Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Care and Feeding of a Writer

One of my favorite artists is Native American Sculptor Roxanne Swentzell. You can see some of her work here. It's simply amazing. When I was at the national Romance Writer's of America Conference in Denver some years back, I took time out to visit the Denver Art Museum and there I saw her sculpture entitled "The Things I have to do to Maintain Myself." I've posted the picture of this work on the left. This little guy has a broken horn and is threading a needle to repair himself. This particular sculpture spoke to me deeply as a woman and a writer.
No offense guys, but women tend to put family, friends and work before their own care much more so then men. We think, "I have a gift to write and I'm going to even put that in front of my own care." Or we think, "I don't have time to mend myself." Overweight? I'll eat better when I have time. Exercise--but that takes away an hour I could be writing or doing laundry. Ladies, we put laundry before our own health. How messed up is that?
But as a creative artist and writer your work will suffer if you don't take time out daily to maintain yourself. Your work suffers, your family suffers and your life suffers. But, but, but...
I know all the excuses. I live them daily. I've found that as we age and continue to abuse ourselves with lack of proper rest, nutrition, and exercise, things begin to break down. Your work will suffer and spending more time in front of the computer won't cure it.
So how to do you break the cycle? When I was in the military I worked as an electronics technician and we had daily duties called PMI's (preventative measure initiatives.) We had a list of daily things that needed to be done to prevent breakdowns and malfunctions. I recommend you make a simple list of PMI's and then implement them one at a time. Commit to them for thirty days and they will become lifestyle habits. I'm not talking diets here, my friends. I'm talking about self-love and self-care. Care that will make your writing better, along with your family and your relationships.

Here's my list:
Drink 8 glasses of water a day.
Walk the dog twenty minutes five days a week.
Do a simple yoga stretch routine right before bed.
Incorporate five fruits and vegetables in my food choices every day.
Never sit at the computer longer than an hour-use this five minute break to go downstairs and get a glass of water.
Look myself in the mirror and tell myself that I love me and that I'm here for me. Take this time to check in and ensure I don't have any pains, illness or tooth aches. If I do, then make an appointment to get it checked out or fixed.

Take care of yourself. Think of it as the instructions for oxygen masks in an airplane-put your mask on first- then you will be better equipped to help others.

What do you do to maintain yourself?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Grammar Rulz or I am a lazy writer

I am a story teller. I am not a grammar person. You know the kind who has all the rules memorized and actually knows the names of things like participle and gerund. (I bow to your knowledge and skill.)
You see, I'm more of a write-by-how-it-sounds kind of person, which means when everyone else was memorizing grammar rules I got away with just "knowing them." This means that I can easily write excellent dialog, but it also means I struggle through copy editing. On my desk are the following: "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers," Browne and King; "The AP Stylebook;" "The Chicago Manual of Style" and the "MLA Handbook." On my book shelf are at least three other books on grammar and style. I love to research and so I'd rather have the books at the ready than depend on my memorization skills. That said, I do keep an eye out for what I like to think of as "unusual" rules.
For today's blog I thought I'd share with you a cool rule that most writers intuit but don't know why. The rules for the official order of adjectives.
I know, I didn't realize there were rules. In fact one of my MFA module instructors- a multi-published author- talked about the order of adjectives based on how it sounds. He didn't know there was an official rule either. Why? Because "the large blue dinosaur just sounds more familiar, more correct, than the blue large dinosaur. So we put size before color when describing something: the gigantic green frog, the large black briefcase.
We can put together long strings of adjectives without any punctuation, as long as we follow the official order of adjectives: the valuable old green Mercedes sedan.
The order is first a, the, or a possessive such as my or Tom's. Then we put evaluation or opinion, followed by the physical description-size, shape, age, color, texture-followed by where it came from, the material it is made of, and finally it's purpose or main use. Oh, and we might have one last item before the noun: another noun that helps identify it."-note, this is taken directly from the source, but unfortunately I, thinking I would only use it for myself, did not write that source down. If you know this source, please clue me in and I'll post. Yes, I am a lazy researcher as well.
When I did an internet search looking for my source-see I did try- I discovered that there is in fact a Royal Order of adjectives. Here's a great link for more information: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/adjectives.htm Unless you teach English or are a lover of grammar rules, you may want to bookmark this.

Also for fun here's the link to the School House Rock video on adjectives: http://youtu.be/mYzGLzFuwxI
So, are you a story person or a word person?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August Book Review by Ted

This month I left the frontier and cowboys and once again visit the world of Country Music. It is a strange place where people come from diverse backgrounds and because of a talent find themselves thrust into the spotlight, situations, and a world of broken dreams, broken marriages, broken families, drugs, and in many cases broken talent.
The Three of Us is the story of a woman who was born into the family of The King and Queen
of country music. George Jones and Tammy Wynette were the epitome of success and talent.......a couple who loved each other, but could not turn that love into a successful marriage. The ups and downs of show business careers mixed with too much alcohol and drugs along with the pressures of trying to raise a family just could not be handled by the two super stars.
Georgette Jones with the help of Patsi Bale Cox has crafted a story that is filled with joy, pain, and tragedy. Written in an easy to read style, this book - for the Country Music fan - is a must read. Coming from lives of poverty, propelled by talent the artists ride to the top and then the stress of success and the strain of continually preforming to maintain the top leads them through situations that they are not equipped to handle....False friends, bad managers, and users abound and the artists are lost to their fans, their friends, and their families.
Unable to cope, they drift from marriage to marriage and their children are left in confusing situations.
The book will lead you through situations of happiness (far too few) into the dark recesses of depression as Georgette attempts to cope with parents who are riding the roller coaster of fame and fortune and divorce and despair. Her life mimics much the same things that the parents experienced. Finally at the age of 40 she seems to be emerging and becoming a happy person able to face life and possibly claim her inheritance as the daughter of the King and Queen of Country Music.
If you choose to read this book, I would suggest you have a supply of your favorite tissues and a handy waste basket. It will, I think, cause you to look at your life and be thankful you were never in many of the situations Georgette faced and still does.
A word about her co-author. If you read these reviews, you'll remember on I wrote about Tanya Tucker several months ago. I want to repeat what I wrote then. There is a good field for the author who can develop a relationship with people of fame and fortune and " help" them write their story. Books about celebrities usually sell well, and give authors the opportunity to show their skills and open more doors to them in their career fields. Ms Cox has authored a book about "The Garth Factor" in country music and collaborated with Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Wynonna Judd, Ralph Emery, and Pat Benatar. That to me is the mark of a successful career covering the careers of the cream of Country Music.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thoughts on being fabulously wealthy

All I want to do is write~ write and be fabulously wealthy and beloved because of my writing. It's how it happens, right? Isn't that what happened to JK Rowling? Or Amanda Hocking? Or Stephanie Meyers?
They had story ideas. They wrote them down and became fabulously wealthy and famous over night. Fairy tales can come true-it can happen to you if you're young at heart.
People who don't write believe this can happen. They can name names. Writers starting out believe this can happen. They can name names.
It's fun and exciting.
But, no one tells you about the hard part. The work that goes into it. The hours at the computer. The hours of research needed for setting and background. The swollen hands, the hurt wrists, the aching back, the broadening seat, the crooked neck. They don't tell you about the hours spent searching out over used words. Digging out repetitive sentences. Making excel spread sheets for names and character descriptions. The work behind plotting and weaving subplots. The hook at the beginning and end of every chapter, every scene. The work behind crafting dialogue and transitions. The need for worsening conflict. The black moment that ruins it all and then somehow magically repairs everything for a happy ending.
They don't tell you that once you get through all that there is the research into agents and publishers. The query letter writing to get an agent or editor. The marketing work-where my book fits. Who wants to read it? How can I stand out? The website that is needed. The blogs to write- whether one of your own or ones you visit. The twitter/facebook/myspace/yahoogroups/google+ work that goes into getting people-agents, editors, readers to even know you are a person with a completed work and it's good!
Then there is the figuring out who your audience is and how to find them and how to market to them. We try giveaways and contests and reviewers. There are interviews and workshops and on-line classes to develop and give all in the name of getting noticed.
The coming of the digital age means there are a lot more books out. A lot more choices for readers and even more competition. Those who indie publish have the added work of editing, cover design, up loading, up keeping (checking for errors in all formats) and watching the numbers daily to see if they should adjust a price or make a list.
So many talented people with loyal fan bases never become fabulously wealthy. In the end we laugh at how we were so certain we would be the next big thing. Instead of writing in hopes of winning, we now write out sheer joy and the knowledge that our stories do change lives. Maybe not as many as JK Rowling, but that doesn't make us any less fabulous. What it makes us is a little more frugal and a lot more in touch with our readers who struggle everyday just as we do. We are in this life together, and if I can write something that makes your day in some little way, then that makes me happy and happy beats wealthy every time. Cheers

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On Character Naming

The assigned reading for the last semester of my Master's program was "Changes" by Jim Butcher. This was, I believe, book 12 in the Harry Dresden Series.
One of the things the students said they hated were the number of characters with a name that started with the same letter. For example M~ and how difficult it was to keep the characters apart. This probably isn't as obvious in the earlier books, but by the time we get to book 12, and many reoccurring characters show up, we start to see patterns in the author's mind.
I didn't really think about this until it was brought up in class. Now I am very conscious about how I pick character names.
I recently sold the first three books in a gluten-free bakery series. I'm currently working on a second completely different series and discovered in my first draft that I tended to use the same first names for secondary characters that I used in the GF series. I know I've done this before in different single title books. But now I'm conscious of the pattern to my brain's naming process. Having a pattern is not good. The last thing an author wants is the same character names in two separate series set in two very different places. So I got out my baby naming books and my copy of "The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook." I had invested money in these books early on in my career, but over time got lazy and simply picked what I thought were random names out of the air. Come to find out those names were not so random. (Sort of like when you think you are naming your children new and different names only to discover you named them the same as everyone else that year. For example, I was always one of at least three Nancy's in school. So I picked what I thought was a weird name-Ashley- for my daughter. Only to discover that she was always one of three Ashley's in school. Who knew?)
So how do you pick character names? Sometimes I will go through my resources and pick names that contain certain meanings-like little man, or wolf, or mythic hero name. Then I'll find a section based on ethic names and use the name will help me to build a character. Or I'll do a search of most popular baby names the year my character was born and choose one of those. Or I'll use the names of family or friends. I do this for all my main characters. Where I was falling down on the job were the side characters. It was the side characters with names that all started with the same letter that bothered the readers in Book 12 of the Dresden Files. I would be so lucky to have a book 12 in any series, so I figure it doesn't hurt to be prepared.
Now I have work to do- I am compiling a list of all character names I've used in my published books. Yep, there are patterns my friends. Next I will check the list and disregard any names that start with the same letter as a previous character in the same series. Then add the new name to my growing list for characters and side characters. It seems like a lot of work, but really if you do a few names with every book, you'll begin to see your own patterns and should you get to a 12th book in a series with reoccurring characters, your readers will be able to tell them apart- even if they start with book 12.
When you're reading, do you notice a pattern to the character names? Does it bother you? If you're a writer, please share the secrets to your character names.
Inquiring minds would love to know. Cheers~