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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Writing Even When I’m Not

Writers tend to be quiet but that doesn’t mean we aren’t taking mental notes. Everything we experience could be digested for our work.

Saturday was one of those days when I was alone but not lonely. I like to get out on weekends because I feel tied down all week, while at work. This Saturday, I pampered myself with a manicure and a pedicure. Summer and sandals gives me a great excuse to indulge in what I feel is a most relaxing experience. The only thing I can think of that is more relaxing is a massage and I will have to schedule another one of those someday. The women at the salon ranged from teens to more mature women, like me. Didn’t happen to see any men there, either as customers or technicians.  As I said earlier, during the week I am tied to a desk and really don’t have the chance to watch people. On weekends when I am out and about, I make up for it. Not because I am trying to be nosy, but for my writing. I might see someone who reminds me of a character I am developing. You never know, it could happen.

Watching people gives me cues for facial expressions, how they move, and how they interact with others.  Watching is important because as a writer I have to be able to describe everything. I’ve always thought it was like painting but with words. It also allows me to look at the setting. I might have a scene at a nail salon someday.  What do I see, hear, smell, and feel as I am sitting there. Listening to conversations allows me to pick up on current speech patterns and phrases. Just watching lets me see how people dress and what they do. I think I was the only woman who didn’t either use or check my cell phone the whole time I was there. When I first walked in, there was a strong chemical smell. Stronger than the normal smell of polish and whatever they use for those fake nails. I found out that they have a new shellac finish that makes the polish last longer. I opted out, because of the smell. The warm water swirled and bubbled around my feet in the foot bath, the  chair was smooth wood and leather, and the chair itself jiggled everything as it massaged my upper and lower back muscles.

Watching people is not new for me, I have always enjoyed it. Attending the state fair, shopping, walking around the mall, around the lake or wherever, I look for anything that might help me with my fiction. I know that it works because, I was working on a story once with a character who was a female impersonator in Vegas. She was one of three characters I loved in this story. The other two were a couple of older women, Freida and Agnes. They were from Keokuk, Iowa. They liked to play slots. I described them as wearing polyester pants with matching sweatshirts with slot machines embroidered on the front. When they got on a plane with the protagonist, the tickets were mixed up. The protagonist ended up sitting between them. When she offered to switch seats, they told her no, if they crashed it would make it harder to be identified. My female impersonator character’s name was Merci Fontaine. I described her as tall, over six foot, she wore size 12 stilettos, she had a deep voice, a little five o’clock shadow, and her long fingers were tipped with red polish. I don’t remember much more of her description without pulling out the old story but I described the character so well that a member of my writing group came to the next meeting to tell me she’d seen Merci. I took that as a great compliment.

My trip to the nail salon helped me build my description library. I also walked out with prettier fingers and toes.

What do you do to help with descriptions? Do you use your own senses to see, hear, feel, taste and record, or do you rely on a reference book for descriptions?

Finished reading ‘Love Lies Bleeding‘. Currently reading two books. ‘Murder Most Persuasive‘ by Tracy Kiely – It is an advance copy I was lucky enough to win on Librarything. Will have a review for it as well when I have completed it.  Started reading ‘Valley of the Soul‘ by Tamara Siler Jones – another of my critique partners. Valley is the third in her series and she is currently working on the fourth.

Happy Writing

Virginia

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Writing a Novel

 

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Spent a couple days with a writer friend and critique partner, Tammy Jones at a Bed and Breakfast this week and it was wonderful. It’s not that I can’t write at home because I can and do but there is something about going somewhere without any distractions to help nudge the muse. We’d stayed in this little college town, Grinnell, IA a year earlier at another B&B and the energy felt great. Was it because it was a college town with all the students or was it just the peaceful feel of a small town? I don’t know but for whatever reason, I had wanted to return. That first time, a year ago  a handful of us stayed one night before a day long workshop in the area.

Marsh House was our destination this year. As you can see by the photos it is a beautiful old Victorian and the inside is equally well cared for. It was my pleasure to live among all that history. Though televisions were available, we chose to ignore them and that helped with the feeling of living in the past. The house is filled with wonderful antiques. I like antiques but know nothing about them. The owner said they are all American and to my untrained eye they looked like they were all from the same time period. Beds had huge headboards and foot boards. Bathroom had a claw foot tub. Parquet floors greeted you in the entry and the stairs to the second floor had a landing with a stained glass window. There were several stained glass windows throughout the house that allowed enough light to give the home an airier feel than you might think from the exterior photos. All of the rooms had plants and live flowers.  I meant to get some interior photos but got involved writing and forgot. The owner is a gracious hostess who asked us the first day whether we wanted lemon bars or brownies. That was when I knew we would hit it off. I voted for the chocolate. She baked them that afternoon and the mouth-watering goodness floated throughout the house making them impossible to escape. We found them in a covered cake plate with homemade chocolate chip cookies. The first night, my friend Tammy and I were the only ones there. We probably spent more time visiting than writing but that was fine, we got it out of our system so that the next day we were ready to devote the day to our novels. Because we spent so much time talking the night before, we both went to bed later than either of us had planned . We finally called it a night and before we knew it – it was time to get up for breakfast.  Cooking bacon and fresh coffee called and I answered. The owner served eggs,  bacon, seasoned potatoes, muffins, blueberry and banana nut pancakes. Afterwards we both felt a little tired partly because of the late night and maybe a little because of the good food; so decided to start the day off with a nap. I know, I would never had thought about doing that at home. Mine was a cat nap so because I didn’t want to disturb Tammy and the two ladies who had come to do the weekly cleaning, I gathered my laptop and headed out to the front porch. The sun was shining and there was just enough of a breeze that I was able to enjoy the scenery and get something written even with a quick visit from the mail man.  By then, Tammy was awake so since we were within walking distance of the downtown area, we walked up for lunch and to check out a quilting shop – (Tammy) and a book store – (Me). I was grateful for the walks as a way to burn a few more calories and it enabled us to see more of the community. We met an older gentleman walking his corgis and by the second time we bumped into him, the corgis acted as if we were old friends. We then walked back and did some serious writing.  Finally about 8:15 P.M. we decided to stop and go find some dinner. We tried several different eating establishments while we were there and were not disappointed by any of them.

It was an enjoyable experience, kind of like when my mother shipped me off to my much older sisters, who had kids my age, only better. This time I didn’t have to help weed the garden.

Most of my escapes for writing have revolved around workshops and conferences so my days were always planned and there was little time for actual writing. This was a chance to focus on writing. I would definitely recommend a quiet get away, whether it’s a B&B, a cabin on a lake, or even a nice hotel.  Writing is a solitary experience and because of that, I do think it’s important to network and interact with other writers but I also think it’s important to balance that out with time and a place to write. It’s okay to get away and give yourself the gift of uninterrupted time. Mr. G., my hubby knew I wanted to go and the summer was slipping away so thanks to him for giving me that little extra nudge to follow through.

Do you ever get away to write? If so where do you go?

Happy writing,

Virginia

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2011 in Writing a Novel

 

Write Where You Are

If you read my previous post, you know I am heading to a Bed and Breakfast for a little writer’s retreat. Hoping to grow my page count on my current work in progress. It’s a treat. Most of the time, I am either writing in my office on my desk top pc or on my netbook in an easy chair in my formal living room. (I am the only person who actually uses that room.) So where do you go to write. I really want to know.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2011 in Uncategorized, Writing a Novel

 

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Dancing Backwards in High Heels

Today was the first day of my vacation. I am planning to take off mid-week with a critique partner to stay in a Bed and Breakfast for a little writer’s retreat. This is a picture of where I will be staying.  Before I can go, I need to clean the house, catch up with laundry,water my plants,  make sure there is food in the house for hubby and son, charge up my net book, and pack. Now you see why I wanted a little time away to write. Seems like when I am home, I feel like there are so many other things I should be doing. Just a couple days without distractions sounds like bliss to me.

I raised my kids during the time that women were expected to be super women; work, keep a tidy house, clean clothes on the family, run the kids around for all their activities and then if there was any time left over, we could pursue our own dreams. Granted I don’t have that excuse anymore. My kids are adults and my husband should be able to take care of himself by now. As a couple, we have consciously tried to encourage each other over the years to do the things that we each enjoy. Me with my writing and him with his cars. My little hobby is a lot less expensive than his and I am sure that makes him happy. That is why he doesn’t care if I take some time to attend a conference or like this week, take a few days to get away and write. He knows that I know that he has spent way more on rebuilding his little 63 Nova than I will ever spend on my writing.

But why is it that when he has a chance to go to say, the Daytona 500 is it possible for him to just pack a bag and go?  Granted he does make sure the lawn is mowed but other than that, he knows that I will take care of everything else. After the kids were grown, he told me I did a great job raising them. It isn’t as if he wasn’t here. He was here every night but that was when his career took off and he spent hellish hours leaving early and usually coming home late. He focused on his career and even though I worked too, I focused on raising the kids. Now he is usually home before me and I still feel compelled to take care of everything. I don’t think that my situation is unique. I think that every female writer has this juggling act with her life. You have probably already heard this but it kind of reminds me of Fred Astaire. Everyone used to say how he was such a wonderful dancer but no one stopped to think that Ginger Rogers had to do the same thing as Fred Astaire but backwards and in heels. That’s how I feel my writing career has been. I can be running along everything going smoothly – sneaking in my writing time by getting up early, hurrying through dinner and right before bed just to squeeze in a little time and someone calls. They need something that only I can handle and I’ve lost my focus and what little time I had for the day is gone.

Well this week is going to be a little bit easier. I will have a couple days to focus on my writing, no cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, absolutely nothing else to worry about,  except maybe whether the old Victorian we are staying in is haunted. Since I am working on a paranormal mystery. That could be a good thing.  I’ll fill you in on my next post about my stay.

How do you manage to do everything and still find time to write? What are your secrets to staying productive and not neglecting yourself or your family?

Currently I’m reading Love Lies Bleeding, a little story that does have a ghost and it’s also written by another critique partner Jess McConkey. If you like women’s suspense you should check it out.  I also listened to ‘Cemetery Dance‘ by Preston and Child. I discovered these authors with ‘The Cabinet of Curiosities‘ and have been a fan ever since. There is always a little paranormal going on in their stuff. ‘Cemetery Dance’ was about Voodoo and Zombies.

 

 
 

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Whatever it Takes to Reach a Goal

My critique group decided a few weeks ago to set goals between meetings. We thought that would help us push through to the end of our project a little better. We didn’t just set a goal, we also decided that if that goal wasn’t met, we would have to put $10.00 into kind of a swear jar. I think you can see where this is going. If we didn’t make the goal, we would swear and then owe the money.  Well even if we don’t swear, we owe the money.

The first time around, I was the only one who met my goal.  My writing went well those two weeks, remember my honeymoon period? I worked every day pushing myself through writing two chapters. At that time, we were meeting on Sunday. I worked until 11:00 PM and finished my writing but then I still needed to critique two chapters for one critique partner. I stayed up till 1:00 AM and I did get it done. Don’t feel sorry for me, I tend to be a night owl and actually like staying up till that time. At least that night I had something constructive to do.

I felt great the next day when we met until I found out neither of my partners had met their goal so had to divvy up.  I don’t know what happened for sure to get me off track this past week because after meeting yesterday, I too had to contribute. The money will be for a good thing, down the road. We plan to use it next year to help pay for a writer’s retreat.

Because our group was short a third person, we decided to forgo our goals until out next meeting when we can all be there together.  I have set my own goal of a chapter a week, even though it is just for me.  I will have a much better chance to accomplish it because I will be taking vacation next week and have scheduled a little mini-retreat with one of my critique partners at a Bed and Breakfast for a couple of days. Two days of writing without any distractions.

I did finish reading ‘The Help’, and I think it will be another Classic.  If you enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, I do believe you would enjoy this book. I am planning to go see the movie this weekend, another goal for this week.

Happy writing,

Virginia

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2011 in Novel Writing

 

Where is the Summer Going?

Yeah, I know. I’ve been neglecting my blog again. It hasn’t been a deliberate decision. It’s like exercising. Once you’ve missed a day, it’s hard to get back into the routine. Writing isn’t physically difficult; unless I counted the time I broke my elbow.

Sometimes the problem isn’t the writing, it’s the getting your butt into the seat to do it.

That hasn’t been my problem. I have been putting plenty of seat time in working on my novel. My current work in progress is a mystery with a little paranormal storyline. As my friend Sara put it, I have been riding the wave with my enthusiasm. I think about the story off and on during the day and I get up early to write before work. I hurry with supper and dishes just so that I can escape to my office to write. I am experiencing the honeymoon stage of my first draft. I can only hope it will continue to be a good marriage until I reach the end.

I don’t like to share too much of my story at this stage.  If I tell people about it, it takes the steam out of writing it. Why should I get excited about a story I’ve already told?  For now I will share my working title – ‘Foul Whisperings’. It’s from a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. My story involves witches and rumors and that is all I will share for now.

At this point I’ve written a few chapters and the story is still fairly fluid. As I write, I’m nailing down more of the specifics as well as developing the characters and storyline to give it a few more layers. I am pushing myself to get the first draft written while I am still in this glorious honeymoon stage. I would love to hear from other writers about how they complete that first draft.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you have probably already figured out that when I am not writing, I am reading.  Just to catch up, I recently finished ‘Witches of East End’.  I have been focusing on stories about witches just to see how others have used the subject. So far I haven’t read anything similar to my story idea – and for that I am thankful. I enjoyed the book but have to admit it wasn’t exactly what I had expected. It was good and would recommend it to others with similar interests. I liked the premise but felt the end lacked something and I can’t really put my finger on what didn’t work for me. I know that it is the first in a series, so will probably read the next to see where it is going.

I also finished ‘Haunting Jasmine’. It’s the story of a woman whose aunt asks her to come take care of her book store while she takes a trip back home to India. It sounds simple, until she realizes that the bookstore is haunted by the ghosts of dead authors. It is a story of relationships between both the living and the dead. The characters are well developed and the author has a soothing writing style that did keep pulling me into it. This was one that kept me up late the last night to finish.

Currently I’m reading ‘The Help.’ Want to see the movie but I also want to read the book first. Hope to get into a routine with my blog, at least once a week. Would love to see what you are reading.

Virginia

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Writing a Novel

 

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