Journeys of the Heart

An author's journey

Eat, Drink And Plot!

rt 2008 redu (2)Starting a new book?  Written your characters into a corner?  Plot holes that need to be filled?  Then you might want to consider a plot party.  Members of the Pocono Lehigh Valley Romance Writers have been doing just that for almost ten years.  Inspired by an article I read years ago about several famous authors (whose names sadly I’ve now forgotten) who got together one weekend a year to work out all their plot problems, I hosted the first one in my living room.  After the first successful event, other members took over.  This past weekend I had the pleasure of playing hostess once again. 

The weather cooperated and ten authors, some published, some not, gathered on my deck.  My dining room table almost groaned under the lavish treats required to fuel this creative endeavor.  Plates piled high with cheese, crackers, raw veggies and dip, chicken salad pita sandwiches, apple pie and much more, plus drinks, we began.  In order to be fair to everyone and to keep the brainstorming sessions running smoothly, names were drawn from a basket.  A time limit of 15-20 minutes per story was agreed upon. 

The stories ran the entire genre gamut from paranormal and historical romance, suspense and middle-grade mystery to women’s fiction, YA and erotic supernatural thriller.  We even discussed a nonfiction proposal for a workshop on promotion. 

Ideas flowed freely, no doubt assisted by all the carbs and sugar we had ingested.  By the end of the afternoon, everyone who attended went home with a list of suggestions to fill in plot holes, add complications or shore up a characters motives and/or the story’s conflict.

 It’s not necessary to be part of a big writer’s group to try something like this.  The party principle works just as well with critique groups or a few trusted friends whose input you value.  By its very nature, writing is a solitary occupation, but when it comes to working on your next plot you don’t have to do it in a vacuum.  You can have fun and generate great ideas.  After all, everyone loves a great party. 

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July 13, 2009 Posted by | Writer's Life | 2 Comments

Going Away to Write!

rt-2008-reduI spent the past weekend at a writers’ retreat with five other authors from my local RWA chapter at a comfortable home on a lake in the Poconos.  After we all settled in, a three hour adventure for some of us (but that’s another story), we gathered around the big kitchen table and set our goals.  We’ve found that doing this gives the weekend structure and keeps us on task, something that could be difficult given the company, the location and the really good book I’d packed as my reward for working hard all day. 

Out of curiosity, I googled writers’ retreats.  1,890,000 sites were available for my perusal.  Obviously lots of other writers, artists and just plain tired folks are seeking time away from the hectic pace of their daily lives.  From the few sites I looked at, it seems that you can find a retreat to gladden your heart in just about any corner of the globe.  I found them listed from California to New York to England.  In addition to some beautiful facilities and vistas, all of them offered distance, perspective, relaxation, rejuvenation and renewal.  Sounds good to me—which is why I forked over my $30.00 and a cooler full of salad greens to escape to the Poconos. 

During the next two days, I managed to finish up notes on an article on Victorian jewelry, gather information, outline and brainstorm a possible workshop, brainstorm the sequel to Witch Ball, have a critique session on my current work in progress and interview my companions for an article for our group’s newsletter.  Having accomplished all this, there was still plenty of time for conversation, most of it about writing, drinking wine and critiquing and brainstorming other authors’ projects. 

France, Costa Rica and Tahiti all sound alluring.  But for now I’ll stick closer to home.  If you haven’t treated yourself to the experience yet, it’s well worth considering, especially if you can find a retreat site at a reasonable price.  You won’t be sorry.  The writing rewards are boundless.

 For more information about writers’ retreats, Google  “Shawguides to Writers Conferences and Workshops” for an extensive list of possibilities.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | Writer's Life | 4 Comments

Weaving the Words

rt-2008-redu1My third book, Threads of Love, is now available as a digital book from Cerridwen Press.  Even though I’ve been here before, I must confess I get a thrill seeing my cover and name splashed across the front of the available now page.  The book is a medieval romance set in the 1300s with the theme of learning how to let go of the past and move on with your life, a problem many folks battle with in our century.  More than my first two books, I struggled with the plot elements.  The story meandered all over the place.  More than once I thought about abandoning the entire book, but Aislinn and Garrett had other ideas.  They nagged and prodded me through what seemed like hundreds of rewrites until I got their story right.

 

Finding the proper pattern and then intertwining it with the other threads of storytelling that make for a textured book, is often a lonely difficult journey.  Along the way I found many books that helped me with the process.  Writer’s Digest has an incredible series called Everyday Life in…that covers all the details of daily life in different eras.  Alison Carter’s Underwear; the Fashion History was helpful as was John Peacock’s Costume 1066-1990s.  Of course the Medieval Wordbook by Madeleine Pelner Cosman was essential to keeping my character’s voices authentic.  Topping my list was Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict.  Without her book, I’m not sure I’d have ever figured out the real story.

 

Research, continual revisions and a patient critique group who hung in there with me as I strung and restrung the loom of my book, helped me to weave the words into the story I’d envisioned for so long in my head.  Now I’m working on a new book set in another galaxy with a different kind of weaver, a dream spinner.  Like weaving and spinning, getting the words right requires a blend of art and skill.  As my writer friends know, ‘it ain’t easy’.  Still, we’ll keep searching for the right characters and conflicts and the right words to weave into satisfying and entertaining stories.  My loom is calling.  Happy weaving.

 

threadsoflove_msr1-2To find out more about Threads of Love, please visit my website for a blurb and short excerpt.

April 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized, Writer's Life | 3 Comments

The Art of the Mentor

rt-2008-reduThere’s a reason why the mentor, the wise old guide or teacher, ranks high on every list of archetypal characters. After all, every kick butt hero occasionally needs a helping hand along the way with his or her journey.  King Arthur had Merlin, Harry Potter had Dumbledore, Buffy had Giles, and so it goes.

 

I was reminded of the importance of the mentor role this past weekend while having tea with a former student from my novel writing course.  She’s working on her first draft of a fantasy.  Mostly I listened.  Every now and then I made a suggestion or mentioned a problem with my own books and how I handled it.  She was delighted to have someone to talk to who really understood the process and her struggles.  I was delighted to know I’d made a small difference in her life.

 

When I began to seriously pursue writing, I was fortunate to be mentored by two published authors who took an interest in me and encouraged my early attempts.  One of them became a dear friend.  Her continued faith in me kept me going many times when I was about to give up my dream.  I owe much of my writing successes to her.  Sadly, she is gone now, but I think of her every time I begin a new novel writing class.

 

As much as I love writing, teaching and mentoring the new writers I’ve met through my course has been immensely full filling.  I get a thrill every time I sign one of my books.  I get an equal thrill each time one of my former students contacts me with news about their writing progress.  I’ve led many of them to local writing groups.  One of them belongs to my critique group.  I feel blessed.

 

You can too.  Other than holding your book in your hands, there is no greater reward than being someone’s Gandalf, Obi Wan or Glinda.  Try it.  I promise you won’t regret it.  Oh, and think how many times your name might turn up on the acknowledgements page.  As a promotional tool, that could be almost as good as twitter.

April 8, 2009 Posted by | Writer's Life | 5 Comments

What Conferences and Writers Groups Can Do for You

rt-2008-redu4This past weekend I attended the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group Write Stuff conference in Allentown, PA.  The price was right, an important factor in today’s economy, and as a member of GLVWG, I feel it’s important to support the group whenever I can.  The location, less than 10 minutes from my house, was an added perk.  The conference was a blast and I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with my writing friends.

 

Some authors I’ve spoken to express doubts about what joining a group or attending a conference can do for them as writers.  With my own recent experience fresh in my mind I thought I’d share a few of the reasons why I will continue to spend my money and my time firmly connected to both.

 

Here they are in no particular order:

 

Your family can only listen to you ramble on about your protagonist’s Big Black Moment for so long before their eyes glaze over.  A writers group provides support and a ready ear.  Other authors will allow you to wax on almost indefinitely about your latest work in progress.  There is a price of course.  They expect the same enthusiastic interest in their current WIP when it’s their turn.

 

The speakers and workshops that most groups and conferences provide are invaluable in helping you improve your craft.  There is always something new someone can teach you.  One idea might be all it takes to turn your book into a best seller.

 

Conferences almost always allow attendees to meet with agents and editors to pitch their latest completed book.  Publishing is a tough business to break into and query letters aren’t always the easiest way to grab an agent or editor’s attention.  Chatting with one face-to-face provides you with a stronger chance to get your work in front of them.

 

Writers groups and conferences keep you in the loop with the latest trends, contests, agent and editor tips, social networking and marketing opportunities.

 

Convinced, but don’t know where to start?  Talk to other authors you know or contact them on Face Book, if they have a page. Local newspapers frequently list writers groups meeting times and locations, as well as, conferences.  Then there’s Google.  Put in writers groups or writing conferences and you’ll be flooded with hits.

 

Don’t be shy.  There’s a group out there waiting to welcome you or a conference guaranteed to feed and excite your muse coming soon to an area near you.

March 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized, Writer's Life | 5 Comments

Zombies Ahead!

rt-2008-redu3It seems pranksters are taking over digital road signs and using them to post their own messages—ones that have nothing to do with road work ahead or the speed limit.  So far most of the messages have been about zombies.  The pranksters leave messages like ‘zombies ahead’ or ‘entering zombie zone’.  All this is illegal, of course, but definitely catches a motorist’s attention.  The first signs appeared in Bucks County but according to a report on the radio, the phenomenon has spread as far as Australia.

The day before this article appeared in the local paper, I finished reading Jonathan Maberry’s, Patient Zero, a creepy and riveting, story about a terrorist cell that uses a prion-based pathogen to create, you guessed it, zombies, to further their cause.  Hmmm.  Coincidence?  A case of life imitating art?  Or a sneaky and revolutionary marketing ploy?  You’ll have to decide for yourself.  In the meantime, read the book.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Writer's Life | 1 Comment

Farewell to Battlestar Galactica

 rt-2008-redu2

Alas, this past Friday saw the 2 hour finale of one of my favorite TV shows, Battlestar Galactica. As a fan of the campy original 1970’s show, I was reluctant at first to give the retooled version a look-see, but my need for a Friday night fix of science fiction finally forced me to give in.  I didn’t become an instant addict, but the suburb writing and the characters finally hooked me.  I’ll leave it to others to debate the strengths and weakness of the show’s final episode.  Although divine intervention—who would have thunk it?  As a writer, I’ve taken away three lessons that watching the show taught me.

 

1)      Take your original idea and turn it on its head. No one did this better than the writers of this show, starting with casting a woman as Starbuck and then following up with another woman, a low level government cabinet member, as the only choice for president.  Then there was the evolution of the Cylons from pure robots to models that looked and acted completely human.  Every time I thought I knew where they were heading, the writers threw in a new twist.  Some of them blew me away. In the future, I’m going to try to make this approach work for me.

 

2.)    It’s all about the characters.  Ronald D. Moore and his team of writers took an ensemble cast and made us care about them. Over time Admiral Adama, Kara Thrace, Laura Roslin, Baltar, Six, Saul and Ellen Tigh, Cavil and all the others became real people whose conflicted relationships compelled viewers to follow them to the end of their journey.  It’s what I always dream of achieving in my stories.

 

3.)    Keep raising the stakes.  Many writers are afraid to really put their characters to the test, to hurt them physically and psychologically.  The writers for BSG mercilessly tortured theirs—gave them cancer, took life and limb from some of them.  At every turn they, threw impediments of every sort between friends, foes and lovers.  So don’t be afraidto push your characters to the edge. Make them take risks. Challenge them with tough problems and decisions.  Viewers and readers want to see characters achieve their final goal, but not until they’ve suffered and grown because of their experiences along the way.

 

As I work on my fourth book, I’m trying to put these lessons into practice.  It’s not always easy, but in the end I hope it will make my story stronger and harder for the reader to put down.

 

Friday evenings won’t be quite as much fun as they used to be.  Don’t know about you, but I’m frakkin gonna miss this show.

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Writer's Life | 8 Comments