Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Necessary Evil

A friend commented the other day that I sounded like I hadn't enjoyed myself at a recent book signing I participated in. Hmm.

I wonder if writers ever enjoy book signings. These days publishers and book distributors want to know our marketing plan that involves actually showing our faces in brick and mortar stores before they’ll even read our proposals. But come on. Does any writer look forward to signings? If you have at least one book on the store shelves and have done no less than 5 in-store signings and still relish the opportunity to do it again, please write to me and put me in my place.

I always appreciate the chance to get out from behind my desk to meet readers, even in bookstore settings. Though I much prefer libraries or book fairs or standing on a street corner or nearly anyplace other than a store where they put me behind a table and muzzle me. I don't do muzzling well.

If you believe I’m the odd man out on this issue, consider the last few movies made based on Stephen King books that involved writers who lost their marbles. (Have you noticed he’s doing a lot of those lately?) Most of these movies depict at least one scene in which the writer is in a bookstore doing a signing. The staff does not recognize him and the readers barely acknowledge his presence.

Apparently Mr. King remembers those days early in his career. Maybe they still happen. I have read of well-known writers who still have no one show up for their signings.

But I apologize if I come off sounding less than enthusiastic about the chance to meet readers. It’s definitely one of the most fun things about what I do. I love to talk about writing and to encourage new writers and discuss ideas for new work with readers. I always learn something at these events. I like meeting people and I generally have a good time. Something good always comes from participating in a book signing.

I have one coming up this weekend in West Chester, Ohio. If you’ll be near Lakota West High School on Union Centre Road, maybe you’ll stop in and say hi. I’d love to talk to you and further discuss the merits of bookstore signings. Maybe you can change my mind.

Monday, September 22, 2008


There's nothing as fun, I think, as brainstorming a new book. It’s been a long time since I sat down with my husband to do this. He’s typically my go-to guy on this matter. My sister is good at problem solving and damage control, but I use my husband when the ideas are just starting to percolate.

I hope you have someone with whom you can do the same thing.

I’m getting ready to start Book 5 of my Jenna’s Creek series. This will be the last book, and I want to end the series with a bang. I’ve read so many book series that never mention characters from earlier books. I believe the whole point of a series is to create a cast of characters the reader can’t get enough of. I don’t understand authors who make me fall in love with their town and the people in it and then never mention them after their book ends. I agree you should keep adding new characters to keep the storyline fresh, but don’t leave me out in the cold with the ones I fell in love with.

So my husband and I spent over an hour discussing plotlines—since he doesn’t read my books, I have to bring him up to speed—my purposes for this last book in the series, catching him up on characters who may have been keeping a low profile lately, and how I want the book to end.

Isn’t it amazing how we know where we want to go, we just don’t have a clue how to get there?

After talking to him, I am psyched all over again and ready to start. Beforehand, I really had no idea what to do with these people I had worked so hard to create. Then, last night on the way home from church, I had an epiphany about a character who needs to play an integral part, but I couldn't figure out how.

I’m going to try the book in a month plan, except I'll start in October instead of November like NaNoWriMo. October is a longer month so that gives me one more day in which to write. Not only that, I’m anxious to get going. Can’t hold off until November. I’ve always wanted to do this, but my enthusiasm never lasts until the first of the month. I’m going to cheat a little this time, having started brainstorming already.

I’ll send this week on character sketches and motivations and an outline. By October 1st I’ll be rip raring to go. By Halloween, I’ll have a finished 60K word first draft, as messy and ugly as it can be.

You heard it hear first, folks.
Now back to work.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Loyalty in writing

I was talking to some writer friends the other day who said they often work on more than one book at a time. They couldn’t understand how I could stand to work on only one, especially when it sometimes takes six months or longer to finish a full length novel.

I admit I often get bored with my book, especially as I near the end and can’t wait to finish simply because I have several other ideas cooking and chomping at the bit to get written.

But working on several books at a time? I don’t know. I seriously doubt Stephen King or Jeffrey Archer or any other writers who make their living doing what we do work this way.

It would be simply too easy for the beginning writer to abandon the book as soon as they reached a spot they couldn’t work through. They would tell themselves they'd get back to it after the problem had a few days or weeks to cool off. But would they? It’s tempting to abandon something that gets tough instead of working through the rough patch.

Wouldn’t we all rather have one finished book than ten at different levels of completion?

Stick with your current project. Don’t abandon it just because things aren’t going your way. It might actually be a good thing. The story might be trying to tell you there is another way, a better way to reach your conclusion. Don’t be afraid of new ideas and don’t be afraid to pursue them as they occur to you.

Writing a book is a learning process for you and your characters. Life is happening inside the pages of your book. Life is unpredictable. That’s what makes it fun. It's what makes writing fun. Don’t abandon your project. Don’t, at least until you've finished one or two and learned your strengths and temptations, work on more than one novel at a time.

Remain loyal to your original novel. See it through to the end. Not every novel idea that occurs to you is worth writing. But the one you're working on now is. Pursue it like a junkyard dog. You’ll thank me later.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When you can't think of a thing to write.

I'm sure I'm not the only writer this has ever happened to. If you've written more than 10 pages of anything, you can probably relate.

You've drawn elaborate character sketches, hashed out your plot until it's foolproof, and have a 50-page outline with no major holes. Your desk has been decluttered and the kids are out of the house for the afternoon. You do a few deep breathing exercises to get in the right frame of mind and sit down to write. Suddenly your mind goes blank. You can't think of a single word to write. You panic and figure you never should've told your mother and your spouse you were going to write a book.

How do you work through it?

There is no right or wrong answer. There are mornings I don’t want to get out of the shower because I know I need to get to work on my current project and I don’t have a clue about what I’m going to write.

Those are the mornings I stare at my blinking cursor and think; “I need to get a real job.”

Sadly, I have more of those days than the ones where I am chomping at the bit to get started. But I’m doing what I always dreamed of doing. So I have to work through it. The best way to do that is to sit down and start tapping away at the keys. For these moments, it’s good you took the time to write an outline before you made your first keystroke.

If you did at least you’ll have a jumping off point when you get stuck. Even if you didn’t make an outline, you must jump, dear writer. Like the saying goes; “Take the leap of faith and grow your wings on the way down.”

Those wings will grow, but not if you stand on the cliff thinking of all the reasons you aren’t cut out for flying.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Keep hitting keys

I read this today on the Book Maven by Bethanne Patrick who said she found it on Lifehacker about how Neal Stephenson finished his first book. I really liked it so I am sharing it with you.

"It was a hot summer in Iowa City. Neal Stephenson had a regular job, and yet had a hunch that writing might be for him. He had written a 'query' -- a plot summary, the outline of a book, biographies of characters, and a few sample chapters -- and started to send them to editors, which he picked at random from trade directories. Many rejection letters followed. Finally, one editor wrote that he was intrigued by the outline and the sample chapter and asked for the rest of the novel. After a brief exhilaration the reality set in: there was no novel yet. He had to write it. With all his vacation time and the 4th of July holiday there were 10 days, in which to write a novel. He rented a modern typewriter, secluded himself in his apartment and started to type. Soon a problem appeared: the typewriter had a modern plastic ribbon. The plastic mellowed and became sticky: it was July in Iowa City, and the apartment was hot. The only way to prevent the ribbon from getting stuck is to keep the ribbon moving. And the only way to keep the ribbon moving is to keep pressing the keys. That discovery did wonders for his productivity. He didn't have time to think: he had to keep pressing the keys and write the first thing that came into his mind. He sent thus created manuscript to the editor. The latter replied that his publishing house can't print that -- but the work was interesting and should be published. Eventually, Neal Stephenson got an agent, a publisher, and his first published book, 'The Big U'."

I've always thought the best way to write is to just keep hitting keys and make something appear on the paper. During the writing process, we fear it's nothing more than drivel. But we often surprise ourselves.

So start writing, dear writer, and prepare to be amazed.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

ACFW Ohio chapter

Yesterday I finally made it to a writers' meeting when the Ohio Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers met at the Der Dutchman Restaurant in Waynesville, Ohio for a Meet & Greet.

I know all kinds of writers online, but because of my rural location and the inability to travel to many conferences, I've never met most of the people I know online. Yesterday was a lot of fun. We discussed where we were in our current writing projects, our searches for editors and agents, and what was on the horizon for our careers.

It reminded me that I need to get out more.

Writing can be a very lonely business. Most of the time writers are alone behind our computers with little interaction with the very people who understand what it's like to do what we do.

Before my first book was published in 2004, I didn't know a single writer. Now I am discovering there are all kinds of them in my own area. Not everyone is published, but they are still writers. It feels good to know I'm not alone. I don't talk about writing to many in my family or close circle of friends.

At a family dinner over the weekend, several people who hadn't seen me in a long time asked how the writing was going. They do care and they are interested, but if a person doesn't write themselves, you can see their eyes glaze over if you discuss it for too long.

Not so with other writers. We can sit around and discuss it all day. It's a welcome change. Thanks to everyone at Der Dutchman yesterday. I loved meeting you and talking about my passion with others who truly understand. Can't wait until we meet again.