April 21, 2015

Tuesday, April 21st.

This past week has been a busy one. I enjoy teaching the writing class. It’s a small group of fascinating women, each in various stages of writing development. Since I primarily teach fiction writing, those who expect a course in poetry or how to write for magazines will be disappointed.

I have short-term memory problems (is that age or is it just me??), so I wait until the day of the class before preparing the evening’s agenda. Putting things off makes me nervous and uncomfortable. I like to get busy and accomplish what I set out to do. In this instance, though, I believe waiting until the eleventh hour is best for all concerned.

Progress continues on Upside Down and Whopperjawed. If I had nothing else to do and devoted most of my time to this story, I could finish in about six weeks. Maybe less. April Grace Reilly often seems to sit on the corner of my desk, telling me about her day and the crazy people in her life. Recording her tale in her sassy, witty voice ensures that the story basically tells itself.

Not every novel I write is this easy or this much fun. But that’s another topic for another time.

April 13, 2015

Monday, April 13, 2015

I’m batting around in my head (ouch) my writing projects for the next month and a half. When several contracts and deadlines occur close together, this can be a balancing act designed to bring sleepless nights.

My inclination is to work on Upside Down and Whopperjawed until the end of May, and if it isn’t finished by then, turn my attention to Honey Dipped Secrets because that deadline is early July. That editor (HDS) wants a very detailed outline of the story. Since it is something I don’t do, it’s going to be a challenge. Twenty pages or thereabouts, single-spaced, broken down by chapters. This is not the way I create stories, but in this instance, I feel it’s the smarter way to go. After all, it’s nice when an editor likes and trusts me, and if she finds a flaw in the plot, we can work it out before the book is written. Who knows? I may love being a hard-nosed plotter. (I doubt it, but I’m keeping an open mind)

Let’s not forget the other book that I have yet to complete. Deadline? August. Eek.  That one isn’t even on my personal schedule yet. Double eek.

Spoiled Characters Stink

When the temperature is not 110 in the shade with humidity at 99%, I enjoy walking. I have a nice 3.5 miles mapped out that gives me shade and sun, hills and level areas, and plenty of interesting bits and pieces to observe as I walk. I don’t know about you, but when I’m walking, all kinds of ideas come into my head. Most of them end up relating to writing in some way.

This morning, as I walked, I saw kids trekking to school. Some had to walk several blocks, some came in on a bus, and I watched one mom drop her child off then drive about a block and pull into her own driveway. Seeing that roused an old memory from my own school bus riding days. The bus dropped off a brother and sister at the end of their driveway less than 200 feet from their front door. During the winter, and on rainy days, their mother would meet them in the car and drive them that tiny distance to the house. It probably took longer to get them in the car than it would just to let them walk to the house. I lived a couple miles farther along the road. The bus did not take me to the driveway. I disembarked where the highway and our old dirt road intersected, then I walked to the house. Even if my folks weren’t at their jobs, I doubt they would have picked me up on rainy days. I had galoshes, a rain hat and a raincoat. Those other kids were spoiled. I thought it then, and I still think so.

So what does this have to do with writing, you ask. Sometimes we spoil our characters. We pick them up and tote them across the mud puddles where they might get dirty, or we provide them safe passage across an icy path where they might fall and get hurt. We tuck them safely and snugly in our warm, comfy vehicle and transport them exactly where we want them to go, and guess what? They haven’t learned how to go through mud and clean themselves up afterward, or learned where to step to avoid falling on the ice. In fact, they are dull and impassive and no one wants to read about them.

 

If feedback from readers tell you that your characters are dull and lifeless, maybe you’ve spoiled them. Let them make that trek on their own, allow them to be covered it grit and slime, let them fall and bust their bottoms and/or dignity. Step back and let them grow up.

I am Only the Delivery Person

I am not my characters.

I once wrote an historical novel in which one of my minor characters criticized Teddy Roosevelt. I read this aloud to a feedback group, and the next morning a man and woman showed up on my doorstep. Upset that I did not love Teddy Roosevelt, they assaulted my ears for an hour with history and praise. When they finally wound down, I explained it was my character criticizing the man, not me. I did not serve in the Spanish American War with him. I did not know him personally. I could have saved my breath. They were miffed, and apparently happy to be miffed since my defense fell on deaf ears.

Another time, I wrote a humorous piece in which one of my characters mention a certain religious order that is known for knocking on doors. It was a brief mention of them showing up at the door, and certainly nothing derogatory, but a few days after reading this piece to a feedback group, I received a long letter from a little old lady defending her friends who belonged to that religion.

Not long ago a friend was visiting in our home. She talked about “you did this and then you did that”–which confused me until I realized she was talking about someone in one of my books. We had a good laugh about it, but I told her, “I am not my character.”

Well, maybe I am, a little bit. But if that’s so, I wish I could be as outspoken, witty and brave as they are. Alas, I’m just the wordsmith who delivers these characters to you.