Tag Archives: writing

Catching Fire


What does getting fired up mean to you? Are you red-faced as you sprint into action? Perhaps you’re a slow burner, allowing your ideas to percolate to a rich hue before you take the next step.

letters

letters (Photo credit: nate steiner)

The end of each year leads inevitably to promises we make to ourselves to be healthier, more productive, finish a project, start a project, lose weight, eat better, clean out the garage, stop procrastinating…..well, you know the scene.

Two books come to mind, both of which I’ve mentioned before:

In their own ways, each talks about the creative fire everyone has inside. Bradbury advises digging in and writing about what terrifies us, letting the fear we feel quaking inside spill into our characters and plot. Cain talks about the spark of passion in ourselves which we can tap into to find our own power and confidence.

Imagine a meeting of the two; a gift of fears and passions pushing your characters past obstacles and forcing them to confrontation. I gave Jade, the main character in WIRED, doubts and insecurities to make her falter, correct herself and make choices which will move her and the plot forward. Sometimes, I let her make poor choices so she can figure out her mis-step and grow. Letting her fears and passions run amuck on the page is to let her be human and perhaps a little more real to readers.

My goal for 2013 is to allow my characters to be human, flawed, brave, fearful and then press on despite their self-doubts. (Also a sound course of action for writers battling their self-critic.)

Good luck catching your own spark, nurture it well.


The Power of Quiet


 My idea of a perfect afternoon is this:

The sky is overcast and there is a chill in the air that hints at a hard freeze by nightfall. The house is unnaturally quiet and I like that. I pull a blanket from its drawer, the light blue polar fleece with snowflakes, and curl up in my favorite chair. I prefer the chair over the sofa or even the recliner. It hugs me and makes me feel secure and I am small enough to almost lie sideways and nap. But today I take advantage of the quiet and write. I may take a break to read or look up a reference, but mainly I am cruising through my own imagination creating problems for my characters. I lose track of time this way. An hour isn’t enough; two maybe; a whole afternoon even better.

It isn’t that I don’t enjoy my family—they’re the solid foundation that keeps me sane—it’s just that 99% of the time I am surrounded by people. Being alone helps me discharge stress and recharge my mental energy.

I am an introvert.

I’ve always known I was introverted, with brief periods of sociableness. Now I know why.

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...I’ve been listening to the Audible version of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. This non-fiction examination of what makes each of us an introvert or extrovert gives engaging stories of some of the most famous introverts (think Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Steve Wazniak) and how their quiet contributions have changed our lives. Extroverts are not left out. In fact, we learn a great deal about our out-going friends and how their minds work.

What’s to be gleaned is how, as introverts, we can trust our instincts and insights gained from listening and observing before acting. We are thinkers, planners and love to have as much information as possible before voicing opinions in public.

As I’ve listened, two thoughts have been swirling in the back of my mind:

  • How do I harness my focus to improve my writing and productivity? I know that when I shut my “office door” to interruptions and noise I can accomplish a greater amount of work and at a higher quality. I’m also happier because my sense of accomplishment comes from completing a task without skipping steps to race to the finish.
  • Next, I wonder how I can use these insights to develop my characters. Cain goes into great detail of how introverts and extroverts differ in behavior and habits, but then takes it even further with an examination of the physiological differences. We are wired and evolved for the temperament we have and it can even be measured with FMIR, functional magnetic resonance imaging. Being introverted or extroverted is not a choice, but simply how our bodies and brain function. Now I’ve added to my “writing tool kit” ways to strengthen my characters convictions with habits to match their personality type. I can make their hearts palpitate in crowds and raise their stress level as a restaurant becomes noisy with boisterous partygoers.

Are you introverted or extroverted? Have you given it much thought? “Quiet” will give you a lot to think about and a lot of information to help build your character’s inner world. The scene at the beginning of this article describes my “flow”, a state at which I feel most energized and able to do my best work with seemingly little effort. Learning to create this more often and in different settings for myself and my characters will lead to a mutual understanding that if I put them on the page, they can find their preferred state of social engagement too.

Just as a footnote, there are many great resource books on personality and behavior that aren’t in the writing reference section of your bookstore. Go to your favorite bookstore website and look up “Quiet”, then check out the “Customers Also Bought” section for ideas on  multi-faceted traits you can give your characters. SavvyAuthors.com also has great workshops. I am looking forward to “PTSD & Victims & Multi-Personalities”.

What is your idea of a perfect afternoon and what does it say about you:)


Inner Critic Sentenced to Maximum Security Facility


Inner Critic

The writing process is hard. No one is telling you to get up an hour early to finish your chapter or polish your final draft. No one is cheering every time you find the write way to right a scene. No one cherishes your words or admires the sweat it took to type them. We love to write, yet it is torture of our own creating. As writers, we wake up every morning thinking about writing, wishing we had more time to write and agonizing over what we haven’t written.

I’m there with you. It’s hard every time I face my WIP. My subconscious turns small tasks such as a blog post into a giant time-consuming monster. When will I find the time? What will I write? Does anyone care about what I write?

I’m learning how to break that down by stopping the noise in my head that pulls me away from being creative. You see, as writers, we need creative time. It is the medicine that keeps us balanced and happy.

Mindfulness is a widely used stress reduction technique which can do wonders. I stop worrying about what I didn’t do or what’s happening next week. I take a few deep breaths and visualize what I have in front of me. Sometimes it’s my day job and I actually get more done than I thought I could because my mind is focused. Other times it is my beautiful daughter, and I am focused on her words and how wonderful she is at 7 years old and how she will only be this way this minute and if I don’t pay attention I’ll miss it.

When I sit to write, I focus on the characters and their issues and what they need to work through and accomplish. I leave the tension on the page. Killing your inner critic is hard.

Ray Bradbury - The Martian Chronicles ...Sci-F...If you think this sounds like New Age hogwash, try reading it from Ray Bradbury’s perspective in “Zen in the Art of Writing”. Writers are creating worlds, giving birth to characters and controlling the fates of every soul in their writing. Writing is supposed to be hard work, but our self-doubt should not be part of the process. Show up and put in the work, don’t worry if it’s any good or wonder if anyone will ever read it. Write for yourself and be present in the moment for your characters. You can be critical when you go into editing mode, but then, isn’t that another opportunity to be present and creative? You’re shaping the clay of your writing to a polished reading experience.

Take five-minutes right now to stop the distractions and breathe, be present and write without expectations or doubt. Perhaps a mystery about a mutilated inner critic found floating in a sea of Alka-Seltzer.

Random Thoughts NOT on Writing

The world is getting smaller and bigger at the same time. Our everyday lives, media and technology are fusing to create a new group-think that influences our choices and behaviors. What if we harnessed that power for good rather than distraction?

The Waze app on my phone uses crowd sourcing to help me navigate around construction and traffic snarls, even warning me when there’s a car parked on the shoulder of the road. This has saved me time and headaches even while driving familiar routes.

Roger Water

Roger Water (Photo credit: Serjao Carvalho)

During the intermission of Roger Water’s concert, I searched Twitter and found dozens of other concert goers posting comments and pictures of the show. Suddenly the sea of strangers transformed to a welcoming, shared experience.

We are a virtual herd, changing direction and changing each other in the process. What are your thoughts?


What’s in a Title?


The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at ...

The plugboard (Steckerbrett) is positioned at the front of the machine, below the keys. When in use, there can be up to 13 connections. In this photograph, two pairs of letters are swapped (S↔O and A↔J). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am soooooo indecisive at times. I finally decide to eat out, but can’t decide where to go. I want to paint a room, but come to a stand still when selecting a color. It’s easier for me to make decisions for my characters than myself.  Afterall, their choices are governed by the personality I give them and has to give the reader clues to their inner world. That’s merely laying out puzzle pieces.

There are now 3 working titles for the follow-up novel to WIRED: Enigma, Persistence of Vision and Persistence of Time.  Each works for different reasons.

Enigma play on the plot theme of art looted by the Nazis during WWII.  The Enigma machine encoded German communications which was later cracked by Alan Turing.  Jade is in pursuit of a painting that was auctioned in 1939, only to find it leads her to her father’s killer, thus cracking the code of her past.

Persistence of Vision refers to the phenomenon of the eye to hold an after image.  Jade’s dreams are revealing the after image of the past she’s buried deep in her subconscious.

Diagram of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spoc...

Lastly, Persistence of Time…. also a Salvador Dali painting, refers to the artist to whom Jade has a strange affinity. It is one of his lost works she’s trying to uncover. 

Usually, when you find the right title it resonates for you.  This time I can’t decide which fits best. I may have to resort to Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. (sigh)

Now, back to writing….


Time Stand Still


“Freeze this moment a little bit longer. Make each impression a little bit stronger.” ~ Rush

I love to travel and any place I visit is open game as a story setting. I often take photos to remember the details of a place and to jog my memory of the sensory bits that add realism to a description.

This first photo was taken from Notre Dame in Paris.  In case you’re wondering, the buses and trailers were part of a production set for the TV series Highlander with Adrian Paul. Looking at this, I remember how incredibly cold it was.  The wind blew along the river with a ferocity that cut through my coat and several layers of sweaters. The water smelled pas frais as it swirled in eddys along the wall.

The images and memories formed a basis for the setting of WIRED which begins and ends in Paris.  The final scene takes place on the bridge in the distance.  There are also scenes that take you into the catacombs underneath the city and introduces another side of Paris usually not mentioned in the tour guides.  For those locations, I relied on research and discovered there’s a French Police unit that patrols the underground keeping peace and deterring criminal behavior. Photos become valuable tools for writing and enhances your ability to convey mood and let the setting take on its own character role.

The second photo is a church yard in England, but my memory is faulty on the exact location.  I’m thinking it may be in Suffolk. I do recall the church was well over 1,000 years old and was marred by medieval graffiti on the ancient floor tiles.  This will be in the follow-up novel to WIRED which has the working title Persistence of Time.

Now that the digital age is upon us, I snap photos constantly with my phone, trying to capture fleeting moments and emotions I can use later.

I also freeze bits of time by being completely present in the moment and noting everything around me. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve been able to later recall details that would have likely gone unnoticed… such as Ray Davies changing his wrist watch mid concert in 1983 or a woman in a black sweater doing yoga in Russell Square while a breeze blew spray from the fountain across the stone walk (2007).

By adding realism and sensory detail, your readers will be able to escape into your writing. Photos help me make time stand still long enough to share it with you.


Hey, Look Over Here!


There’s only so much jumping up and down and waving your hands you can do before people stop paying attention.

So how do you get noticed in the digital age? The simple answer is Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etcetera… etcetera…. all of the above. How’s your traffic? Tweeting and updating your social media is great, but what if a few tweaks could significantly increase your traffic? It’s not about getting attention, it’s about being found in a sea of tweets and email blasts.

Here are some tips:

Search Engine Optimization

  • Your blog or website is your public persona and billboard for branding, writing and winning over new fans. How do people find information on the web? Search engines. Is your blog Search Engine Optimized (SEO)? It’s not so scary or hard to tweak your site content to be search engine friendly. Begin with a list of words closely associated with your branding. Now look through your recent blog posts and see if these words appear. If not, you’re not giving a clear message to readers of who you are and what you’re about AND search engines, which send out crawlers, will not find you and deliver your site to new readers. Optimization should come after you’ve written your post and before you publish as part of the proofreading/revising stage. Key words should feel natural, not planted.

Appeal to Short Attention Spans

  • Bullet points allow readers to skim and read information they feel is relevant to their needs. If they like what they skim, they’ll take the time to read more.

 Infographics

  • Map your characters, plot, or anything that delivers a fun nugget of information to your readers.

 Use Cool Tools

  • Find innovative ways to use new media tools. Pinterest is the hot new social media trend, but how do you use it for gaining attention rather than pinning random pictures? Try creating a board that’s all about your writing genre, or the novels that most influenced your writing. How about organizing pix and links for your writing research? This lets your readers see into your creative process. I’m building a board titled The Art of Art Theft. I’m pinning famous work, giving the artist and date the piece was stolen. Some of these will be mentioned in my new art crime thriller, “WIRED” and the follow-up novel “Persistence of Time”.  

Branding… or how to find your keywords

  •  Branding is what you’re all about: your writing, your genre, your style, your theme. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer selling novels or a business promoting a new product, the words should represent what you want others to identify with you. Without thinking too deeply, jot down the words that come to the top of your mind. Now imagine a triangle. At the top is what you’re trying to accomplish, on the lower corners you have your list of key (branding) words and your novel/product. They should all work together to make a cohesive message. If you wanted to find you on the internet without using your name or the name of your novel/product, what words would you choose?  

At the top of my triangle I’ve written Build Audience. The lower left corner lists key words Thriller, Mystery and Art Crime. The last corner lists “Perfect Copy” and “WIRED”.

My Last Tip…

  • Check out LinkedIn groups related to social media, your interests, or writing platform.  The conversations shared will give you a fast track to new trends and tools to help you get noticed.

Look Around


  Settings and descriptions are easy to find. Look around. Did you notice anything while driving to work this morning? How about the guy in the car next to you? I bet he picked his nose without even considering someone would see him. By the way, there are a couple of teenage boys walking along the sidewalk, but it’s a school day, so why are they out and about? Observations can lead to interesting questions for writers. Small details in description allow your readers to experience the story, not just read it. Where do you find these details?

Like I said, look around.

Driving through North Carolina, there is a vast landscape of imagery apt for writing. The Research Triangle Park (RTP), surrounded by prominent universities and corporate headquarters, is ripe for a high-tech setting. Drive a few miles out and you find tobacco and corn fields burning under an early summer heat wave. I recently discovered a few gems and have tucked them away for a future project:

  • A Baptist church with brick framed sign advertising “Massage Therapy. Walk Ins Welcome”
  • A farm-house with a perfectly manicured lawn sporting a 70’s era tan sedan in the car port nearly invisible under a growth of kudzu
  • Stumpy’s Taxidermy (do I really need to explain that one?)

I translated some of the scenery and the questions it invoked into the passage below. By writing without a plot in mind, this exercise lets my imagination explore the “what if’s”. Sometimes it even turns into a new story.

“The two-lane highway curved in and around woods, past weedy horse pastures, and bordered fields freshly plowed for late spring crops. Each sign of animal habitation was mirrored by human habitation in the form of wood-frame houses void of paint or posh. This isn’t the part of the country big on appearances. Labor was born of the need to feed families, pay off back debt on acreage and to scrape out a living. There was no money for house painting or landscaping beyond a mower.

Casey turned her ten-year old Ford pickup onto a gravel road, wincing at the sharp ruts that bucked the truck like a rodeo bull. Sweet tea sloshed over the top of her Hardee’s cup and left a glistening rivulet across her arm. She ignored it.

The white outline of the church revealed itself through a veil of dark green leaves. A downburst of wind parted branches for just a second and she could see the modest wooden steeple against a Carolina blue sky.

Craven Baptist Church was founded in 1823 and had stood facing the eastern sunrise ever since. First, her four times great-grandfather cut a clearing and laid in pine benches and a slab of granite for an altar. Sixteen years later, his son built a small church on the same site. The building now in its place was a young 75 years old. Vines twisted along the roof edge and the air was thick with honey suckle. Plywood sealed the windows and the front door, while padded locked on one side, stood ajar from its hinges on the other.

The cemetery would be in the back, hidden in the undergrowth and guarded by snakes.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever use this in a project, but the exercise is a good writing warm up so you can sneak past your inner critic:).


Yes, I fell off the face of the earth.


Well, at least my sense of balance was off kilter.  Life does that to you.  I just find it ironic that I last wrote about Tweeting and Blogging and yet hardly touched my apps in two weeks.  I did read the witty comments of others on the stream and enjoyed Anne Charles’ Optical Delusions in Deadwood… really too funny to put down.

The more complicated my life becomes, the more I want humor and a good mystery to help me escape.  But now I am emerging from my quiet corner to work on novels at hand and follow through on my writing commitments.  Here’s my list of priorities:

  • Update Amazon with new edited version of Perfect Copy. Let me know if you’d like a free read:)funny happens
  • Shape up WIRED to send to my editor by April 15 (Yes, I borrowed the deadline from the IRS)
  • Get on board more blog tours for the summer
  • Be a better IBC (Indie Book Collective) member and help with the workload

That should be enough for the moment.

While on sabbatical, I listened to several audio books, paying close attention to how the author wove multiple plot lines for the main character. Everyone has a lot going on these days, so why not the characters in our stories? Just today, I’m juggling a dozen client projects/calls/setting video shoots, writing a blog post, planning a vacation, making a mental grocery list, managed to fit in a haircut at lunch so no eating = starving, and what comes next?  I don’t know; it’s too much to track without a TO DO list. 

If that’s my boring life, imagine what your over-achieving super clever hero is doing. He’s piecing together clues while wondering if the strange tapping coming from the bath pipes means anything.  She just wanted a frappucinno when she got pulled for driving mph in a school zone. The police detective couldn’t help but notice the location of the crime scene looks like the house where he grew up.

Humans are so funny….in a good way.  Our brains can’t stay in one place, we want to daydream and worry and notice odd things as we go through our day.  To steal a line from the movie “Up”, “Squirrel!” Yep, we are easily distracted.

Have fun with your characters this week and let their minds wander.  You may end up with a brilliant twist to your story.


Scraps of the Past


It’s inevitable. As we get older we become less sentimental about the odd bits and pieces we carry around from our past. I’m referring to the box(es) of stuff that has survived childhood and traveled to college dorm rooms, first apartments and finally the closet or attic where you now live.

Every time you move and have to pack these things and carry the box to a new home you weigh its importance to your memories or future.

In my box of “stuff” is a stack of notebooks full of youthful angst, poems and the beginnings of a first novel written the summer after fifth grade. Other bits of interest include petrified chewing gum from my 1st Police concert, a t-shirt from Girl Scout camp plus a moth eaten beret.

Digging deeper (metaphorically speaking) I see stories – the ones I read growing up, the stories I dreamed of writing and an impression of a little girl that wanted to see the world through the eyes of Nancy Drew and HG Wells.

I get the same feeling whenever I walk through a junk store looking for vintage jewelry or a discarded first edition. I can’t help but create a story for the journey the objects traveled. Who owned them? What was the world like when it was new?

These details often find their way into my writing. I think that’s why I love writing about art and have spent so much time learning about its plight through history. Each portrait is the face of someone with a story and the painting itself has its own tale. Landscapes are as much an image of a place frozen in time as it is the artist’s personal expression.

Move through time to Impressionism and Modernism and you see a world that is rapidly transforming to an uncertain destiny.

As I add details to Jade’s life, I’m thinking about what bits she would carry around. How does a person with amnesia take stock of the past which made her who she is? Fun is in the details and for Jade, there are also clues there for her to discover.


Book Marketing Insight


What if you could be sure there was an audience ready to devour your next book? What are the hot key words you should use in your book description and marketing to get readers to notice you? Is the trending interest going up or down?

Since there isn’t a working crystal ball nearby, I resorted to more useful Google tools, Insights for Search and Google Trends.

Google Trends
This nifty tool allows you to compare the trending pattern of multiple search terms to compare where the greater interest is trending across Google web searches and news references. But there’s more! It also breaks out the data by geographic region and time.

In my own search for “book, art theft” the trend for both the web and news were high which bodes well for my next two novels. Since I set the region to World, I also know that the United States ranks third in interest behind Egypt and India. By clicking United States under the Region results, I get a sub-region breakout by state and then top cities. Now I’m digging down to where my fans may be and can target their time zones via Twitter. (You may have 2k+ followers, but if you miss their coffee break, they’ll never see your message.)

If I were to use this information to tweak my marketing messages, I would need to be sure to include key words related to my genre/content that trend well in web searches. (Think Ad Words)

Insights for Search
The difference between this and Trends is that Search is analyzing the data over search volume rather than directional trend. The graphs may look similar, but the data gleaned will be more detailed here.
Here’s an example for my search “stolen art”:

I’ve added News Headlines so I can verify I’m actually looking at data related to my subject and not a video game or music playlist. Over the past 12 months, New York, California and Texas have the highest search rate. If you are logged into your Google account, you’ll also see actual numbers.

Since I have a fair number of Twitter followers and blog fans in the UK and Canada, I added those two countries to my search and voila, I can clearly see where I have my work cut out for me.

Disclaimer: I do not work for or have any affiliation with Google. I just love how easy they make it to do research and fine tune my work.

Have fun playing and be sure to share any cool tools you’ve come across that helps you write and sell more books:).

***   For other Google tools go to Google.com and click” More” on the top menu and them click “Even More”.   ***


Criminal Fun


Workshops

January is starting off great with an online workshop with former FBI agent Lucinda Schroeder, “Inside the Criminal Mind”. I’ve taken about a half-dozen workshops at savvyauthors.com and the information shared is worth the small fee, usually anywhere between $15-25. Plus, anytime you can get first hand information from a specialist you have a valuable tool to add realism to your fiction.

Research

It’s no secret that my next few titles center on art theft. To that end, I’ve spent some time researching art news, thefts, controversies and the role this has played in modern history. My Google alert continues to send daily links to blogs and news articles from around the web. A predominant trend is the theft of public art for the value of the metal. Scrap yards are on alert for these works, some valued in the 10’s of thousands while the perps melt them down for a few hundred dollars of scrap. Whatever your writing topic or interest, Google alerts are an easy way to get a roundup of information that is current as well as keeping you up to date on evolving stories and opinions.

The North Carolina Museum of Art is also providing invaluable information via their Lunch and Lecture series. Recent topics include registering priceless works for a major exhibition (procuring insurance, security, transportation and installation) to designing crowd flow and security for an exhibition with an expected attendance of over 150,000 people. Again, learning the titles and job responsibilities of museum staff will add depth and immerse the reader into my character’s world. If you look around, I’m sure you’ll find unconventional sources of information for your work in progess too.

Pleasure

Portrait of a Gentleman Wearing a Gold Chain /...
Image via Wikipedia

Again, the North Carolina Museum of Art is one of my favorite places. Their current Rembrandt exhibit, which runs through January 22nd, presents the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings ever displayed in the United States.

The meaning of a painting is affected by the other works displayed around it. In this case, the story of Rembrandt’s life, the evolution of his work and his legacy is well told. For hundreds of years, works by his students have been incorrectly attributed to Rembrandt, but the side by side comparison clearly shows the mastery he commanded. It’s more than the brush stroke which can be taught, or the lighting which can be imitated. There is an intangible quality that places thought and emotion within the eyes and faces of his subjects.

Fun

In keeping with the art theft and criminal mind theme, here’s a bit of fun from Art Series Hotels. The Cullen, The Olsen and the Blackman Hotels in Australia are designed in the style of 3 of their greatest artists. Until January 15th, guests are invited to steal an original Banskey valued at $10,000. Once the steal is successfully executed, the guest gets to keep the art.

“No Ball Game” was pinched December 19th by a guest posing as a hotel employee who even managed to get the staff to help her place the stolen work in her car.

If you want your chance to play cat burglar, there is another Banskey now on the wall, “Pulp Fiction”.

Good Luck.


The Art of Procrastination


I’ve been in a writing abyss for the past 2 months. Any and every word is taking four times the effort to write and I catch myself wondering if the there is a point to the self-inflicted suffering.

It’s the holidays, my day job is overbooked crazy and there are a million other things to take care of at home including folding and putting away 10,000 loads of laundry.

So, it’s time to find my motivation. If I were a method actor, I’d dig deep into the character’s psyche for that lost nugget of hope. So far I haven’t found it. Here’s where I’ve looked:

Read a sample.

  • Scrabble for iPad (I’ve now won more than 50% of the games played #inyourfacecomputer! )
  • Neverland (SyFy miniseries)
  • Tossing Runes at façade.com until they say what I want to hear
  • Audible books (47 hours of Connie Willis’ Blackout and All Clear)

Being a writer means I have special powers when it comes to creating distractions. Now I have to AIS (Ass In Seat) and get the last chapters tweaked and sent to my editor. Then—and only then—I can relax and enjoy the eggnog.  Granted, I still have a gingerbread house that needs decorating and presents to wrap and 5 pounds of shrimp to pickle, and….and…and…

I never have writer’s block, just procrastination pains. How do you deal with the urge to do nothing?

I’m trying to focus on the prize at the end of the work… being published.


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