Sunday, July 27, 2014

When characters speak…we listen!

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was looking at my calendar and planning for the month of July, making preparations for the 4th of July holiday and making lists for my upcoming summer projects.  My main project for July was to take part in Camp NaNo and to write at least the first 25,000 words for my next short story.  Considering how busy the month has been, I was getting a little worried that I might not actually make my word count but after today, I know that’s not going to be an issue.

Today was a great day for writing.  It’s a day I wish I had every day.  Not only was I able to do extremely well with my word count, it was one of those days when the characters just took over.  I didn’t have to think about the story at all because they had no problem cluing me in to what I had been missing before. 

I love it when that happens.

I’m used to that happening with the Jorja Matthews books; the characters are pretty good about telling me where the story’s going to go, whether I expected it to go there or not, or what it is they want to do, whether I want them to do it or not.

The short story I’ve been working on for Camp NaNo was a different matter.  My main character is different than Jorja and most of my other characters.  Her voice isn’t as loud to me.  She hasn’t been that strong and her story seemed pretty much black and white.

Until today.

Today I was able to watch as my character blossomed and certain points in the story began to change. While I thought I knew what the fate of this character was to be, I’ve seen the layout of a different plan for her.  At the same time, two other characters helped me out by finally sharing information that will shed more light as that plan begins to unfold.  I always thought I knew the ending to this story.  Today, I was given a glimpse of another, very surprising, ending and I’m excited the characters have finally come out to play.
And that’s what makes writing so fun!

Unless you’ve dabbled in writing at all, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about and you might think it sounds just a little insane. That’s okay; writers get away with being a tad eccentric.  A tad…that’s all I’ll ever confess to.

But other writers get it.  I read a blog post today on The Write Practice that struck home for me when the author offered this little gem that I’ll quote here:

“The story isn’t mine.  I’m just the conduit.”

I’ve read other posts and articles by writers who also write the same way I do…no outline or maybe just a rough outline…then the story begins and the characters eventually take over and fill in the blanks to lead us down the path they choose so that we can tell their story for them.

When it works like that, it means the characters have come out to play, and when the characters speak, we have no choice but to listen or the story will not unfold as it was meant to be.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Research on the Web…might make a writer look psycho

Now that I’m completing the third novel in my mystery series, I’ve come to realize just how much research a writer conducts.  What’s funny is how that research might make a writer look a little psycho to anyone who got a peek at their browsing history.  Most of the details involved with our research doesn’t actually make it into the books and that’s largely due to the fact that many of those details would be too much information or just completely unnecessary for the reader.  My main reason for research is to make sure what details I do include, even if minor, aren’t totally off the mark so that the story is more believable.  I may be writing fiction but that doesn’t mean the dirt in the details shouldn’t have a ring of truth about it.

Today, as I was researching how long it takes a body to begin to smell once someone has died…I know, gruesome…I was struck by the thought that someone who didn’t know me as a writer might really wonder about my frame of mind.  But to write a story, and to hopefully make it believable, although it’s completely fictional, is really something a writer has to grasp and hang on to as the story unfolds.

My research has taken me from the mundane to the macabre, which is good since I prefer a variety. 

The most mundane was when I researched what might really be involved with opening a small business, especially with regard to a bookstore.  How much money would it take?  How much inventory would you need?  What’s involved when you offer coffee and food to your customers?  Can someone really survive financially from a bookstore business?  I’m sure you know the answer to that.  With the many bookstores closing left and right, even the larger chains, it’s obviously a difficult business to be in but since I wanted my recently unemployed character, Jorja, to be the owner of a coffee shop bookstore, I decided I had to improvise.  I did that by giving her access to other funds, from a deceased family member and a side job, so that she didn’t have to completely rely on the bookstore to pay the bills.  I want this series to be about mysteries involving crimes and characters, not about how to keep your head above water with a failing business.  

I’ve also researched floor plans of Victorian homes because I wanted to find an actual floor plan I could work with and visualize when I wrote about what Hillcrest might actually look like.  I have to admit, researching various Victorian homes of all shapes and sizes was really quite fun.  And more recently, I’ve researched the details about planning for a wedding, but while it’s fun to do the research, I’m not sure how much detail about the wedding plans will or should be used in the books.

But beyond the safe zone of business models, house plans and wedding details, I’ve dug deep into what’s involved with other subjects I’ve included in the first three books or which may be included in upcoming stories.  Some of that research has related to missing and unidentified persons, the medical necessity for inpatient mental health treatment, patterns of serial killers, paternity testing, DNA relating to humans as well as animals, weapons, poisonous plants, drugs, fibers, sentencing guidelines, phobias, body decomposition and write-ups for obituaries and news articles relating to vehicle accidents. 

It’s quite the mixed bag, isn’t it?  But just based on the above list, it’s probably a good thing I finally came out as a writer…or my husband may have come to the conclusion that it might benefit him to sleep with one eye open for awhile.  Read the list again, tell me you don’t agree. 

It’s true, then, that not only do writers need to be interested in everything, they also need an understanding spouse!

I’ve conducted a lot of research over the past three years, and I expect to have many more odd items pop up in my browsing history as I continue to research details for future stories and books.  It’s one of the things I love about writing, besides the act itself, which is the knowledge I gain as I research and continue to learn. 

What’s not to love about that?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Summer Projects Underway!

We’re about half way through the month of July and also about half way through summer and it’s definitely been a busy one so far.  Of course, it’s not hard to keep busy because there’s always something to do.  Right now my time is divided between work, gardening and writing, spending time with family…and relaxing or playing in the sun.  

Misty - enjoys hanging out with me when I work in the gardens
I’m still going through revisions on Ties that Bind before I finally hand it off to the editor for review and I really can’t wait until this book is published.  It’ll be the third book in the series and I’m looking forward to the feedback I’ll receive from those who have been following the series from the beginning.  Personally, I know I’m growing as a writer and I believe each book will continue to be better than the last.  I’m already putting together ideas for the fourth book and I can’t wait to begin working on it once the third book is published.

But before that, I’m working on my new short story I hope to also have published before the end of the year.  I joined Camp Nano so that I could commit myself to a certain word count for the month on this new story and while I believe I will reach my word count, I’ll admit it’s been difficult the past week or so to keep up a steady stream of creativity.  It wouldn’t be so difficult if we weren’t having the heat wave of the century here in the Pacific Northwest.  Okay, maybe not really of the century, but it’s hot and muggy…not really our type of weather (and I like it).  When it gets as hot as it’s been, which is about 10 to 15 degrees hotter than normal this time of year, it can be really difficult to make myself stay in place in front of the computer when I’d much rather be outdoors enjoying the weather or avoiding the heat wave my office can cause on its own.
But it’s okay.  I’ll get a good start on the short story and because I limited my word count to 25,000 for the month, I’m certain I’ll make my goal.  You may be wondering what this new short story is about…it’s not another ghost story.  At least, I don’t think it is.  Actually, there are some spiritual elements to the story, now that I think about it, but the main issues for the character involve two things.  First, how to deal with a difficult marriage after a tragic loss and second, how to deal with a phenomenon the character can’t quite explain.  The phenomenon involves an element which readers may or may not be tuned in to, and that would be numerology.  If you’ve never experienced the relationship between a number and a coinciding event, you might not understand the concept behind the story, but for those who have experienced the phenomenon involved with numerology (what’s your number?), you’ll possibly understand more about what the character is going through.  Either way, whether the reader believes in numerology or not, has experienced the phenomenon or not, I hope they will enjoy the story I’ve developed as they root for the character to find the truth behind the message before it’s too late.

That’s just a little teaser for you.  I really can’t explain the story any further until it’s ready for publishing.  I might end up jinxing myself and I’m a bit superstitious about talking too much about a story in the works.

Now I’m off to enjoy some more of the wonderful sunshine we’ve been getting.  And I will enjoy the day without guilt because even with the sun coaxing me outside more often, I’m still finding time to revise and add to my word count so that my summer projects will continue to move even closer to completion.  However, while I do enjoy the fun summer brings, I look forward to what the next season holds when my projects move into the next phase and even closer to the hands of readers.       

Until next time, have a terrific day and a great week!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

No Rest for the Weary

This was a crazy, busy weekend and I’m more than thrilled that we still have today to try to catch our breath before we move on to the work week.  We celebrated the 4th of July with a bang, taking part in multiple family gatherings over the course of two days, while remaining constantly busy, eating way too much food and not getting enough sleep.

In a word…I’m exhausted

As much as I’d like to be lazy all day while taking part in the Walking Dead marathon, I can’t completely shut down just because the past few days have completely drained me.  As the saying goes, there is no rest for the weary.  While I would love to avoid the Sunday chores I need to complete in order to clean up after a fun-filled weekend and to prepare for the work week, they are chores that cannot be ignored.  And when the chores are done, you might think I could move on to losing myself with Rick and the others as they continue to fight zombies, but I have my own characters I need to spend time with and for me, that’s actually a great way to relax. 

I guess I could completely shut my brain down in order to rejuvenate but I don’t like the feeling of doing nothing for too long.  Some can take a power nap and feel reenergized but when I try that, I feel even more tired and groggy.  Instead, I feel reenergized when I immerse myself in my writing and my creative side is stimulated by conversations, plot twists and questions that need answers.  That’s one reason why I had to stop writing late at night because I finally figured out that when I stopped writing in order to go to bed, I couldn’t shut my brain off when the story and dialogue continued to run through my head. 

So I will use this day of rest to relax the best way I know how, and that’s to continue to work on my books.  I’m adding to the word count of my new short story as I also continue to work on revisions in Ties that Bind.  Staying behind in one story, with Jorja and the others, while becoming acquainted with a new character in another story is fun.  I’ve discovered I enjoy having two stories in motion and I really enjoy having the ability to move back and forth between the two books, depending on my mood. 

That being said, it’s now time for me to go and relax…