Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
That is not Kansas. I think it's Alberta, Canada. But if you take away the mountains, it looks and feels a lot like cattle ranching territory in my state and in the book I'm writing. Things in the book are finally working out well, and all the coincidences that happen when things "click" are happening on schedule. It just so happens that my son is spending the winter working on one of his dad's ranches, so he calls me on his way to and fro and I ask him things like, "Are they using high-tensile barbed wire these days? How many strands do they use, five or six? What about the posts, are they wood or metal now?" It has been a lot of years since I spent time on a ranch and things change, even there. And when I'm living in the middle of something, but not writing about it, I can miss the details. When I was married to his dad I saw plenty of fences, and I have a picture of them in my mind's eye, but I can't be sure that picture is still accurate--or ever was, for that matter. I have to ask.
Fortunately, it turns out that my son has a writer's eye for detail. Not only is he patient with his mom's questions, but he answers with the most wonderful minutiae, the kinds of things that make scenes feel real. Today, for instance, he described a gate, down to the kind of latch that closes it. He told me how he feeds the cattle every morning, how many pastures he handles and how long it takes to do it, how many cattle there are in each pasture, and how he has to go looking for a few of them sometimes when they don't show up at the sound of his feed truck. Certain things really make my ears perk up, as when I thought to ask him, "When you're counting, do you count the cows and the calves?" and he said, "No, we never count the calves." I'm glad to know that! It could make a difference with a reader who knows about such things. If I write, "she counted only the mama cows," that reader will nod to herself, and think, "that's right," and feel secure with me, the author.
Here's to keeping it real, in fiction and in life. And to observant sons.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Monday, February 25, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Friday, February 22, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
It's that time again. Writer needs to vanish into words. I'll be gone anywhere from a few days to a week. Depends on the words--how fast and how many. Y'all make yourselves at home here in my absence, of course, and if you need me, e me. I'll invisibly check in now and then to see if the place needs cleaning, or the coffee pot needs new filters. Katiebird also has a key to the place.
Monday, February 18, 2008
It's official. I'm going to be at the 2008 Writer's Retreat Workshop for the whole week. I'm so excited to get to be there, teaching and writing, for the entire time. This will be the first time I've done that; in my two previous visits, I flew in, did my gigs, and flew out. This time I'll stick around to teach, confer, and work on my own writing. I know Beth will be there. Kimberly, are you going, for sure? Conda? Rick? Anybody else thinking of going? I am so excited to be meeting some of our blog buddies.
It will be May 23 - June 1, at the Marydale Retreat Center Erlanger, KY (just south of Cincinnati, OH).
But them's jes' the facts. What you need to know if you're thinking of going is that this retreat is a wonderful experience. It's for any serious and ambitious writer at any level of experience. It can be thrilling. It's fun. It's also hard work, but that's exactly what the writers are there for--ten day's worth of intense learning and writing. And comaraderie. It's amazing to hang out with nobody but writers writing for that long! The location, shown in the photo above, is a former monastery that is actually much prettier than that picture. And did I mention that all meals are included, the coffee pot is always on, and the food is delicious?
I wish you all were going. What a time we'd have!
The director, Jason Sitzes, will be here at the blog sometime today.
Those of you who've been to the retreat might want to offer advice or just tell about your experiences.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Friday, February 15, 2008
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
And for something else to make you laugh? One of the world's happiest songs, "Do You Believe in Magic," from a video of The Lovin' Spoonful. Oh, my! They don't look cool at all, do they? They look like sweet goofball nerds playing air guitar.
*Well, I do have stuff to say, but I have too much election tv to watch. :)
(Photo not by Andif for some weird reason.)
Monday, February 11, 2008
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Friday, February 8, 2008
So I don't know what that sinc is, but I do know what SinC is, and today's the day I'm launching a new chapter of it in the Kansas City area. If anybody's reading this who is within driving distance, y'all come to the I Love a Mystery bookstore in Mission, Ks., at 11 a.m. today for our very first meeting. It's for readers and writers, librarians and bookstore people, and any other human being of any make or model who wants to support women in the world of mysteries.
If you like your women mysterious, you're gonna love us, I promise.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Ladies and Gents, are you as low on green as I am at this time of year? Is your account just plain outa green? Are you in need of great, lush infusions of GREEN? Well, then, let's take our coffee/tea to the meadow where spring is always bursting out all over. Bring your blankets and lie on the grass, or grab a bench inside the shelter. Ahhh, it's warm, and it's cheerful, and it's pretty, and it's GREEN.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Take care of yourselves, Charlie, Eli, and Shreve. A lot of strangers love you.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Imagine this. . .
At the church where my mom and I went to caucus, they expected 500 people. The cops estimated the turn-out was 4-5 thousand! The lines were enormous, snaking around the church in both directions, through the parking lots, down the block, and back to the church again. It was cold, it was windy, it was damp. It took us an hour just to get inside. Once there, there was such chaos because of the turn-out that they had to change the agenda and let us vote just by signing a paper.
Keep in mind, my mom is 91 years old, and she was there for the whole thing.
At another caucus site, they expected 100, and got 2,000! They had to hold it outside, with people voting while standing in the sleet. In the video I saw of it, they looked cheerful and sounded excited to be there.
My mom and I thought it was fun, lol, the cold, the lines, the crowds, the chaos, and all.
Katiebird, what was it like where you were? And how about any of the rest of you in primary or caucus states? Let's try to keep the candidates out of this--to keep the peace--and just share our actual voting experiences.
Monday, February 4, 2008
I had done only one thing: added all five senses.
Before the rewrite, my character was just driving her truck and seeing things. After the rewrite, she was still driving her truck, but in addition to seeing things around her, she also smelled coffee that sloshed out of a cup, she tasted fruit she'd had for breakfast, she heard a voice on her cell phone, and when her rear tires left the pavement and rolled over gravel, she felt that change through her butt.
Here's a rewrite tip that will seem obvious to some of you, but isn't to the rest of us: Check every single scene to see if it has all five senses in it: sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell. I don't mean check a few scenes, I mean check them all. Now it may be that you can't get all five senses into every scene without pushing too hard, and you don't want to push so hard that it seems overdone. It's tricky to get taste into most scenes, for example, and smell's not easy, either. There will be many scenes in which you just can't add them without being absurd. But if you can and it works, you will be amazed at how much more "grounded," in my editor's word, your story feels. Even the most imaginative flight of fantasy needs grounding, in the sense of making the world you are creating feel as real to your reader as this world feels to you.
When you check each scene, you'll probably find that you're naturally stronger in some senses than in others. I don't have any problem getting sight into scenes, for instance. But for the rest of the senses, you'd think I had a cold that clogged up my ears and my nose so I couldn't hear, taste, or smell anything. And touch? Forget it. Those senses don't always pop up naturally in my writing; I have to work on them consciously.
Checking for the 5 senses is one of the most enjoyable parts of rewriting, in my opinion. It's not hard, it doesn't take much work to improve what you already have, it allows you to get imaginative, and the rewards far outweigh the effort.
And one last tip about the senses: if you don't do anything else, at least make sure your opening scene is rich and ripe with seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling (touch). It will pull your readers deep into your story and hook them before they turn to page two.
Here is a lovely example of the use of two senses in the very first paragraph of a novel. It's from The Sultan's Seal, by a new writer, Jenny White.
A dozen lamps flicker across the water, moving up the strait in silence, the oarsmen invisible. A dry scuffling noise drifts from shore, the breeze too indolent to carry it very far. Wild dogs bark and crash through the bushes. There are snarls, a short yelp, then silence again.
flicker. . .silence. . .invisible. . .dry scuffling. . .bark. . .crash. . .snarls. . .yelp. . .silence.
We are there, on the water, in the boat. And we wonder. . .what made the dog yelp, and why did it go so suddenly silent? In four sensory-laden sentences, she's got us. Even with such a brief passage, you can see why this book was named by Booklist as one of the top 10 first novels of last year.
Hook editors, agents, and readers by baiting your scenes with provocative, believable, and imaginative sensory images. If you can do that, you've got them, and they'll follow you anywhere.