Where Characters Come From

This morning, after yet another dental appt, we went to a breakfast café in the upper crust section of town, little imagining the effect it would have on a young woman’s story.

I don’t normally eavesdrop, but the lady at the table next to us caught my ear when she started ordering.

She didn’t like anything on the menu and just wanted a tomato, lettuce, and cheese sandwich. (What? Why not a BLT? Is this a new trend? The CLT! er, I can see why that might be a bad idea…)

When given bread choices, she asked if the rye had seeds and after being told yes, quietly ruminated before settling on the ciabatta. Then she asked if they had sprouts.

“Hoity-toity” came to mind, and I almost wanted to go sit at her table and observe everything about her. She just stuck out, and I knew she’d make a great character.

But I don’t write stories with hoity-toity women in them.

When we got home, I told my husband about my experience, and he mentioned the rom-com idea I’ve been working on. (Charity Girl)

Yes! PERFECT!

A mother who’s an over-bearing health nut would easily drive my heroine into the predicament in which she now finds herself. Sweet!

So, my new character has found a home, and my charming, overweight heroine has a monumental complication.

Flickr Free Use Photos Pool

An Anniversary I Don’t Want to Celebrate

I am my own history buff sometimes, and that means I tend to mark anniversaries and remember what I did on a certain date years before.

For instance, at the end of January ten years ago, I quit the third job I’d worked for over a year (meaning I worked a full and two part time jobs all through 2003—not my third job ever ;-) ).
It was turn down service at the Grand Floridian, if you’re curious (the expensive rooms on the top two floors of the main building).

credit: sanctumsolitude on Flickr cc (cropped)

credit: sanctumsolitude on Flickr cc (cropped)

Two years ago, I finished editing chapter 26. Little did I know it would be the last full chapter of forward motion.

I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since then, but it’s still disheartening to realize how much further I have yet to go to get back there.

One day…one day.

Giving Myself Permission to Play Again

An editor friend of mine recently began a series of posts outlining “a clear editing method that will help prepare your manuscript for submission…” This piqued my interest, making me think I’ve been missing some grand checklist that would’ve made my editing process a breeze. Today, she finally posted that checklist, and I eagerly downloaded it.

By the third line, my eyes had glazed over. The list is a wonderfully concise plan for wading through all the editing how-tos, but my resentment toward the information finally hit the breaking point. When I read the bare-bones rules of writing, I get the same sense of elation most kids have while writing a term paper.

Photo by Jassim madan

Photo by Jassim madan

I don’t know if I’ve applied all this to my work, or accomplished these things correctly. I don’t want to sit there and analyze what I’ve done, or second-guess myself even more. I’d spend far more time trying to answer the question of whether or not my characters are sympathetic than editing my words.

And that’s when it FINALLY dawned on me.

My writing has always been my creative and emotional outlet. My stories were fun; I didn’t have to worry about rules or reality. (What do you mean there’s no way in the universe a super popular boy band would hang out with random middle school chicks?) Like the Reading Rainbow theme song said: I could be anything. The rest of my life was work; writing was my play.

Photo by Jassim madan

Photo by Jassim madan

Children learn through play, and they learn best when they don’t know they’re learning.

I had always cringed under the structure of HOW TO WRITE. “Outline” was a four letter word, and the thought of putting scenes on note cards brought back nightmares of school projects.

This slowly changed for me thanks to a panel by Christie Golden at Star Wars Celebration V—coincidentally titled “Things I Hate (But Learned to Do Anyways, and So Can You)”. When she detailed how she outlines her stories, I realized it was something I already held in my head about my own novel. It didn’t have to resemble the outlines I’d done in school. (A, B, C, i, ii, iii…)

But just because I’d started to learn about and accept THE RULES of writing didn’t mean I was ready to analyze my own work in such a cut-and-dried manner.

Part of my personality loves dealing with absolutes, with the concrete instead of the abstract. But if the concrete concept looks brittle, I shy away.

For example, in my early school days they made a big deal out of putting together competitive “problem-solving teams.” The students would pick a large-scale problem (ie world overpopulation, which was such a big worry back then) and go through specific steps until they arrived at solutions that could be implemented. Ugh. I’ll pass, thanks.

Yet, those same problem-solving steps are exactly what happens when doing puzzles. I love puzzles. Sudoku, Bejeweled, Solitaire, Mah Jong, Dr. Mario, Tetris…yes, please. No one ever pointed out the similarity, so I shied away from “problem-solving” when it was something I already did.

So it is with the rules of writing. Not every how-to book appeals to me. I’m still scratching my head over Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, trying to figure out if I’ve implemented all those things as well as in the examples shown (high literary works, almost none of which I’ve ever read or want to). I have a much easier time with Jeff Gerke’s writing books, which use movie examples and popular genre works.

Something else about Jeff’s teaching style: he makes writing sound FUN.

Photo by Daniel Chodusov

Photo by Daniel Chodusov

And that’s what’s been missing since I started revising my work and trying to implement THE RULES.

No wonder I’ve been so frustrated and burned out and questioning why God won’t let me trash my book and do something else.

Yet, I’ve managed to throw off the restraints enough and revel in STORY enough to get 13½ great chapters. So, somehow, I’ve got to do that more often. I have a lot of story left to edit.

For instance, take the scene I’m editing now. It’s emotional and there needs to be a break. But all of my minor characters are otherwise occupied, and cutting away to them would make what they’re doing more important than it is. Why write a throw away scene?

So I’m crafting a reason to cut to the villain.

What she’s doing isn’t that important in the overall grand scheme and might, in fact, undermine the surprise of what happens when she and my protag next cross paths. But, in figuring out a reason, I discovered I could highlight a tiny detail that might show her motivation. (ugh. a rule.)

The cut-and-dried method says, “Show her motivation, show the details of the scene and keep the tension high while making sure to engage the reader.”

omg. I’d rather do the dishes!

The fun, appealing method says, “What if the villain were to see a small child at play while torturing a monster and milking him for venom like an über scary snake? Bonus if you can describe a lab with 70′s era decor and not use the words ‘shag carpet.’”

The print finishing room of the Atlas Laboratory at CERN, in the 1970s.

Credit: ESO

Yeah. Can’t wait to see how it turns out. ;-)

He Loves Broken People

Last night I finally finished Chapter 15 after having worked on it since November. At the end, the mentor character points out how the protagonist’s actions contributed to the devastation of an entire country. It’s a heavy scene that embodies the theme of the entire work, and I LOVE how it turned out.

Chapter 16 is supposed to be a continuation, where the protag and mentor talk through the fallout of the action of the previous chapters. It’s an important conversation, but I’m having the worst time trying to work through it. Three years ago, when I jumped (face-first) into this rewrite, this is the chapter that derailed me so badly, I’ve never really recovered.

I mean, how do you portray this type of conversation with God? One where you just found out you’re responsible for so many deaths and you almost caused more in your selfishness? But He’s not finished with you? In fact, you’re the key to His plan of redemption for others?

I also figure my problem with it has to do with my own father issues. I love my dad, but we’re too much alike, and our relationship has left me crying out for something more. We’re both emotionally distant on the outside, though we feel very, very deeply inside. As a result, I feel like I’ve never really connected with him. And it hurts to say that.

I know in my head that God is not like that, but I can’t feel it. What is it like to be secure in the knowledge that you’re completely loved and accepted by the only One who matters?

That’s what I want to portray. That’s what I want my protagonist to feel, to experience, to know. I want her to understand that despite her faults, her past, and her actions, there is NO ONE else he would choose for her purpose.

Because that’s what this life is all about.

It’s January Already?

One year ago today, I received a message that changed my view of writing and unlocked the vise-grip of doubt that had killed my creativity. I promised myself I’d blog about it.

Instead, I threw myself full-steam into yet another rewrite of my novel, this time changing it to present tense. I made big changes, joined a writing group, a site for writing, a critique group, went to meetings, went to conferences and got major feedback. I promised myself I’d blog about it.

And just like in journals I’ve kept, I’ve never caught up writing about all the changes, events, and people that have impacted my life.

In a way, that’s a good thing. It means I’m busy living life instead of just writing about it.

This January, even more changes happened, and I find myself once again in the vise-grip of doubt.

The question I have to pose to myself is one I always thought a no-brainer: Will I keep going if no one but me ever sees what I do?

Ten Books That Have Touched Me

Some memes deserve more than just a status update. Based on a friend’s answer to this question, I discovered a new book, so I thought I’d pass mine along in hopes of inspiring the same.

In no particular order, here are 10+ books that have stuck with me.

1.     The Guardian by Jane Hamilton (no, not that Jane Hamilton, this one–the publisher made her use a pseudonym)

Tabris, a guardian angel, has killed his human charge.

When I first read the premise in a local bookstore catalog back in 1994, I knew I had to read it. But since I was a poor high school student at the time, it would be another 10 years before my husband helped me find it again. So very glad I read it. It’s an amazing story of God’s love and forgiveness. In fact, it’s time to read it again…

2.  Besieged Heart by Jennifer Blake

A wizard takes his princess 800 years into the future.

I really don’t like this cover for this book, but it is what it is. I read this story 3 times in the month after I got it. The language is just beautiful in its economy and imagery (“…endless tents topped by snapping battle flags.”), and the author did a fantastic job of showing how a princess from the medieval time period would view a glimpse of modern, rural America, as well as her own station in life. Two proud but passionate people, confined by their restricted roles. *le sigh*

3.  The Testament by John Grisham

Moments before jumping to his death, multi-billionaire Troy Phelan, pens a new will and leaves his entire fortune to a missionary in Brazil.

A patient left this at the doctor’s office where I worked, and I stayed up all night to finish it. Then read it again a few years later. Just an incredible story that I’ve never been able to forget. The book follows the lawyer, fresh out of rehab, as he tracks down the mysterious woman, while the family reacts to being cut out of the will.

4.  Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Someone is building the world’s first truly accurate clock. But if the Perfect Clock starts ticking, Time — as we know it — will end.

I read this just before my first nano, and it influenced my story quite a bit. Granted, mine is nothing like this, and even the similarities are different enough that I doubt anyone would have known had I not mentioned it. For many reasons, this will forever hold a big place in my heart. There’s a fitting death scene at the end (by chocolate) as well as the perfect moment. ;-)

5.  Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee

“I’m going to tell you my story, and you’re going to write it down and publish it.” What begins as a mystery soon spirals into chaotic obsession as Clay struggles to piece together Lucian’s dark tale.

And what an amazing tale. Randomly picked this up at Barnes & Noble and have been raving about it ever since. Such a deep, thought-provoking story.

6.  Behind the Glittering Mask by Dr. Mark Rutland

The archangel Michael vs Lucifer on the seven deadly sins.

I still remember the service Dr. Rutland preached when the congregation voted him in as the new senior pastor of the church where I grew up. He’s a gifted preacher and writer. This book is an amazing look at the sins from the ways that sound right, to the ways that are right.

7.  Whispers by Robin Jones Gunn

Teri meets three incredible men in Maui…but which one is the man of her dreams?

While I enjoyed the Glenbrooke series, this book was one of my favorites. I LOVE the hero in this book and many of his lines have stayed with me over the years.

8.  Unveiled by Courtney Milan

Revenge and betrayal in the name of family.

Usually, the end is a foregone conclusion in a romance, but the conflict here is at such cross purposes, I honestly wasn’t sure who to root for. It’s one of the best examples of amazing writing and character development that I’ve come across in the entire genre.

9.  The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

Seven fantastic books of epic battles between good and evil, fantastic creatures, betrayals, heroic deeds, and friendships won and lost.

We owned the individual series, and I read them young. I never finished Prince Caspian because I lost it on the walk home from second grade. I wrapped it in my coat with my other books, but soon discovered it missing. I retraced my steps all the way to the school and back, but never found it. I finally read it the day we saw the movie – have to say I like the movie better. Glad to hear they’re working on the script for The Silver Chair. =)

10.  Treehugger by Kea Alwang

Planet-hopping is a gift. Being Earthborn? Well, that simply bites. But does it really matter what world you’re on when trying to find yourself–especially when a lunatic is trying to find you first?

I met Kea while waiting in line at a writing panel at Star Wars Celebration VI. Learning she’d self published a book, I asked about it and got a cool book card to take home. I marveled at experiencing true marketing at it’s finest. The cover drew me in, the story hooked me. Between the time I sampled it and finally bought it, she added a prologue that made it all the more intriguing. Fantastically imagined story and story world—count me a fan for life!

Bonus:Stand-In Groom by Kaye Dacus (Truthfully, the entire Brides of Bonneterre series, including A Menu for Romance, and A Case for Love)

When wedding planner Anne Hawthorne first meets George Laurence, she thinks she’s found the man of her dreams. But when she discovers he’s a client, she knows planning his wedding will be no honeymoon.

I was drawn to the unusual covers for this series (normally, it’s the hero’s face—specifically the eyes—that draws me in), but I’d become burned out on tired, cliched Christian romance. It took the premise of the second book to convince me to pick these up.

This is anything but tired or cliched. For the first time, the conflict wasn’t that one character wasn’t a Christian. In fact, her characters are refreshingly real as they try to work through their lives with God’s help—Anne is even a size 18 (love that she wears an eggplant-colored suit at one point). It read a lot like a My Big Fat Cajun Family.

It gave me hope again at a time when I was just finishing a new version of my own novel. I wonder if I’d have considered a spiritual warfare version if I hadn’t read this series.

It’s also the first time I friended an author after reading their books. Turns out she’s also a great writing coach, and I learned a lot from her posts about what to expect from my first conference—where my full manuscript was requested.

Images are from (and link to) Amazon. Please let me know if they don’t work, and I’ll fix them.

Realm Makers and Novel Writers Beach Retreat Part 4

Getting to St. Louis

credit: Ryan Dodd

I’d hoped we could make it to Val Dosta before sleep Monday night (July 29th), but there was no way we’d be able to leave that night. This meant the trip would be compacted into 2 days instead of 3. Don’t forget, I was the only driver.

We finally left about 2 Tuesday afternoon, which meant we missed rush hour traffic through all the cities we’d cross that day. Though there were storms to the right and left, we had barely any rain, just gorgeous vistas. Thank you, God!

The drive wasn’t bad, with the exception of construction around Atlanta (even at the late hour we got there). Traffic moved; it was just tight and nerve-wracking. Did I mention I hate driving? Yeah, I really wanted to go to this conference.

Even worse were the mountains just before Tennessee, when the surroundings seemed to disappear along with the road when going over a hill. Believe me, I was grateful we were almost to our stopping place!

Unfortunately, our instructions to the hotel in Chattanooga weren’t clear, and we missed a turn, ending up in an industrial section. We got back on the highway and backtracked to the first exit off I75, where we found a Holiday Inn Express.

Once again, the bed proved to be a problem. Not fun at 2 in the morning after a LONG day of driving! The manager had us check a couple of rooms, and then took the castors off the lowest bed himself. He also gave us the lowest rate he could find—a military discount—since we arrived so late. Huge blessing and completely God’s providence. The manager wasn’t even supposed to be on duty that night. His night auditor had a sick child, and he believed family came first.

The next day, we woke to rainy grayness. We checked out, got spicy chicken sandwiches at the McDonalds next door and got on the highway…only to stop.

Btw, those sandwiches were the best we’d ever had. The sweet tea I’d been looking forward to, though? Not so much. Can’t win ’em all, right?

We called my sister and she looked up the traffic info for us—accidents galore due to the rainy weather (thankfully, it wasn’t actually raining anymore). Fortunately the worst accident was on the other side of the highway (an overturned car—yikes!) and we were soon sailing, though not smoothly, because I discovered that I. Do. Not. Like. Mountain. Driving.

The clouds hung low, hiding the tops of the mountains beneath a drippy, gray cotton-candy ceiling. This, along with huge semis, made for a claustrophobic drive. I got in the right lane and stuck to my own pace around the speed limit. Let the other guys speed around me; I was not going one mile faster than I wanted to. :-)

Realizing that we could hit a problem with the bed in St. Louis, we called the hotel. They measured it, saying it was ~23½”, but we could “press it down” to the 21” we needed. Uh, yeah. We spent most of the drive through Tennessee trying to contact a few other hotels, with even worse bed height numbers.

The worst part was getting to Nashville at 4PM. I remembered it being a tight, weird interchange when my sister and I drove through almost exactly ten years before, so I’d done the Google street view to see which lanes I needed to be in. Heh, guess which section of road is now under construction?

I almost hit an auto hauler. Almost.

Fortunately, everyone was getting onto the other highway, so after our single-lane interchange, things smoothed dramatically.

I would like to propose that we simply cut Tennessee out of the middle of the country so that no one has to drive those roads. All in favor? Aye. Motion passed; prepare for extraction.

Kentucky wasn’t much better, but for entirely different reasons.
We got there when the sun was starting down, and our route went west. My glasses are transitions and don’t change well in cars, so I used a pair of the sunglasses we got in our bucket in Daytona. But the darkened view made my body believe it was time for sleep. Not good.

Fortunately, the weather was beautiful and the drive fairly smooth.

We got to St. Louis about 1 or 2 in the morning, after a white-knuckle drive on part of the beltway. The room was nice and big, and the bed was nice and high—with a thick frame around it that left too much of a gap for my husband to cross, even if he could have made the lift.

No. No, no, no. This was not supposed to happen!!

Despite the fact that my sister would be leaving for Las Vegas the next day, we called her. For the next hour or two, we and the front desk manager called hotels around the city (again). No one had a bed that was low enough. My sister talked to a nice woman at a Drury Inn near the airport who mentioned having a pull-out couch we could try.

At this point, I’d have taken a manger. I have so much more appreciation for what Mary went through.

We got directions, got lost, and had to drive through the airport, but finally made it. I checked the handicapped room first, but the bed was 25 to 26”, so we measured the pull-out couch in the suite. Close enough for government work. My husband couldn’t fit into the bathroom (for brushing teeth, etc), but there wasn’t anything to be done at this point.

And it was nicer than a stable.

The woman suggested I book for the rest of the stay since she was giving us a discount and couldn’t guarantee it when she wouldn’t be there the next day, should we decide to stay more than that night. I agreed, but only booked through Saturday night instead of the extra day I’d planned to take for catching up on sleep and hopefully getting to visit the arch. Turns out, God was in this, too.

While unloading the car, the lady asked if we wanted some breakfast since she was setting up for the morning. (I think it was about 3:30 at this point.) Couldn’t tell you what we had, but it was good. So glad to find gracious people in the midst of these types of circumstances!

Then I made up the couch for my husband, getting another blanket from the front desk since he was worried about a pressure sore. I had looked up directions to the nearest Target (by the other hotel, of course) so we planned to buy a foam topper the next day.

The couch wasn’t big enough for both of us, so I had to sleep in the bed in the next room. I’ve only slept apart from him one or two other times in our entire marriage. :-(
Better than a stable, better than a stable…

The next morning, I clarified directions for Target, but they pointed me to a closer one, and we headed off. I cannot tell you how glad I am that we’d made it into St. Louis with a day to spare before the conference. Had we arrived Thursday night instead of Wednesday, none of this would have been possible to deal with.

We got supplies from Target (a nice, cheap twin foam mattress topper) and a few subs from Subway for meals at the conference. And, because we have to check out all the options, we looked at a few cheap motels:

Travelodge—My sister said they’d been surprised to hear about ADA compliance when she talked to them the night before. Sure enough, the entrance would’ve been hard to navigate with the wheelchair, and they had the fridge in the entry hall in the room, so my husband would’ve had difficulty even getting into the place…with a 24” bed. Sorry, not remotely worth the hassle.

Same with the Econolodge. Small room, 24” bed. No thanks.

We pressed on and passed a road that my husband recognized as the university address. So we turned in and found the place where the con would be. That’s when I discovered my south-of-the-south brain had led me to assume we’d be on flat ground. Not.

There was a ramp, about as long and almost as steep as the ramp up to the monorail at the Transportation, Ticket Center at Disney. There was no way I’d be able to do that in the heels I planned to wear to the dinner Friday night. Mental note that I’d need my sneakers, or mountain climbing equipment. ;-)

Inside, we found the rooms, and a guy asked if we needed help. Turns out he was their university liaison, so he knew where all the events would take place and pointed out a handicapped bathroom (where I ended up changing Friday night). We mentioned the ramp and he told us we could park in the faculty lot around the corner, which had a smoother approach. Yay, God!

Though we were still short on sleep, we finally felt prepared for the conference.