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When A Character Morphs

Collage-morph-weird-6491132-hThe protagonist in my WIP just morphed.  When I started writing her, she was one way and now suddenly she's another.  (With the demands of launching my novel, I haven't had the time to actually put these changes into effect, but I've taken lots of notes.  And I think about it all the time.) It's a subtle but important change and it makes a big difference in how she views the world and reacts to the people around her. 

This also happened while I was writing Emma Jean.  In that novel, there's a character named Ava who's a young whippersnapper of a middle-schooler–sassy, smart, and slightly scarred.  She's one of my favorite characters in the book.  Yet she started out as a shy 5-year-old with little personality.  I well remember the night I went to my critique group and someone gently asked me if it was really necessary for the 5-year-old Ava to be in the story.  The next day, I boarded a plane to L.A., and as I did, the current Ava sprang to full, glorious life.  This version of her was the character who was meant to be–I just hadn't discovered her yet.

And so, too, with Jemima–while I know a lot about the externals of her life and what happened to her I don't yet know her inner landscape or her full backstory.  I also don't feel I've yet discovered her full voice.  So this recent change is welcome.  It tells me I'm getting closer to her, that I'm starting to know her better and it reassures me that the rest will come in due time.

But how do you actually deal with it when a character morphs like this?  Here are some suggestions:

–Don't panic.  Usually when it happens, it's a good thing.  Yes, there will be unexpected rewriting and changing things around.  But it's going to make your novel a richer, deeper book, because it's a sign that you understand your character at a new level.

–Take good notes.  Lots of them.  This is a good time for free writing to get a handle on the new shape of the character. 

–Write in "as if" form.   If you're in first draft mode, keep moving on.  Don't stop to rewrite everything that has changed because of the character morphing.  Instead, write as if the character changes have already been made.  This works most of the time, though once in awhile the changes are so profound that you have to go back.  Just don't get mired in rewriting!

–Unpack your story.  Once you've finished the first draft and it's time to make the character changes, you've got to make room for them.  The common metaphor for this is unpacking, emptying a space to put in new stuff.  Go paragraph by paragraph and pull them apart to insert new material.

–Take heart.  You may be dismayed by the character changes that appear to you, especially if they are big ones.  You may be tempted to ignore these ideas.  But don't–that pisses the muse off.  And besides, these are the very ideas that will make your novel the story you want it to be.

How have you dealt with a character morphing?  Please leave a comment.

**Speaking of characters, Emma Jean launches on February 12th, and I'm celebrating with a virtual release party, complete with prizes!  Find out more and sign up here.

Photo by shannonkringen, used under Creative Commons agreement.

Oh, Amazon, You Trickster, You

Book-books-collection-415-lIf you enter the title of my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, into the Amazon search engine, up my book will pop, despite the fact that its pub date is not until February 12th.  And no, there's nothing about pre-ordering it mentioned on the page.  It's just there.  For sale.

I found this out thanks to the alert eyes of my reader and online buddy Zan Marie.  Now, I'd be happy to have my book available for sale, except for a couple of things:

–This isn't the final copy.  I worked on final proofing all the way to Nashville and back.  Caught a few small errors.  No big deal, you say?  Uh-uh.  Not for me.  I'm a printer's daughter and pride myself on being able to catch typos.  (Now, of course, you'll find one or more.  That's alright.  I can take it.  Let me know, I won't be hurt.) I also tinkered with the acknowledgments (the hardest part of writing the book, I swear) a bit.  And I wanted my readers to get this corrected copy, the final, final copy.  The perfect one.

–We set the pub date for February 12th and I wanted to have the requisite hoopla around it on that date.  Not some vague earlier time.  I wanted it to be a specific date, an event.  (I'm working on ideas for how I can share this event with you, so stay tuned.)  Silly, maybe, but so be it.

So I emailed my ever-patient editor and she promptly contacted Amazon to have them take it down, at the very least until the final final copy gets to them.  (You'll still see it listed for sale if you search for it or click here.  I actually don't know what happens if you click on it to buy it.)

But here's what cracks me up: Just as Emma Jean does in the novel, I started checking my Amazon sales rank.  At one point, it was down to #717,876 or something like that.  Wow!  I was feeling pretty good about that.  I mean, it wasn't even officially on sale yet and already I was ranked below a million.  Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. 

And then my editor emailed me back yet again and said that as far as the publishers could tell only one copy of that version of the book had been sold. (Thanks, Jenni–you've got a one-of-a-kind edition.)  So, as my daughter-in-law said, thus selling one book=#717,876 rank.  Does this mean if I sell two I get put right up to #1?   Um, probably not.  Apparently the Amazon algorithm is mysterious and unknown, just like the Google's.

Thus, note to self: do NOT fuss and obsess over the Amazon sales ranking when the book comes out.  Because it doesn't mean anything.  Does it?

Do you have experience with Amazon?  I'd love to hear it.  Barring that, what do you obsess over?  That's an even better topic.  Please share in the comments.

**There's only a couple more days of early-bird pricing for my Get Your Novel Written Now class.  Check out more info here.

 

Book Review: Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine alone.

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

by Jennifer Chiaverini

After seeing the movie Lincoln, now nominated for a gazillion Oscars, I've gotten curious about all things Lincoln.  (The movie is that compelling–if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.) So I jumped at the chance to review this book.

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker is historical fiction, based on the real historical character of Elizabeth Keckley, who was, as the novel relates, the dressmaker and confidant of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.  Keckley was a slave who bought her own freedom and consequently started her own dressmaking business in Washington City (now Washington D.C., of course).

There was a lot that I liked about this novel.  I soaked up all the historical details and loved learning about Elizabeth Keckley, who, in her later years wrote what turned out to be a scandalous memoir.  (It was scandalous because she revealed many intimate details of her friendship with Mrs. Lincoln.) To me, there's nothing like an historical novel to bring history to life.  I'll fall asleep reading a non-fiction history book, but hand me an historical novel and my bedside light stays on late.

While much of the book was well-written (and Chiaverini clearly is an adept writer, as she's had several New York Times bestsellers) and brought history to life for me, I did feel that an over-abundance of narrative summary slowed certain passages down.   During the years of the Civil War, for instance, there was much relating of the progress of various battles that were perhaps necessary to the book but not written in an engaging manner.

After we slogged through those years, the book picked up and I ended up liking it a lot.  So, I recommend it if you're interested in the Lincoln years.

Have you seen the movie Lincoln?  Are you interested in that era?  Leave me a comment!

Guest Post: Writing a Book With a Homeless Man

Please welcome guest poster Alene Snodgrass, who talks about the fascinating process of co-authoring a book with a homeless man.  You may remember Alene from a guest post she wrote earlier this year.  Welcome back, Alene, and congratulations on the successful launch of your book!

Writing is hard!
Graffitibook

There, I said it. It takes diligence and discipline. You must create the quiet time to sit down and form those words that are stirring within your soul into something that others can understand and relate to. It takes focus.

Writing a book with a homeless man is even harder!

Once you decide to share book space with a co-author, everything changes. There are two voice styles to incorporate, two schedules to work around, two different ideas about the project, and two times the amount of coordination. Can you imagine how many more obstacles there might be if that co-author happened to be homeless?

Well, about a year ago, I met a homeless man.

As we passed, he walked up to me and began reciting poetry. It was beautiful. The tone and inflection in his voice were captivating. Come to find out these were poems he had written and memorized. I dutifully asked, “Is there any way you can write those down for me?” He did. And the rest of the story can be found in my newly released Kindle eBook Graffiti: scribbles from different sides of the street.

What transpired the months following was nothing shy of miraculous.

My homeless friend began bringing me writing after writing. Mostly poetry at first. When he found out that I am an author he started stretching his writing skills. He was shy at first thinking I was judging his grammar. I wasn’t – I was enthralled by his love for writing.

We didn’t know each other that well at the time so earning his trust was of most importance. As his trust in me grew, he began to branch out and write more about his life. There was hurt and pain. There was a life story that made me wonder, “How did you end up on the streets?” I asked for more. I stretched him to write more about his life.

I could see that there was so much potential and story behind that worn and tattered body. I continually encouraged him and asked for more of the story. Maybe selfishly at first, because I wanted to know more of his story, but seriously the more he wrote the more I wanted.

It was interesting that the more he revealed of his life; the more I realized we had so much in common. He from his dysfunctional family, which eventually led him to the streets. And me from my blessed family, which led me to help the homeless on the streets.

As I sat and stared at his writings, I knew our story had to be told.

However, we wanted to write less of our life story and tell more of our heart story. The story of how we decided to trust each other, step out of our comfort zones, and love another who was different.

In weaving those facets of our writings together Graffiti: scribbles from both sides of the street was born.

About Alene: Alene loves to tell the story. With a heart for the broken, Alene Snodgrass speaks, writes, and blogs about her real life experiences serving people in the inner city. Alene’s blog, PositivelyAlene.com, is where many come who are seeking and searching to be challenged to find their purpose through serving others. You can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter. Graffiti reached #7 in free Kindle rankings the first day it was released. Download it here.

Book Review: Daring Greatly

This is a paid book review for the BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are mine.

What is vulnerability?

If you are like most people, you probably answered weakness.

But shame researcher Brene Brown argues in her new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, that vulnerability is actually not weakness.  Instead, she says, "It's being all in."  It's showing up and allowing ourselves to be seen. It's daring to share our authentic selves, instead of hiding in shame. This ability to show up and be who we are is daring greatly (the title is taken from a Theodore Roosevelt quote).

Sounds a lot like what we as creatives, do, doesn't it?  Which is exactly why I wanted to review this book.  And Brown does have a section on creativity, which I read avidly.  Brown argues that shame is the opposite of vulnerability and its shame that we feel when our inner critic (she calls it a gremlin) gets activated and says things like, "Dare not! You're not good enough."

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?  We talk about variations on these themes all the time on this blog.  But I like Brown's approach of talking about the shame tapes that get played in our heads as we try to work.  She also reminds us that this shame may not even be the result of what we're currently doing, or the project we're working on: "Sometimes shame is the result of us playing the old recordings that were programmed when we were children, or simply absorbed from the culture."

There's more, so much more to this book, including discussions of narcissism (which is really just the fear of being ordinary), bullying, shame in our culture and how to parent in a daring greatly way.

It's a great read, with lots of thought-provoking ideas.

How about you?  Do you get consumed with shame when you are writing?  (We all do, some of just cope with it better than others.) How do you deal with it?

Interview: Barbara Abercrombie, Author of A Year of Writing Dangerously

AYearofWritingDangerouslyI thought you'd be interested in this book on writing, and so when the publisher contacted me asking if I'd be interested in doing a review or an interview, I leapt at the chance.  The book has an engaging format of one entry per day, with quotes and anecdotes from famous writers, as well as inspiring mini-essays from Abercrombie herself.  It's the perfect daily writing companion.  And now, after some background information, the interview:

Barbara Abercrombie teaches in the writing program at UCLA Extension. The author of novels, children’s books, and many essays and articles in national publications, her latest books are Courage & Craft and Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved & Lost. A Year of Writing Dangerously is her fourteenth book. She lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband and rescue dog, Nelson. Visit her online at her blog, and at her website.

What inspired you to write this book?

The title came to me first and for a while I didn’t know what to do with it. I’d already written two books about creative writing and felt I didn’t have anything more to say on the subject, but I couldn’t let go of the title. For a while I thought maybe I’d write it month by month, twelve sections, but a writer friend said, “No, it has to be day by day. That’s the kind of book I need!” The idea of a book to read daily for comfort and inspiration and company suddenly seemed very appealing to me and unlike anything I’d written before.

Why writing “dangerously”?

Because I think there’s always a sense of risk when you write – fear that maybe someone will deny your version of things, or that they’ll get mad and disown you, or that maybe you’ll make a fool of yourself and expose too much or too little. One of my favorite quotes on the subject is by Terry Tempest Williams who said: “I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts…I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words.” And that’s what it feels like sometimes, a bloody risk to form the words.

Why a year?

Because if you want to write a novel or autobiography or memoir you’ll need at least a year of focused work to get from the idea in your head to the reality of a first draft. Or if you want to write short pieces a year could get you from dreaming about being a writer to actually completing and marketing one or more personal essays or short stories. I think a year is a manageable amount of time for a writer – long enough to get serious work done, yet short enough to give yourself a realistic deadline.

How does your book differ from other books on creative writing?

There are 365 entries of anecdotes and quotes that offer inspiration and also commiseration from a lot of famous and successful writers who go through the same struggles all of us have getting our work done. I’ve always found it encouraging to read about the problems of writers I admire. It makes me feel like I’m in good company. While the book does gives you some advice about the nuts and bolts of writing and getting published, as well as weekly writing prompts, it’s more of a day book – a book to keep on your desk to dip into for a daily dose of encouragement and some company. To my knowledge there isn’t any other book out there quite like it.

Thanks, Barbara!  Now what about you?  Do you write dangerously?  How do you define it?

Book Writing: The Tyranny of Chronology

 

Finger-fingerprint-pointing-648273-h

Are you a Write in Order Writer, or an Anything, Anytime Writer?

The Write in Order Writer insists on writing scenes in strict chronology.

The Anything, Anytime Writer writes whatever part of the novel she feels like without regard to order.

All my life, I've been a Write in Order Writer.  And this is not necessarily a good thing.  Because hewing to a strict chronology as you write can become tyrannical.  (For the record, that's a great word.)

As I've mentioned a few times before, I'm working on a new novel.  The path to get here has been fraught with false starts and stories that petered out, but finally I have a main character I love and a story that has legs.

But, here's the deal: every novel that you write comes out differently.  I've had to come to grips with this.  My last novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior (the one I'm currently shopping), came all in a glorious rush.  Emma Jean was unstoppable.  It was amazing and wonderful and thrilling.  I wrote the first draft from beginning to end in a couple of months.

Now comes this novel (it doesn't have a name yet).  I've been saying to myself and anyone who would listen this: it is coming slowly.  And it has been.  I've been saying that with gratitude that it is coming at all, but I also have realized that since the mind directs everything I need to change those statements.  My new one is: my novel is coming fast.

And one of the reasons that it is going to start coming faster is because I'm turning into an Anything, Anytime Writer.  In order to make forward progress and let this novel flow the way it wants to (those being the operative words here) I've had to let go of chronology. 

As we say in my family, cary, cary.  (Translation: scary, scary.)

Just yesterday I wrote the end of Chapter Three before I finished a scene in the middle.  That may not sound like much to those of Anything, Anytime Writers, but to me, a dedicated Write in Order Writer, it was huge.

Cary, cary.  And also liberating.  I hope I can do more of it. 

So let's look at advantages and disadvantages of each.

Advantages to working in chronology.

  • You can keep track of the flow of the story.
  • It is easier to consider cause and effect.
  • Character arcs are more easily seen.
  • You won't get confused

Disadvantages to working in chronology.

  • Writing whatever scene catches your fancy is freeing as all hell.
  • By allowing yourself to write what you want, you won't get blocked.
  • You may get a deeper understanding of character.
  • The writing may flow more easily.
  • You'll get the momentum rolling.

Okay, so the Anything, Anytime Writers win, at least in the above breakdown. I'm probably missing a few points, so feel free to fill them in. 

And, do tell: what about you? What kind of writer are you?  What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages?

CREATE A SUCCESSFUL, INSPIRED WRITING LIFE: Try something different.  If you are a Write in Order Writer, try writing a scene out of chronology.  If you are a Anything, Anytime Writer, try writing a few scenes in order.  Which works best?

 

Photo by a2gemma.

Why Write a Book Proposal?


Paper_papers_letter_237662_l I attended a party over the weekend, where I was introduced to a couple of other writers (we already have plans to do Happy Hour together, we had so much fun).  But one of them asked me, "You mean people still have dreams of getting their books published?  Are any books even being published these days?"

Yes, ma'am, they are.

When I looked up statistics on how many books are being published a year, I came up with this statistic: in 2009, 1,02,803 books were published, according to Bowker, an industry analyst.

Um, in my world, that's still a lot of books.

And if one of those books is a work of non-fiction, the way you sell it is through a book proposal.  Odds are really good that even if you have your entire non-fiction book finished, an agent or editor will ask for a proposal.  I know this because it has happened to friends and clients of mine.

Which is why I'm all about writing a book proposal.  Because why not do what agents want in the first place?  And besides, the really cool thing about a book proposal is that its like a plan for your book.  So when you've finished the proposal, you know everything about the book: its structure, its content (down to chapter by chapter synopses), its flow.  And, guess what else?  You also know everything about where the book fits in the market and how you are going to position it.  So on the off-chance that the publishing world doesn't see the brilliance of your book idea and you decide to publish it yourself, you're all set.

Either way, its a win-win.  So what are you waiting for?

Oh, you don't know how to write a book proposal.  Well, the good news is that I do, and I'm once again offering my class on it.  Not only that, I'm offering crazy fast-action bonuses if you act now: a whopping $170 off the price and a one-hour coaching session to the first five who sign up. 

But.  (You knew there was a but.)

These enticements expire soon.  The crazy $170 off the price of the class expires at midnight, August 17th.  That's this Wednesday.  And your chance to nab a coaching session ends at midnight on August 24th. 

The other cool thing is that the class begins at the end of September.  Because I know we're all still in summer mode and don't really want to think about learning and writing and doing–that is September back-to-school energy, for sure.  But if you buy now, you get all the bonuses and the great price break.

So, check it out here.  You know you want to.  Oh, and by the way, if you have any questions about book proposals, ask them in the comments and I'll answer.

 

Photo by mordoc.

Prepping to Write a Novel

When it comes to fiction writing, lately I've been struggling.

First I was totally committed to writing one novel.  Oh, but no.  Then I decided that I absolutely, positively was in love with a different idea.  Until I desperately needed to work on yet a third idea, the best one yet!  This has been my fiction-writing life for the last few months, a little attention here, a bit of attention there, which adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

Have I ever mentioned how unhappy I get when I'm not writing fiction?  I exist in a semi-miserable state of dullness when I'm not fully engaged in a fictional world.  So it was vital that I get going on a novel.  And yet, every time I started in again, I'd do the same thing.  Commit to one idea for a bit, then another, then another. 

Part of it, I'm sure, stemmed from uncertainty about my completed novel.  I'm in the process of marketing it to agents, which is not for the faint of heart.  (Honestly?  I understand why the traditional publishing industry is imploding: many agents are so overworked they won't even bother to reply to your queries.  What's wrong with this picture?  Don't the agents rely on writers for their jobs?  Can't they at least manage a polite no?) Repeatedly, I am being told a variation on this theme:  love your writing, but your main character is not relateable enough.  Oh, and get this–being a writer is one thing that makes her unrelateable.

Anyway, it is hard to be creative when you're busy thinking dark thoughts about the publishing industry.  And certainly I had plenty of other writing to keep me busy.  So I kept going on my round-robin of dipping into different novel ideas.

But the truth is, I was driving myself crazy.   I wanted to be deeply engrossed in writing a novel again.  Yet I couldn't manage to make it happen.

Until a couple weeks ago, when my coach challenged me to move forward on this issue.  She suggested I ask for guidance.  I was to ask the universe for a project that felt good and authentic to me, would be fun to write and yet also easy to sell (might as well, right?)

And so I did.  When I walked, I asked for a novel idea.  When I did dishes, I asked for a novel idea.  When I showered, I asked for a novel idea.  I really, really wanted an idea for a novel.

Cue my other ongoing project, office organization.  Sorting through files, I realized I had lots of them full of notes for various truncated novel ideas.  So I made a stack of them and started reading through, with an open mind.  The very first one, a forgotten idea with some rough notes from several years ago, made my heart pound. 

And when I read over the notes I had in that file, I identified my problem.  I'd not done any prep work for the novel!  Worse, I'd not done it for any of my poor stunted novel ideas.  No wonder I was spinning like the Mac pinwheel when I set out to work on them. Oh, I'd started preparing character dossiers and plot outlines.  But something always pulled me away from it, and off I'd go attempting to write.  Which is like building a house without a foundation.

The thing is, I know better.  I've given lectures on how to write a novel in 30 days, which is dependent on having some pretty damn solid prep work in place before you get started.  I exhort my students to get to know their characters and write up at least a loose plot outline before getting started.  I blog about these topics!

But I think I've lost my center as I've been in the process of marketing my previous novel.  If anything can make you feel unsure of yourself, its submitting work to agents.  And beyond that, has been the lack of closure.  I'm not certain where I'm going with the original novel and that lack of certainty has made it hard to move forward.

Until now.

Because I'm on it, baby!  I've committed to working the idea that made my heart flutter, no matter what happens with Emma Jean and no matter where this new novel takes me.  Which means that the next step is some serious novel prep work.  And, since I generally blog about what's on my writing mind, that means I'm going to spend the next two posts (Wednesday and Friday) on this topic. 

I'm excited.  Nothing better than getting to work on a new project.

Chime in!  I'd love to hear your thoughts on starting a new fiction project.

Have a Place To Go in Your Writing

When writing, it is important to have a place to go. 

For instance, Ernest Hemingway always ended a writing session in the middle of a sentence, thus insuring that he had a place to go when he started the next day.  I've relearned this lesson over and over again in my own work.  If I wrap up a chapter all nice and neat, the next day I flounder about as I start a new chapter.  But if I leave myself some room to work, things go much easier.  

I am embarrassed to admit how many times I've scheduled a writing session, usually first thing in the morning because that is when I like to write fiction, and come to it unprepared.  And it is dangerous, for me at least, to be unprepared because that is when the internet and email beckon.  (I have this bad habit of clicking over to my email inboxes or yahoo home page when I stop to think.  I tell myself it is to give my brain a break, but…you can be the judge of that.)

When I am unprepared for a writing session, I lack clarity on what it is I want to write.  And clarity is one of the most important things, in writing and in life.  (Clearing is actually one of the seven practices of the prolific and prosperous writer that make up my Writing Abundance workshop.)  Without clarity, I have no place to go on the page.

But clarity can be ridiculously easy to come by, at least the kind required to know where you going when you turn on your computer and get ready to write.  It just takes a little advance thought.  So here are my best strategies for having a place to go on the page:

1.  Make Notes Ahead of Time.  In advance of your writing session, go through what info you've collected and make notes, either of where you are at or what you want to start.  If you know you are going to be working on a character sketch for your new novel, make a few quick notes.  Your amazing subconscious mind will take what you've written and start working on more.

2. Read Your Work Over.  Re-read what you've read, the night before if you can.  (This works especially great if you are going to get up and write first thing.)  Reading your work over reminds you of where you are, so you don't have to reinvent everything during your writing session.

3.  Make Like Hemingway.  Don't write to the end of a chapter.  Stop a few paragraphs short.  You can even go so far as to stop in the middle of a sentence, like Ernie did.  This automatically gives you a place to go.

4. Carry Your Work With You.  When I'm in the full heat of working on a novel, I carry the little spiral that I use for notes around with me everywhere.  Not only is it at the ready if I have an idea, but there's something about the act of carrying it around that acknowledges the novel's importance and keeps it front and center in my brain.

So those are my thoughts on always being ready.  What are yours?  Comment away.  And keep the phrase, have a place to go, in your fertile brains because I'm coming back to it tomorrow.