Snowflakes Welcome Here

November was rough. Actually, it’s been a rough Autumn. I utterly failed to do NaNoWriMo, I didn’t meet my exercise goals, and I didn’t get a job I really wanted. There’s no point into relating the trash-fire that is our political system here in the States so let’s just move along.

Let us love WinterI’m not sorry to see winter arrive and with it, a change of scenery. Fall is magical in New England, but leaf mold is not. The icy temps and cold air mean I can breathe better which is always appreciated. Something about the cold helps me think better too.

I’m a native of the Northeast and of Scandinavian (among others) descent so cold is in my blood. I’d rather be shivering than sweating. As a family, we don’t turn the heat on until at least mid-October, preferably as late as we can. This year with the warmer temps we didn’t turn the heat on until the 15th of November, a record.

Writing has been better since December arrived as well. I was bogged down in the middle act of my book, something was off with the pacing. I used the snowflake method to examine my plot from a high level and figure out where I had gone wrong. What’s the snowflake method? Well, it’s one of many ways you can outline a novel. Usually you do this before you start to write.

The best description of the snowflake method can be found at Advanced Fiction Writing.  There are other methods and the Now Novel blog has probably the best run down. Why would you want to do this after you’d already written most of the book? For me, this is a way to look at the structure of my novel and spot any issues. If you think of a novel as having a skeleton, this is where you’d find broken or missing bones.

When I first started writing novels I was what you’d call a Pantser, as in I wrote by the seat of my pants, no outline, no synopses, just a vague idea. I’d sit down at the keyboard and start bashing away, sometimes producing thousands of words of a plot line that would later be axed or characters which would be pulled off the page and shelved forever. Writers have figurative (and sometimes literal) trunks that they toss unused content in. I’ve shelved two novels and countless characters. The problem with novels that you don’t outline ahead of time is the sheer number of revisions it will require to become a book worth reading. I don’t have years between books at this stage and can’t devote that kind of time to multiple revisions so I outline.

If you haven’t given outlining a go in your own writing, check out the snowflake method. You may find it’s a good step in-between pantsing and plotting. If nothing else, it will give you the time to put some ideas on paper and make some more room in your head. If you do plot, what method do you find best? Sound off in the comments with your favorite way to get a novel started.

Happy writing,

Christa

Barbie Bye

Writing Advice: The Good Stuff

Looking for writing advice? The internet has a ton waiting for you. You’ll find the good, the bad, and the downright odd a Google search away. My favorite odd advice? Edgar Alan Poe suggested that a writer better the story this way – “Include a beautiful woman with raven locks and porcelain skin, preferably quite young, and let her die tragically of some unknown ailment.” Or how about this gem from Kurt Vonnegut:

Some of what’s available is personal to that writer and may not apply to you. Not every writer drinks coffee or tea for that matter. Not every writer gets inspiration from the same sources. We don’t all write about the people we love. Don’t worry if some piece of advice you receive doesn’t relate to you. And when some if it is downright twee (like this glurge below) feel free to roll your eyes and move along.

(did I just call a Wordsworth quote glurge? Yup. ’cause it is.)

Then there’s the stuff that’s good as a guideline, like don’t use adverbs, but it clearly (wink) doesn’t apply in every situation.

 

All that being said, there are some universal bits of advice that I believe every writer needs so without further ado, here is the best advice I have received and found to be true regardless of what stage you’re at in the journey from idea to written novel.

Read. A lot. I’ll let Faulkner explain since he does it perfectly.

 

Keep writing.  Even when you don’t feel like it. Put your kiester in the chair and your fingers on the keys or your hand on the pen. Writer’s block is a myth. If you wait to feel like writing you will never finish a single book.

 

Grow a thick skin.  Feedback is vital to producing a book that people other than you want to read. Get a group of people that are willing to read your first draft – beta readers. Find yourself a Critique Partner (someone to trade novels with to get critical feedback) or hire yourself a darn fine content editor. I did all three. Speaking of which, that first edit letter is going to kick you in the squishy bits of your soul. It’s gonna hurt to hear that the sentences you spent weeks crafting, slowly falling in love with your own words, are precisely the ones your editor wants to set fire to. She may even highlight three whole paragraphs and comment with only ‘meh’. Sometimes the main character you think is a witty, sarcastic delight your editor or even publisher, will think is a shrew. You’re gonna need to listen. You don’t have to make every change your editor recommends, but you’ll need to defend your choice so save that spine for when it matters. Let the little stuff go. And get used to it. Every book is going to go through that excruciating editing process.

 

Don’t give up. Rejection is part of the process. The chances of you landing a literary agent with the first query letter you send are slim. Same if you’re querying publishers directly. I was turned down by at least six agents before I decided my book might be too niche and I submitted directly to publishers. It took a lot of research and several queries before I found a publisher. And finding a publisher or landing the lit agent isn’t the final stop. Not by a long shot. You’ll still have to help sell the thing. Your first book may not hit. Mine hasn’t. Ouch. It’s gotten good reviews, but my lack of a readership, no street team to speak of, and general marketing ignorance hurt it’s chances. Book two’s in the can and will be out in a few months so I’ve got a re-do. Don’t let one failure discourage you. Heck, don’t let ten failures discourage you. There have been authors who have had to start over with new rep, new publisher, multiple times. Even the stars of the literary world experience rejection. Keep writing.

 

Don’t compare. Ever. Everyone’s writing journey is different. It can be hard to look at the success of author friends who have hit with their books, or get representation before you, or get better deals at bigger publishers. Or get movie deals, or get faboo reviews from a reviewer that dissed you. Don’t take out your ruler and measure. It’s a huge mistake. Celebrate your success and congratulate your peers for theirs. What’s yours is yours alone.

 

For newbie authors I am putting together a more complete guide to the stuff you should know before you send your first query letter. And for my fellow debut authors I’m putting together a post on everything I wish someone had told me before my first book published. So watch this space.

Blessings on you all. Go write something.

Christa

A Pitch for Forgiveness

In the business world as well as the creative industries there’s something called the ‘elevator pitch’. It’s a way to summarize your project for a prospective customer/agent/publisher/producer. The idea is to make the pitch concise enough to fit the length of a ride in an elevator from one floor to the next. It’s something that writers have to develop in order to promote their work and it’s something I am terrible at.

I don’t generally do concise. In my day-job world I’ve had to learn to curb my verbose tendencies. My six paragraph, heavily-researched emails have long since turned into bullet points and brief phrases. But in my writing life? Not so much. Pitches are important though so when I was on the spot to offer one a few weeks ago (and I’m not sure how well I did) I knew it was time to sit down and really think about what The Broken Trail is about and how to communicate that in just a few words.

It’s a contemporary, Christian romance, but what else is it? I’ve never written a book with genre predominantly on my mind. Every book I’ve ever written (it’s up to three now) I’ve started with a character and a seed of a plot. First book was Kennedy and her recovery from a trauma. Second book was Elsa and her secret identity. Neither of these books has seen the light of day. The Broken Trail started the same way though – Katherine popped into my head almost fully-formed. “What if a highly-intelligent, privileged, but wounded woman went to teach in the rural North Woods of Maine?” That was the seed that started it all.

Now that the seed is a fully-formed flower I have to find a way to describe it that makes someone want to read it. To describe a morning glory one might say it’s an Impomea, a typically annual climber with trumpet-shaped flowers, but would that do justice to this?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nope. My first few tries at an elevator pitch were just as inadequate.

The book is a love story, sure, but it’s also a story of transformation. Katherine has to change in order to find love with Mac, She has to forgive an old hurt in order for it to heal. It’s a painful lesson many of us have to endure over and over again until we finally accept it. There are people out there who will hurt us and never apologize, never be held accountable for their sin against us. It’s human to refuse to forgive them, but that impulse leads to bitterness and in the end poisons our lives.

If I was into tattoos at all I’d put “Forgive and Be Free” somewhere on my person as a reminder of how good it feels to let go of anger, resentment, and bitterness. It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties that I finally got it, that God had forgiven me for every evil thought and deed so who was I to keep my forgiveness from anyone else? Letting go of the wounds from what was at times, a difficult past, was like gaining wings. The happiness that followed was a bonus I never expected. If you’d asked people who knew me then they would probably say it was about the time I stopped wearing all black. And they’d be right. Color came back into my life when I learned to let go and forgive.

These days I am still the same angry creature of my youth, but it’s brief. I flash, flare, and flame out. I can’t keep a hold of a grudge, or remember a slight, or stay worked up about a hurt I’ve suffered.  It’s not because I’m so perfect, my family can tell you that. I’m quick-tempered, occasionally exacting, and frequently anxious. I am a sinner who has been redeemed, not sin-less, a work in progress.  But I can forgive because Jesus lives in me and He has absolutely no time for that nonsense. Who am I to hold a grudge when the maker of heaven and earth has seen fit to forgive me?

As Forgiveness is a main theme in The Broken Trail, so is Love in all its forms: eros, agape, phileo, storge. There’s something important to know about love.

 

Love Keeps

That list you have in your head that you pretend isn’t there? Time to cross it off and throw it away.  This doesn’t mean that you loan money to your gambling cousin again or you restore ties to your ex-boyfriend who hurt you so badly, it means that you let go of that hurt and forgive them as you have been forgiven. And, like Katherine (or Elsa), you let it go.Elsa Peaces Out

Now, after all this discussion you might be wondering if I ever did come up with an elevator pitch for my book?  Finally, I settled on this: Katherine Grant is a woman with everything but peace. In a tiny town in the mountains of Maine she tries to find it in her budding love for the town’s police captain, but she learns that she has to deal with the brokenness of her soul before she can truly offer her heart to anyone.

Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think!

 

 

 

 

 

The Strongest Chain: First 250 words

Just a few days I ago I entered an online contest for new authors – Secret Agent run by the amazing Authoress who remains nameless.  Click the link if you’d like the particulars, but the purpose of this one is to see if your first 250 words will attract an agent.  The agent remains nameless as well and is revealed at the end along with a winner and runners-up.  My entry was randomly chosen for participation and the feedback was pretty consistent, they were all confused.  Not that the writing was bad or it was boring, just that they couldn’t tell how old my MC was and it was reading more like YA than Adult.

And yah, I didn’t win, but it was info I needed.  Especially since the agent turned out to be one that I have on my wish list of people I would love to work with.  Le sigh…  These contests have been incredibly helpful in figuring out what I’m not doing right.  They aren’t as helpful in telling what to do instead because that’s pretty subjective.  However, this time, I think I’ve got it.  I’ve changed the prologue into the first chapter and tweaked it a bit.   I’m asking all of you lovely readers to please review the newly revised start to my novel and give me some feedback.

For those of you who have been with me since this was the Davies of Coventry – bless you.  I can promise you the revised novel is better and although different, the heart is still the same.  So, without further ado –

The Strongest Chain: Chapter One

They were breaking the rules.  The Davies’ Top Rules of the Road said you do not stop at a gas station in a crappy part of town, you do not stop for gas late at night, and you do not let the tank get below a quarter to avoid breaking rules one and two.  But here they were, at the Gas and Grab in freaking Chelsea on fumes at one in the morning.  Kennedy Davies looked out the window and watched her mom finish filling up.   Meredith replaced the pump handle and then looked over to the little store attached to the station before opening the car door.

“Hey, I’m going inside to grab a pack.”

“Mom, it’s seriously late.  Can’t you just skip it?”

“No, my delightful daughter I cannot.  I abstained at the party since Eloise is allergic, but I’ve got a deadline looming and at least two hours of work to get through tonight.  That means I’m going to be ready to kill someone for a cigarette at about three.  You don’t want that to be you.”  With a smile and a wink she grabbed a twenty out of her wallet.  Kennedy watched her mother walk confidently into the station on her three-inch heels with just a pashmina thrown casually over her thin white blouse and silk skirt as if the December night wasn’t freezing.

Kennedy shook her head.  At twenty-four she was the cautious one while her forty-five year old mom was the one staying up late, tempting fate, living by her own set of rules.

***

And that’s it.  Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.  Is it clear who the MC is?  Are you interested in reading more?  Are you left confused at all?

Thanks as always!

2015 – Goals for the New Year: Like real ones, not the fake ones you tell people, but never do.

I am not one for resolutions, but I do like goals.  This year I wanted to set a few realistic ones so I sat down after the 1st and thought about what I’d really like to accomplish.   Here we go.

1. Put full effort into querying The Strongest Chain (formerly the Davies).  I’ve been tentative in the past and now I feel ready to successfully shop it around.  I just gotta do it.

2. Exercise.  I know this isn’t writing related, but it sort of is.  I have a desk job and adding the writing hours on top of it means my kiester is in a chair for 12-14 hours a day.  Not healthy.  I’m trying to commit to 90 minutes a day of cardio in 15 minute increments.  We’ll see how that goes.  🙂

3. Revise Bittersweet.  This was my last NaNoWriMo novel and I love the characters, the setting, but the plot was – meh.  I’m taking my newly-acquired structure and pacing skills and trying to save it from the reject drawer.  Bittersweet is set in a small town amongst the mountains of Maine.  The main characters are a hoot because they’re both middle-aged and stubborn.  They were fun to write and I want them to see the light of day.

4. Plot out the sequel to The Strongest Chain.  I have some ideas and I need to make sure they don’t get lost in the ether while I’m busy with other things.

5. ROCK MY DAY JOB!  This needs caps because I’m worried my competing interests will shave off some of my determination to do the best job possible since doing an okay job is always (unfortunately) an option.  I don’t want to just do an okay job. I want to rock it!

6. Shout less at my kids.  I noticed this year how loud my family is and I realized that part of the reason for the shoutyness is how often it starts with me.  My office doesn’t have a door and too often I’m wrapped up in editing or writing and my munchkins come in mid-fight about Mario Smash Bros or something else that doesn’t make my list of stuff to care about and when they don’t respond to my quiet re-directions I raise my voice.  I’d like to find another way to get through to them that doesn’t include cranking the volume to eleven.

7. Clean my office.  And the rest of my house.  It’s another thing that I let slide in order to fit writing in amongst working full time and parenting full time.  I need to be the lead on this since no one else in my family has the clean gene and there are five of us in a tiny (albeit cool) converted barn with no garage, no basement, no closets, no attic.  It’s really open which is great, but not so advantageous for the storage of stuff or the hiding of clutter.  Visible clutter oppresses my spirit so I want to see if we can fix that.

8. Read more of the good stuff.  Including the bible.  I’m lazy about reading the books that do more than just entertain.  I’ve got a stack of the good stuff waiting, I just need to get on it!

Totally doable right?  I’m looking forward to whatever this year brings and to doing the deeds! – see inspirational quote from Theodore Roosevelt below.

TR Quote

NaNoWriMo Fail

Here I sit, deadline approaching and it is clear I have failed.  For the first time in four attempts, I will not be finishing NaNoWriMo.  What’s that you say?  National Novel Writing Month.  A contest of sorts challenging folks to write 50k words during the 30 days of November.   The idea is to write, write, write, and then revise and edit later.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the last three years, each year finishing with no trouble.  This year…not so much and it’s sort of killing me. For the last two weeks I’ve been trying to use every possible second to finish, but I’ve failed.  Even now I’m tempted to give it one last push…  But I need to just let this one go.

Part of my failure this month is that I started a novel that’s a sequel to one I’m still revising.  So instead of it being this joyful start to something completely new, I kept thinking about what impact a revision in novel number one would have on novel number two.  It drove me batty.  That and, sadly, 13k words into the sequel I was so freaking sick of my characters I couldn’t go on.  I hated them.  They were boring, their story was boring and I wanted nothing more to do with them.

In a moment of either brilliance or insanity (time will tell) I went back to the first novel and resolved their story line there, chucked the 13k I had already written, and started over with other characters from the same world.  This wasn’t a mistake exactly, but it was difficult to recover my momentum.

That decision gave birth to another problem.  I didn’t have a plot thought out for the new characters.  I had ideas since I have back stories and ideas for all the characters in that world, but without an actual plot things got silly right off.  I restarted over and over again trying to get traction from the very vague ideas I had.  It shouldn’t have been a problem because I’m a pantser (click the link for more info) not a plotter, or so I thought.

Somewhere along the line I changed camps, or at least I left the realm of the true pantster.  No longer can I just sit down with a blank screen and fight my way to 50k.  I just can’t do it. I have to know where I’m going and I just don’t have it with this novel yet.

The final factor was work.  I’ve been wicked busy – which I actually prefer, just not when I’m trying to write a novel in 30 days.

In the end I’m content with the attempt.  Theodore Roosevelt so wisely said “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

I’d rather give it my best and face-plant, than never try at all.  That and I’ve got a great start on a second novel.  I can pick it up in January when things are less crazy and actually spend some time deciding what I want to do with these characters and write something worth reading.  That’s the best part of NaNoWriMo, walking away with the great start of something. I’m holding onto that happily.