Sunday, February 28, 2010

Confidence Pitfalls

My writer’s group gives out awards. In fact, on my first visit the hostess gathered us from the snack table in the kitchen and arranged the ten of us on the couch and floor in front of the fireplace. They even did one of those tongue-drum-rolls. I was fascinated. Sandwiched between an accountant and an aerobics instructor, I waited eagerly.

The hostess handed out cheap plastic leis and an onion that she’d spray-painted gold. Needless to say, I had to have them. You see they were silly prizes for really hard feats of accomplishments. The lei was given to whoever did the most submissions that month. Query letters, proposals, whatever…as long as you sent something in. The gold onion was for the person who’d received the most rejections. It’s easy to celebrate successes, they all knew that. What is hard is pressing on despite someone telling you, in black and white, that you’re not good enough.

Being a writer, at least one who cares if they’re published, is tough on the ego. I once received a rejection notice that wasn’t even on a whole piece of paper. Just a three-inch strip of paper with the words, “Thanks, but we’ll pass,” written on it. Ouch. The silly prizes at my critique group were symbols of encouragement to keep going, keep trying.

I like reading rejection stories from famous authors. I like watching Biography of how writers or directors kept coming up against people that told them to quit, and how their success is all the more sweet because they didn’t.

There are a lot of pitfalls in this profession, things like jealousy, discouragement, frustration, doubt. But surrounding yourself with a good support group is like balm to the wounds inflicted by the form letter rejection. Staying close to the Lord, reading the word, and remembering that you’re not really the captain of your ship anyway helps. I’ve trusted the Lord with my dream; I can’t take it back now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Getting in Their Heads

My friend once asked me how I got into the heads of the characters I write. I usually use the first person, so the character is as close and personal as possible. I told her about my drama class in high school. We used to do these exercises that involved using props that we thought our characters might have. I fiddled with fake pipes and fedora hats pretending to be a noir detective for class. It was great fun.

What I didn’t realize was that these skills would help me to be a better writer. I find that some of the methods actors use to really understand the character they want to inhabit -- help me with the characters that inhabit my mind. I keep little pieces of detritus that might come from a desk, or a special music box. I had a character in a novel that travels the world stealing back high-technology. She kept coins and seashells from her travels in the book. In real life, I have some of those things from my own travels on the shelf next to my notes for that book.

I try to notice quirks, mannerisms, and personal habits of people and write them down. I have a friend that no matter where he is, he finds paper and folds it into origami animals. You can tell if he’s been in the room because there are tiny frogs on the table or staring at you from coffee mugs. A cop that I knew used to go through a couple of packs a gum a day. I remember him chewing, thinking, chewing, unwrapping…chewing some more. His speech patterns were punctuated with snaps of the gum in his mouth.

All of these methods that actors use are helpful in layering the characters in your own stories. A quirk can make a character memorable, endearing, or even intolerable. Although I only took the drama class for an easy ‘A’, and have no interest in acting, I believe I took away some useful tools from that class. I wonder what insights I might find in the other arts. Come to think of it, I’ve been eyeing a welding and metal art class at my local community college…

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Originally uploaded by SomeDriftwood
Okay, so here's the thing...I'm part of this critique group called the Sunday Morning Romance Writers. We get together every other Sunday and go over selections of our novels that we've traded and pre-read. I give my opinion on whether or not Lord Stunningly Handsome would realistically fall for Lady Shy-But-Gorgeous. I get to hear about why my characters are too prickly, or not prickly enough for their profession. Its all very motivating. Only thing is...there's just two of us that show up. Me and a woman that writes Regency Romance. I've learned a lot about corsets.

Our numbers are, as of yet, on the small side. Sitll, one great perk is that the eople watching is so great during this time. I can't tell you how many study groups, mommy groups, old people that read the newspaper and don’t talk groups, seem to keep our exact schedule. I’ve taken to jotting down the weird quirks for my characters. There’s a guy, who I think is learning to be a phlebotomist that smacks his Splenda packets against his thumbnail exactly five times. Every packet, every time. He takes like twenty in his giant cup of coffee. He apparently also hates raisins with a passion.

I wondered how one coffee shop attracted so many unusual people until I realized the other day, that if the authorities were watching my friend and I, we’d be in trouble. She talks about daggers, sabotage, and usurping the throne. I’m constantly asking her what she thinks the weight threshold in an air duct is, or if she knows how to pick a lock. Easily misinterpreted stuff.

All this to say that even though right now its just me and another dedicated writer showing up for our critique…semi-circle, that’s okay. I know that this is what I am supposed to do. I have faith. We’ll both make it. Until then, though our network is limited, it's definitely valuable to me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Sneeze Review

Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God by Sheila Walsh is part biography, part bible study that explores the importance of trusting in God’s character despite what things look like at the moment. A follow-up to her book, Honestly, Sheila Walsh revisits in stark detail the crushing reality of her battle with depression and the lessons about trust she learned along the path to wholeness. Candid and unflinching, Sheila pulls no punches as she describes her journey of utter despair to unbelievable elation at God’s work in her life. Each chapter is filled with powerful illustrations, stories from her personal struggles, and bible insights taken from the lives of people like Tabitha, Mary and Martha, and Joseph.

Chapter Five, for example, begins with her mother-in-law’s last days in her battle with cancer. With bittersweet humor she recounts the bed-side vigil. Then Sheila moves on to the story of Lazarus in the bible and how his sisters, Mary and Martha, must have watched the horizon expectantly for their friend Jesus to come and heal their beloved brother. Delving into the Greek meaning of some scripture, local customs, and historical fact Sheila makes clear the amazing power of trusting God in spite of obvious defeat.

Surprisingly meaty and full of in-depth teaching, this book delves into the many reasons we don’t trust God and how we can overcome those obstacles. Sheila’s honest and straightforward message hits home on many levels. Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God comes with notes and bible study guide in the back of the book. Short and to the point, Sheila uses a Find, Feel, Follow format that is easy to stick to and very powerful. I would recommend this book for individual or small group study.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dolphins in the Living Room

Every year my high school paints the last two numbers of that year’s graduating class on the water tower overlooking the town. So, when I graduated in 1991, the water tower’s twenty foot high numbers read, ’91. I remember noticing it one day and wondering how old I’d be when the century turned…oh no, I’d be like…27 years old! Way to old to enjoy the new millennium! Flash forward to New Year’s Eve 1999, the Y2K preparations in place, and I actually had a great time…despite my ‘old age’. It made me think about all of the predictions we made as kids. And how completely grateful I am that almost none of them came true.

I remember a movie I saw when I was a kid. It was a sequel to a space movie set ten years after the first movie. The main character is in his house and as the camera pans around the living room, the guy has dolphins there! Every surface of his house is either shiny white or chrome. Come to think of it, his house resembled my local hospital’s MRI room, actually. The year the movie was supposed to have been set was, you guessed it, 2010. I don’t know about you, but a lot of our future predictions were way off.

As a writer of contemporary romance, I sometimes insert technology into the storyline. This is great fun. For instance, when I wrote my first book ten years ago, it was so high tech to have what was called a personal data assistant. I mean, if yours had a little keypad then you were up there with James Bond in terms of technology. My characters spoke to each other on walkie-talkies, the push-button phone type. I was on the edge! Flash forward again, to now. I read over my old manuscripts and realize they might as well be sending smoke signals compared to the technology my thirteen-year-old has at her fingertips. I obviously had to virtually upgrade everyone. I’m amazed at how much I hadn’t anticipated, and how much I had.

You see, my eighth grade writing teacher wrote each of his students a letter and gave them to us on the last day of school. He told us to open it when we graduated college. I promptly lost mine. I found it some time later and read his message with surprise. He’d predicted, despite my claims that I wanted to be a doctor, that I would become a writer. He said he’d seen the passion for storytelling in my work and predicted that despite my plans, my real calling would come through. Amazing how we cannot see in ourselves what others see plainly. Well, you were right, Mr. Briggs. Good call.

My question to you is this: What surprises has life brought you? How close were your predictions of your adult self? Are you happy you were wrong? Until next time, my friends, you are on my heart and in my prayers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dangerous Journey

Gold mine
Originally uploaded by ˙Cаvin 〄
I’ve been toying recently with the idea of writing a historical romance. Most people who know me and the kind of stories I usually write would be surprised. I love high-tech adventure, cop dramas, and contemporary romance. But mystery, danger, bravery in the face of insurmountable odds...these are all things that perfectly describe a trip west during the time of the Gold Rush. I began to wonder if there was a story, my kind of story, hidden in the dusty photographs my History Major husband had on his desk.

I started to research, which really is one of my favorite things about constructing a story. I've sifted through diaries from women who made the westward journey as wives, daughters, and mothers. I never knew the quiet strength these women possessed. How it must have been to sell everything you couldn’t carry, load up a wagon with your children and the remnants of your home, and journey through a rough and unforgiving terrain.

Many sent home letters to anxious family back east or in places like Missouri, a jumping off point for the Oregon Trail. Photographs, new at the time, were secured as soon as a photographer was located to send home as proof of well being and prosperity. Often families clung to the photographs they brought with them as remnants of their life left behind.

I learned about cooking with lard and dried fruit on open flames or makeshift ovens. I learned about women that took in wash to help keep their families afloat. Heartache, triumph, uncertainty and devotion to family…these are the sentiments I took away from these women. I started to warm up to the idea of a story about this time period, this place in history, and my typing fingers started to twitch. Hmmmm….

After all, I live in California…CALIFORNIA, the bosom of the Gold Rush. I visited Placerville and saw the remnants of mines and camps and began to see characters in the midst of all the dust and old wood… interesting. I think I’m hooked.

My question to you is this: When in your life have you set off for something new and unknown? Have you ever contemplated something so unusual for you that it made that little nerve under your eye twitch? How did it turn out? I’d love to hear about you. Until then, my friends, you are on my heart and in my prayers.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Words in the Ether

There is a huge battle going on between Amazon and publishers and its effects will trickle down to you, the reader, in ways you may not realize. Currently, if you own a Kindle, you can purchase bestsellers for only $9.99. For those of us who use 'hardcopy' versions or...books, it seems that this is somebody else's problem. That is actually not true. You see Amazon has an incredible market share on books. In fact most of their money isn't made on their bestsellers, its made from the search engine recommendations of lesser known titles. So bestsellers aren't really making them a whole lot of revenue. Some numbers suggest its as small as three percent. So why the stubborness? Why in the face of the spectacular release of the iPad would Amazon and its less spiffy Kindle behave like they can alienate their customers without consequence?

The problem with Amazon and its baby, the Kindle ebook reader, is that what you buy isn't necessarily yours. At least not in the Amazon universe. Over the weekend Amazon's dispute with MacMillan reached a head when Amazon pulled all of the Macmillan titles from its website. What's more, sample chapters of Macmillan books downloaded by people were sucked from their Kindle libraries without notice. That move, I think, will hurt Amazon more than raising prices would have.

People are still wary of the "virtual" product. The techies that buy the latest gadgets...not so much. But if I save up for some frivolous device I better be able to trust the company that I buy my content from. Amazon is not that company to many after this weekend.

Some speculate that all of this will effect the non-ebook consumer in the long run. If Amazon does raise it's prices then smaller book stores that have trouble competing with the distribution behemoth may have a chance to win back customers with service that doesn't bite you when you're not looking.

What is your opinion of the battle of the book giants? Does Amazon's behavior affect how you'll purchase your next book? I'd love to hear what you have to say. Until later, my friends, you're on my heart and in my prayers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Birds of a Feather

all's well that inks well
Originally uploaded by b1gw1ght
This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting with a friend of mine that is also a writer. It was nice to 'talk shop' with someone and share the hopes, frustrations, and small triumphs that no one else can really understand. We plan on starting a local writer's group and I am very excited to meet other women with a similar interest.

Writing is often seen as a cerebral and solitary calling, but I find that I meet more interesting people while researching or learning about my craft than in any other avenue of life. I've interviewed police officers, trauma surgeons, skydivers, and many other people I would not have otherwise met.

What interest of yours has enriched your life with friends or new experiences? What group of 'Go-To-Gals' is your lifeline to keeping sane in this busy life?