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There is nothing wrong with me…honest!

I was sitting in a restaurant recently when a  good looking couple came in. Really good looking. Like, cover of a book good looking. I started to describe them in my head as if I was describing them on the page in one of my stories. I came up with a full range of detailed mental description as I sat there, staring off into space. Finally, after what was probably a few minutes, my husband asked if anything was wrong. I asked why and he replied “you were gone away for a while.”

Does this ever happen to you? You’re talking with someone, or people watching – my second favorite pastime – and in the next instant you’re off, engrossed in your WIP, ignoring anything and everything around you?

Happens to me all the time.

I plotted my third book while I was sitting in church, supposedly listening to the Homily. In all fairness, it was a really boring Homily.

I ran plot lines in my head while recently at a conference for the visually impaired. Thank goodness that one had handouts, or I wouldn’t have known what was said!

I was watching the news yesterday and a dialogue point I’d been trying to solve burst into my head, full blown and perfect.

I tend to pop out mentally at parties, during car rides, sometimes even on the phone.

A few weeks ago I was standing in line at the bank and the teller had to call me three times before I responded. She probably thought I was having some kind of silent seizure.

In medieval days it’s safe to say I would have been burned at the stake as a witch.

Decades ago, I might have been diagnosed with untreated psychosis or schizoaffective disorder.

Today the shrinks would say I have ADHD as an adult and want to medicate me.

Naaaaaahhh!

I’m just a writer, and thinking – a lot – is what I do.

So if you see me and you think I’m loosing it, staring off into space, maybe my lips are moving, don’t be concerned. I’m probably running dialogue in my head and I’m saying  it aloud so I can make sure it sounds legit.

Don’t be concerned. I’m okay. Honest……

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I am not a slut….

I was trudging through the Internet today and reading article after article on why women love romance novels. I was trying to find a universal theme amongst the articles – all written from 2010 until the present.  Some of the pieces were titled, “ Why do contemporary women read old fashioned romance novels? “ and “Why smart women read romance novels,” and “How much do romance novels reflect women’s desires.” Spiffy, if trite and annoying titles, eh? Every article I read – and baby where there plenty – started with what I considered a derogatory opening along the lines that reading romance novels made women either : a. dumb, b. sluts, c. stupid or d. naïve.

It hasn’t been a very happy reading day in my writing loft.

I really couldn’t come up with one universal theme that would either tie the articles together along a logical line of thought, or give credence to the assertions that women who read romance are not the brightest bulbs in the box.

In other words, I felt they had no empirical data, just a lot of suppositions and theories that I didn’t agree with.

Okay. I strongly disagreed with them.

The industry of romance books does over a billion dollars a year. That’s billion with a capital B. Romance readers are loyal. They buy their favorite authors consistently, recommend books to other reads, and write reviews. When you are selling a product, what is the one thing you hope to capture with each and every sale? BUYER LOYALTY. Or in this case, READER LOYALTY. And romance readers are loyal. In spades.

If an author gives the book buying-romance reading public what it wants, they will come back time and time again for the new products (books) related to that brand ( author.)

I’ve mentioned numerous times before why I personally love reading romance novels. I simply love a good story about two people who find each other, despite what ever trials, turmoils, or disasters come their way, to find their happily ever after. Give me that book, with the characters sound and the plot believable, and you’ve got me as a reader for the length of your book-writing career.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Whenever a writer can actually make me believe that a fantasy can come true, I’m in. Totally and completely. And again, I’m not alone.

I am a middle aged, highly educated, wealthy and well-spoken professional woman who uses her discretionary dollars to purchase goods she not only needs, but desires as well. I love a good laugh, a mouthwatering piece of chocolate, COACH bags, and romance novels.

So, here’s the truth: I’m not dumb, stupid, naïve or a slut. And yes, I buy romance books. Lots of them.

I also write them. Lots of them.

 

 

 

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Advice…it’s not for the faint of heart

What advice would you give to a newbie or struggling writer?

I  have to admit I don’t usually give advice because I hate to GET advice, but this one I’ll answer.

I started writing when I learned to read. Really. When I was a kid I wrote stories about kids who were kidnapped by adults who wanted them to have a better life. They were brought to an island and given an unlimited supply of love, cookies, books and pets.

Yeah, I know. But I was a kid.

Throughout college and in my early nursing career, I wrote many articles for trade nursing magazines and publications.

When I became a parent I wrote many articles on child rearing and children’s issues. I had two children’s  fiction books published at this time.

In my 40’s and early fifties, I started writing articles on women’s health care, eye care, and general aging care. Hey, write what you know;  you know?!

Throughout all this non-fiction writing and publication, I also wrote adult fiction. It started with mystery novels, morphed into suspense that grew into romantic suspense and then finally just romance.

It is safe to say that I have been writing for 48 years. This year when I turn 55 years old, I will have my very first contemporary romance published.

The point of all this lead up is that I never, ever gave up writing.

Not during the years I didn’t have anything published and no one would look at or represent my stuff.

Not during the times when I had NO time to write.

Not during the moments of supreme self doubt that I could even string a written sentence together to be understood by others.

I kept writing, hoping, wishing and planning.

This year it will all pay off.

So here’s my advice to newbie and/or struggling writers: never,  ever,  ever stop writing.

If writing is the first and/or last thing you think about every day, then do it.

If you’re driving somewhere and a plot point jumps into your brain, stop and record it.

If you have only an hour to yourself each day because of work/family/whatever, then spend part of that hour – or all of it – writing.

If you have something to say, a story to tell, or a word of wisdom to impart, please, write it.

Don’t ever stop. Even if you think your words will never see any space but the lines on your laptop. Who cares? Write anyway.

Don’t stop. Don’t give in to self doubt. Don’t give up.

Just write.

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Where do you find the time to write?

I get asked this question a lot. A LOT.

I think it’s because I work outside the home, then I take care of my family, plus I have hobbies such as painting and cooking.

Writing requires a great deal of time and commitment to get it to come out just right. But so does painting, cooking, taking care of loved ones, and working outside the home.

It’s all about time management.

When I worked as nurse I had fifteen patients every day to care for. Bathing, feeding, administering medications, in addition to interacting with the doctors about the patient’s care, the families, the ancillary services and departments, all were required on a daily basis, and hundreds more I can’t even begin to remember. Back then, overtime was frowned upon and if you couldn’t get all your care and tasks done in your 8-hour shift, you were looked at by the powers that be to see if you needed to be retrained, demoted or fired.

Luckily, I was never any of those because from the get-go I learned how to manage my day accordingly. The most important tasks were done first. Sometimes, this changed daily, or even hourly, but I always started with the most time sensitive and important tasks. Then I went down the line to the ones that required less immediate responses.

This always worked for me and the only time I ever had overtime was when every one else did too: during Code Blue emergencies.

I write in exactly the same mindset.

If you’ve read any of my past posts, you know I’m a plotter, not a panst-er. First thing I do is come up with an idea, then the characters, then I set the plot out in a very detailed synopsis. Once that prep work is done, I start writing the story, but just like when I worked in nursing, I prepare for emergencies: in this case, plot turns and twists. Sometimes during writing I come up with a better idea or situation and I go with it.

Now, to the time I spend writing. I find time EVERY DAY and yes, I mean EVERY DAY, to write. Something. It doesn’t have to be an entire scene. On the days I still work outside my home at my paying job, I tend to write snippets of dialogue or scene descriptions. But I do it everyday, usually before I head to work for a half hour in the morning. No one else is up, I have the entire house to myself and I don’t have to worry about anything else but typing a few lines or paragraphs or pages.

At night, after dinner, dishes, prep for the next day, I write again.

On the days I don’t work outside my home, I can usually devote 6-8 hours at a clip or in divided doses to pound out what I want. Now, of course, there are those off days that I need to do other things, such a doctor appointments, hair dressers, grocery shop etc. so that cuts in to the time.

But the moral of this story is that I write everyday. Every single day. Something.

So the answer to the question of where do I find the time to write is, simply, I just do it whenever and wherever I can, every day.

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Script writing vs. Novel writing…

At my New Hampshire Romance Writers of America meeting this month, guest speaker Dana Biscotti Myskowski gave a lecture titled Romancing the Script. Dana is a professional script writer, in addition to being a teacher of film and film studies, and she gave our group a number of insights into writing scripts, how to get them produced, and the pitfalls and turmoils of being a script writer.

Those pitfalls and turmoils sounded a lot like the same ones  fiction writers have.

You’ve got this great script ( novel ) that you want to get made into a film ( published ). In order to do that you need someone willing to read it ( agent/editor ), produce it ( publisher ), market it and promote it. You need to get the right actors ( characters) into  the right scenery ( setting) and  develop a worthy plot that people will want to pay to go see – along the same lines that they pay to buy your book.

You usually don’t get paid until the screenplay is optioned, green lit, and then produced, much like the way you don’t get royalties until after the book is sold, and if you’re lucky enough, to get a paid advance prior to publication.

You pour your heart and soul into your script ( novel ) and most of the time it goes nowhere but to live on your laptop.

The two really are very similar.

They’re similar in concept and construct as well. You need  plot, settings, dialogue, characters, and secondary characters in both.

The major difference – in my opinion – seems to be in the development aspect. In a script you’ve got roughly 120 pages to get the story told, the characters set, and the action moving from page one. Every scene tells a story and advances the plot. ( Okay, that happens in books, too.) But in the novel, the writer has much more page time to develop the characters, give that internal dialogue a voice, and get into the character’s head so that the reader knows what they are thinking and going through on an internal level.

A film is visual. The words of the script are in place to give you a picture – a real one – of what is happening.  It is an external medium.You don’t leave it to the film watcher’s imagination to figure out what is happening, you show them. In a book, you use your words to paint that picture you want to give the reader. This is more an internal medium and you do – to some extent -rely on the reader’s imagination for them to “see” the word pictures you are showing them.

Whether you write scripts, novels,  scripts based on novels, or anything else, the most important thing to remember with all of this is that : you are writing. You are doing something you love, something that gives you unlimited pleasure. And hopefully, something you can share with another that will also give that person the same pleasure.

Writing: it’s a good thing.

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Two Masters, One Passion

My chapter of the Romance Writers Of America group is having a week long challenge on what I call “get the butts in the seats and write.” Every day we are encouraged to record our writing time in minutes and then submit them at the end of the day for a chapter and individual total. Published writer and NHRWA member Lisa Olech,  author of Picture Me Naked  is our motivator and head minute counter. This is the second summer I’ve participated in this challenge and I love it. It really inspires me to find time every day to write – anything and everything.

My actual challenge with this particular writing prompt  is in the finding of spare time on the days I must go to my paying job. I’ve blogged about this time management issue for me before, but I can give actual numbers to the situation with this challenge.

This week, on  three consecutive days, these were my totals : 150 minutes, 675 minutes, 180 minutes. Can you tell which day I didn’t work at my paying job?

This inconsistency has limited me in the amount of pages I can produce on a consistent basis and it can be frustrating. But I think I’ve found a very small light at the end of my tunnel. Because I can’t write the volume I want to write on a predictable time table, what I do write must  be almost perfect the first time around. This time constraint forces me to write tight, write short, and write concise, three things every Editor wants their writers to do on a routine basis. This means that every word must count toward something valid in the scene I’m writing.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve spent this summer re-reading some of the manuals I feel have helped me be a better writer. One of those books is  How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark. His thoughts and ideas on how to take paragraphs that are filled with superfluous words  and shorten them down to the bare bones of sentences that convey the entire thought wanted, are priceless jewels for writers and is well worth the read.

I’ve used these writing short principles in my daily life as well as my writing life. I teach for a living – no, I’m not standing up in front of a classroom inspiring young minds. As part of my nursing/contact lens job I teach patients daily how to keep their eyes healthy and I instruct them in  the proper care, wear, and cleaning of their ocular devices. I only get so much time per patient, so my instructional style has to be short, concise, and totally explanatory without needing to repeat, reiterate or revise what I’ve said in order for the patient to comprehend it without any confusion. For someone who likes to Tawk as much as I do, this has proven difficult in the past. Not any longer, thanks to Mr. Clark’s instructions.

Today I am not at my paying job but at home, typing away on the laptop. Today I will be able to devote many hours to my  writing passion. The writing loft door is closed, the cellphone is on silent and I’ve disabled all my other social media for a while. It’s my time to write.

Today I hope to set a personal writing record for the challenge. We’ll see….

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Character? Plot? Setting? What drives your writing?

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I’ve been re-reading some of the books I consider ‘Bibles’ for writing and writers. One of them is Karen S. Wiesner’s book Writing The Fiction Series . In it, she sets forth the mechanisms you can use for writing a series of books. The series can be based on the characters that reappear in each book, they can revolve around a quest that threads through each book, whatever connects them all can be considered a continual series.

One of the questions she asks the author to think about when envisioning a series of books is whether they are character, plot or setting driven, and which format the author himself/herself uses. This got me thinking about they way I write my books. In the past I did mostly stand alones, or one and dones. The story ended on the last page. Once I started writing romance novels, I realized there were so many fun and wonderful characters  drifting on the page that had their own stories, that I knew I needed to start writing them down. I currently have two separate series in production, both involving multi-member families and story lines. So, to answer the question are they character, plot or setting driven, I’d need to say character for the most part. Although all three facets must come into play for a cohesive and interesting book, most of the time when I write a romance I find my characters first and move through their development above all else.

The basic – and I mean BASIC – plot line of every romance novel is that the hero and heroine get together in the end, find that they love one another, and live happily ever after ( HEA ). Like I said: basic. Most romance plots are really much more than that, but if you start with that core nugget, you are golden. In both of the series I am currently working on, love and dependence on family is the central theme. Mixed into that theme are various subplots and  topics dealing with stalking, cooking, television  production, ice skating and veterinary medicine.

I know. But, it’s me, so remember that.

Family stories are great to write about because there are so many varied dynamics in each one. Birth order always plays a big role for me with my characters. Since I am an only and married a man with a clan, I love the idea of who is what in the family food chain. Which sib is the closer? Who is the baby – and it doesn’t necessarily mean the last to be born. Which kid is the pleaser? The go-between? The fighter? The people pleaser? And where do they fall in the order of their  birth? With a large family, you can find so many different ways to tell each individual’s love story and how it effects the family as a whole unit.

For the next several blogs I’ll be breaking down each facet : character, plot and setting –  for how to develop a book series, with some advice from Ms. Wiesner thrown in along the way.

 

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HEA?

What, exactly, does happily ever after mean?

It’s written as the last line of every fairy tale; it has its own acronym – HEA – in the romance writing world, and every English speaking girl and boy has heard it when read a bedtime story.

But what does it really mean? Does HEA happen and then the hero and the heroine NEVER go through another bad moment for the rest of their lives? They live on the wings of their love for evermore, never to have a bad day or  a moment that’s not filled with undying bliss?

Does it mean never to grow old and complacent with one another? Never take the other for granted, or become so dependent upon the other that you lose you own identity?

Does the happily ever after take into account how the hero and heroine’s lives are changed forever when they have kids? No longer allowed to sleep through the night because of feeding schedules, diaper changes, midnight upset tummies and bathroom accidents? Not to mention all the childhood illnesses and traumas that come hand in hand with child rearing. And don’t get me started on the teen years.

Does the HEA provide for lost jobs, school tuition bills, mortgages and braces? Aging parents and no health insurance?

I think for me, as a romance reader and writer, the HEA that comes at the end of the story, is not the end of the story, but the beginning of two lives filled with all of the above.

And a lot more.

The easiest way to explain myself is to simply refer to my own life.

When I found my HEA and married the love of my life, we moved away, right away. We were now geographically far from family, friends, secure jobs and the lives we’d made for ourselves where we’d been. Skype hadn’t been invented, and there was no such thing as a cell or mobile phone yet.

No, this wasn’t the Stone Age, just the 80’s.

We were entirely dependent on the two us, alone. Weekly phone calls to family were the norm, but the friends began to wax and wane, too involved in their own lives to devote much time to catching up.

To say I was lonely in the beginning would be to underscore the situation. Hubby was at work all day, while I was looking actively for employment, not an easy feat in a small, rural upper mid-west town.

Many things could have affected our relationship at that time. The isolation, loneliness, dependency on just the other for emotional, spiritual, and varied kinds of support, could have led to a negative outcome for our marriage. The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” has some backbone to it.

But it didn’t because we had each other and knew we only had each other. I’ve always thought that being taken away from family, friends and familiarity could either make or break a young marriage.

It made mine. Totally.

When you have just one person – a person you love without end – in your corner all the way, all day and every day, your HEA can’t help but come true, despite the outside influences that topple into your lives on a continual basis.

You’re forced to talk to one another, lean on the other, seek advice from the other and just plain interact with the other. You must support one another in any way, and every way, possible. In its simplest form, you’ve only got one another. From this, bonds can be tightly formed.

Everlasting bonds. Happily Ever After bonds.

So, when you come to  the last page of that romance novel, and the hero and heroine have declared their love and desire to be together for eternity, believe it. Because those kinds of HEA’s do come true. Every day.

And for ordinary people, too, not just fictional characters.

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On Diaries, Journals, and writing…

When I was a little younger – okay, waaaaaaaaay-the-hell younger – I kept a diary. I think every girl my age back then did. It was a 3×5 sized, hardbound book, complete with it’s own lock and key, hundreds of sheets of lined paper, and Barbie pink, my signature color. I kept the key on a ribbon that perpetually hung from neck. I wasn’t going to let anyone get a hold of that key and find out all my deepest, darkest, secrets, my newest boy crush, or my thoughts about myself.

I got my first diary when I was eight and I remember I got to the last page by my tenth birthday. At that birthday, I received a new one – a little bigger at 4×6, but still pink, keyed, and the paper was lined.

I filled that one up by before birthday # 12.

I was a very diligent writer back then. I sat down on my bed most nights and just wrote. Anything. Stuff about how my day had gone, what teacher had reamed me for talking in class – this was a common occurrence and all my report cards back then had one common theme “Margaret-Mary needs to learn to sit quietly when she is done with her work, and not visit with the other children. She tends to be done faster than everyone else and has a tendency to disrupt the others who are still working.”

I would write about tv shows and the latest plotlines for my favs like Hawaii 5-0 ( the original one), The Brady Bunch ( hated Marcia AND Jan), Love American Style ( I learned everything I ever needed to know about sex with that show!).

I’d write about new books I’d read. Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon and Agatha Christie were my absolute favorites.

I wrote a lot about what I was feeling at the time. My preteen, then Tween, then full teen angst was real, bold, and vibrantly displayed in the pages of my Barbie pink journal. Inadequacies about my body, my personality, my basic worth, were all tortuously categorized and detailed in vivid, descriptive words.

By the time I was in college, I was still writing down my thoughts and using a journal for an emotional outlet, a friend, and a confidant. The fact that the pages never offered advice, censure, or any kind of validation to my thoughts, didn’t seem to matter at the time.

Fast forward a few years and I got married, then pregnant. While I was waiting for my daughter to be cooked, I started a new journal just for her. It detailed all her vitals and personal stuff, how she was doing in utero – how I was, too. We didn’t know the sex and kept it unknown until she popped out. From day one of her actual life on earth, I started a new journal for her, again detailing all the events in her life, the milestones, my hopes and dreams for her.

I stopped keeping a diary for her when she started doing her own journaling at 7 years old.

What’s that dopey expression about apples and trees? Black pots and kettles?

Nowadays, I no longer have an actual hardbound book that I journal in. I tend to type all my thoughts and keep them stored on my laptop. Just like that key kept my diaries locked all those years ago against prying eyes, my password keeps my thoughts hidden now. Oh, and “skin” is – you got it – Barbie Pink!

But every now and then I write an entry that seems blog worthy. Like this one.

If you’re a writer, do you keep a diary/journal about “stuff?” I’d be interested in knowing. What kinds of things do you include? Life stuff? Writing stuff? Stuff stuff?

Let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Effective Habit IV: Marketing wisely

If you listen to anyone under the age of say, 25, they will tell you Social Media rules the world. People meet, date one another, share info – personal and not – buy things, and generally live by their media outlets. Most of these outlets are as easy to get to as typing in a few keystrokes into a cell phone, which is, literally, at the ready and with you all the time now. Words like Retweet, Like, PinIt, Hash-tag, are all now vital parts of our vocabulary. Using social media is also a way writers can get the word out about their most recent creations.

In multi-published author Barbara Wallace‘s article Seven Habits of Effective Writers in the June 2014 RWA magazine Romance Writers Report, habit no. 4 makes the case that writers who write effectively – meaning they get a lot of writing work done – use social media tools and marketing judiciously. They don’t jump on every band wagon out there and send off daily updates on blogs, websites, Pinterest, Twitter and GoodReads, to name a few. They aren’t trolling  review sites, writer blogs or shopping on Ebay.

No. Effective writers WRITE. They use their time to put words on the page. Yes, they market what they’ve written. When the bottom line for publishing houses and even self publishers is sales, you have to get the word out about your new opus. But the point is, you don’t need to be doing this as a full time job. Your job is to write.

Some mega-published authors are lucky enough to have people who work for them who will do all this marketing/media for them. From my mouth to God’s ears this happens to me someday. Establishing some sort of presence on social media appears to be a very effective way to drive buzz about your work. Even if two or three friends “share” your news with their other hundreds of “friends” – friends you don’t necessary have – that’s a few hundred more people who know about your book then did this morning. If you send out twitter alerts on a regular basis and ask followers  to retweet to their followers, well, there’s that domino effect again.

Before cell phones ruled the world, marketing consisted of advertising in magazines, on tv, on the radio. Authors were sent on multi-city book tours to promote, talk about and sell their books. Now, you can do several web interviews in a day from the privacy of your living room, or even guest host on a blog site, which I did just last weekend. The opportunities to get the word out about your writing is so much easier than it ever was due to the advent of Social Media.

Using it in a wise and shrewd manner is another effective habit that I am going to adopt, because really, my job is to write! An I would rather be doing that.

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