Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Formal Education and Writing

Here’s Churchill in my writing corner, wondering what the heck I think I’m doing. Need I admit I’m playing with the camera when I should be working? LOL!

Lydia’s question for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog:
“What formal writing experience do you have? (classes, degrees, major/minors). Did it shape your writing? Have you ever considered getting an MFA?”

I have a BA in English, earned mumble years ago.  Did my education shape my writing?

Maybe.  I read many brilliant books for those classes, and a few clunkers, which might not have been so awful if I’d understood them.  I’ve always been a painfully literal person, and sarcasm and satire often go right over my head.  Novels like Babbitt were excruciatingly boring because I missed the point altogether.

The “bad” novels were painful, but in many ways the great novels were worse.  How could I write to that standard?  How could I make my characters live and breath?  How could I entice readers to see and hear and smell my settings?  I knew it would take practice.  A lot of practice.

Yet the MFA programs have never tempted me, probably because I’m a genre reader and writer.  Literary and mainstream don’t interest me, and all the MFA programs I’ve noticed emphasize literary writing.  The extra years of effort didn’t seem worth the possible results.

How do you feel about MFA programs?  What formal writing training have you had?

I hope y’all had a happy holiday week, and I’m wishing you a prosperous New Year!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Reasons for Avoiding NaNoWriMo

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Welcome back to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog.
Laura chose our question for this month:
If you do NaNoWriMo, why do you do it? If not, why not?

No NaNoWriMo for me this month.  I have Etsy on my mind.  And family.  And Thanksgiving.  And lots and lots of excuses.

I freely admit that most of my reasons for avoiding NaNo are excuses.  It’s hard work!  But among my best reasons are: When I attempt NaNo,

I rush through my story.  Lots of telling, but very little showing.

I still manage to be tooooooooooooooooo wordy.  Out of 50k last year, I suspect 20k needs to go.

By the time I finished my 50k, I was so exhausted I could barely function.  And worse, I was tired of my story.

By the end of my 50k, I adored my tersely spoken, non-human characters, but I didn’t much like my humans.  I still liked my basic concept, but many of the carefully crafted details had stopped making sense.

And a year later, I still haven’t gotten back to clean up or finish that manuscript.  I can’t decide if I simply can’t cope, or if I’ve moved on.

So for now, I’ve decided not to worry about it.  I’ll get back to that story eventually.  For now I’ll work on the other things that have caught my fancy.

Speaking of new toys, I recently joined Google+, but I really don’t know what to do with it.  Are you on Google+?  What’s the best way to network when social media is a foreign language?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Animals and writing

It was my turn to pick the topic this month. My question for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog was:
How do your pets/kids/plants (something you take care of) influence your writing?  Do they help you, or distract you?  Do you include them in your stories?

People rarely inspire my fiction, but the animals in my life often have.  I’ve even named a kitten after one of my characters, then used his personality to guide the character’s behavior.

I’ve asked what my darling, long deceased Mystic would have done if she’d been human and in such a situation.  Her ghost informed me she’d never act as silly as humans do and would never have gotten into such a situation.  When I reminded her of some of the stunts she pulled in life, she just stared at me with that cool cat stare that says “You’re thinking of someone else, but I’m too polite to correct you.” LOL!  She was good at that.

My family had horses when I was a teen, and horses are often supporting characters in my stories.  Occasionally they have more personality than my humans.  Horses are more than a mode of transportation. They have feelings and reactions and quirks, and they most certainly are not cars that can run forever without tiring.  Horses are fairly fragile, and die from misuse or accident, in real life and in my fiction.

Churchill, my current owner cat, is purely a distraction. He insists he needs to lie upon my keyboard.  No way, my lad.  That’s one of the few battles I’ve won.

How do animals affect your writing? Do you like stories with animals as significant characters?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tooting My Horn

I’m embarrassed to be writing this post.  I hate to blow my own horn.  I don’t even like to talk about my writing, or myself.  But if I don’t tell you what I’m up to, how will anyone know?

Sooooo, I’d like to announce that I’ve released two new Mantua-Maker historical sewing patterns this year.

1870 - 1890 Sunset Knoll Polonaise, Redingote, and Tea Gown

   Three major variations for dressy or severe styles.  It can be made as a ball gown, an evening gown, or as a working woman's plain, tailored redingote.  Personally, I love the Tea Gown version.

1880 - 1895 Artistic Classical Gown

    While it really was worn by the Artistic set, this dress with its Grecian-style undergown are perfect for a masquerade.  It's surprisingly simple to make, and I think it looks wonderful.  (I know, I'm biased. :-)

My other news:

I’ve also opened two shops on Etsy, an online marketplace for handcrafted items.  My first shop, MantuaMakerPatterns, was intended for my historical sewing patterns, but my mom asked by to sell her bead work and my dad’s silver jewelry.  I said, “Sure thing!”

Four jewelry boxes later (and more still appear intermittently!), I opened a shop for them – I wasn’t sure how many more boxes would appear.  Not feeling terribly original that day, I named it MomNDadsJewelry. 

I hope you’ll have a look.  I’ve included links to both shops in my side bars.

What have you accomplished lately that you’d like to share?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Creating Character

This month’s question for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog came from Sarah:
How do you develop your characters? Do you flesh out the details before (like writing as that character, writing backstory, or filling out a questionnaire about their preferences and history) or invent as you go?

When it comes to creating characters, I’m a combination of a plotter and a pantster.  I create character sheets with physical info, fears and desires.  I determine ages, rages, and backstory.  Then I start writing.

But as military strategists will tell you, the best laid plans don’t survive engagement with the enemy.  Or in my case, with my subconscious.  My characters take on lives of their own, and some of them flatly refuse the plans I’ve made for them.  One of my minor antagonists nearly took over the story, and he definitely became a protagonist, helping to save the heroine in the last chapter.  If I ever rewrite that novel, I suspect I’ll need to start with him instead of the MC I’d chosen, and base more of the story on his actions.

Because of my pantster tendencies (and that sounds strange from a confirmed plotter), I don’t like questionnaires.  Knowing that much about the character confines my imagination too much.  Yet pinning down minor attributes, such as hobbies and clothing, can help me add details and subplots for richer and deeper characters.

How about you?  How do you create and define your characters?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Genre Crush

Thank you to Lexcade for this fun award.  Have a look at her blog, Going from Nobody to Somebody at: http://lexcade.blogspot.com

The goal of the Liebster is to showcase up and coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. The rules:

Lydia selected this month’s topic for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog:

"I have a genre-crush on______"

This is a fun topic, and one I think about frequently.  I have two beloved genres I don’t try to write in: Cozy Mysteries and Historicals.

I adore Cozy Mysteries, especially those in the Aunt Dimity vein, by Nancy Atherton.  Murder optional, and no (or very little) blood.  They are all about figuring out a mystery, even a little one, and always have a happy ending.  My idea of a good evening.

I don’t write them because I’m not well connected to the modern world.  I don’t watch television.  I don’t even own a cell phone.  (And that little beast of technology makes mysteries harder – when it doesn’t make a new and scarier problem for the characters. LOL!).  Quite honestly, I have very little interest in modern society.  I just love trying to solve the mystery.

Historical novels, on the other hand, I don’t dare attempt – I’d never get past the research stage.  I could research forever.  I’m not interested in romance or war, so I’ve cut out three quarters of my possible readership.  I think I’d have fun writing a mystery set in 1880s California or England.  Or in 1780s England – another fun period for me, since I enjoy the clothing styles of both eras.  Oh, dear.  That shows my priorities, doesn’t it.  ;-)

What genre would you like to write in, but haven’t tackled yet?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Query and the Muse

I’m happy to announce my muse is back at work.  He’s not interested in querying, thank goodness, since I’m only a quarter of the way through the first pass of this rewrite, but he’s wild to write new chapters, and a hard slogger in editing standing chapters.  And in my opinion, he has a great voice.

He’d better still be around when I start writing my query!

Speaking of queries, Laura - of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog - asked a hard question this month:
If you're querying now, or have in the past, how do you develop patience to wait for responses?

I’m not sure patience even enters the question for me.  Dread, terror, and occasional despair, maybe.  ;-)  But not patience.  I need to push querying out of my mind or I can’t carry on – or at least, not sensibly.

Like Lydia, I try to keep busy.  If my fiction won’t flow, I work on non-fiction.  Cleaning, on the other hand, is a desperation measure.  Lydia, you’re a stronger woman than I am!

One thing I believe writers need to learn in order to survive the query journey is compartmentalization.  (Sheesh, do think I could have found a longer word?)  But compartmenting helps me function.  If I dwell on something I can’t change, I only make myself miserable.

I already have a tendency to keep the different parts of my life separate.  Prioritizing can be a problem (it’s waaaaaaay too easy to go play on the web – I really need to read all those agent blogs!), but knowing the internet is a time suck actually helps because I go offline to work.  If I’m offline I can’t check my email every five minutes for agent responses.

So I schedule times to check my email.  I write, or edit, whenever I can.  And I spend a lot of time rubbing Churchill’s tummy – a guaranteed soothing activity.

How do you deal with waiting for agent responses?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Inner Inspiration

I chose this month’s topic, and in a sense I cheated.  I asked the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog: How would you personify your muse?

For many years, I couldn’t visualize my muse.  I couldn’t define it, or even think of it as separate from myself.  But since my fiction dried up, I can see my muse clearly:

Many of you have met Churchill, who I rescued from the Animal Shelter, mostly by accident.  After my ancient, long-blind cat died, I heard on the news that blind cats were euthanized at the Pound automatically, because they couldn’t find homes.  What an awful thought!  Blind cats are quite easy to care for.  Off I went to the Shelter, to sign up for the next blind cat who came in.

Churchill isn’t blind (though he has the normal Persian eye problems), but he came home with me anyway.

BUT, as you can see, he’s not exactly inspiring.  Sweet-tempered, laid-back, and sleepy, he reflects the state of my fiction writing lately.  I can power down on my non-fiction for hours, but when I try to write creatively, my eyes cross, the screen blurs, and I fall flat on my back. ZZZZZZZZZZZ.

This state is more frustrating because two years ago I wrote a book in three months, and revised over the next six months.  Since then, I’ve started two other books, only to get stuck halfway through.  I’m bored to tears with one, and the other has turned into a sequel to a trilogy that desperately needs a total rewrite.  I’m threatening to cut the trilogy down to a single novel …

As you can tell, I’m thinking with my fingertips.  I’m so frustrated with my lack of creativity, I don’t even want to go near my fiction.

What do you do when inspiration – and your muse – fails you?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When the words dry up

The question posed by the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog this month was: "What do you do when you lose your writing mojo?"
This topic hits home with me.  The mojo disappeared several months ago, and I haven’t figured out how to get it back.  This isn’t writer’s block – I could pound out words, and did for weeks after the problem started.

I’ve completely lost faith in my writing.

The story is dull, the carefully outlined plot is boring, the voice is as flat as a C-movie robot’s.  I bore myself.

Still, I’m not willing to completely give up.  I turned to a non-fiction project, and I’m currently in the third draft.  Since it’s an academic project, I’m not worried about voice.  It’s running long, but I’ve decided not to worry about that either.  Yet, anyway.  I’ll break it into two parts, most likely, assuming I find an agent or publisher.  I’m not thrilled about self-publishing, but I could go indy.

Once I finish my non-fiction project, I hope my creativity will return.  It’s happened before.  Or I might just decide that non-fiction is my strength, and I’ll sit back to read and enjoy other writers’ fiction.  I refuse to give up, but I am willing to be realistic.

What do you do when you lose your writing mojo?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In my writing, I always ...

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog strikes again, and I nearly forgot it was my turn.  Oops!

The theme this month is: "In my writing, I have never______" or, in reverse if you so choose, "In my writing, I always______"

There’s so much I’ve never attempted in my writing, so let’s not go there.  The list would be too long. ;-)  Not that I’m unwilling to attempt most things, but really, I can’t find enough hours in a day to try.  We all need to prioritize.

But things I always, or at least, usually do?  I research too much.  I get an idea or subject in mind, and I research it into powder.  By the time I’m done with the research, I don’t want to write fiction about it anymore, though for non-fiction that habit works well.

Unfortunately, my current WIP is stalled, partly because I researched a minor point so deeply I lost interest in the whole story.  I need to cut the whole chapter and start over, I think.

Do you get waylaid by research, or do you avoid it altogether?  Have you found a middle ground?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Critiquing isn’t easy

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog’s question for the month is: How do you approach critiquing someone's manuscript? For instance, do you focus on one thing at a time, or do you "let 'em have it" all at once? And once it's out there, do you ever regret sending off a critique because it moved the person in a direction you didn't intend or anticipate?

My goodness, Laura. You don’t ask easy questions. ;-)

I approach all crits with caution, and each novel differently. If the manuscript needs a LOT of work, I might do a line crit, pointing out spelling and grammar errors. The less help I feel I can be to the writer, the more detail-oriented my response is. There may be nothing overall “wrong” with the work, but if I can’t connect to it in some way, all I can offer is proofreading.

Ideally, though, I prefer to give overarching critiques. I like to point out when something worked brilliantly, or when limped along. I like to note good foreshadowing, or when an element popped out of the blue – and not in a good surprise way. I’m particularly fussy about endings that rush by too quickly, or that leave me scratching my head.

My goal is to help the novelist in a positive way. To make him or her say, “Ah-ha, that’s what was bothering me.” And best of all to say, “I can fix that!”

So far, I haven’t regretted a novel crit, though I cringe at my early attempts to crit short stories. I always worry that I’ve depressed the writer, which is the last thing I want to do. All stories have merit. They just might not be marketable in their current form.

Today I’d like to introduce Churchill, my new Muse, to all my bloggy friends. I think he looks like a cross between a stuffy Prime Minister and a thug in fancy dress, but he’s a sweet gentleman. He loves to sit in my lap when I’m writing. And rest his chin on the space bar. Yikes! When I’ve been writing too long he gets up on the desk and sits in front of the monitor. Talk about a hint. LOL!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Goals? Oh, dear.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog asked a hard question this month – and I must admit, it’s my own fault, since I chose the question.  But I needed to ask it of myself: What are your writing goals for this year?

I hate writing down my goals. I suppose I’m a featherhead, because as soon as I put them in writing, I change my focus. There are too many unfinished projects in my WIP pile.

Now if I have a real deadline – set by an outside source (like the Sisterhood, ahem) – I’ll button down and perform. I’m not good with self-set goals.

But for the sake of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog, I hereby present my goals:

1) Finish four sewing patterns – all technical writing, and my source of income.

2) Finish Iron Core – I’m a bit stuck at the moment. I think I need to rethink and re-outline.

3) Work on my Regency Fabric Glossary – more of a research project, but it goes along with my little business of historical sewing patterns. It’s also my current heartthrob, for some odd reason.

4) Work on Rose Blue – which is also stuck and in need of rethinking. I suspect I need to add a sidekick. But there’s so much ahead of it on the list!

I’m a terribly single-track person, so half my “stuck” problem may be too many projects.

What writing goals have you set for this year? Are you still on track? Were you able to decide on any goals in particular, or do you have trouble committing, like I do?