Writing Process

I’m taking a few minutes from my day job (writing) to write about my passion (also writing), thanks to my friend and writing partner, Angélique Jamail.

Q: What am I working on at the moment?

A: Aside from the 20+ advertorials and profile pieces I write each month for UpClose Magazine, I’m also working on my second novel and a few short stories. The short story is a literary piece on ambiguous loss and I’m at the point now where I have the majority of it…I just have to keep putting in the right bits and taking the excess out. The novel is a crime novel set in Providence RI. It’s the sequel to one I wrote that earned me representation by an agent, but then failed to find a home at a major publishing house. I’ve written 7/8th’s of it, and have gone back to the beginning and am a third of the way through the revisions.

Q: How does my work differ from others of its genre?

A: I’m always trying to find a balance between the action and the interiority of the characters. Who they are informs what they do. I don’t know if that makes me different, but it’s what keeps me interested.

Q: Why do I write what I do?

A: I’ve been told that for a “basically happy person I write some seriously unhappy fiction.”

My short fiction is a way to deal with places I feel emotional friction. Relationships, lack of closure, longing for connection. I let my subconscious play around and use imagery and mood, experiment with form.

My novels are definitely entertainment and I prefer crime (or murder mysteries) probably because I find death one of the major problems. Being human means we are finite, and for someone to cut short the life we might have lived is a terrible thing. But to read about it or to watch it or to write about it (hopefully) serves as a reminder about how good living is.

Q: How does my writing process work?

A: Some days like this one, my writing is one tab among many on my laptop. When I was pulling into the garage on my way back from an interview for the magazine, I realized the scene I’ve been trying to revise needs to be told from a different POV. I’d already tried a different location, but that wasn’t the issue at all. And I couldn’t have done it from this perspective initially, because the right character was still a bit of an enigma to me the first go-round.

I rack up the words by typing when I have the chance, writing longhand when I can’t stand to look at the screen anymore, and setting artificial deadlines for myself. I have two amazing writing groups…and their feedback is worth pushing myself to finish a few more pages than I might have on my own. I also meet Angélique Jamail on Saturday mornings at 7am to write before taking the kids to karate, or a soccer game, or a birthday party.

And I will say that writing for a living, while it can make me tired of looking at a computer screen, does remind me that putting words on a page is not a mystical process. Getting them right takes work, not magic. The magic is knowing that there are an infinite number of stories to be told.

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Fashion Friday 8/30/13

sarahwarburtonwriter:

Hey…as long as Angelique keeps asking me, I’ll keep giving my “fashion” tips….see this week’s guest post:

Originally posted on Sappho's Torque:

This week’s guest post comes to us from Sarah Warburton, who previously brought us the hand-knitted Tardis socks.  She’s been at it again, this time incorporating poetry into her clothes.  I’m totally stealing this idea, just as soon as she teaches me how to do it myself!

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Are You the Problem or the Solution?

Do any of you remember the analytical portion of the GREs? My friend Tracy described it as “the test where seven kids wear red and seven wear blue, so you need to identify how many love Shakespeare.” I loved that portion, because it’s exactly the kind of problem-solving we all need on a daily basis. If you have to drop one child at gymnastics at 3, make a phone call between 2 and 4, pick up groceries (including milk), drop off cookies (from the grocery store) at church, and pick the child back up at 4, in what order do you accomplish these tasks? Remember: no phone calls while driving, the milk will start to turn in 30 minutes of the Texas heat, and the child needs to be absent or have a cookie to be quiet during the phone call.

 

The problem with being good at problem-solving is that fiction is largely about problem-creating. If things go well for your main character, you aren’t writing an exciting novel. Dennis Lehane said in an interview with the Drood Review: “I mean, poor Patrick, his worst enemy isn’t himself or some deranged murderer, it’s me.” http://www.droodreview.com/features/lehane.htm

 

So how to solve the problem of solving your characters’ problems too easily?  I’m approaching the end of a novel and the analytical portion of my brain is working overtime to make everything run smoothly. So before I write a scene I stop and jot down notes. What do my characters want most of all? What scares them? I want my characters to be terrified…because then they make reckless, exciting choices that throw a wrench into the natural order of events. 

 

For Fun:

 

Sample Question from www.lsac.org (answers to come in post later this week)

 

Seven piano students — T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z — are to give a recital, and their instructor is deciding the order in which they will perform. Each student will play exactly one piece, a piano solo. In deciding the order of performance, the instructor must observe the following restrictions:

  1. X cannot play first or second.
  2. W cannot play until X has played.
  3. Neither T nor Y can play seventh.
  4. Either Y or Z must play immediately after W plays.
  5. V must play either immediately after or immediately before U plays.

 

If V plays first, which one of the following must be true?

  1. T plays sixth.
  2. X plays third.
  3. Z plays seventh.
  4. T plays immediately after Y.
  5. W plays immediately after X.

 

If U plays third, what is the latest position in which Y can play?

  1. first
  2. second
  3. fifth
  4. sixth
  5. seventh

 

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Stuck in a Scene

Have you ever started something, estimated how long it would take (a hour or so) and realized later that you’d been working on it for over a week? I walked into this scene in my novel with a clear idea of who, where, when, what, and even why…Jamie in the police department the next day interrogates a suspect in the shooting that opened the novel and gets a message from his CO that sends him off to City Hall so he can a) get a little forward momentum on both cases and b) have the real job and the undercover one intersect briefly. But writing the scene in the interrogation room has been slow, slow, slow. I put a place holder in (literally “They have an exchange”) and jumped ahead…and have come back, and back, and back. Is it because I, like Jamie, have come to rely on Coal, his brash and shady partner to move the action forward? I do think Jamie’s got some changin’ to do over the course of this novel. His partner and his love interest can’t be the impetus for the action any more.

If I say I’m going to finish this scene by the end of the morning, am I kidding myself?

What do you do when you’re stuck in an endless scene?

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When Life Throws Lemons at You

Earlier this week the mystery writer Sara Paretsky posted on Facebook about a “anti-fan” letter she’d received and I just heard from another friend that she’d gotten static back from a contest that she judged. I’m not much for self-help philosophies, but there are two things I do when someone out there does something rotten that brings me down.

1. Take a page from the book “You Can Be Happy No Matter What” (by R. Carlson of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”) and try to remember that each person has their own world view that has very little to do with me. I didn’t inspire it and I can’t change it.

2. Make a donation to Doctors Without Borders (or another cause for good in the world). If the thing made me feel really rotten, I may dig through my house for stuff to donate to Goodwill or the food bank.

It’s always easier for some people to write a letter of complaint than a letter of compliment. I’m trying hard not to be that kind of person and not to let the negativity drag me down. (Although I’m not afraid to write a reasonable letter of complaint, I’m trying to balance each one with a letter of praise to someone who deserves it.)

What do you do when people suck?

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When Garden Gnomes Attack

or more correctly “How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack” by the editor of Writers Digest, Chuck Sambuchino. My kids aren’t afraid of garden gnomes (yet) so I picked up this book at the Writers Conference. Language a little over their heads…but I’ve picked up valuable pieces of information including: “A gnome will use his decided size advantage to impale and immobilize you while the others attack en masse from nearby shrubbery.” I’m a little nervous about the gnome Tim gave me for my birthday…is he an advance scout?

In other book-related news, reading a great new book on story craft. Strictly speaking, it’s on screenwriting, but it’s extremely useful for novelists and (I think) would be entertaining for people who are interested in movies in general…why they work and why they don’t. “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder. Available on Kindle, because that’s how I’m reading it.

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Houston Writers Guild Conference

Just returned from the Houston Writers Guild Conference.

Highlights:

1. Meeting the talented Nikki Loftin in person. I had the honor of reading her entry “Gingerbread” in the novel contest last year. I’m relieved to say I gave it a perfect score…as it will be coming out under the title “The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy.” From Publishers Marketplace “Nikki Loftin’s debut novel THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY, pitched as Coraline meets Hansel and Gretel, about a young girl whose seemingly delightful new school hides frightening secrets, to Laura Arnold at Razorbill, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2012, by Suzie Townsend at Fineprint Literary Management (World).”

I look forward to reading more than the first ten pages!

2. Hearing Chuck Sambuchino speak…and answer questions. Great blog about agents/finding one/what they want/etc at http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/

Fortunately, I have an agent that I love, but Chuck still had excellent advice I need to take to heart. “Throw away your remote control.” I’ve got to stop worrying that “this novel is taking too long” and start spending more time on it so it ultimately will take less time. More hours per day=less days overall.

3. Chris Rodgers gave an inspiring nuts and bolts look at the Writer’s Toolkit. My takeaway? In every scene have your character chasing the ball, catching the ball or dodging the ball.

4. Being around inspiring, interesting writers, editors, and agents. I enjoyed speaking with Sarah Cortez, the writer, poet, editor of anthologies, and cop, Nina Godiwalla, author of the new memoir “Suits on Wall Street,” hearing Rodney Walther, author of the novel “Broken Laces” lay open the world of self-publishing, and getting an inside look at traditional publishing from Terri Bischoff, editor at Midnight Ink. Also heard an excellent talk on the perfect pitch from Katherine Sands, author of (my bible this time last year) “Making the Perfect Pitch.” My fellow Writers Ink member, Trakena Prevost must have made some excellent pitches, as she got several manuscript requests at this conference, too!

Once again, Roger Paulding put together an impressive line-up. Hopefully I can convince Stacey Keith my co-judge from this year’s writing contest to do a little guest blogging…while we’re both still fired up.

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