JUST DO IT. Work steadily and work hard.

Of course, if you know of anything easier and more foolproof, I'm all ears. Just as long as I don't have to eat a squirrel.

Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Writing the First Draft of Your Novel: Don’t Fear the First Draft Mess – Holly Schindler

My first draft is a complete and utter…


What it is not is disorganized or unruly or chaotic.

Doesn’t make much sense, does it? We’re trained to think of a mess as something out of control. Something untamable, even. Something that needs to be fixed.

After going through the first-draft process as many times as I have, I’ve come to welcome the mess. I’m also able to deal with it in a much more streamlined way—because I’ve learned to accept the mess.

Here’s my process:

1. Outline. This is also not a neat process. It’s not some tidy little outline with points A, B, C, subpoints 1, 2, 3, all laid out. It’s paragraphs. It’s sketches. It’s a giant wad of brainstorming. I write about the characters—their wants, their needs. I figure out the main plot points. I branch off into the possible subplots.

2. I REVISE MY OUTLINE. I’m not kidding. I hone it, get rid of points or characters that I don’t think will work. I figure out the shape of the overall novel. (You might want to check out some books on plotting here—you can start with Save the Cat or even Googling the beats for your genre.)

3. I write random chapters. This works because I also use Scrivener for drafting. Each chapter appears in the “Binder” on the left side of the screen. I write whatever appeals to me that day—whatever scene I find the most intriguing.

4. I REVISE MY OUTLINE. This is inevitable. After a few chapters, I’ve happened upon a few ideas that I never could have anticipated. It gives me new ideas for how the story should be structured. What the turning-point should be. What the best sub-plots are.

5. I write more random chapters. See #3.

At this point, the whole thing looks like an apartment that’s half-moved-into. Open cardboard boxes all over the place. And it will probably get messier, because I'll alternate between #4 and #5 for a while.

But don’t worry, because we’re soon on to the next step, which is one of the most fun:

6. Move the chapters into order. In Scrivener, you can just drag and drop your chapters.

7. Finally, I write a narrative thread connecting all the scenes and linking the chapters together.

Voila! The first full draft of the novel is now complete. And it’s complete because I embraced the mess right from the beginning. Seriously—it’s soooo tempting to write chronologically. To go for that edited-as-I-go nice neat draft. In my experience, the “neat” drafts are deceiving. There’s far more work tht needs to be done to a draft written chronologically and tidily than to one written messily.

Go for it—embrace the mess!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

A True Story: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

     A five-year-old boy zooms up on his bike on my walk through the neighborhood.

     “Who are you, lady?” he asks.

     “I’m a woman who writes poetry to the moon.” I had just spent the morning writing a poem to the moon.

     “You are not." He keeps pedaling. “Where do you live?” 

      A little girl runs up.

     “I live," I say, "in a house on the other side of the moon.”

     “You do not," he says.

     “Yes, I do, in my imagination. You can live anywhere in the house of your imagination." I stop walking and look at both children. "What house do you live in, in your imagination?”

     “A house on a rainbow,” the little girl says.

     “Wonderful!’ I say as a second little girl runs up. I start walking again and all the children follow me.

     “Tell me where you really live!” the little boy demands.

     “I did," I say. "The other side of the moon.”

     “You're lying! I’m a policeman. I’ll lock you up for lying. I’ve got handcuffs.”

     I hold out my hands. “OK. Put them on.”

    He hesitates. “They’re in the house.”

     “Well," I say, "then use imaginary ones.” I keep holding out my hands.

     He looks at me. Looks at my hands. Something hangs in the balance. I wonder if he can do it, relinquish the concrete, the literal, and enter imagination.

     "OK!" At last he slaps on imaginary handcuffs. "There!"

     I look around at all the children. They're all grinning now. “Who has the key to let me out?”

      “I do, I do!” cries Rainbow Girl. “I’ll unlock you.” She does.

     “Thank you so much. That feels much better." I rub my wrists and start walking. The children, now joined by another small boy, run after me. I'm starting to feel like the Pied Piper. "Goodbye. I have to go home now."

     “TELL ME WHERE YOUR REALLY LIVE!” First Boy just can’t stand it.

     I stop. “I’ll tell you where I really live, if you tell me where you live in the house of your  imagination.”

     He squints.Taps his head under his helmet. “Right here.”

     “I live yonder.” I point in the distance.

     "I lied!" the little boy crows. "I live there." He points to his very concrete house.

     “I have to go now," I say. "Remember, you can always live anywhere in your imagination. Bye.” I start walking again. The children still run after me, all grinning wildly.

     “I live in the Blue in my imagination,” Second Girl calls.

     “That's lovely! "Smiling, I shoo the children away with one hand. “Run along home now.”

     They grin and all run back to their houses.

This is an almost verbatim report of my conversation with those four children a few days ago. I was struck by how hard it was for the boy to engage in imaginary play, although the other three children seemed overjoyed. Maybe at last they had found an adult who knew how to play. And maybe, they need more adults in their lives who know how to play.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Ordinary Inspired Life

The inspiration for all my books has come from very ordinary, every day experiences.

The character of Ratchet was inspired by my knowledge of how to take apart and put together a small engine. 

My inspiration for Abigail came from my awkwardness during my own childhood.

The inspiration for Just Like Me came from my daughter's experience as an Asian adopted by an American family.

The inspiration to write a book set in the Okefenokee Swamp came from my own fascination with this mysterious place full of history and folklore.

The character of Samantha, who visits her grandma at a condo complex in Florida, came from my own summer experience of spending time at a similar place.

The early reader series I am currently working on is inspired by Ginger, our five-pound, 
Toy Cockapoo.

Finding ideas to write about is not magic. All it takes is paying attention to experiences, memories, and interesting people and places. And once you get into the habit of doing that, you'll realize there are amazing ideas around every ordinary twist and turn of your daily life.

Happy Reading & Writing,
Nancy J. Cavanaugh

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Origin of Writing Ideas

I would like to think that ideas for novels arise from some fantastical, magical place. In stardust that makes its way to earth, from the roots of a dream in full slumber under a full moon, beneath an old stone bridge in the cold creek rushing by.

The truth is – ideas come from everywhere. For me, it’s often in the most common of places. And quite often, in inopportune places. The shower, for example, or during a family meal. During a midday nap. Or an outdoor jog. Times when I can’t easily or not-rudely reach for a pen or my phone to sketch down the idea. In which I profess to myself, “I’ll remember that idea even if I don’t write it down.”

Sometimes I don’t remember that idea if I don’t write it down.

Okay, most of the time I don’t remember that idea if I don’t write it down.

I suppose the good news is that ideas are renewable. They replenish as we live life and go about our most normal of days. Sometimes I think these are the best ideas – not the magical ones just above reach – but rather the ones that relate to everyday life and people.

To be a good writer, you also have to be many other things. You have to gain experience and meet new people and engage yourself in the world. Sometimes, out of your comfort zone. It’s how we bend and change and learn the world – and also learn ourselves. It is in these places that the best writing ideas come from, I think.

Simply living our lives.

The good news? That means we all have the chance to become a writer, and to stay a writer.

Just keep living.

Happy reading!