Sticking the Landing…

I had this amazing idea to use my car accident as the moment that defines the lives of two characters in my Always series. As I chronicled here, playing the what if game got me a basic premise of how they came to be where they are at the start of the story. The hook is an enemies to lovers theme with a much more serious reason to be enemies than usual. They aren’t in competition (but there’s one of those in the series percolating) and there’s no old family feud. No, the largely one-sided animosity is created by an accident, a horrible accident that changes the main character’s lives forever in two very different ways. For one, the accident brings realization, salvation, and hope; for the other, loss, anguish, and bitterness.

As soon as I realized what I was asking my heroine to do during the course of this book–forgive the man she holds responsible for his role in her sister’s death–I knew I would have to adjust things to make it work. I didn’t want to make it easy by revealing a twist like he wasn’t really responsible for her sister’s death (not that I have anything against this when done well–and I’ve read books where it is done well). I couldn’t if I wanted to be the hero told me he WAS responsible in the most basic way. So how can I make it plausible that they can get past this big huge thing separating them?

One of the things that I like to do is to figure out how to keep two characters determined to flee “in the room.” How do I keep them in the same place at the same time long enough for the sparks to fly and the magic to happen? One thing I find works well is when at least one of those characters wants to be in the room and is determined to keep that other character there. In this instance, my hero’s goal is to make amends to the people he directly affected, including the heroine. While there’s no way to give back what she lost in the accident, he has to find a way to make amends and ease some of the guilt he’s been carrying. It takes help from God to keep the heroine “in the room” and interacting with him, which is probably the only thing that will keep them in the room when our heroine is so determined she will NOT grant him the forgiveness he seeks.

The second thing I wanted to do is figure out how much time will have passed since the accident when the story begins. I had to do a bit of research to figure out a timeline for the judicial ramifications of the accident, and then I needed to leave time for healing to begin. I decided to start the story five years after the accident–enough time for the legal matter to run its course and for the food and the parade of sympathetic friends to be a thing of the past. Even then, I knew that this relationship needed to move at a snail’s pace. I’m still tweaking how long it will take for each phase of the story.

The thing that’s hung over my head the most, of course, is figuring out how to get the reader to connect with a hero who admits to the things he did surrounding the accident, which are very unlikeable things, without turning the victim into the bad guy or otherwise shifting the blame. I didn’t want the reader to hate him like the heroine initially does. So I decided to start telling this story from the hero’s point of view, to introduce the reader to who he is now before they know who he used to be five years ago. The hero has a sympathetic back story that he doesn’t use to excuse his behavior and isn’t over the top. I made the hero humble and sincere in his attempts to make amends. And I let God work on both of them, through nature, other characters, and each other, to show them how forgiveness can release both of them and how love can cover the multitude of sins between them.

I hope the reader, and the heroine, can appreciate the changes that God has made in the hero, and can move forward with an open mind. I’m working really hard on this one, drawing up character profiles, creating an outline, researching. I’m taking my time with it because certain details have touched me personally and I want people to understand the underlying message of the work that forgiveness does in us. If I’m being honest, I want to come to terms with my own accident and make sure I truly forgive the person responsible for it. I’m working hard to get this one right.  The gravity-defying flips and twists that make the crowd ooh and ahh are worth nothing if you don’t stick the landing. I want to make sure this one doesn’t have a shaky, unstable end that costs the story a spot in the reader’s heart.

What difficult things are you working on in your current WIP?




Needing Help in a Hurry

Tomorrow is the official start to Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve already been on to the website, filled out my author information. I’ve got my pens and paper ready, and I’m ready to resuscitate a very rusty writing practice. The thing is, I got to that pesky novel information page and realized I still don’t know what I’m writing about.

Since the spirit of NaNoWriMo is to start and finish a novel in the allotted month, I have to start from scratch writing wise. Thanks to my trip home, there are quite a few pieces that I have that I can start over with and make a pretty great story from. There are a couple of choices for this, as I outlined in The Girl Who Couldn’t Commit.

Here are my choices. Let me know what you think I should work on. Keep in mind, now, that since I’d have to start over, some of the ones I wanted to work on, I can’t (A Blues for Zora, the one on, Class Reunion, the Southern Gothic Novel)

  1. The story I told you about in Three Sides to Every Story. It’s about a woman who has recently lost a parent. In her grief, she becomes a mean, bitter recluse. She meets and befriends a man who is her polar opposite–daring, extroverted, friendly. This is the story of their friendship. At this point, it’s not a love story, but who knows?
  2. The story with the “It’s Really Not What it Looks Like” twist. Amanda is sick and needs a home health aid. Her brother catches the home health aid in a situation that looks really bad and forms a bad opinion about her, despite his obvious attraction to her. Can she prove her innocence and keep her job? It’s very harlequinesque, as you can see.
  3. That murder story I was telling you about. Maria Gonzales is a mystery writer suffering from severe writer’s block under deadline. She just can’t seem to get a good grip on this female familicidal killer. Luckily, her boyfriend Tony works at a maximum security women’s prison that houses a notorious female convicted of familicide. Maria overcomes her writer’s block and pens a bestseller. Everything is going well…until the murderess escapes.
  4.  Something absolutely new that I’ve been playing around with. I’m not sharing it yet. That is all. Well not really. I’ll just say it’s more literary than the others.

Cast your votes now. I’ll let you know what I decided to go with tomorrow!

Freestyle Friday: family Physicians

While trying to wrap up the editing for my dad’s book, I began to wonder if editing wasn’t a bit like medicine or psychology–one of the fields in which you shouldn’t be allowed to treat your own family members. Thinking about it, I realize I’ve been very conflicted by this whole process. On one hand, I feel an exaggerate need to preserve his voice and not be too critical of his work. On the other hand, I want to do the best editing job possible so that his work looks good and my talent is displayed for potential clients. It’s a hard balance to maintain.

I found the piece that went missing for the short story collection. I reread the few paragraphs this morning. It’s a very rough draft, but once I finish writing, there will be a lot to work with. There are a lot of details and plot points I wrote down that helped me plug back into the story and see exactly where I wanted to go with it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my WIPs and projects back home. I can’t wait to get my hands on them and see what’s salvageable, what’s still good. Stories I haven’t thought about in the years since I moved are suddenly popping up in my head. Some are calling me to explore them, to see what happens next.

Between all of the success editing, finding lost pieces, and rekindling my writing motivation, it’s been a really good week.

The Day I Realized There Really isn’t Anything New Under the Sun

For years, I’d been working on this idea intermittenly about a Southern woman wanting to write her memoirs and hiring a ghostwriter to help her. In this story, the ghostwriter ends up learning all of these things about herself, what she and the ghostwriter have in common, and it makes everything in her (the ghostwriter’s) world change. It was a novel idea, to me, in both that it hadn’t been done and it should be a novel length thing.

Does this sound remotely familiar to you? It should. This is the basic plot, though not entirely, of Donna Sutterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. I writing the first sketches of my novel, which at the time had nothing to do with a memoir, when I was in high school. The newer,  centered around a writer version began taking shape in the fall of 2003, when I was a freshman in college. I picked up Sutterfield’s book in 2007 from the library. That’s when my literary world fell apart.

How could it be? Someone had already thought up (and written…and published) my idea! What was I going to do? I had spent years starting this story, submitting it to a writing contest at the university I attended, getting a teacher to read an excerpt for me, letting it lie fallow, coming back to it. In all of that time, I thought it was fresh and new and different, and it wasn’t.

That’s not a bad thing, though. Some things haven’t been written about because they don’t make good writing material. Some things have been written about, but not in the way you mean to write about it. As long as I don’t tell the same story, the starting point can be the same. It’s why all of the writing exercises my creative writing teacher gave us led to such varied places when we read them out loud. No two people see things exactly the same. I can still add something to the discussion.

Once I got over my disappointment, I realized Donna Sutterfield hadn’t stolen my novel. ( 🙂 ) Her novel was about a woman who worked in her father’s bookstore and an older woman with a secret she was dying to tell. It was about siblings and family pressure and identity. It was beautiful. But it wasn’t my novel. My older woman isn’t very old, and she is trying desperately to keep her own secrets while airing everyone else’s. Neither the older woman nor the younger have any siblings. Many other tensions and motivations are in play in my story. I’m not telling the same story at all.

I feel better about the story now. I know that it’s a story that still needs to be told, and get it told I shall.

Have you ever read a book that sounded like a WIP you were working on? Did you continue on with it? When did you realize, in a literary sense, that there was nothing new under the sun?

Inspiration Spreads Outward…

Three first editions of Barbie dolls from 1959...

The start of a wonderful story, the original Barbie dolls from 1959Image via Wikipedia

…kinda like spilled applesauce. It’s thicker and slower than, say, milk, but just as inexorable.

I’ve been kicking around some ideas for days about the series of short stories I planned on putting together, many of which are spin-offs of Candy Apples. One of those characters is a teenager, so I was thinking about what her story or background could be. Since the stories all center around addiction, I was trying to piece together why someone so young would be in recovery from an addiction. I put it out of my (conscious) mind when I sat down at work.

The job that I have is one that is repetitious and requires little active thought from me. It’s very easy to attend to my job on one level and let the rest of my active mind wander.

On this particular day, something brought an odd thought to my mind about a Barbie doll. This poor doll was having a rough existence. There are two types of Barbie doll owners (of the little girl variety) that I’ve experienced: one who loves and cherishes her Barbie and one who takes out all of her frustration and anger, along with any maltreatment she suffers, on her Barbie doll. I’ve read that many psychologist/psychiatrist watch children playing with dolls as part of their assessment of them. A barbie doll would know all of a little girl’s secrets.

Of course, I wasn’t consciously making any of these connections sitting in my cubicle. No, I was simply thinking of a Barbie doll in the midst of a tortured little existence. The image persisted, despite my efforts to draw my mind elsewhere, so I wrote it down. As soon as my pen hit the paper, the image expanded. Now I could see different indignities poor Barbie had suffered at the hands of her tormentor, including having her long hair shorn from her well-shaped head. The thing was, this Barbie wasn’t bitter (hello, alliteration; how are you today? :D); she felt she was better off than the little girl who owned her.

All of a sudden, I could see her: my teenaged recovering addict as a little girl, acting out her agression on a defenseless Barbie, as others brought their rage down on her equally defenseless head. I saw, clear as day, her mother, hinted at in Candy Apples, and knew her occupation, where she lived, how she was raising her daughter, and why she was raising her that way. I began to get a picture in my mind of what made this woman tick. The picture went from a close shot of a tortured Barbie’s painted on smile, to a wide angle view of a childhood.

Many times throughout the day, I have thoughts and ideas that seem to have no correlation with the things I’m concentrating on. Sometimes, as I said in Potato Chip Writing, they have to do with other stories I’m working on, or fresh stories I’ve yet to write. But sometimes, when I follow a stray idea down the rabbit hole, I come out the other end right in the middle of the piece I was supposed to be working on.

Sometimes it pays to take the path less traveled by. Sometimes, it makes all the difference.

Have you ever had an image or idea turn out to be the start of a piece you were trying to write, offer you insight into a character, or spark a sequel to a work? Do you follow ideas down the rabbit hole? What are some of your best “rabbit hole experiences”? 

Potato Chip Writing

Pringles chips (sour cream and onion flavor)

Since I couldn't find Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar, these will do... Image via Wikipedia

I used to love Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar potato chips. They were just so good–greasy, cheesy, salty goodness on a thin little chip. I couldn’t wipe my hands on my clothes for the grease (and the cheese), nor did I want to. No, you had to lick a finger covered in cheesy powder.When it came to chips, I am was one of those people the advertisers talked about. I couldn’t eat just one potato chip; in fact, I might have been known to shove eat more multiple chips at the same time.

I have the same problem with writing. I have so many pieces I’ve started and stopped over the years, pieces that still have life left in them, pieces that are just so good. I know I should really be focused on one particular thing at a time, but like potato chips, I can’t decide on just one project. I don’t want one story to whither on the vine while I’m working on another. When I’m right in the thick of a rough spot on one, I get inspiration on the rough spot of another. I can’t let that inspiration pass.

Just the other day, I was thining about something or other I’d read somewhere, when an insight into one of my characters struck me like a bolt from the blue. I suddenly knew her motivation. I still don’t know what she’s hiding (at least, not all of it), but I know why she’s giving another character the runaround. While this insight opens up a whole world of possibilities for the Southern Gothic Novel, I’m supposed to be finalizing the finalizing of Candy Apples. I was supposed to have it sent out for publication already, supposed to be embroiled in the long submissions process while working on the other pieces in that series. Yet, just when I get to a rough patch, this happens.

I’m not fooled though. I know that this is just an attempt to get off track. I get these “ideas” all the time while I’m editing my dad’s book, researching, working. These ideas are my brains way of escaping a tough or mundane task. The truth is, if I take this one potatoe chip at a time, I can still savor the taste and fulfill the craving. I can take my time and investigate each chip for the dreaded burned parts, or the bits with potato skin still left on them. I can decide whether or not it’s bad before I’ve bit into it. The great thing about doing things this way is if it’s a good idea, it’ll keep until I get to it, just like the really cheesy, bright orange chip in the bag will still be in the bag until I eat it.

How do you cope with errant ideas belonging to other works? Do you follow it down the rabbit hole, or do you stick out that rough spot in your current work? What techniques do you find useful to combat this lesser known form of procrastination?

Rusty Water

Habitat For Humanity volunteers constructing a...

I'm Building Me a Home... Image via Wikipedia

During my lunch hour yesterday, I pulled out a couple sheets of lined paper. I wanted to write something during my lunch hour, so I pulled out the digital recorder and played the first thing that came up.I listened to a recording of possible chapters for the memoir I’m finally beginning to work on. While nothing really stood out to me, I decided to make some notes, then try to recall details about that particular time. For some reason I decided to write part of the “Building a House” chapter.

I began detailing the fact that when I moved back to Michigan, Habitat for Humanity was building a house across the street from me, next door to my half-great uncle (another long story). I meandered into my previous experiences with Habitat for Humanity, and ended up at my aborted Spring Break trip to Slidell, Louisiana to rebuild houses after Hurricane Katrina my junior year.

All of a sudden, I had a flood of images to work with and all of these different directions to go in. My pen was moving faster and my mind had found a groove. The various lunchtime noises around me–a microwave running, another microwave beeping, Contessa on MSNBC, chatter amongst my coworkers–began to fade as I fell deeper and deeper into the writing. When I looked up, I was alone except for a co-worker checking Facebook on her phone with a bored expression.

This is what I learned about writing: you could say writing is like riding a bicycle or starting your car on a cold morning. You never really forget how to ride a bike. If you let your car warm up a bit, it runs the same as always. But what I would say is that writing is like a faucet that hasn’t been turned on in a long time in an old home. There’s still good water there, warmed and ready to be used, you just have to turn the tap on. When you do, some of the water will come out brown from rust and unusable, but if you let it run long enough, it will clear.

I’ve been writing nothing but blog posts (and plenty of them) for weeks, and I must admit my other writing skills are still a bit rusty. The goal is to continue to let it flow until it’s clear again. Some of what I write will be disjointed, littered with sloppy transitions and poor word choices. Some of it will be so bad I’ll question if there’s anything usuable in me. But the point is to continue until the writing is fluid and life giving again.

I keep seeing this quote on my twitter feed exhorting me  not to worry about writing well; just write. I’ve always had a problem with crappy first drafts, but I’m trying to take that advice. The longer I keep writing, the cleaner the writing will be. I can clean up the mess later.

I have no idea how I’m going to get back from Slidell to Michigan, nor from Christian college students building homes on Spring Break to college students building Habitat homes into the bitter cold of late autumn. I have no idea how I’m going to “build” this literary “house” either. But what I do know is that I’ll try to enjoy the journey, and that brick by brick I’ll build the literary powerhouse I want to be.

How do you get back in the creative swing of things? How do/did you come back to writing after a hiatus? Any tips or suggestions?

Planning Ahead vs. Letting It Flow: NaNoWriMo Edition


Image via Wikipedia

Just like the Pisces symbol I was born under (if astrology means anything to you; it doesn’t to me), I’m in two minds when it comes to life: usually, I like to plan ahead for things and know what to expect (what I call my Against the Current Fish–ACF), but at other times I like to go with the flow (my Downstream Fish (DSF), alternately known as OK Player (OKP) when I’ve lost the will to care :D). Most of the time, the areas of my life are clearly ruled by one or the other facet of my complex personality:

Work: ACF     Bill Paying: OKP (bad, I know)     What I wear to work: DSF

Chores: ACF    Cooking: DSF

But there are some areas in life where the fish  battle for supremacy:

romantic relationship            packing

Nowhere is this more true than in the case of my writing, particularly my NaNoWriMo novel.

I planned very little in advance with this novel. Even though I lifted the idea from a little piece I wrote my senior year of high school for a writing workshop class. I planned out what the catalyst would be, the major dramatic question (MDQ), when it would all come to a head and who the major players were. I decided on a time line and how to split up the story: the call that is the catalyst for recent events, for example, occurs one year before everything comes to a head, but there are some important things that happened nine and ten years before the crisis point as well. I thought that I could plan out when to introduce characters before I wrote each day. Other than that, I would let the writing flow.

This seems to have been a bad idea. It works some days, but other days, I am almost in tears for lack of inspiration. I curse myself that I didn’t plan ahead better. My characters surprise me (the best friend being pregnant was not what I originally had in mind), real people creep in (my boyfriend as my MC’s boyfriend), and many of the things I planned go to crap (or are DOA).

But then, when everything clicks, it really clicks. Like my description of where she meets Nathan for their blind date, or how well the prologue came out. I had a one line description of one of my MC’s aunt’s that captured her character so perfectly, I could not write another word about her personality and you’d get it.

I worry that planning ahead too much can kill the anticipation I feel sitting down to write. It’s like a soap opera or Dexter: what’s going to happen when I sit down today? Is my MC going to go from frying pan to fire? Is she going to have a spot of good luck? What craziness will her pregnant best friend pull? Will the men inadvertently ruin everything?

So what I need to figure out is how to strike a balance between letting the work flow and planning ahead enough so that I at least have SOMEWHERE to begin each day.

How do you write? Are you someone who plans ahead, lets it flow, or both? How do you balance it out and keep writing?

Note: Balance is one of my favorite words these days.