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.

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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?

Realm Makers and Novel Writers Beach Retreat Part 2

Novel Writer’s Beach Retreat:

After 4 jam-packed days of preparation, we arrived in Daytona on Friday evening (July 26)—later than I’d wanted, so we missed dinner with the group. We checked in and went up to our 2nd floor room. Oceanfront. Sweet! I cannot tell you how beautiful that was to see after all the stress of getting there…

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But the bed was too high for my husband to transfer into from his wheelchair.

This is something we hadn’t thought much about before. At a local hotel where we sometimes stay for our anniversary, my husband uses a copy of Stephen King’s Under the Dome for a boost to get into the higher bed. But we’ve never actually measured the height.

When we bought our new bed in early June, we really began to think about it—especially when he almost got a pressure sore from the firmer bed. We tried to use the guest bed his mother bought for us, but that bed is 24” from the floor to the top of the mattress. (Our bed is 21″) My brilliant idea was for him to transfer onto a night table then transition into the bed. That resulted in a shearing injury and a whole host of other problems. (Oh the trial and error of life with a disability.)

Since this bed was  also 24″, I knew it wouldn’t work. I asked the front desk if they had a room with a lower bed. They showed me one on the 8th floor that was a suite. However, it was very small and tight (and not an ocean view, though I wasn’t opposed to losing that option for a bed that would work). Unfortunately, the bed was the same height.

My husband told me to see if they had someone from housekeeping or maintenance who could remove the castors under the bed to lower it. Our new bed had come with wheels, but they left them off to make the bed the right height. He figured this could be done to the hotel bed, too.

The guy that came in was able to get a couple of them off, but it was a king bed, and he needed something to hold it up so he could reach the ones in the middle and back. Since we were going to stay in the room by then, I unpacked, fumed at the stupidly-designed closet, and prepared to head down for the opening session of the conference. The guy told us not to worry, he’d figure it out. He cracked a few jokes that helped ease the tension I’d felt at the bed, at the stupidity of how people implemented the ADA codes, and at the stress I’d been under for the past week.

Little did I know this would be one of the easiest stays we’d have.

Side note on the closet: They usually put a lower rack in so people in chairs can hang clothes—often with hilarious results. This one had a shelf that made the higher rack too short to hang shirts, and then put the safe in the middle of the lower section, taking up almost all of the space. Even the maintenance guy looked at it and said, “Yeah. That was a stupid design.”

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Though it’s hard to tell from this angle, the shelf extends to the front, so my shirts and pants aren’t hanging straight down, but draped against the edge and sticking out of the closet.

Then, when we walked into the meeting room, the chairs were lined up wall to wall with no space for a wheelchair. I have to admit frustration when I walk into situations like these. I’m always stressed out just trying to get to places on time, and then to have there be no room for my husband? grr.

But people are always kind. A couple of them moved, and we managed to make it work. Turns out the hotel had only opened in May, and they’d assured the host (and he’d seen blueprints) that the meeting room would hold 40 people.

Uh nope. But we got a good laugh out of it. 😀

They also gave everyone a plastic bucket (with shovel attached to the handle) filled with various snacks, paraphernalia and a pair of sunglasses. Such a neat idea! It’s the little things, you know?

After that, things improved immensely.

During the retreat, they read my first page (projected on the big screen, no less) and Mark Hancock, Eva Marie Everson, and Rachel Hauck all discussed it.

Eeep!

They had many encouraging things to say about it, and I felt elated by the experience.

The next evening, we broke into groups and did a Word Weavers style critique of the 1500 word samples we brought. I chose a scene I was currently working on—a bit more confusing than if I’d chosen the beginning of the story, but that helped my purpose: if they could understand it, I knew the scene would be fine. The reactions were mixed and though I had several say, “This isn’t my genre”, Rachel Hauck’s assessment challenged me.

She told me the scene was too neat and tame compared to the emotion that should be shown.
I would mull over that for the next month.

During the last session, I won one of Eva’s books as a door prize, and we bought Rachel’s latest (and had both signed, woot). Then they handed out prizes I’d seen mentioned but hadn’t paid attention to.

The first prize went to me: an hour-long mentorship with Eva.
She said it came down to the first line of the one-page samples.

Oh, wow! Commence internal dancing and butterflies. 🙂

Then, without a moment to lose, we headed home…only to hit bad traffic on I4 due to construction on a long stretch with no off-ramps. We were stuck. But we spent the time talking about the great retreat and kept our spirits up.

Realm Makers and Novel Writers Beach Retreat Part 1

This summer was super busy for my husband and me, and I’d like to share why:

The Set Up

I first heard about Realm Makers in March or April and really wanted to go.
At the same time, I learned about the Novel Writers Beach Retreat to be held in Daytona Beach the last weekend in July. Once my husband heard that RM would take place at a university in St. Louis with dorms as lodging, he said no, that the NWBR would be better for us.

I prayed God would make me able to accept his answer and be content with the closer conference. I knew my husband was right; dorms aren’t known for being wheelchair friendly.

At the local ACFW meeting in May, a friend mentioned RM again since she’d be teaching there and knew we’d be interested in a speculative fiction conference. I told her we couldn’t go because of the dorms. And again submitted my disappointment to God.

Meantime, the meeting was about synopsis writing. They announced a contest for a 1-pg synopsis to be held in June. I’d thought I wouldn’t have to write a synopsis since I received a request for a full manuscript, but one of the other authors mentioned sending one with every request he’d received. Since his experience sounded similar to mine, I realized I should indeed write one. Seized with inspiration, I spent the next few weeks writing and editing it.

In June, we contacted  the NWBR host about handicap accessible rooms at the hotel in Daytona, and he said spots were still available and the rooms would be no problem. We signed up for it, and I sent in my first page for a critique session to be held during the retreat.

I thought about surprising my husband with a getaway at the hotel so we could check the bed height but decided against it.

I wish we’d gone.

The weekend before the NWBR was another ACFW meeting and my friend mentioned RM again. All this time, I’d not been able to accept that I couldn’t go. It honestly felt like I’d be at the adult table while all the cool kids got to go to St. Louis. 😦

I talked to my husband about it again, and he was surprised (as was I, truthfully) at how much I really wanted to go. We discussed the ins and outs of how we might make it work.

Finally, he agreed that if the doctor had an opening for him to get a leg bag, we could go. Monday (July 22), we called and scheduled the appointment for the following Monday, anticipating a quick turnaround between the cons. I also booked the hotel room in St. Louis and arranged lodging for the cats since my sister would be in Vegas the same weekend.

But then I was on Facebook and saw a post by the host of RM. The con was full. 😦 I felt hollow inside. So close…

I emailed her to have our names put on the waiting list and spent the rest of the day reading a book while again trying to be okay with God’s obvious NO. But I couldn’t bring myself to cancel our hotel room. My mother-in-law called because my husband’s uncle and aunt would be in town Sunday (the night we’d get back from Daytona) and wanted to meet for dinner. We agreed, looking forward to it.

I’d love to say I’m steadfast in my faith and trust in God, but I’m not. Let’s just say that was a very, very dark night.

Tuesday, I woke to an email from RM that there was room. I talked to my husband as soon as he woke, and then emailed and asked if she could fit both of us. She responded that if that was the determining factor, she’d make it work.

Feeling like an errant child given a hugely undeserved blessing, I signed us up and immediately began preparations…with one less day to do it all.

It’s a fear I would continue to have in the back of my mind for the entirety of the trip. Did I push too hard to get what I wanted? Not accept God’s no, so he left me to my selfish desires?
I don’t think He punishes with blessings and guidance, though. So I have to believe He wanted us to go.

My sister and Dad helped us shop, get the car checked out (a blessing because the mechanic didn’t charge us for it!), consult maps and try to plan the drive to St. Louis. We signed up for AAA and printed out a trip tik. And packed…