Saturday, February 26, 2005

Random thoughts - again on a Saturday morning

Well, not entirely random. But I spent some time blog hopping this morning and it brought several things to mind.

First, Emma asks fellow bloggers where they get their ideas and if we organize them in any way. I replied that either save them with NetSnippets or send emails to myself, with instructions to blog on them at some point. Nothing I hate more than having a brilliant flash about something, only to lose track of it in the minutiae of daily life *g*.

Today, however, instead of saving the ideas, I decided to blog right away. Through Romancing the Blog, I found a link to author Jennifer Ashley's blog and website. Was happy to see a page of Writing Tips - I LOVE pages of writing tips *g*. Anyway, the tip that really caught my eye and drew me in was titled Ten Tips to Stay Sane, Write the Best Novel You Can and Launch Your Career. Quite a mouthful, but they contain a lot of wisdom.

I like numbers 1, 2 and 4 best:

1)Do not compare yourself with others - "...always remember -- another author's success does not mean your failure"

2)Find your strengths - "Forget what's trendy and discover what kind of story you write best...Any book that is strongly written and tells a compelling story will find a place in the market, no matter what the trend is that day."

4)Don't be afraid to write in the manner in which you write best - "Never let someone else tell you that your way of writing stories is wrong. It is right--for you."

Number 2 resonated the most, especially with reference to the apparent slump in sales of historicals I commented on the other day.

Also through RTB, I found Anna Lucia's blog, and her post on what she refers to as Fingerprinting - not the kind that involves ink, though. She's talking about how our desks reflect our personalities, and I believe she's right.

If you look at this photo of my desk and office, you can tell a lot about me. That I love castles (see the calendar), all things medieval (the frame near the clock contains replicas of coins from the reign of Richard III) and there's a photo of me and my dh practising archery at a Ren Faire on my bulletin board and also anything to do with late eighteenth century Europe, hence the copy of Lavoisier and his Wife painted by JL David (who was the topic of my MA thesis). You can also tell I love coffee.

In this photo you can see a bit of the back garden through the blinds - I also love to garden. And finally, this angle shows the area to the right of my desk, the items there reinforcing my love of the medieval - you can see my Bayeux Tapestry tea towel (a gift from my sister), the cardboard replica of a Norman manor house, photos of children and cats (the former not mine, but loved as though they are) and some of my writing books. The doll is one I've had since I was a year old - given to me by my late maternal grandmother, while the small statue of the boy and girl was a gift from my late father - something he brought back for me years ago while on a business trip. I treasure those items - tangible connections to my childhood.

What's on your desk and walls?

Anyway, I'm sure there's more, but I believe I've rambled on for long enough this morning *g*.

Bookshelves - built by my devoted husband. Posted by Hello
Another view of my desk. Posted by Hello
My office with the new desk we bought for me last summer - not that it looks quite like this anymore. See my comments here, on how hard it is to keep my desk organized! Posted by Hello
My collage for What the Heart Remembers - my current ms. Posted by Hello

Friday, February 25, 2005

While waiting for my husband to collect me from...

the office this afternoon, I spent some time uploading more reviews to my Book Review Blog. Feel free to go take a peek . There are still a lot more to go - didn't realize I'd been at it for almost five years now and as a result, have built up quite a porfolio!

I didn't sleep well last night, so I'm going off line pretty soon, now I've dowloaded all today's email to my home computer. Time to go read more of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation :-) and watch Heartbeat, followed by Medical Investigation and What Not to Wear (I flip back and forth between the latter two).

À demain,


More general and assorted stuff...

I decided to do separate posts. My mind just keeps hopping from topic to topic, freed, I guess from concentrating on that contest entry.

I mentioned at the beginning of my other other post that I don't want to look at those pages till after the finalists are announced. Is this normal? Do you do the same thing after sending something off to a contest?

I guess it comes from the humiliation of discovering a typo on the FIRST page of my MA thesis. Talk about an ARRRGGGHHH moment! I don't need another till I know whether I finalled or not (ok, I'm really NOT expecting to final, but hoping - I can at least admit that).

Part of the hope stems from the reader feedback I've received and the amount of polishing I did. And the great idea my dh gave me for a particularly sticky passage from the hero's POV. If this story gets published, my husband will most definitely get extra kudos on the acknowledgement page for that suggestion. It took me a while to put it into effect, but when I did - I think it worked really well.

Anyway, enough about that d****** entry.

I have to move forward with editing the rest of the ms. While putting the sequel on hold. Well, kinda. You know I mentioned yesterday about music and writing? Well, my friend Elizabeth Chadwick told me a few years ago about the soundtracks she puts together for all her books. Inspired by the tapes/CDs she sent me, I started doing the same. So while editing the current ms, I'm working on the soundtrack for its sequel. Choosing the right songs for the right points in the books helps me to sort out the basics of my plot. While in the shower the other day I heard the PERFECT song to set the mood for the book. It was one of my favourite songs in the 80s, but one I'd forgotten over the years. Hearing it again brought back a lot of memories and made me remember why I loved it so much. It's helped me with the theme of the book as well. Very cool.

Along with the soundtrack, I'm also working on the collage for my book. Yep, I decided to try collaging after reading Jenny Crusie's article about it in the RWR last year. Ok - our entire RWA chapter held a collaging workshop late last year and I found it an incredibly useful exercise. (Here is a photo of that first collage.) Jenny has photos of collages at her website. Then my critique partners and I spent one of our meetings working on collages, which is when I chose a lot of the pictures etc for Henri's story (the final title hasn't come to me yet, so I'm just referring to it that way). But I haven't put the collage together yet - am thinking it's almost time to do it.

Have you tried collaging? Putting together a soundtrack? I'd love to hear about it :-)

Well, better go now, those GH scores won't get to the National office by themselves!


Assorted general comments...

cause I'm trying to catch up after my week of madly working on that contest entry. It finally went off by email late last night. What a relief. Now I just have to promise myself I won't look at those pages of the ms till late April (unless absolutely necessary). Am terrified I'll find a typo or missing word!

Anyway, those of you in blogland who frequent the same blogs I do will likely have guessed I suddenly have a little free time on my hands as I've been commenting everywhere *g*.

pointed me to some great essays on Jane Ann Krentz's website, so I'll start with a comment one of them.

Titled Romance 101, it's written by Sue Waldeck, who has a wonderful website called Road to Romance and is about the power of this historical romance novel to inspire a love of history.

I especially loved this section:
In my book, the French Revolution was exciting and real, I could take the descriptions of clothes, mannerisms, personalities and lives and incorporate them into the dry readings required to pass the course...It wasn't the facts that I learned from the books that helped me along, but the hunger for more information about these people who were so interesting.

Sue sums this up so well. THIS is what I'm striving to achieve in my own writing. Those of us who already LOVE history will read about it no matter what. What I want to do is pull in those who think of history as "dry" and "boring" and "just a list of dates". In the last sentence of the section I quoted, Sue hit the proverbial nail on the head when she mentioned it was the PEOPLE that were so interesting.

For those of you who don't like history, remember this - one day WE too will be history. Just think about how many exciting things go on around us every day of our lives. It was the same in the past. History ISN'T really about dates of battles, kings and queens, changes in trade and the invention of new technology. It's about the PEOPLE who experienced it all.

Historical novelists of all stripes recognize this and most, I would venture, want to do the same thing I do - bring the past to life through the people who lived it, even those fictional ones they find in their heads.

Thanks, Sue, for articulating so well my thoughts on the importance of fiction in educating people about the past.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Writing is Like Exercise

Ok, this really isn't news to me, but I was thinking about it again yesterday while at the gym. Why? Because it was the first time in almost two weeks since my dh and I had taken the time to go there. As each day had passed, we'd talked vaguely about going, then ceme up with a reason not to. Even yesterday, when my hubby was getting really insistent, I was still reluctant. Felt tired and cranky and just not interested. But as he was in the driver's seat and I wasn't *grin*, I went along, chanting under my breath "I really want to do this, I really want to do this."

Sure enough, within a minute of starting the treadmill AND my mp3 player, I felt tons better. And kept going for the full 55 minutes (25 mins on treadmill, 30 on eliptical trainer).

How is this related to writing, you ask? Well, I sometimes have the same thing happen with my wip - I'll be stuck somewhere and just avoid it. Every day I think about opening the file, then find something else to do. But when I FINALLY do take the plunge and go back to it, just like with the gym, I find myself lost in the story within five minutes.

For those of us who are writers, ones who KNOW how important our writing is to us and ultimately how good it is for us, we still have a habit (at least most of the writers I know) of avoiding it from time to time. Just like exercise - that feeling of being tired and cranky yesterday, well, likely much of that came BECAUSE I'd avoided the gym for so long. Yes, I'd done a lot of walking, but there's still nothing like getting the blood really going while listening to music. I've been exercising regularly for the last 15 years (since just after my engagement) and my body is used to it. Just like my writing.

Then my mind wandered off to the musical portion of my workout. Now, you might think I'm some kinda freak for doing 55 mins of cardio. Maybe. And there's only one reason I can manage it - the music. Without my mp3 player and earphones, I'd last maybe ten minutes. Ok - probably 30, but it would be tough.

Often when I'm writing I play music as well - for company and inspiration. Just like when I'm exercising. Sometimes with the writing I do need quiet, but when I'm on a real roll, I LOVE background music that revs up my heartrate - it really helps.

So what's in my mp3 player/RealPlayer right now?

Vertigo - U2
What I Like About You - The Romantics
Ocean Pearl - 54-40
Found Out About You - The Gin Blossoms
A Little Less Conversation - Elvis Presley
Love Shack - B-52s
Rockaway - Rawlins Cross
Hungry Eyes - Eric Carmen
Call Me - Blondie
I Was Made for Lovin' You - KISS
Only Happy When it Rains - Garbage
Stray Cat Strut - Stray Cats
Rubberband Girl - Kate Bush
Home for a Rest - Spirit of the West
She Moves in Mysterious Ways - U2

Looking at the list (far from complete, but gives you an idea), I've pretty much given my age away *grin*.

I also listen to more ethereal stuff while writing - Loreena McKennitt, Enya, Kate Bush, Gregorian Chant, Clannad etc - it all depends on my mood and at what point in the manuscript I'm at.

Anyone else out there need music to write and/or exercise?


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

My take on

Change of Life

Megan, like me, isn't talking about THAT change of life. And I'm still a few years away from that. But this entry in her journal, is very disturbing - almost more disturbing that the thought of menopause!

You see, unlike Megan, I'm not certain I COULD write a contemporary novel. Those kind of ideas just don't come to me. I envy her a lot. For me, historical is just so much a part of me I can't imagine doing anything else. Not only do I write historical, I read historical fiction/romance/mysteries, watch historical movies (Lady Jane, A Knight's Tale etc) and watch documentaries about Alexander the Great, Troy, British history etc. Not that I'm completely weird - my dh and I also love watching American Chopper and Biker Build Off, as well as MI-5 and House.

Even most of my non-fiction writing is history related - family history, articles about people and events from the past or those who write about them. And, of course, my reviews of historical fiction.

Am I shooting myself in the foot with this obsession with history? Some might say yes. And if my ONLY goal in my fiction writing was to get published, they'd be right. But I don't write JUST to be published (though that would be great). I write for myself. Telling the stories that rattle around in my head - all of which take place in the past.

So, despite the fact that at least some historical romance authors are now being encouraged to move into the 21st century, I'm going to stick with what I do best. What comes naturally to me. In the end, I know if one of those stories strikes the right chord in an editor, it will find a home in the wider world. If not, well, so be it. I'll still be happy, writing stories of love and adventure set in times gone by.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Just a quick update...

my contest entry form made it in time. So now I have to do that last read of the entry and finish polishing the synopsis. As I mentioned, this is the first contest I've entered since the 04 GH, so I'm a little nervous. But, I really have nothing to lose at this point :-)

Teresa (back from a yummy Mexican dinner)

Thoughts on...

Life as a Writer, Or Something Close to It: Getting Organized

Wow - sounds like Charlotte and I have a lot in common. I try so hard to keep my office neat and organized, often succeeding for a while, then poof! Chaos erupts. Brings to mind a line from a poem by Yeats "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" (from The Second Coming). Even now, my cat is curled up on the one clear space on the desk, directly under the heater (quelle surprise!). Of course, if there's no clear spot, he just nestles on top of the papers and books. But I digress. Organization - something I value highly, but have trouble enforcing, at least when it comes to my desk and office. Granted, I pretty much know where most things are and can find things, just like when I was working on my thesis. My then fiancé would come to visit for the weekend and just stare in disbelief at the piles of books spread over the floor of my apartment. He's super organized, so just couldn't understand how I could work like that. BUT there was method to my madness - each pile had its purpose.

Like Charlotte, I've organized my mss to a certain extent. Each one has a separate plastic tub with much of the relevant info. Except the most current one, which has overflowed. I have so much paper related to it - maps, articles, critiqued chapters etc. Many of the articles are in binders, but some rest in my set of inboxes, along with file folders also related to the story. Arrggh!

Right now on my desk I have two binders labelled - WTHR Research: Paris and Normandy and WTHR Fashion, several books, including Ladies of the Grand Tour and Last Letters: Prisons and Prisoners of the French Revolution alongside Brohaugh's English Through the Ages, A Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms, Websters Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary and McCutcheon's Building Believable Characters. My ms itself is sitting on top of a pile of family history magazines, while my PALM is perched atop contest rules for the Hearts through History contest. Oh, and there's the tub of yogurt I finished off a few minutes ago, waiting to go upstairs on my next trip.

I've read so much about organization - I know I should clear my desk at the end of each day, get rid of any paper I don't need - either filing it properly or in the circular file basket. And I should put the magazines away, though at this point I think I've yet again overflowed the magazine holders I own, so there's nowhere to put these ones. And at this point, like Charlotte, I'm about to reach the breaking point again. I will give in and clean up, at least somewhat. But filing everything in that inbox would take way too much time out of my writing day! Or so I tell myself. Maybe I should just do it before the poor cat steps up onto the teetering pile to get closer to the heat and starts a paper avalanche .

Organizational tools I DO use include my PALM, WriteWayPro and a wonderful site called, which sends me emails to remind me of upcoming family birthdays. And every time I despair too much, I just remember what a great job I did when we moved four years ago. I was in charge of changing over all our services and sending out the change of address cards. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I started a file folder and filed EVERYTHING related to the move in there. It still exists and I pull it out to prove to myself that when it really counts, I'm organized. I think part of the reason I can't keep my desk clean is that being surrounded by chaos must somehow be part of my creative process.

So, what kind of desk do you keep? A neat one? Or one like mine, which even at its cleanest, still has at least three containers for pens, cards from my husband, photos and my coffee cup warmer.


Monday, February 21, 2005

Ok - I couldn't resist...

finding out which Disney Princess I am.

You Are Pocahantas!

Free-spirited and wise. You have a strong passionate spirit that touches and changes all who know you. The wisdom and common sense that you have is really what guides you through life. Even so, you also have a very playful side that loves adventure and excitement.

Which Disney Princess Are You?

Hmm - this does sound a lot like me and explains the whole obsession with motorcycles (I'm going to learn to ride this spring!!)

Thanks to Diana of Diana's Diversions for pointing the way to this fun quiz :-)

Teresa (honestly going back to work now!!)

Penny Jordan - Plotting the mainstream relationship novel

Many thanks to my good friend Elizabeth Chadwick for pointing the way to this awesome workshop. So far I've only scanned it, not read it in depth, but WOW. Talk about a wonderful piece of instruction. Full of details for both the beginner and more advanced writer. I LOVE when published authors make this kind of material available on the web. Sharing like this is both generous and extremely helpful.

Today I received a critique from a friend of the pages I'm entering in the contest. She did an amazing job for me. The list of people on my acknowledgments page just keeps growing - I have it ready, just in case! With her help, and that of my other critique partners, the opening chapters of my ms have improved dramatically. They all know how to offer advice without trying to interfere with my voice and for that I'm really grateful. Still can't believe how lucky I've been in finding, over the last few years, the perfect combination of critique partners. Each has her own strength and together they provide me with the best kind of feedback - fair, constructive and most of all, honest.

Well, back to the grindstone for today. Am working through those opening pages yet again, incorporating many of the suggested changes and keeping my fingers crossed that the entry form reaches the category coordinator today :-)

À demain!


Sunday, February 20, 2005

Biting my nails and hoping...

that my entry form for the contest arrives in time! It hadn't as of yesterday, but still has five days to make it. Can't believe I might have goofed so badly. The actual entry itself will go by email to the category coordinator.

But I'm going to continue working on polishing it anyway. Have moved it out of WWP for right now to maintain the right format for the contest. Normally I hate working in Word, but don't have much choice.

Also making my final decision about Reno. Have to talk to the vet about how long we can leave the cat alone in the house, with people coming in to feed him, of course. His brother died in November, so we're not used to leaving him without a companion. But I really should go to Reno - gives me a really hard deadline for revamping the ms, though I'm hoping to have it done way before that. Need to work really hard at it.

Hmm - I'm really rambling today. And it's almost time to do grocery shopping, so maybe I'll just be quiet now!! Enjoy your Sunday :-)


Saturday, February 19, 2005

Hmm, so people aren't reading any more?

After this morning, I'm not sure I believe that. It was -19 with a windchill of -26 when I left the house. Even so, by the time I arrived at the church at 8:45 for the booksale, there was already a long line of people and more joining it with each passing minute. They took pity on us and let us in about five minutes early and I was engulfed in a sea of people. Excuse the cliché, but that's the only way I can think to describe the scene. The crush was incredible - everywhere I looked there were eager customers, clutching boxes or canvas bags. Some took time to look over the books and choose, while others grabbed handfuls to sort later.

I fared pretty well - found a really cool book called The British Code of Duel (reprint of the 1824 edition) and a dictionary of synonyms and antonyms as well as Edith Pargeter's The Heaven Tree trilogy. Also picked up some books for my husband, including the companion book to Michael Wood's In Search of the Trojan War and one about the battle of Antietem (sp?) - he's an American Civil War buff.

By the time I was ready to leave, the line-up to cash out had ballooned with the volunteers working as quickly as they could. Most people had at least a half dozen books, if not two or three times that number. Meanwhile, the doors kept opening as others arrived.

Certainly doesn't look like reading is dying out as a pasttime, at least not to me.

After I paid, I headed for the bus stop. But when I was about half a block away, I saw the bus go by. Had to make a decision - stand and wait for half and hour, or keep walking. The temperature had increased quite a lot over that hour, so I figured I might as well just trudge along, switching the bag from hand to hand every couple of minutes. Took me 35 minutes to get home, but it was actually not a bad walk. And now I don't have to go to the gym this afternoon!

My husband will be home from work soon, so I can show him his prizes .

So, that was my morning.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Just a note about Saturday...

I'll be posting later than normal. Will be going to a book sale tomorrow morning. A really BIG book sale. It's hard to tell what I'll find, but sometimes there are some good history books or language books. I rarely buy novels at sales any more (unless I know they're out of print), but am hoping to find some treasures :-)

Now it's off to do some more reading before one of my favourite shows, Heartbeat, starts. Alas, Jason Durr left the show last year, but it's still fun to watch. And the music is amazing! I keep meaning to order one of the CDs.


Pet Peeves

I have a lot of them. But I promise I won't list them all here. At least not today .

First, I realize that I'm likely to offend some people by mentioning one of my main peeves. For that I'm sorry. And what bothers me so much? The term "aspiring writer". Yep - that's it. WHY does it annoy me and rank so high on the list of pet peeves? Because I AM a writer. Whether or not I have a full length work of fiction published, I AM a writer. NOTHING aspiring about it.

Yet everywhere in the fiction world, I see UNPUBLISHED writers referred to as "aspiring". Ok - I admit, there may be some unpubs out there who still could possibly be considered as "aspiring" - those who are just starting out and have little more than a plot and a few pages of text written down. But I've been writing all my life, have completed 3 mss, with several more in the pipeline.

In addition I review books and write articles for three publications (Solander, The Historical Novels Review and The Ricardian Register) and for some history related websites, including that of Trivium Publishing.

And then there are the countless articles I've written for RWA chapter newsletters and my monthly research column for RWA Enotes. And yet still, I'm labelled as "aspiring"? Sorry, I don't think so.

The only term that gets to me more is "pre-published". Sorry, you're either published or you're not. Obviously some writers take comfort from saying they're pre-published, so maybe I should go easy. Whatever works. But the world of publishing is a tough place. I have no problem saying if someone asks that I'm unpublished. There's no shame in that.

I am a writer, one as yet unpublished in romance fiction. Simple as that.

Rant over.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

17 Ways to Improve Your Descriptions by Deanna Carlyle

This is a great article. In fact, all the articles at Deanna's site are great, but this one is especially useful. At least for me.

I LOVE descriptions, but sometimes I don't always find it easy to insert setting details in my narrative, so I'm grateful for this list. Gives me some good ideas. And that's often all I need - a couple of clear examples to set my noggin to work. Part of my problem also comes from the fact I can clearly see the whole room or setting in my head and I don't know which details to incorporate and which to leave out.

The other article I found really useful was the one on characters - 35 Springboards for Creating Sympathetic Characters. Not that characters are generally something I have to worry about, but I still found the list fun to read and I might return to it in the future. And will definitely recommend it to anyone who does ask about creating characters.

And those of you who find it hard to define a writing space at home might want to check out Deanna's article about Writing Away from Home:
18 Off-site Office Ideas for Every Stage of Your Career
. I have definitely used libraries, cafes, the bus and the great outdoors, just to name a few, taking either a notebook or my Alphasmart with me.

That's it for me today :-)


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Mrs Giggles' Regency Historical Drinking Game

Just had to blog this as well. LOL!!! I can't believe how much fun this is! And I'm guilty of several of the things she brings up :-)


The GM&C of Writing Contests

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m entering my first contest in just over a year. With some fear and trepidation I admit. So, I went back to Deb Hale’s website and reread her article on contests - The GM&C of Writing Contests. As always, she doles out a lot of good advice. And made me think about WHY I’m sending out those first 30 pages next week.

First, is to get feedback. And yes, I know I won’t agree with all of it, but as my story is set in a less than popular time period, I’m curious about how those outside my critique group will react.

Second, of course, is that I hope to final. Yes, it would be good for the ego, but the main reason I want to at least get to that last round is the judge for my category is with a house to which I’d love to sell my book.

So, there’s my motivation. But what about goals, you ask? Hmm. I have to think about that a little more. Mostly, I would say, my goal is to get my work out there among a more varied group of readers. And learn from the feedback. Well, ok, yes, I’d love for my hero to receive a nomination as well – the contest I’m entering has a separate category for best hero. And I think my hero is just yummy enough to win .

Conflict. Yep – I’m prepared for the “dreaded Cs” Deb mentions. Prepared enough to accept that I’ll receive both positive and negative comments. And honest enough to admit that some of them likely will hurt. But having survived six years of university where professors weren’t known for pulling punches when marking and commenting on essays, I have fairly tough skin. Not impenetrable, but it does deflect a fair amount.

And there’s not doubt that meeting the contest deadline is good practice. I’m fully confident I will do so – the entry is pretty much ready, just waiting for some critique. And I have a couple of changes to make as a result of listening to a workshop by Barbara Keiler yesterday (a tape from the ‘96 National Conference).

On the flip side, I have to go over the GH entries I’m judging one more time, then send the marks off to the National office. This is my second year as a judge and I have to admit, it’s a challenge – but a welcome one. I’ve learned a lot from reading and thinking about the partials I received. Scoring is always difficult – both those to which I give lower end marks and those I love and want to score high. Without being able to give feedback, it’s more tricky, knowing that the authors have to try to interpret just from a single mark.

Well – that’s it for me today. I’m actually writing this while at the office, composing it in Word for uploading once the modem line is free. My husband and I share the one line (we run a small company together), so I have to wait my turn!!


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Update on my revisions and more...

Ok, so I've recovered (mostly) from yesterday's rant. Have to admit, it was a close thing. More stupid comments appeared on that list and I had a hard time keeping my cool. Fortunately a friend is also on it and we ranted to each other privately to work off the rest of our steam.

I spent several hours yesterday working through the first three chapters of my ms. The first 29 pages are going off to a contest next week - the first I've entered since the 2004 GH. Am really looking forward to the feedback (bad or good) as my story is set during one of the less popular time periods. Am curious about the reactions I'll get.

Once that's off, I have to send off a partial to an agent, then get on with the rest of the ms. And the synopsis . I HATE synopses, despite having learned a lot about the process from Deborah Hale. In Packing Your Synopsis Suitcase, she teaches you how to write a really short synopsis. Requires a lot of hard work and focussing on the key elements of your story.

But I have to remember not to get too caught up in the synopsis right now, or I'll lose momentum on the revisions themselves. At least I figured out a particularly thorny plot issue while lying awake early Sunday morning. It was one that had needled at me from time to time while I was writing, but somehow I never quite found a way to resolve it. Then, suddenly, in those wee hours of the morning, the solution popped into my head! Talk about a relief. Now I just have to remember to work it into the main part of the story. It's something a lot of readers might not even think of, but important enough to be noticed by those who have a really good knowledge of history.

Emma Gads brought up the topic of Facts in Fiction on her blog the other day, about how even the smallest mistakes can jerk her right out of the story. Which is why I try so hard to be so careful about getting the details correct. Even if it means hours of research. Some might consider this a waste of time, but for me it's an essential part of creating my story world.

I'm pretty certain I'm not alone in this. Anyone out there want to chime in?


Monday, February 14, 2005

Reviewers AREN'T Evil!!

Ok, I'm spitting mad. Have just finished reading a number of messages on a listserv in which the posters imply that all reviewers have some kind of secret agenda to rip people apart and display our "'superior' knowledge". And that we're frustrated writers who review and are nasty about it only because we haven't been published ourselves.

Ok - I admit, not ALL reviewers are kind. Some are downright nasty. But MOST write fair and honest reviews, pointing out what both worked and didn't work for them in the book they're reviewing. That's it, that's all. No secret agenda.

And this all grew out of a message in which an author who'd receieved a really favourable review was upset because the reviewer had mentioned that possibly one of her facts might have been wrong. Didn't even SAY it was. Talk about the glass being half empty.

Reviewing is entirely subjective. Most reviewers don't pretend to be the final authority on anything, including the books they review. We all come to it with prior knowledge and biases - I don't deny that, but it doesn't mean most of us are out to skewer authors in some horrible plot to make others stop writing so we can take their place.

As someone who balances between both worlds, I find this especially frustrating. When and if I get published, I'm fully aware that not everyone will like my book. Some might even say really nasty things about it. But that's the risk I run putting my work out there. I won't get hyper and accuse the reviewer of all kinds of evil things and throw out comments like "those who can't write, review those who can".

Ok - rant over. I feel a little better now. Just a little.


Sunday, February 13, 2005

Sean and I on a hike from our campsite - behind us is Sharbot Lake. The camera is hanging from a tree branch! Posted by Hello
Here I am on a camping trip last summer - it was a little cool for August, but we still had fun. Posted by Hello
Here's a photo of our cat George - I found him snoozing on the loveseat (one of his fave spots) and just had to take his picture. He's used to it Posted by Hello

More random thoughts from this weekend - "We're Here for a Good Time..."

The link takes you to a song I hadn't listened to in years, until quite recently when I added it to my MP3 player for the gym. I love to work out, but HAVE to have music to do it.

So there I am, on the eliptical trainer, listening to this song from my childhood and finding new meaning in it. Yes, the lyrics are deceptively simple, but they hold a very basic truth. We ARE only here for a short time (in the grand scheme of things) and no, things aren't great every day. BUT, that doesn't mean we can't look for and find joy.

As romance writers we crave the happy ending, especially those of us who take our characters on particularly tortuous journeys. And as writers we often find the journey through our ms particularly difficult. Especially as we do expect so often to just have things flow. That I think is what struck me while listening to this song - the sun can't shine every day, but we have to remember that life is what we make of it. So is our writing and the process behind it.

I also enjoy another of Trooper's songs and include it in my music selection for writing. Raise a Little Hell has been a standby in Canadian music since the 70s, almost an anthem for those of us growing up in that period. I remember roller skating to it, along with at least 200 other people, all pumping our arms in the air (disco didn't last long at our roller rink). This song too should be taken to heart - it's empowering and inspiring all at once. As writers, we can't depend on anyone but ourselves to get the job done, as far as our mss are concerned anyway.

And for those fellow Canucks who grew up listening to this home-grown band, hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane!


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Random thoughts on a Saturday morning

Well, here it is, Saturday again. My husband works most Saturdays, so I spend the time on the computer. Now I SHOULD be working on editing my ms. But the problem is, my brain doesn't really seem to get going till late morning or early afternoon.

Take yesterday, for instance. I was at our office (dh was at his other job again - he's a part-time newscaster with the CBC) and after taking care of the bookkeeping and bills, I didn't have much else to do. So I read blogs, posted to my own blog and then created a new blog - one for my book reviews. That took me to about 1pm.

My ms was sitting in my bag, begging to be worked on. So finally, I powered up WriteWayPro and set to work. At last things flowed and I worked like a demon till just before 6, when I knew my dh would arrive to pick me up.

For years I felt guilty about not writing from 9-5, but now I've finally accepted that afternoons and early evenings are best for me creatively. If I HAVE to, I can force myself to do ms work in the morning, but I never feel the rush, the creative flow till after 10 at least.

Anyone else experience this? Or am I even stranger than I thought?


Friday, February 11, 2005

Hooked on blogs!!

Uh-oh. It's happened. I'm hooked on blogs. Have found myself spending way too much time lately clicking from blog to blog, fascinated by the variety and intrigued by the different topics and opinions voiced online. This isn't quite what I intended when I started blogging, but I'm not sure I can give it up right now. There are definite advantages to all the reading I'm doing - catching up on industry news, reading about other writers' struggles, nodding in agreement with the rants. So why do I feel so guilty?

I think it's because it's yet another way for me to procrastinate, and as I've mentioned before, I have a problem with procrastination. And I really don't need additional ways to divert myself from my writing. Yet something tells me I shouldn't panic quite yet. Nope, I won't. I'll give it more time and see if my writing really DOES suffer. Meanwhile, I'll keep adding links to my favourite blogs, but until I have a chance to play with my template again, below are a couple of extra ones to visit.

But first - does anyone else ever worry about this? Do YOU think you spend too much time on reading blogs? I'd love to hear from you :-)

The Passionate Pen Diary
Paperback Writer

Silent Bounce

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Final thoughts on organizing your research

Ok - let's try this again!

I use a book database to keep track of all my research books. And generate bibliographies for my wips, which really helps with the documentation of sources. When I have time, I go through and annotate the bibliography, so I know which books are most useful. Generating a booklist is also useful, in case something happens to your computer - that way you can easily rebuild the list of sources you used for your book.

If you use the internet for research a lot of the time, be sure to back up your list of favourites/bookmarks. When at all possible, copy really vital information into another programme and include the URL from where you took it. There are also programmes available that allow you to annotate your links and make text from websites available to you offline. Again, back these up. There's nothing worse, and I know this from personal experience, than knowing you have a great source for some historical detail somewhere on your computer, but can't find it. Even worse, if the site disappears, you've lost it completely.

The most important this is to find a system that works for you and stick to it. Oh, and, back up, back up, back up. I can't emphasize this strongly enough. Back up your system regularly!!

Here are a couple of links worth exploring:

Historical Fiction Research Toolbox


Researching and Organizing Your Paper: The Note Card System - academic, but a good intro to the method

I was surprised by how little there was on the internet for fiction writers about organizing their research. I'll keep looking and add more links when I find them.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

NOT a good day

I just spent over an hour on today's post, only to lose it by forgetting to save it as a draft. Had tried posting it, but the server was down.

No time now to go back and recreate it - will just have to try again tomorrow. Must get on with my revisions.


Monday, February 07, 2005

More on documenting your research

On Saturday, I was discussing research, writing and documenting. Specifically, how important the latter is to the former. Keeping track of all the information you assemble for your wip is one of the most important things you can do after crafting a good story and creating appealing characters.

Everyone has a slightly different method of tracking their information and if you're just starting out, you'll have to experiment a little to see what works best for you. Some people use the old fashioned notecard method. Two of the most popular ways to use notecards follow:

a) using coloured cards to separate the various categories of research - daily life, language, clothing etc, then using a separate card for recording information and noting the author, title, publisher, year and page number at the bottom or top of each card.

b) using separate cards for each piece of information (coloured or not) but only noting the name of the author and the page number at the top of the card. A separate set of cards is used to compile a bibliography - one source per card - to make for easy cross-indexing. Of course, if you use more than one book by the same author you'll have to number them so they can be easily distinguished in your notes.

Notebooks also remain popular - either a separate one for each category, or one with dividers in it in which each section is designated for a specific research area.

With the advent of the computer, a lot of research can be kept on a hard drive. There is a large variety of computer programmes designed specifically for research purposes, but they aren't always necesary (unless you LOVE software the way I do ). Some people maintain a Word or WordPerfect directory with files dedicated to information on a variety of topics. The professional version of WriteWayPro includes a wonderful Research Folder system, into which you can cut and paste all the information related to your novel.

There's also the older binder/filing cabinet system in which people print off all the relevant source material for inclusion in either binders or file folders.

In the end, I think most of us use a combination of most of the above methods. The most important thing is not to lose anything that is directly related to your book - when at all possible.

More tips on this tomorrow!


Saturday, February 05, 2005

My thoughts on....

A Writer's Woes: To Write or To Research

This post from a fellow writer hits on some very key points for me.

Research instead of writing - yep, I've been pulled into this one! As someone who LOVES to spend hours in a university library, the lure of research can be particluarly seductive. I've had to discipline myself to making specific research trips at key points during my novel's progress, rather than just flitting off every time the notion strikes me. Also I enclose research needs in square brackets while I'm writing so they're easy to find, but don't distract me too much from the story.

The other point I really liked is that whatever kind of story you're writing, it will need research. Frankly, I'm always amazed by people who say to me something like "I don't know how you write historicals - it takes so much research. That's why I write contemporaries - I don't HAVE to do any research." Have to not cringe visibly as I hear those words. If anything, writing something set in the present takes MORE research because there's a far greater chance your reader will be able to catch you out on the little details. Even if you invent a town, you still need to create a realistic background for your characters and that requires research, unless your characters are moving around in a vacuum where language, clothing, technology etc are extremely neutral - in which case your story is likely to be pretty lifeless.

Research can be intimidating, no doubt about it. Again, the article outlines a great approach - using a variety of sources, especially the reference librarian. The latter exist for a reason - not just to sit behind that desk! They WANT to help you. Honestly, they do.

The only thing I would like to add is the necessity to document all your sources. This is vitally important. Most published writers I know have told me that from time to time issues arise with their editor that requires them to back up some piece of information in their ms. If you can't do that, it doesn't look so good. As a former academic, I reference things without even thinking about it, but if you're new to this concept, the most important details you need are the name of the source, the title (if it's a book, journal article, website), publshing info (city, publisher, year OR web url) AND, most necessary of all, the PAGE number. Yep, even I've been caught out by this - noting the book, but not the page number IN the book.

I'll discuss more of this tomorrow or Monday - it's housecleaning day tomorrow and I'm going off to my RWA chapter's annual brunch in the afternoon, so might not log much computer time.


Friday, February 04, 2005

Musing on...

What keeps you going? Muses, splinters, and balancing on the edge...

I really liked this article I found over at Cata-Romance - and not just because it gives me permission to goof off and take time for myself without feeling guilty about it.

Nor is this concept new to me - I believe Julia Cameron calls it something along the lines of Refilling the Well. But Ms. DeStefano approaches it slightly differently, in a more down to earth manner. And there is no doubt she's right. As writers we DO need to take time for ourselves. Even if it's only a half hour walk a couple of times a week. It's amazing what can come into your head while you do that.

If it's too cold to walk and you belong to a gym, FORCE yourself to go there. No matter how difficult it is to pack that bag and drag yourself over there, DO IT. The number of writing related epiphanies I've had while on the treadmill or eliptical trainer is incredible. My only problem is that I have to REMEMBER them. Have been tempted to carry a small voice recorder with me, but am not quite certain what people would think if I whippped it out and noted necessary changes to my love scene! Might get me some funny looks.

What I've found is that by moving away from the computer and doing something physical, I free my mind, allowing it to work in a different way. Rather than forcing things out onto the computer screen, giving my subconscious time to work by itself while I run or walk and listen to music seems to jump start it. Often I won't see the results until later - not all epiphanies happen while I'm puffing away on the exercise machines.

A walk in my neighbourhood, especially on a sunny day does equal wonders. I'm lucky to live somewhere I have access to wooded areas where birds sing, creatures ander and the air is reasonably fresh. Rebalancing my life is easier when I remember to take the time I need to take a deep breath and just enjoy something as simple as a walk. Or, in the case of yesterday, a trip to the Clinique counter .

Most of us tend to juggle so many things - whether we have children or not. Our significant other, service to our chapter/RWA National or another writers group etc. As this article makes clear, our muse likely drowns rather than deserting us. We have to treat her with respect. And not get down on ourselves when we spend less time than we think we should at the keyboard.

You've likely noticed a running theme in my blog posts about the writing I do in my head - it's there for a reason. I truly believe that even when I'm not putting fingertips to keys, I'm still writing. Just have to remember that I can't use that as my excuse all the time. At some point I have to empty what's in my head or things will get too crowded in there.

Just remember to be good to YOURSELF. Allow yourself time and space to be just YOU. Whether it's outside, at the gym, in a bookstore or a coffeeshop. Or even lunch with friends! You are MORE than only a writer, wife, mother, newsletter editor - you are a person with private needs that must be attended to on a regular basis.

Many thanks to Ms. DeStephano for her insight :-)


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Reflections on a week of blogging

Well, it's been about a week since I started blogging. Have tried to keep it up each day, only missing Sunday. Have really enjoyed doing it, but still aren't certain if it's really helped me with my writing.

I think the main drawback has been I take a long time doing the blog posts - probably rambling on a little too long and taking a lot of time finding relevant links. Think maybe I should cut back a bit on that. Or maybe just find ONE craft article or piece of industry news to comment on each day, especially now I've introduced myself thoroughly.

Will definitely have to give this some thought.

Update on my ms.

Well - managed to get a fair amount done yesterday. Rewrote quite a lot - changing a couple of scenes, hopefully to make them stronger and define my characters better.

Yesterday evening one of my critique partners gave me back my ms with her comments. Will be tackling that this afternoon before I go any further. She is a professional editor and published writer, so I'm looking forward to her feedback. I know it will be detailed and very honest. Exactly what I need.

More tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Editing vs making changes in the ms

Arrgh - what a process. Am working on it right now. Well, actually I've edited the ms and am now making the changes to my ms. It always seems so easy to put in a note saying "rewrite this paragraph", "add a bit more description here" etc., but when it comes to DOING it, well, that's another story.

But when I'm in the editing stage, I don't WANT to do that rewrite. Or research the description. For me editing involves identifying what needs to be reworked, not actually reworking it then and there. Am I wrong? I don't know.

All I've noticed is that if I take the time to actually rewrite that paragraph during the editing process, it slows me down. And I lose the thread of the story and my rhythm.

OTOH, once I really get going with the changes, things happen. New scenes pop up. Or when I reread and enter a couple of things, the characters take over and help me out.

Sometimes I find myself getting obsessed with researching a small detail. I don't allow myself to do it anymore during the writing of the first draft, but get caught up in it while entering changes. Which slows me down. But I worry if I don't do it when I notice the detail is missing, I'll forget to research it. Or maybe I just want to procrastinate (see an earlier post for more on this).

I think the most frustrating aspect of this stage is that my mind is constantly working on improving the ms. Which is fine when I'm at home and near pencil and paper to make notes. But when I'm on the treadmill at the gym, it can be a tad problematic! Am pretty certain people would truly wonder if I pulled out a mini tape recorder and panted into it a note to myself about adding more depth and emotion to the love scene.

Am definitely rambling here. My mind just keeps jumping around from thought to thought. Strangely enough, I now recall searching the net for articles on revising my ms and even printing some. But did I read them all? No. Sheesh.

So I just glanced a couple of those articles. Hmm. Well not everyone mentions what to do when you find a section that needs expanding. Maybe I should assume then it's a very personal choice?

In the end, I guess I have to trust myself. This method has worked for me in the past.

Want to learn more about the editing and revising your manuscript?

Holly Lisle's One Pass Manuscript revision
Barbara Dawson' Smith's Self-Eiting Checklist
Jessica Page Morrell's Style Checklist

For more general tips, go to Suzanne McMinn's Extras for Writers.

Teresa (back to making those revisions)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Yep, multi-tasking. I've discovered that for me, at least, it's the only way to live. I read more than one book at once, talk on the phone while cooking dinner, read while watching tv, check email while working on my ms and, juggle several different responsibilities within the writing world.

Now some might call me unfocussed. And maybe they'd be right. But over the years I have found that if I have too little to do, I still don't meet deadlines any faster. Just find other things to fill time. Or sit and twiddle my thumbs while watching the photos in my screensaver float across the monitor.

Part of this comes because so much of my writing goes on in my head. Well, obviously, everyone's does. But for me the scenes in my book, or book reviews or articles start writing themselves at all different times. In my head. I'll be sitting in the car or watching tv or trying to sleep and realize my mind is whirring and clicking away on one of my writing projects. As I think I explained last week in my column about software, planning ahead by planting seeds then just allowing my brain to work by itself, is my preferred way of writing.

So what does all this have to do with multi-tasking? Well, while my mind is working on one project, it dumps info from another for me. So by switching things up, I can maintain a fairly steady stream of writing, some non-fiction, some fiction and now, even some poetry. And writing in one genre helps me with my writing in the other.

But reviews take up time, you say. Reading all those books. But again, reading different styles and genres enriches my own collection of literary tools. Judging contests? Surely a waste of time. Nope - I see problems in my own work by reading that of others. Sound strange? Not if you think about it. Often when we're too familiar with our own writing we can't see that which needs work. But judging/critiquing the work of others will often jog the brain. Aha, you say. This person does this, but so do I. Now I'll take the advice I've given to that other writer and apply it to my own scribbling.

My research column. Pure indulgence. Well, maybe yes. But no - not at all. Even while answering questions on topics totally and seemingly unrelated to my own manuscripts, I find information that proves useful. And by searching out the material to include in my responses, I work on my lateral thinking and analysis skills. The lateral thinking comes in because so many of the questions don't have precise answers, so I have to come up with other ways of thinking up search terms in order to provide the asked for help. And, to be frank, I enjoy it. And being happy helps me with my other writing.

In the end, I think that's the most important aspect of multi-tasking - it keeps me happy. And challenges me to use a variety of skills. When I'm happy, I write. My fiction scenes, once fully written in my head, seem to come out in blurts of writing, usually taking me two to three hours. But in that time I can write between three and four thousand words. So I no longer worry about the fact I don't sit and write fiction from 8 am to 5 pm every day. It's just not my way.

And it seems I'm not alone! Romance writer (and blogger) Alison Kent has written about this as well. See her take on this topic.

Teresa (happy multi-tasker)