Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Research and other diversions...

I'm beginning to understand what I previously called procrastination, or diversionary tactics, when starting a new story. I used to wonder why each book scared the hell out of me until I was about two thirds of the way through the rough draft. I thought I was scared to commit. In a way I was, but not to the story, to the discovery of what the story was really about. I was afraid to kick back, spend time exploring, and just let the story unfold.

I now know this was simply the germination stage. You see, when you start out with a story idea it is really quite small. A seed, perhaps. Then it grows and flowers or fruits. Sometimes it will flourish and other times it gets all rangy and needs to be trimmed back, sometimes it dies. But from seed to maturation it needs many things: water, soil, nutriments, sunshine, occasional pruning, bug control, maybe even a different location to help it get the very best of all of these necessary things for its survival. Well, so does a story.

I've been having an enjoyable few weeks in my story idea's unfolding. I've visited the Salton Sea. I've researched abandoned cabins and veritable ghost towns. I've talked with photographers using modern digital equipment and photographers who will never change from their old equipment, plus I've looked into designing an in-home dark room. The funny thing is, all of this will feature in my story in about four or five paragraphs. But it's all part of that nurturing germination stage. A half a day spent to find one fabulous sentence, or one character motivation, isn't wasted time. It's a necessary part of the process, and I might be old-fashioned but I swear it beats doing research on the internet. That can be extremely helpful, but I like to think of it as putting on the finishing touches. The idea, the initial sketch, the outline, those are always taken from life. The color comes from life.

The writer who takes the time to research, to delve into why their characters choose one thing over another, make one choice instead of another, choose this person over that one to spend their life with, well, those are all the little crunchy bits that make those characters fully developed and interesting.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I've been doing the discovery stage of my new romantic intrigue/suspense, and it has been a lot of fun this time around. I don't have my usual angst going into the new story that I've always had in the past. And that is thanks to Lani Diane Rich. I took her Discovery Class, which runs over six weeks, and came away from it with not just her step by step guidance but a new understanding of myself and my work. I'm a visual learner and that's one of the reason's Lani's classes helped me. I could see her talking, hear her talking, laugh along with her and the other participants. It was just like a classroom, except I didn't have to get dressed or drive anywhere.

One major thing I took away from the course was, I never thought I needed a soundtrack. Maybe just a CD that provided mood. I always have soft music playing and I love all kinds of music, so good enough, right? Wrong. When I made the soundtrack and chose music specific to my characters it changed everything about that story. It ramped up my writing skills, it ramped up my love of my characters, it resonated with me on so many levels. I did the rewrite of my last story, using Lani's techniques, and it came to life in full color. And I'm not an aural learner. Usually I need peace and quiet. Yet, that soundtrack opened me up, it allowed me to get inside my characters thoughts, and to embrace an important aspect of writing that had never spoken to me before.

For me it's always kind of hard to say goodbye to the characters in my latest story because I've come to love them, and I've enjoyed being a part of their emotional and physical journey. Those heroes and heroines consumed so much of my life you'd think they were relatives, and they kind of are. I made them. I made them up in my thoughts and then I transcribed them onto paper. How cool is that?

Now on to the next story and the next hero and heroine. Where to start? Research of course. The blank page beckons. I could stare at it, try to develop new characters, new plot, new love interest, new conflict, new internal and external motivation, and, make it all believable to the reader while pulling my hair out and drinking copious cups of coffee. Nope. This time around, no computer, at least in the early stage. I've gone out into nature and thought my thoughts. I've carried my notebook. After brainstorming with my critique partner, Gina, in the pool at National conference, a new story came to me. I've put aside Dia Sophia, the story I discovered and researched in Lani's class. I'll get to her later.

I now have a title for the new work, a yummy hero, and my heroine who is a spin off from a secondary character in the last story, and they are blooming and coming to life as I walk the dog. Yet they're still in my head. I've done no writing. I have done a soundtrack and almost completed a collage, I have my main casting done, their backstory floats into and out of my thoughts as I go about my daily life listening to their music. This is a strange and unusual way for me to process story but it's working all on its own. It's all humming along. Next week a friend and I are going on location. We'll hike the desolate land that will be a backdrop for the suspense. We'll take photographs. We'll eat in some divy little cafe, we'll visit an abandoned cabin that will become the house the heroine's father left her when he died. I'm beginning to see the villian and understand the part he plays in her life. It's all coming together faster than I can keep up with it, yet still I don't write.

This is all good. Next week I'll be primed and ready, and I'll hit the ground running.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Back from RWA National

I'mmmmmm baaaaaccckkk! How come it's only Californians that can say that and think it's funny? Hmmm? Ah well, The Gov won't be around that much longer so we have to use the expression as much as we can, have some fun. Something like that.

So, Orlando. What's not to like? We had a gorgeous resort hotel with restaurants galore, five swimming pools, a sandy beach front lagoon that featured Friday night glow-in-the-dark volleyball where the teams painted themselves with glow paint and the fireworks from DisneyWorld lit up behind them. Excellent rooms, fabulous service, lower rates than I can recall at any other conference. I ask you again, what's not to like? Well, perhaps the steam that fogs up your sunglasses when you go from 68 degrees fahrenheit inside the hotel, to 100+ outside. Yeah, you can trip on a sidewalk that way if you're wearing flipflops. Not that I would ever wear rubber thongs. No way! And the sweat. There is absolutely no way to call it ladylike perspiration, this is sweat pure and simple. You walk outside and your forehead beads, then sweat trickles down the side of your face and your neck becomes a freakin' river. Let's not discuss what happens to the breasts, or underneath them. Whew! It was so hot I thought they'd scoop me up with a spoon and slide me into a ziplock baggie and send me home.

All that heat aside, I had a fabulous time. My critique partner, Gina, and I went swimming one night around 8:45 pm and at close to midnight we returned to our rooms in seperate hotels, me in the Dolphin, she in the Swan. We had brainstormed our next novels. It was fabulous just standing in that warm water and talking for hours. Of course we looked like prunes when we got out because our skin was so wrinkled. And we'd been too late to get poolside towels. A bit embarrassing having to walk through the bar section in a bathing suit and mini cover-up dripping water from our soggy butts, but then again who cares? Will we ever see those people again? Probably. Were any of them agents or editors? Probably. I know I didn't make eye contact.

I got a request from an agent in NYC who says she likes mystery and suspense. I hope my story tickles her fancy. The editor I met with was a senior exec at Harlequin and she referred me to another editor, one who handles Intrigue. I'm to send a partial, two chapters and a synopsis. The agent wants the full. I've been at this point before and the end result wasn't good, so I enter into this venture with some trepidation, yet still I enter. :=)

Then talk about synchrodestiny, (this weird s*&t is always happening to me). I sat next to an agent on the flight to Dallas. We talked and she asked if she'd ever rejected me. I said nope but I'd thought about querying her. She said I should. I might just do that. I liked her and we're both Anne Stuart fans. After she saw what I was reading, Ruthless, by Anne, we did a little Stuart squee session and discussed the books we've both loved over the many years Anne has been writing. BFFs for sure. : )

When I got home my dear Nikki went nuts. She licked my face, ran in circles on the tile floors her nails clicking and her tail wagging, then she angled herself at my body and ran full pelt. I knew enough to stand still, legs apart, while she ran between them almost knocking me over. That dog weighs 100lbs. You don't mess with Nikki. After three or four of these games I gradually got her to relax and slow down. She hasn't left my side in twenty four hours. Trust issues, anyone?

I made a lot of new contacts at this conference, and I think networking is important. You never know where a new contact will take you on your journey. I've sent emails to everyone today and already received lovely responses. Also, just prior to going to National I learned The Blue Dolphin had made it into the final round of the Molly contest. My scores were fabulous. I would love to final, don't get me wrong, but even if I don't this feedback has boosted my spirits incredibly. I'll find out the results in late August.