Friday, November 26, 2010

Writing Craft: A Review

A while back I said I'd post my review of Stephen King's memoir and craft help book On Writing. I'm going to quickly jot down a few of my thoughts on it now, while I've got half an hour before school drop off time (so if I don't make a lot of sense, I've had to go deal with a child related situation).

Five things I got out of this book:

1.  After close to two years of writer's block, to read the words "The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better" made me realise the main thing holding me back from finishing a book was fear. I was afraid it wouldn't be good, that the plot would tie me in knots and I'd lose patience with it, afraid I was wasting my time. I've started writing again, successfully, in the last couple of months and these are the words I always say to myself if I ever start vacillating and trying to put the task off.

2. "I won't convince you that I've never plotted any more than I'd try to convince you that I've never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible".  I'm not a rigid plottter. I need a general idea of where I'm going and a few scenes in my head to help get me there, but if I ever outline it's with the full knowledge that I'll deviate from that outline wildly. Stephen King legitimized my way of doing things, as far as I'm concerned.

3. A part of a writer's job it to READ. This seems simple enough, but it's easy when you have such limited writing time to get bogged down in guilt when you spend some of that time reading someone else's work instead of crafting your own. But the famous quote is true: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write." Reading is work for a writer--it is research. This has helped me enjoy my reading again, which in turn has helped me remember what I enjoy about writing (oh and I've all but given up TV so I can make my reading/writing a priority. I hardly miss it actually).

4. Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around." King was referring here to using his need for creative energy to excuse his alcohol and drug habit, but the lesson is apt for anyone who's caught in that trap of thinking the writing is the most important thing in their lives. It's not. Really. IT'S NOT THAT IMPORTANT. Your family, your REAL life is what's important. Writing can totally consume you and sometimes, when you're on a roll, that's a good thing. The rest of the time go be with your family. Keep it in perspective and stop beating yourself up for not being Tolstoy (or is that just me?)

5. "When you write a story, you're telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out the things that are not the story." In other words, allow that first draft to be nonesensical to anyone else but you. The first draft is for your eyes only anyway. Once you've told yourself the story--you can do this in a word doc., in a notebook or on 500 cocktail napkins, whatever works for you--you then know what you're trying to say to others. Then you can fill in the blanks and cut the crap. This is actually my favourite part of writing.

So those are the main points I got out of this book. I would recommend it to anyone who writes, who wants to write or who is simply interested in reading the life story of a very interesting person. I'd definitely recommend it it you've struggled with writing in recent times. It just might help.

Regards,
Sami

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NaNo? Did someone say NaNo?


Yes, well my first encounter with NaNo was in 2005 when I wrote my little heart out for thirty consecutive days and won! I have the certificate filled out with "Cowboy Heatwave" right there as the name of my novel - my First Finished Novel. I thought I was so great... well it lasted a little while. I still love those characters but I don't think anyone else will ever read it - not one ounce of conflict whatsoever. But, NaNo 2005 did the job I wanted it to do - it got me to finish my first ever novel and for that I will be forever grateful.

This year things have not gone smooth. Just yesterday I was heading for disaster, struggling to leave behind 15,000 and not getting very far at all. What a lunch with a fellow writer can do for a story! Yes, as I went back to work after lunch - oh so grudgingly, my story was beginning to ferment and today I fell over the line at 20,000. That must be a record for me. And somebody told me I was cruel to Rosaleen, the great bad character (read bitch) from Torn, well this is her book and it's called Shattered. Exactly what happens to Rosaleen.

There's something so very satifying about bringing a bitch down to size. So, as a reward for a good day's work, I retire with Beverley Eikli's "Lady Farquhar's Butterfly". No, it's not research, not a requirement, purely for pleasure and this time I'll get to finish it - in between rehabilitating Rosaleen from her near death experience tomorrow and until I write The End for another book.


One might think that after having written most of the day I would not want to see another book - but one would be wrong and not understand writers. Good night people. Oh and don't forget my November competition - write me a short character sketch for the chance to win a book on Verbal Seduction! You know you want it... Zoe Y

Historical Romance Author - Grace Elliot - More to her than meets the eye!!

Today, I would like to introduce everyone to Grace Elliot, a fellow Solstice Publishing author. Grace's debut novel, A Dead Man's Debt is beautifully written, and a good, fast-paced historical love story (if I say so myself).  

Ranulf Charing is perfect for this era and setting. Charming, yet brooding, I found myself drawn to him and his selfless personality. Celeste Armitage is delightfully head strong, and her moments of confusion made me smile. The scene in the card room between Celeste and one Violet Farthingale made me chuckle.

Ms Elliot has created a wonderful, vibrant world, which easily drew me in and kept me hooked from the first page. Ranulf and Celeste’s relationship grows steadily and strongly, pulling me along for the historical ride. Unfortunately, the nasty Ursula Black, who is well named, plans to throw a spanner in the works for the lovers.

BLURB:

Celeste Armitage has a plan…and that plan doesn’t include marriage.

After deliberately humiliating a suitor, Celeste’s despairing parents exile her to the country. But once there she discovers a sketch book of daring nude studies and is shaken to find the artist is her hostess’s eldest son, Lord Ranulf Charing. This darkly cynical lord is exactly the sort of dissipated rogue she despises most…if only her blood didn’t heat at the thought of him…

Nothing is as it seems. Lord Ranulf’s life is a façade. Only he can save the Charing’s from disgrace as a blackmailer tries to ruin his late brother’s reputation. But just as Ranulf dares to open his heart to Celeste, the fury of his nemesis is unleashed… facing him with the stark choice between true love and family duty. However when Celeste guesses the truth behind his rejection, Ranulf underestimates her resolve to clear his name and in so doing places the woman he loves in mortal danger….

Welcome to The Romantix blog, Grace. Tell us a bit about your latest full-length release, A Dead Man's Debt.

Hi there, and Kiss, I’d like to say how much I enjoyed In the Shadows of Angels – the first download on my ‘virgin’ kindle, I read it in two sittings – couldn’t put it down! I hope my book A Dead Man’s Debt will give readers such pleasure! Awwww thanks Grace. I've read A Dead Man's Debt and I know it will give readers much pleasure!

A Dead Man's Debt is my debut novel, a sensuous regency romance about blackmail, duty and unexpected love. I write the sort of books I like to read, filled with sexual tension, delicious historical detail and driven by a gripping plot.

Is this the only book you have published?

I have written 5 novels, but A Dead Man’s Debt is the first to be sent to a publisher. My short stories and non fiction has been widely published in the UK in magazines such as The People’s Friend, the Lady, Writing Magazine and My Weekly.

Tell us a little bit about the characters in A Dead Man’s Debt.

Oh I’m totally in love with the hero, the darkly restless Lord Ranulf Charing. As eldest son he carries the weight of the Cadnum’s reputation when all he wants is to be an artist. Dutiful but frustrated, his life is a façade. Only when he meets the heroine, the unconventional Celeste Armitage, and witnesses her courage, does he dare to lay bare his heart…to a woman who has sworn never marry.

Give us a little insight into the way you write your books. Do you have any rituals you do before you write?

Writing is an addiction. I have to write or I get scratchy and irritable. Generally I write for at least 20 minutes a day, rain or shine…inevitably this extends to fill whatever time is available, at the expense of house work, meals and other wifely duties! My writing spot is a sofa in the dining room, with one of my five cats pressed against my leg.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?

Definitely- both!!
Initially I work to a story outline, drafted from start to finish before I write the first word. I also decide what the hero and heroine look like and their character traits before the serious writing begins. Then I write for myself which means letting the words pour out onto the screen without caring about grammar, or even complete sentences. This shows up flaws in the original outline and areas that need to be explored and deepened and hey presto, the book has taken on a life of its own as the characters tell their own story.

How did the premise for this book come about?

Truly the whole idea came out of one name...Celeste. It’s an unusual name that I came across in a novel, and I wondered what sort of woman my Celeste would be. It seemed she had ethereal ideas, not pinned down by society, strong and intelligent. A woman like Celeste wants to see the world and travel, not be shackled in marriage…so what would happen if she was pushed into doing exactly what she abhors... of course she rebels! But what if she fell in love with the sort of man she most despises... and slowly, A Dead Man’s Debt was born.

Do you only write historical romance? Could there be any stories outside your genre down the track?

My absolute passion is history and my next book is also a regency romance. If I were to be unfaithful to the regency period, it would be with the Victorian era, also a great love of mine.

What genre do you like to read? Who’s your favourite author?

Oh Kiss, were to start? Firstly I’m a bookaholic and read everything from the classics to film spin offs. But without doubt my favorite genre to lose myself in is historical romance and my fave authors are the likes of Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Lisa Kleypas and Gaelen Foley.

What’s next in the world of writing and publishing for Grace Elliot?

My next book is in its third draft and should be finished in New Year 2011. I continue to publish short stories in the UK and currently have a series of non fiction articles about pets appearing in a veterinary journal.

Where on the web can we find you and your books?

Thank you Kiss, if you or your followers would like to find out more about Grace Elliot and her work please visit my website at:

http://www.graceelliot.webs.com/

If you love animals, history or romance, then why not visit my blog at:

http://graceelliot-author.blogspot.com/

A Dead Man’s Debt’ can be purchased via:
http://www.solsticepublishing.com/products/A-Dead-man%27s-debt.html

Or at the Amazon Kindle bookshop.

EXCERPT:
So be it. Ranulf gritted his teeth as he grasped the leading leg and pushed. It was like fighting against a brick wall, the calf barely moving. A lamb was difficult enough, how much more so a calf? Just as he was wondering if one man was strong enough, a shower of pebbles rattled down the bank. Concentrating on the calf, he barked.

“Don‟t just stand there. Get down here!”

“I beg your pardon!” A woman‟s voice answered.

With a flash of annoyance Ranulf glanced upward.

A wide eyed young woman in a straw bonnet peered down. “I say, is everything all right?”

“Does it look all right?” Muttering under his breath, all he needed was some sensitive Miss fainting on him. “Go! Fetch help from the house.”

He saw her hesitate, biting her top lip. “But you need help now.”

A contraction clamped around his arm as the cow's tail switched across his face, stinging his eyes like a cat-o-nine-tails.

In a flurry of muslin and lace the Miss slid down the bank, landing with a thud in the ditch.

“Ouch.” She rubbed her ankle. Ranulf glared back, dark eyes flashing.

“You should have gone to the house.” Damn it all, she could make herself useful then. “Hold the tail aside.”

Pulling a face she limped over. Ranulf's eye lingered for she merited a second glance. Of middle height with a tidy waist and curves where God intended them, she appeared quick witted and bright eyed. Without further ado, she stripped off her gloves throwing them onto a bramble bush. Long, sensitive fingers grasped the muddy tail. Practical, Ranulf thought, silently impressed.

“Why didn't you go for help?”

“There wasn't time.” Her bonnet slipped backwards, revealing a quirky face with a pointed chin, her lips finely drawn with an arched cupid's bow. The sort of face an artist could lose himself in, all shades of the sea to be found in deep emerald eyes framed by a tangle of chestnut hair.

Ranulf tightened his grasp and pushed. Sweat beading his brow. The calf retreated an inch.

“What are you doing?” Her voice was gentle and calm, if somewhat deep for a woman. Ranulf guessed it would be husky in bed, whispering over a pillow after a night of passion. Her eyes were on him - deep green eyes, lively and entrancing. Suddenly he remembered that he was undressed to the waist, her curious gaze on his skin as he was gripped by the idea of those lily white hands gliding over his naked chest, her almond shaped nails digging into his skin. He shook away the thought, trying to remember her question.

All innocence and interest she watched, blushing faintly in a charming way and yet, he realized, no wilting flower. He shook his head. The woman had asked a question, damn it. He would answer.

“The calf is breech.” He grunted, “I need to push her back into the womb to turn her…” He wanted to shock this stranger, to test how bold she truly was. She stared back, biting her top lip, exaggerating her snub nose.

“Ah!” Her gaze met his.

“Think of the calf as a carriage in a narrow driveway. To turn it around you push it back into the stable yard…”

“What can I do to help?”

“Nothing.” He growled.

Throwing him an angry look, she anchored the tail with a log and scrambled round to the beast's head. After a moment‟s thought, she placed her pelisse under the cow's head stroking the broad nose and crooning words of comfort.

“She's relaxing.” Ranulf's arm was numb from the contractions. He fell forward, as the first leg finally slid back into the womb. "That helps." His hair had come free from the ribbon, falling thickly about his shoulders. He glanced at the Miss. She was leaning forward, her bosom straining against a tight bodice, a satisfying cleavage between her breasts. He swallowed hard. She was odd looking, he decided, not exactly beautiful but eye catching none the less. Her face showed character, determination…and her complexion too healthy to be fashionable, rosy cheeked and peppered with freckles which with a hint of sunlight burst into a profusion.

The Miss was glaring at him now, her skin glowing bright pink. Had he been staring? His heart raced as he returned to the calving.
 
Thank you so much, Grace, for taking the time to tell us a little about your book, and your writing process. We wish you the best of luck with A Dead Man's Debt.

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Don't Nano

Not exactly. I did it once about three years ago and never finished either of the manuscripts I started (yes there were two), so I labelled it an unmitigated disaster and decided I wouldn't go a round two with National Novel Writing Month.

But I must confess this November I have been sort of doing my own version of this mad rush to set words down at all costs. I didn't mean to do it in November as such, but that's just when I happened to be ready have a serious go at trying to start/complete something again. At the moment I'm writing an m/f/m, m/m/f menage themed erotic romance tentatively entitled Erica's Choice.

I explain all this because this is my reason for not having compiled a craft post this week. It is also my reason for not posting this blog on Thursday, which is my regular Romantix time slot. I'm busy writing, what do you know. Hasn't happened in two years so I'm seizing this opportunity with both hands.

I will see you next week. With something, not sure what yet. A craft post, I hope.

Sami

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday, the day of rest and...

Hey! The new page looks great! Thanks Sami for the overhaul. Now can you do my blog and my webpage??? I can already hear the resounding Noooooo!!!

Today is Sunday, generally the one day of the week it's okay to sit around and do nothing. Ahhhh, if only I could sit and do nothing. Today I:

1. Did our monthly grocery shop. I took my eldest daughter and the baby with me. Slowed me down by 45 minutes. Still, it was great to have some company.
2. Did a little bit of Christmas shopping. Took the gorgeous hubby with me. He's not into teenage clothes...or bras..."Aren't you holding that dress up backwards?" Ah, no. Those words could only come from a conservative father of two daughters.
3. Tended to the vegie patch. Pulled weeds and any dead or dying seedlings that didn't look like taking. Quick or dead is the motto at our house. Wired the beans. Trimmed the herbs that are growing wild in the humidity, and looked at the passionfruit plants growing wild up the neighbour's tree. Just looked. I still don't know what to do about that one. Cut back the lavender...and we have lots of lavender.
4. Did 6 loads of washing. There's still at least 4 waiting. I've done 3 loads a day since the granddaughter arrived.
5.Checked out hubby's handy work with the pool. The pool is still green, thanks to the rain and the humidity, but it's looking better by the hour. Now to kill the rest of the algae.
6. This isn't done, yet but I plan to write about 2000 words of my new WIP tonight.

So, my day of rest turned out like every other day. What now? Gee, it's nearly dinner time.

K

Friday, November 12, 2010

If I Only Had a Heart

Anyone who knows me or reads my rantings over at Sami’s Scribbles will already know I’ve suffered horribly with a form of writer’s block the past year (and a half, but who’s counting?). I’ve been able to start stories, oh so many of them, but it’s the finishing part that has caused me the biggest problem. And as a prerequisite to a career in publishing is the ability to be able to offer up complete manuscripts, this has become somewhat of a problem for me.

After the RWA conference in Sydney, where I pitched a partial I had written to a US agent and was asked to send it to her, I hit a crisis point. I knew in my gut that I couldn’t send through the book I’d been working on. Yes, if I put my nose right to the grindstone I could get it finished based on the synopsis I’d drafted. I could send her something quite all right. But my book just wasn’t good enough. It didn’t represent me or what I know I’m capable of as a writer, when I’m on my game. With regret, I emailed that agent and apologised for not sending the requested work, admitting the simple truth. Like Tin Man on his way to Oz, my story just didn’t have a heart.

For me this is the most important thing you can put into a book. It’s more vital than having a great premise, or a fantastic plot or even compelling characters. The book has to have a life of its own. It has to say something—by that I don’t necessarily mean something existential or world changing. Your message could be a simple one about family, love, redemption or courage. The complexity of the message isn’t what’s important. The passion with which it’s delivered is.

So how does a writer ensure their book has heart? I imagine it’s different for everyone. I’ve come to the realisation I just can’t work within tightly constructed plots without killng my passion for the story. Neither can I force my ideas to fit into a predesigned mold. I can’t take something I wrote in my free wheeling manner and ‘tweak’ it to fit a specific publishing company’s requirements. None of us can truly ‘tweak’ ourselves, and if we’ve written the book we are supposed to write it will reflect who we are. Take out certain elements and it’s no longer what we intended. We might still write capably. We might even sell. If so we could make a buck or two. But is that really all we want? Is that why we write?

This was meant to be a critique of Stephen King’s On Writing which recently helped me arrive at a few conclusions about how I need to proceed with my work, but the post is already too long so I’ll save that for next week. For now I’ll leave you to ponder a few questions:

What is at a book’s heart to you? What are you passionate about? Why do you write?

Sami

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Would I Lie To You?

This is one that has caused some consternation among our little writers’ group before. It shouldn’t have. We’re all quite knowledgeable about writing, practically word nerds, one and all. We’re all trying to be authors and two of us are even published authors. So why would the difference between lie and lay cause us any confusion?

Well, all I can say is even the little things can trip us up sometimes. But I found a useful little lay vs lie chart in the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, by Jane Straus, which is my easy to use go-to book for little sticking points like this. I thought I’d share it with you so you too can benefit from the wisdom I’ve discovered.

                                                    Present Tense                                 Past Tense


To recline                                      lie, lying                                             lay

To put or place                             lay, laying                                           laid

To tell a falsehood                        lie, lying                                              lied



The third of these is pretty easy to distinguish from the others. I wouldn’t tell a lie. I’d be lying if I said I always told the truth. Pretty easy, except perhaps for the ethical questions it raises. But the other two deserve closer consideration. Here are some examples:

Present (or in this case future) tense: I will lie down for a nap at 3 o’clock (oh how I wish). And: I lay the book on the bedside table and went to sleep.

Past tense: I lay down for a nap yesterday at 3 o’clock. When I lay down for a nap yesterday, I laid the book on the bedside table and went to sleep.

Come to think of it, I’m not surprised even the word nerds were confused. It’s the word lay that causes the problem because it is the past tense of recline but also the present tense of to put or place. Really, the English language couldn’t come up with something better than that?

Apparently not.

In any case, there you have it. Hope it’s of some use to you.

Now I’d like this explained: Why is sex colloquially referred to as getting ‘placed’. Placed on the bed? Placed in the back seat of the car? Put in an awkward position that gives you back spasms for days?

Hmm….

Sami