Category Archives: Writing is Life

Well, yeah, it does matter

Frankie D loves his Hallmark Christmas movies. I DVR all the new stuff and those we haven’t seen so we can watch one pretty much every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It has become a tradition for us. Like most holiday traditions, there’s a fair bit of schmaltz involved. The movies aren’t great, but some are cute. Some are awful, but we can laugh at that. And then there are the ones that piss me off, because they could have been really good, and failed miserably.

Journey Back to Christmas. Even I was looking forward to this one. That darling of Hallmark Holiday movies, Candace Cameron Bure starring as a post WW2 nurse whose husband didn’t make it home. A “Christmas comet” sends her forward 71 years to 2016 and into the lives of a small town cop, his family, and various others.

Time travel. Christmas. World War 2. All the elements were there, and yet, egads, it was awful. Plot holes and tropes and ridiculous dialog that sounded like it had been written by a high school student who really wanted to be funny or dramatic or touching, but wasn’t. The worst was a cardboard busybody character whose only role was to forward the ludicrous notion that Bure’s character was somehow a threat to the town, a character who then vanished in the middle of her “coming around” scene, only to arrive at the end with a changed tune. Few of the little details matched up–like the Christmas star that so importantly tied the gazebo lights to the story being colored in the past, yet white in the future. And the ending was just so…what’s the word? Trite? Ill-conceived? Flat? Completely predictable? How about…stupid? Yeah, really, really stupid. I won’t put up a spoiler. Suffice it to say it was the most ridiculous ending I think I’ve ever seen in my life.

I growled at the television through most of this movie. Frankie D couldn’t even do his fall asleep after the first ten minutes and wake up for the last ten thing, because I kept waking him up. “You think too much about this stuff,” said he. “What does it matter? It’s mindless.”

What does it matter? What does it matter?! It does matter! Shouldn’t we expect a cohesive story that doesn’t require a whole lot of, “It’s okay, it’s just a Christmas movie,” to get through? Why is mediocrity aspired to? Why is a poorly executed product okay? Because it can be? Because people don’t notice? The ones who don’t, won’t, whether it’s done well or not. So why are those who don’t care catered to, instead of those who do?

I don’t like this “mindless” business. Mindless doesn’t mean poor quality. It means being able to just go with it without having to parse things out, without finding the message within. A Christmas Carol isn’t mindless. A Christmas Story is.

As you can guess, it’s not just my rant against Hallmark Christmas movies. This phenomenon is rife in the publishing industry, and very much so in the romance genre. Now it’s spreading to Women’s Fiction. I simply don’t understand why, when it can be done well, and also appeal to all kinds of readers, the industry isn’t insisting upon it?

This is nothing new. I’m aware. Drek has made millions for eons. I just don’t get it. I mean, I do, but I don’t want to believe the implications I’m forced to acknowledge. And now, before I get political, I’ll say–it matters. Quality matters. At least, it should.

mv5bmty5nte3nti3ml5bml5banbnxkftztcwmdgwnjg3mq-_v1_cr025266150_al_ux477_cr00477268_al_

4 Comments

Filed under Writing is Life

Broad brushstrokes

   It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that Romance fiction is judged the way most things female are judged–with a broad brush covered in rose petals and sparkles. Sugar and spice and everything nice is all well and good, but it’s not all we are, and it’s not all that romance writing is.
   Chick-lit, chick-flicks–yes, such things exist in the exact form you’ve instantly conjured with those terms. There is a place for these lighter-than-air stories crafted to give no more than a moment or two of, “Oh, no–poor character. Her latte wasn’t fat free and now she’ll be all bloaty for her date.” They’re a form of fantasy, maybe a little wish fulfillment in a real life of job, kids, spouses, dog-poop on the carpet and/or dating a thousand frogs in the hopes of kissing a prince. Or worse. I know, when we were going through the worst of the worst, I devoured romance fiction of this nature like a kid on a melting fudg’icle.
   Then there is the rest of romance, the kind that touches on deep, painful, uplifting, complicated and otherwise intense aspects of life. Or death. There is romance set in war-time, in the aftermath of natural disaster, in the quiet and tragic illness of a loved one. There is also comedic romance, suspenseful romance. As a matter of fact, just add “romance” to any genre, and you’ll find excellent examples of what you can easily find. Anywhere. The “romance” part simply means there is a love story at the core, and that those two people will find a way to one another in the end.
   Now, I get it. In this world of self-publishing, there is a whole lot of poorly written stuff out there.And it’s not as if every traditionally published novel is fabulous. I’ve read quite a few stinkers on both sides of that fence. But you know what? Some of that “poorly written” stuff sells really, really well. Why? For the same reason it has since Professor Bhaer admonished Jo March that she wasn’t a real writer until she stopped writing her pirate stories–it speaks to a large number of readers, in language that doesn’t make them feel talked down to, or talked at. It reads the way they speak, the way they relate stories. In short–it’s real.
   Some readers want a more elevated form in their reading, just like some viewers prefer a film that has won awards in Cannes to those that win Golden Globes. And don’t get all wonky about me using the word elevated. I’m not saying one is for dumb people while the other is for smart people. One of the smartest people I know loves the Zoolander movies. Even I, grammar fiend, word-dancer that I am, love me some Tosh.0. Elevated simply means it’s done in an artful, more formal way. It’s almost a fantasy, because few people speak the way such novels are written. There are those who look for word acrobatics, for prescriptive grammar over descriptive. And then there are some who have no patience for such things.
   And you know what else? There’s a whole lot of stuff in-between that satisfies readers on both ends of the spectrum. That’s the beauty of life–diversity. Romance is diverse. There will always be good writing, and bad writing. Romance has its fair share, but defining an entire genre by that share is snobbery, and it’s unfortunate, because there is a whole lot of good stuff being passed over because it’s romance. The ever-growing genre of women’s fiction is growing as it is because people will pick up and be seen reading women’s fiction when they’d never even consider romance. I hate to tell you this, people, but most of what you read is romance. #sorrynotsorry
   This whole thing was sparked by an article shared by a sister-in-romance on Facebook this morning. Here’s the article.
Here, have a cute little crab. Peace out.
VAB

Courtesy of Karin Gastreich VAB16

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under Romance, Writing is Life

A Few New Things

The novel formerly known as Traegar’s Lunatics and now as The Pen has been marked final. Beloved Agent Janna (as she will forthwith be known) not only guided me to the perfect ending for the story within the story, but for the actual story itself. What I had was fine. Her “what if you did this…” made it amazing. I’m so in love with this book.

We’ve also decided that Helen Mirren will play Olivia in the movie.

The synopsis is written, the query is all ready. After the holiday weekend, it will go off to the list of publishers she and the powers that be at the Knight Agency have generated. And now, the wait.

In the meantime, I’ll work on Undeclared.  It’s up around 25K words. This story is once again different than anything I’ve ever written. There is no romance. Not even the scent of it. I’ve never written anything without it. This one, though? Nope. Ledanora, Nell, Beverly–maiden, mother, crone. I hadn’t planned that when I started this book, but it’s just so right. My subconscious knew, and acted accordingly. I’m in love all over again.

You might have noticed a change here on Modesty is for Suckers…the banner, above. A ridiculously talented and generous friend sketched this of me from a photo on Facebook. I’ve never had anything capture me, who I am, my spirit, as perfectly. It embodies my motto–Modesty is for Suckers. Does that imp look modest about ANYTHING? Nope.

Happy Independence Day! Eat well, stay safe, and have fun!

4 Comments

Filed under The Pen, Undeclared, Writing is Life

That Something Special Raven Mentioned

Last week I blogged about the Medicine card readings we did, and that I got Raven. It pertained a lot to Chris, and the fact that I explain away all things that might bring me comfort, but there was more I wasn’t at liberty to discuss at that time.

“…something special is about to happen…Can you accept it as a gift? Or will you limit the power of the Great Mystery by explaining it away?”

A few weeks before VAB, I came to the decision that I would attempt getting a literary agent. Traegar’s Lunatics was nearly finished, and it’s good. Really good. Way different from anything I’ve ever written. I wanted to query presses that don’t accept unagented work. I mentioned it to someone, who mentioned it to someone. This led to that and I was put in touch with an fabulous woman from The Knight Agency, a literary agency that happened to be on my “first ten queries” list. It was ridiculously serendipitous from first moment to last, and I spent a good deal of Dollbaby Week explaining it away. My manuscript wasn’t even finished! I wasn’t even looking yet! It all seemed way too easy.

But that was explaining it away–something I did all week, whenever I got an email that should have sent me over the moon. It couldn’t be real. It just couldn’t! My dolls–beloved women!–lovingly informed me it wasn’t easy getting here. I’ve spent years learning, making my way along this path, writing and writing and writing. Learning more. Treading further and farther. They were absolutely right. I’m here. Now. And I need to own the fact that I worked hard to get here. A little serendipity isn’t impossible, it was absolutely earned.*

I am now represented by Janna Bonikowski of The Knight Agency. I am over-the-moon happy. She loves my story, is excited about it, is already planning for it. And she’s given me feedback that, if we parted ways right this moment, I’m indebted to her for. I’m looking forward to this new part of my writing journey.

*Of course, I did promise her and the others at The Knight Agency access to the time portal in the woods behind my house. That could be problematic, but a deal is a deal.

time portal

The time portal. I know it looks like an old outhouse, but it’s the portal, I swear.

16 Comments

Filed under Writing is Life

Here’s the thing about novellas…

Those of you who’ve known me for a while have heard this rant before–Novellas, they’re not what you think they are. They’re not–I repeat, not–about word count. Novella means new* in Italian, not, as many think, little novel. Suggesting a novella is a short work of fiction between 20K and 40K words is like saying a sonnet is simply a poem composed of fourteen lines. As Canadian author, George Fetherling said, (in his essay, Briefly, the case for the novella) to reduce the novella to nothing more than a short novel is like saying “a pony is a baby horse.” See? It’s not just me.

Why do I get such a stick up my ass over this? Because this isn’t a grammar rule in flux, we’re losing an art form, a beautiful art form, and that just hits me in the writerly gut. The world of literary fiction knows and holds the difference when it comes to categories and prizes, but the genres and the general populace don’t, and that’s the danger–because a lie believed by the masses becomes the truth.

Very briefly, it is structure that defines a novella, not word count. There are no designated chapters in a novella, rather they are presented as a whole divided by white space to designate a significant shift. (Though, to be fair, I have seen novellas utilizing chapters.) Plotwise, it ends quite close to where it begins. In fact, little can and usually does change if at all. The form concerns itself more with the character development, the evolution (or devolution) of that character, than it does on plot conflict. The internal vs. the external. Novellas tend to begin close to the precipitating incident, but skip back and forth in time, filling in background. They usually end on the moment of climax, on the brink of change.

I recently came across this diagram that shows the structure in a visual way:structurenovella

See how it climbs, then how quickly it falls? The reversal (something that happens to change the action’s direction) in the rising action is intrinsic to the structure. I thought that was pretty cool. So I’ll end this here, having gotten it off my chest, and will leave you with a few examples of actual novellas you’ll have heard of:

Breakfast at Tiffany’s ~ Truman Capote

A Christmas Carol ~ Charles Dickens

My Mortal Enemy ~ Willa Cather

Animal Farm ~ George Orwell

Ethan Frome ~ Edith Wharton

The Old Man and the Sea ~ Ernest Hemmingway

Shawshank Redemption ~ Stephen King

The Stepford Wives ~ Ira Levin

The Picture of Dorian Gray ~ Oscar Wilde

 

*I’ve recently seen it as “little novelty,” but that’s no more right than “little novel” is.

20 Comments

Filed under Writing is Life

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

     I just finished the first book in a spin-off series to my Bitterly Suite. Cape Maybe Book 1 of Bitterly’s Bachelors. I will freely admit, it wasn’t what I wanted to write when I got to the end of Waking Savannah, but I do love the story–all three I have planned–I was fully immersed in the characters, in the world. But there’s this other story…
     Traegar’s Lunatics has been the novel in my heart of hearts since before finishing Waking Savannah. I wrote Cape Maybe not because I really wanted to write it, but because I thought it was wiser to ride the wave, both creatively and professionally. There was something not quite right about it. I sent it off to Penny the Great, and she gave me some feedback that made it better. Much better. I wrote up my proposal for it, as well as the rest of the series. Long story short, Seeking Carolina only just released less than two months ago. I got a “let’s wait and see what the first series does first.” Fair enough. I was a little bummed. Surprisingly, I was also excited.
     Of the six published books I’ve written, only two have been so without a home ready and waiting. Finder, and Seeking Carolina. It’s a good feeling. A really good feeling. I work hard, but I know I’m lucky. There are a lot of hard-working writers who don’t get that privilege. But there was a reason Cape Maybe didn’t sit right in my mind. I didn’t realize it until just this week, but now I know–I wrote it for the wrong reason. It should have been the story in my heart, not the wise choice.
     Traegar’s Lunatics isn’t fantasy, and it’s not romance, even if there are fantastic elements as well as romantic ones. It’s the story of an old man and a young woman, one dying and one damaged. Within a collective story written by all the beloved lunatics in The Pen–a home for elderly writers–they both find what eluded them through their lives. The edges between story and reality blur, creating a world within a world where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole and anything is possible.
     This is not a book I can write in four months. More like a year. Creativity unbound of parameters and deadlines. This excites me in ways I can’t explain.
     I published three fantasy novels with Hadley Rille Books. I will have published three romance novels with Kensington/Lyrical Shine by the end of next October. Whether I publish with the same press, a different one, or do it myself, I’ll write my Bachelor books. When they’re the stories in my heart and not the wise choice.
Writing to contract is very comforting, rewarding, secure, validating.  Writing without that safety net is a little scary after getting used to it being there, but it’s time to take the road as yet untraveled.
     Traegar’s Lunatics it is.

9 Comments

Filed under Writing is Life

Focus

Seeking Carolina releases in less than a month. I have final files and a cover for Dreaming August (book 2) and have started edits for Waking Savannah (book 3.) I’m also writing the first in a spin-off series (tentatively titled Bitterly’s Bachelors,) complete with two more in the series, outlined and waiting.

Bear with me. There’s a point to this.

Some have said to me that they can’t believe I’m still able to write, that I can focus on it at all, given my situation. Fact is, writing is the one thing that never falters. It’s my north star. It’s my anchor. It’s my wings. The focus doesn’t scatter, but sharpens. Clear and precise. When life knocks me down, writing gets me back up. It shoves braces under my butt and against my back so I don’t crumble. Honestly, if I ever stop writing, you should all be very, very worried. Fair warning.

What I can’t do is focus on several things at once these days. Used to be I could juggle editing, helping out in my capacity as Queen Nudge at Hadley Rille Books, writing, outlining future projects, home life. In times like this, when my brain can only handle so much, I have to let a few of those pins drop. Read that as, I have to let all but one pin drop. Writing. MY writing, has to take precedence. I can’t flip between projects, editing one day, writing the next. It takes too much mental energy I don’t have to flip that switch. Same goes for home life stuff. I can focus on my immediate family. I don’t have the fortitude for the usual phone calls to my siblings, my parents, friends. I feel the empty space of letting these things slip away for the time being, but, as my mom says, “It is what it is.” Feeling bad about it is one task too many for my poor brain, my heart.

I guess this is my shout out into the vastness of cyberworld, for any and all those colleagues, friends and family reading this–I’m sorry. I really am. I know I’m not there the way I have always been. And I know you understand, you’re not angry or upset. I guess I just feel the need to acknowledge this rift, and maybe, in a small way, fill the space a little bit.

Peace.

11 Comments

Filed under Writing is Life

Protection

This is Christofer’s tree:

tree2

We planted it, and his ashes, in the front yard. Close family, and friends like family, were here. Small, intimate, sad and touching.

It’s a Sun Valley Maple. Someday, it will look like this:

svm

It’s not what I wanted. I wanted an oak. That seemed a bit cliche, but I wasn’t sure what else fit. Chris was strong and beautiful and withstood so many storms without breaking. But I wasn’t completely set on it. My mind was open. When we discovered that we’d have to wait until next spring for an oak tree, we looked around for something different. Nothing jumped out at me, not even the Sun Valley Maple, until I saw the one we bought. Here’s why:

tree

See that? Three splits instead of the typical two. It “spoke” to me. It looks like a Norse rune, though I couldn’t remember which one. Chris was really into runes. When he was younger, being blonde-haired, blue-eyed and over six feet tall, he was convinced he had Norseman blood mixed in somewhere. It was half-joking, but only half. When I saw this tree, I knew it was his. I meant to look up which rune looked like an upside-down leaf rake, but never got to it. Until yesterday.

While putting something away in the closet of his room, the rune book slid off it’s precarious perch. I figured I’d look it up while I had it in my hand, before I forgot again. Maybe my brain had stored this information in one of its many folds, nudging me to choose that particular tree but…

Algiz~Protection

What was Chris if not protection personified? That’s just who he was. But it goes on to say “Control of the emotions is an issue here […] New opportunities and challenges are typical of this Rune, and with them will come trespasses and unwanted influence […] Algiz serves as a mirror for the Spiritual Warrior, the one whose battle is always with the self.”

0_o

I guess the tree really did speak to me.

You can go through life pushing off all the little messages that come through, or you can look at them, see them for what they mean to you, and absorb. Sometimes I feel dumb, reading so much into everything, but isn’t that what I do as a writer? We add in these little signs and symbols that some readers will never overtly get, but will be pulled in anyway. They make the story richer, give it depth. It’s the same with life, no?

Note: I said this wasn’t going to turn into a tribute site for Christofer; I suppose I was wrong. Kind of. This started out as a “cool Chris” event I wanted to record, and ended with writing. Writing is life. Presently, Chris is influencing everything that flies forth from my fingertips. I suppose it’s a natural pairing right now. 

14 Comments

Filed under Family, Writing is Life

Never Trust A Thesaurus

The thesaurus is an integral part of a writer’s toolbox. Whether it’s the one programmed into our computers, online, or a book on our desks, we need them like we need water, air, and chocolate…and cats. But they are not to be trusted. They are, after all, tools, not sentient beings who can judge which nuance of smell we actually want when looking up the word. Not only is getting the right nuance important, it’s interesting to know how such a nuance came into being.

So let’s take a few alternates for the word, smell as it pertains to the function and perception of the olfactory organs in our noses. Aroma, reek, fragrance, odor, scent, stench, bouquet, perfume, stink. All of these words come up as alternates for smell, but each one has a slightly different definition. Using a word effectively, whether striking that exact imagery, or purposely turning it on its head, means knowing that definition.

Latin cognates:

aroma: generally a pleasant smell, easily distinguished and equally pervasive, spreading around its source.

odor: a clearly recognizable smell, normally issuing from a single source, as often pleasant as unpleasant.

French cognates:

fragrance: a pleasant, sweet, delicate smell

scent: a distinctive smell that can be pleasant or unpleasant; also refers to the trail left by the characteristic smell of an animal.

perfume: a pleasant smell, more intense than a fragrance; also, a smell so strong that it becomes overwhelming.

bouquet: a delicate smell, often pertaining to wine.

Old English/Germanic cognates:

stench: a strong, foul, sickening smell; always used negatively.

stink:  a strong, sharp, and highly unpleasant smell.

reek: a strong, offensive smell

Obvious differences, right? But look closer at where these words came from. Do you notice anything else?

English was a tri-lingual language. It grew up Saxon/French/Latin. Words used in the sciences can usually be traced back to Latin. Words used in the arts, culinary and otherwise, are usually borrowed from French. The meaner language of the commoner usually derives from the Germanic branch of the family. There was a hierarchy back when England was speaking three languages, the Latin being the high speech of scholars, French being the language of the royal court and higher society, and English being the language of commoners. Note the nuances of the above words–is there not a “higher” meaning to the French and Latin cognates? Even the word smell itself, the most common of all the above, is Old English (perhaps Old Dutch) in nature.

Would you, as an English speaker, say, “I love the aroma of coffee,” or, “I love the smell of coffee”? Most times, we’d say smell, because saying aroma seems almost pretentious. As writers however, we get to play around with words. The old man’s fragrance can be the stuff of legends, because that’s taking the actual meaning and poking a little fun. And while we generally  wouldn’t say we love the aroma of coffee, we might write that the coffee’s aroma permeated the bakery.

Such fun, words.

6 Comments

Filed under Writing is Life

Why do you write?

writerNo, really. Why do you? Is it fame? Money? (Cough-choke-wheeze!! Sorry…I just choked on something. I think it was innocence.) Are you the artiste who simply must or die? What are your hopes? Your expectations, both practical and not-so-practical? We all have them, and I’m curious.

I was sparked this morning by a blog post on a friend’s page. She’d recently gone to Bath, England, and discovered some things about Jane Austen she didn’t know before–one of them being that Ms Austen didn’t see her name in print during her lifetime. How is that even possible? It got me thinking about her, and other artists, who never saw fame or fortune in their lifetimes, but committed to their art anyway.

Most of us are never going to see fame or fortune, in our lifetime or posthumously. Still, we do what we do. We write our stories, sing our songs, paint or sculpt, strum and drum. We don costumes and become someone else. We create the costumes. We plant our gardens. Sometimes art is big and sometimes it’s small. It exists for itself, and without it, we’re nothing.

Me? I write because I have the talent. Modesty is for suckers, y’all. My life is kind to my art, and I get to create it full-time without having to slot it in when time allows. Mostly, I write because I can’t imagine not doing so.

That’s really it. My goal is to write my stories, to make them the best I possibly can. The rest is gravy. Now, maybe I can say that because I’ve had a modicum of success at this writing gig, but it was true before I ever sold my first book, so I’m pretty sure it still is. Would I love to see my book in every bookstore? Lines of fans waiting for me to sign their books? A movie deal? Six figures? Five? Guest spots on talk shows across the country? Are those even real questions? Sure I would, but that’s not my reason for writing. It doesn’t fuel my desire to create.

Some will read the above and think I’m nuts. Why spend all this time on something without the ultimate pay-off, validation? That’s just me. The validation I’ve received so far makes me exceedingly happy. It’s truly more than I ever expected. Are my ambitions low? No. I just don’t need outside validation to fuel me. Do you? Is writing into a void wasting time? Does it kill your creativity? There is no right or wrong here. I’m just curious about experiences outside of my own.

 

 

24 Comments

Filed under Writing is Life