Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Season for Gratitude

When I next pick up the “How to Write a Romance Novel” thread, I’ll speak about research, but it’s that time of year that requires introspection and resolution. Except I don’t make resolutions. I love new beginnings and making plans, but the contrary in me refuses to do so at this time of year. I’d rather look back on some dates. Like February, when I acquired a new agent, or April, when I sold my series. Those dates mean more to me. And I have dates to look forward to. I have to finish the third book in the TIME OF TRANSITION series, tentatively titled TOIL AND TROUBLE. I have new proposals to write and new novels to finish. I’m attending RWA national in July this year, and I’m still thinking about attending RT at the end of April and RomCon in Denver in July. Most of all I’m looking forward to May 2010 when THE WISH LIST comes out.

January 5 is another date I celebrate. It’s my 25th wedding anniversary. Yes, I do have a family and apparently a husband who still loves me. We are a team, Bob and I; he pulls me back to earth when I am in danger of getting lost in my emotions and imagination, and I make him fly when he’s too focused on work. I don’t like to talk about my family here, but this time I think it deserves some attention. I certainly don’t feel as if I’ve been married to the man that long. We have too much fun together, and I am not that old. OK, maybe I am, but I don’t think it, and it’s largely because Bob keeps me young.

The holidays are over, and the new year is coming. It’s just a date and a number--fairly arbitrary if you ask me. But I love the holiday season: time off from the day job, my family is home, and I am grateful for so many things this year. So instead of resolutions, I’d rather just bask in family, enjoy where I am in life, be grateful for the having the joy of writing. I hope you can bask in your life too.

--Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts
Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Spirited Brides by Amanda MacCabe

Friday, December 11, 2009

Agent appreciation day

A fellow writer told me about this day, and I thought it was fantastic. OK, Jen K Blom is also a client of my agent, but, nevertheless, I am ready to gush.

Marlene Stringer is wonderful. She is never too busy for her clients. She answers my questions and responds to my e-mails promptly and with great wisdom. I can bounce ideas off her, get as much or little support from her as I wish, and I trust her. Trust her to tell me if my work isn’t good, and trust her to tell me if it is.
I went through a long drought with my writing. Oh, I was writing, but I wasn’t selling. My confidence was low to the point of non-existence. I had won or finaled in contests in the meantime, but I had no confidence left in my writing.

The day Marlene e-mailed me, I burst into tears. After I talked to her, I was even happier. Here was an agent who knew the business, understood authors, and who wanted me as a client.

Well, she sold my novel (THE WISH LIST, May 2010) and two more a month after we had submitted it. I know it’s about the work and whether the editor likes the submission, Marlene added her insight to my novel and knew which editors to submit to.

I still have major doubts about my writing (a drought will do that to you), but knowing I have a champion in my corner helps me lift those doubts and think that maybe, just maybe, I can write.

So I thank Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency for giving me back my confidence and giving me the strength to face this fickle business. It would have broken my heart to quit because I can’t imagine doing anything that would satisfy me more than writing.
--Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel--Style

What to say about style…hmmm.
Style has everything to do with writing ability, grammar skills, mechanics, and voice. This is the part where you groan and say, “Grammar? Isn’t that what I have a copy editor for?”

Uh, no.

Style requires work, study, and instinct. Style is the part of writing that is the hardest to define. If’ you’ve ever judged a contest, you’ve probably run across entries that are perfect but missing that spark that makes you settle into the story with pleasure. Or you’ve seen entries that have great voice, but you can’t read it with without wincing because of grammatical errors.

Literary devices and tools are a part of style. Metaphors, similes, satire, irony, imagery, word choice are all tools that can elevate your writing from ordinary to extraordinary. We’ve all run across sentences that take our breath away (My husband calls these "gems".) Words that move you, words you remember. Like this one:

“That’s what I love about books: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another but there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive--all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment” (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; uses repetition.).

Or this one:
“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here” (The Secret Life of Bees, a book I didn’t really love, but I’ve never forgotten the line).

Learning to use literary devices will lift your book with rich language and unforgettable sentences.

Grammar and mechanics are probably the easiest thing to fix. Even if you don’t remember a thing from high school (or earlier), you can find so many good grammar books to teach you what you need to know. So why is this important? How can it not be? How can you claim to be a writer if you don’t know the language? OK, maybe that’s harsh, but mastery of language allows you to play with language to achieve effects that will make your writing pop. Look at the following poem: Hazel tells Laverne. The author could not achieve the humor or the sadness without breaking grammar and mechanics rules. Besides, knowing these rules shows you care about your product.

Now look at your voice. Do you write a light-hearted novel? Are you into the deep and dark side of human nature? Do you use curse words? Big words? I believe voice is one of the hardest aspects to master. Can’t you recognize your favorite authors by the way they write? If you pick up a Jayne Ann Krentz novel, it reads like a Jayne Ann Krentz novel no matter which name she’s writing under. Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes like Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Find your voice if you haven’t already.

Finally, the most important tip I have for you about style: Read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. This slim volume teaches you everything you need to know about style. I re-read it every year. Yeah, I have friends (you know who you are) who haven’t made it through the book, but I find it highly readable, succinct, and informative. Every serious writer should own this book and study it. (Yes, I realize that is an opinion, but this is my blog, so I’m allowed to state my opinion.)

Keep on writing.
--Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Duke Most Wanted by Celeste Bradley
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel--Theme

Theme is my favorite aspect of a novel to think about. I honestly believe that all novels have themes. They might be simple ideas, but themes nonetheless. No matter how “fluffy” or shallow a book may seem, it will have a theme. So what is a theme? It’s the underlying message, the moral if you will, of the story. It’s the reason the author wrote the book, even if she didn’t know she was doing it.

All the events, plot, characters, conflict, POV, etc., feed into the theme. Look at what the author wrote about-- the topics--and what she says about those topics, and you will find the theme. Is she writing about family dynamics? War? Running a business? Running a kingdom? How does the story turn out? The way the plot resolves will give you the clues to find theme.

A theme is a universal idea that the author holds to be true. Most novels have several themes. Short stories may only have one. Poems can have themes, as can songs, photos, paintings, series, dance, etc. It will be stated in universal terms, not in terms of the plot of the particular story. Often they can be stated in proverbs or clich├ęs: beauty is in the eye of the beholder; the ends justify the means; love conquers all; war is hell. It can be stated as a sentence: doing the right thing is often difficult; just because you can doesn’t mean you should; with great power comes great responsibility. It is the idea that the author wants to share with you, the idea that she believes you should also believe.

In the movie “Second Hand Lions,” which if you haven’t seen you should, there is a beautiful scene where Robert Duvall gives Haley Joel Osment part of the speech he gives to all young men. In it the character gives his beliefs and rules of life. Great speech by the way. Within this speech is the theme of the movie, and it isn’t that you should get rich, have adventures, and buy a second hand lion. The theme should never be couched in terms of the plot. The theme is bigger than the plot.

For example, in my next release, THE WISH LIST, I have several themes, ideas that I believe in my worldview. The story is about a CPA in San Diego who finds out she’s next in line to a fairy godmother, and with the onset of her powers, her simple life disappears. One of the themes in my novel is that all gifts have a cost. One might think that suddenly having magic powers would make life easier, but instead she realizes that her new magical gifts come with a responsibility that she never anticipated. But in my own life, I’ve found that gifts do come with a cost. The cost might be minimal--a simple thank you--but more often a gift comes with higher costs. The imagination I have to tell stories, which I consider a gift, also can make me jump to conclusions, or make me incapable of paying attention at times (I go off on tangents too easily--off dreaming somewhere). Another theme of THE WISH LIST is that all decisions have consequences. And also “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Notice that I haven’t used plot to describe any of my themes. I haven’t said, “using a wand can cause trouble.” Plot is not theme. You’re looking for the deeper sense of the story. Harry Potter’s theme is not “a boy wizard fights evil.” That’s plot, not theme. One theme of Harry Potter is “sometimes you have to fight evil, even when you know it will be difficult.” (Dumbledore actually says something like this in the book.) Other Harry Potter themes: sometimes an unlikely hero is the best; friends and family are the greatest treasures; sometimes what’s on the surface doesn’t reveal the true contents; sacrifice can be painful; be true to yourself.

One of the fun ways to find theme is to look for quotes from your novel that stick out, lines that you love. So here are some quotes from my novel:

And in that mix of emotions that swirled through Kristin--the shock, the disbelief, the exasperation--there was a spark of hope, a wish that it all was true.
(Sometimes the impossible is possible, never give up hope)

Her wand wasn’t alive exactly, but it seemed to read her thoughts. When her magic wasn’t working, it lay cold and stiff in her hands, but when things were going right, it seemed supple and warm and a graceful extension of her body. And at times, like now, it reminded her of the burden she had inherited.
(Every gift has a price)

Tears filled her eyes. “I’ve turned you into a criminal.”
“No, just a rogue.” He grinned at her.
“Count us in as well. We’re rogues too,” said Hyacinth.
“Now have a sandwich, dear.” Rose passed her a sandwich. “Here try this one. It’s turkey and Swiss. Your favorite.”
(Sometimes doing the right thing requires breaking the rules.)

So look for your theme. Realize that romances will have a theme and while you will produce one, you don’t have to write specifically toward your theme. Although you can. By the way, the theme for a romance usually isn’t “love is a many splendored thing.”

--Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller
The Awakened Mage by Karen Miller
Vision in White by Nora Roberts
Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

Friday, November 6, 2009

I Have a Cover!!!




It's here. I have a cover for THE WISH LIST (Tor books, May 2010). I'm so excited.
--Gabi

Inspiration

Wow. All I can say is wow.

May we all experience somehing like this someday.




--Gabi
Books I'm reading now:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Exceptions

I read The Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog by Chuck Sambuchino today. It was an older post (September 27,2009) on word count. I am neither confused on word count, nor am I looking for a new agent (Love the one I have, thank you very much). But I often like to read the thoughts of publishing professionals on various topics just to learn or get exposed to a different perspective. Mr. Sambuchino said two things that absolutely resonated with me.

The first: “The most important thing here is to realize that there are always exceptions to these rules. And man, people love to point out exceptions - and they always will.”

He of course is talking about writing rules. I love rules--grammar rules, rules of etiquette, rules of writing, rules of behavior, etc. Rules make life easy in a way--you don’t have to think for yourself; you can just do what is expected of you. Do I follow all rules? Not always. I like to think for myself, judge for myself if a rule is fitting or moral or right, but I understand the need for rules and I also understand the need to know the rules. Writing rules exist not because the author isn’t creative enough to produce something without them, but because when a reader picks up a book, the reader has expectations. If a writer refuses to meet those expectations, the writer will be unsuccessful. Breaking those rules comes with a risk, and if a writer breaks those rules, he/she had better know why he/she did so. To break a writing rule, you must understand it first.

Are there exceptions? Of course, but you can’t bank on being an exception. It always surprises me, for example, when I meet an author who doesn’t think that knowing grammar is an essential skill for writing a book. You do. Or when a writer believes that they can include anything in a story (or not change elements, or refuse to listen to critique--not critics, mind you, but critique from editors or agents or trusted readers--and no, I am not arguing in favor of critique groups) because it is their vision and their vision is art and therefore perfect.

The exception gets talked about BECAUSE he/she is an exception. If I tell my students that smoking is bad for them, one will invariably pop up with “Well, my grandfather smoked every day, and he lived to be 95.” Right. He is the exception. We talk about shark attacks and plane crashes because they are the exception. We don’t talk about the millions (yes, millions) who travel each year on an airplane without incident, or the millions (yes, millions) who swim in the ocean and emerge without a nibbled toe. But people will point out the exception and then expect that they too are the exception.

Which leads me to the second quote: “And since most writers haven't earned oodles, they need to stick to the rules and make sure they work gets read. The other thing that will make you an exception is if your writing is absolutely brilliant. But let's face it. Most of our work does not classify as ‘absolutely brilliant’ or we'd all have 16 novels at this point.”

As much I would like to believe I am an extraordinary writer, we have yet to see if my sales record will support that claim. Do I write well? Absolutely. Do I tell a good story? Definitely. Am I brilliant? Of course…in spots. Sometimes my writing blows me away, and then if I look at it again, I see areas I can improve in. Will I be the next big star? God, I hope so, but looking at facts realistically, I write a good book that people can enjoy (yes, I have been told as much). I love the books I write, and I hope to sell enough to establish a career, but to paraphrase Mr. Sambuchino, if most of my work classified as ‘absolutely brilliant’, I’d have 16 novels at this point.

Am I special? You bet your life. There aren’t many who have had a book published, and I number among them. Sometimes that has to be enough.

Next time I’ll talk about Theme and its role in the romance novel. I love the topic of Theme.

--Gabi

The website for the blog is:
http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/Word+Count+For+Novels+And+Childrens+Books+The+Definitive+Post.aspx

Books I’m reading now:
An Affair before Christmas by Eloisa James
A Lady of Persuasion by Tessa Dare
How to Engage an Earl by Kathryn Caskie
Sin and Scandal in England by Melody Thomas

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel-POV

I’ve finished the second read-through of SPELLBOUND, the second book in the Time of Transition series, and now I’m waiting for the input of my agent and other beta readers before sending it to my editor. I am also eagerly awaiting the cover of my first book, THE WISH LIST. I can’t wait to see what the art department at Tor has come up with.

In the meantime, I’m continuing the series on How to Write a Romance Novel. This post: Point of View. Point of view simply means how the story is told, through whose eyes do we view the novel. Point of view is important because it decides how the reader will experience the story. And many readers have strong opinions on their favorite way to read a story. From now on I’m abbreviating Point of View as POV.

A writer has the choice of several points of view. First person is told from the “I” viewpoint. One character tells his or her story without the ability to know the emotions or feelings of any other character besides themselves. Writing in first person POV can be a challenge, because the author has to convey the emotions and all actions of the non-POV characters through the eyes and experiences of the one main character. First person is common in mystery and urban fantasy. Many fans don’t like first person POV in straight romance, but first person done well will work in any story. (For those of you who love first person POV or write in first person, don’t try to argue with me. I’m just relaying what I’ve heard, not giving my opinion.)

Books aren’t written in second person unless you’re writing a “choose-your-own-adventure” book. Second person is “you.” Try and see. “You are walking down a street. You see a handsome stranger leaning in a doorway. You smile at him.” I will offer an opinion here. A book written in second person would be annoying.

Third person is the most common choice for fiction., but even here you have choices. You can use omniscient, where the reader is privy to every character’s thoughts. Omniscient is rarely used today. Limited third is most common, where the reader experiences the novel through the eyes of just a few characters. In a romance, limited third is often limited to the hero and heroine.

So that’s the technical explanation of POV. But, wait, there’s more. Many authors don’t handle POV well. The problem occurs when the author tries to give information that the POV character couldn’t possibly have or wouldn’t ever think. I can’t tell you the number of times I have read something like, “She tossed her long, silky, blond hair over her shoulder. Her long, slim legs were curved just the way a man liked, and her cute figure did the same,” while in the heroine’s POV. The heroine wouldn’t think of herself in these terms unless she is arrogant and conceited. And the heroine very well might be, in which case, go right ahead, but be aware of the POV pitfalls.

POV is the main tool you use to pull the reader into the character’s brain. We need to experience their thoughts, their feelings, their reactions. Once you achieve placing the reader in the character’s mind, you switch to deep POV. You don’t want to use terms like “she felt” or “she thought”. Their thought is the reader’s thought at this point; you don’t have to introduce it. Also at this point you shouldn’t refer to the character by name unless it is grammatically necessary. A character wouldn’t refer to themselves by his own name. Switching out of deep POV happens by accident or when other characters enter the scene or at scene breaks or, or, or (yes, I wrote “or” three times), but once it is established it is easy to reenter that state.

In the course of writing you will also hear the term “head-hopping.” Head hopping is jumping from one character’s POV into another’s at a rapid pace. Most readers don’t know enough about POV to realize when it happens, but they might feel some dissatisfaction with a scene or a book because of it. They won’t feel as drawn to the characters; this is because they haven’t had a chance to live in the character’s head for long enough to identify with him or her. Staying in one character’s POV gives the reader the chance to know and understand the hero or heroine. Purists (authors who believe in the strict adherence to the POV rule) will tell you to stay in one character’s head for an entire scene or longer. Non-purists will switch when they wish. You have to decide for yourself how you will write. I tend to write from one POV for a scene or chapter, but I will change when I need to. I have enjoyed books by Purists and non-purists, but I do tend to notice the rapid POV change, and I have also gotten annoyed unless it is masterfully done.

One last thing about limited third: to help build the page-turning capacity of your book, think about putting the scene into the POV of the character who has the most to lose.

All writing rules are meant to be broken. One of the newest trends is to write the heroine in first person and other characters in third. So, study the books you enjoy and examine the author’s use of POV. Then choose your POV and keep writing.

--Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallery
Never Trust a Scoundrel by Gaye Callen
How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author by Janet Evanovich and Ina Yalof

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel--Plot (and Conflict)

Sorry I’m late. The good news is that I finished both the copy edits for THE WISH LIST, my May release, and the second book in my series, SPELLBOUND, and got it out to my beta readers. The bad news is that this blog was one of the things I have to set aside for a few days. But I’m back now, and trying to catch up.

Plot is up next. Picture if you will (Rod Serling, just kidding) a five or six year-old, hmmm, let’s make her a little girl (only because I didn’t have any boys, and I’ll have an easier time imagining it). Ask this little girl about a movie she saw, let’s say FINDING NEMO, and she’ll happily recount the film: “There’s a mom and dad fish and a barracuda eats the mom and all the babies, but there’s one left and he has a bad flipper, and his dad won’t let him do anything, so he swims to a boat, when a diver comes and scoops him into a bag. The dad chases the boat and…”

You get the picture. That’s what plot is--what happens. Nothing more, nothing less. I’m one of those readers who prefers plot over characterization, and I know I’m in the minority among romance readers. Don’t get me wrong; a book needs characters and their problems, but I like plot--what happens next. The number one reason I put down a book is because the characters have so much baggage, I can’t believe they can get to a happy end without a porter, a luggage cart, and an account with UPS. (But I will defend your right to read such novels--hey, you have your own taste.)

Now the controversial part. I think conflict belongs under plot, not characterization. In all honesty no one element can be truly separated out from the others. Characterization is a part of plot, and conflict is a part of characterization. But conflict drives the plot. Conflict and the way your characters react and respond to the conflict tells the story--the plot. It sets the story in motion.

There are two types of conflict: internal and external. Internal conflict is the struggle within one’s self. Any decision a person makes can constitute an internal conflict. Recovering from pain, changing one’s image, maintaining one’s temper, and resisting an urge are all possible internal conflicts. As the name implies, an internal conflict takes places within one character, and no other character will share the conflict unless the original character chooses to share the conflict. External conflict is any struggle with forces outside oneself. War, weather, fights, competing in a beauty pageant can all lead to possible external conflicts.

There are four kinds of conflict: Character vs. Character; Character vs. Circumstance; Character vs. Society; and Character vs. Himself. The first is a physical conflict; it requires a test of strength against other men, forces of nature, or even animals. The second is also known as the classical struggle, a fight against fate, the gods, or the circumstances of life, like aging (Don’t get me started--my knees will never be young again). The third is a struggle against the ideas or customs of other people. And the last is psychological--the character struggles with himself, with his own soul, ideas of right and wrong, physical limitation, choices, etc. (Sound familiar? Look above at internal conflict.)

Here I am going out on another limb: I believe every book should have both types of conflict. Internal conflict alone leaves me cold. External conflict alone doesn’t leave much room for character growth or change. (See, I told you all these elements are interconnected.)

Conflict is a highly complex idea. I will revisit it later in this series, but until then, I hope I gave you something new to think about.

--Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare
A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore
Suddenly One Summer by Barbara Freethy

Sunday, September 20, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel-Characters

Good God, where does one start? Characters are the lifeblood of a novel. You must have them or a novel cannot exist. Think about it. Even if you’re writing about the wind, the wind itself becomes a character. You cannot write a novel without them or at least him (or her). Otherwise you’re not telling a story but just trying to prove that you’re clever. I’d call that pretentious. And obnoxious.

The reader wants to relate to the story you’re trying to tell, and the way the reader accomplishes that is through the characters. Gosh, but where to go from here? OK, a quick generalization: you must make your main characters--that is your hero and heroine in a romance--likable. Or at least have the hope of becoming likable by the end. Because the main character, especially the heroine (let’s face it, most of our novels are read by women), is the vessel through which the reader experiences the novel. If the reader cannot identify with or recognize themselves in or understand or just plain admire your main characters, what reason do they have to finish your novel?

Unfortunately likability is hard to define. Personally I like egg-head characters, the absent-minded professor types. I even wrote one, only to have a reviewer give me a bad review because she hates that kind of person. As is her right. We have our own personal tastes, our own criteria for choosing friends and lovers. Good thing too. Otherwise there would be very few happily married couples out there.

But likability itself isn’t necessarily the factor that makes a novel successful. Take Scarlett O’Hara. Yes, she has traits we can admire, but I wouldn’t want her as friend. And yet GWTW is great because of Scarlett. And if you another example of where likability plays a contrary role in characterization, read THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD by Agatha Christie. I won’t say anything else about the novel except that she was both reviled and praised for this novel, and she changed the mystery genre forever with this book.

Character is the person doing the actions; characterization is the traits given to that person. You must focus on the characterization to make rounded, well-formed characters. Just by nature of the beast, a fictional character cannot have as many facets as real person (such a feat, I propose, is an impossibility), but your characters should have enough sides to bring him/her to life in a novel, to let your reader believe they could be reading about a real person. They must be three dimensional, not static; they should grow during the course of the novel (ask yourself, “What have they learned?”); they should have faults. Ack, don’t make your characters perfect. Perfection is not only unbelievable, but it can also come off as arrogant, and often boring. Really. If your characters are perfect, they don’t make mistakes. And then where’s your conflict? (That’s next week, folks).

You can, of course, chart out each of your characters: what is their eye color, hair color, height, etc (always useful if you need to refer to them through out the book, and you will, and don’t wish to have your heroine change from having blue eyes in one scene to having green in the next). You can ascribe an entire history to them: where they attended school, what traumas affected their childhoods, what their favorite Christmas present was; etc.; stuff that may never appear in your book, but might help you understand your character better. You can find character interviews all over the Internet. Whatever helps you to create characters that come alive is what you need to use.

And we can’t forget the other characters in your book, namely the villain and the secondary characters. You should take as much time making your villain realistic as your main characters. Or almost. Personally I like the over-the-top villain: the Voldemorts, the Darth Vaders, the Wicked Witches of the West. But even these characters were given some sort of backstory to make their evil understandable. Heck, the Wicked Witch was given her own book(1) and Darth was given three whole movies(2). And if you’re anything like I am, your secondary characters take on a life of their own. I literally had to kick one of my characters off an island because she was taking over the book. I love secondary characters. Think of them as the character actors. So often they steal the scene from the leads. Like Spike in NOTTING HILL or Alfred in the Dark Knight.

One last little thing: it’s fun to give your characters a quirk to set them apart, be that a fear, a habit, some odd little hobby that makes your readers smile or at least remember your characters. Everybody knows and remembers that Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes, that Ron Weasley hates spiders. In my upcoming story, THE WISH LIST (May 2010), my heroine eats chocolate chipless cookies--that’s right, chocolate chip cookies without chocolate chips.

There is so much more to characters than what I possibly can write in a blog. So go explore on your own. Find out what you want your characters to do and learn. Give them personality and faults. And don’t forget to let them fall in love. You are writing a romance, after all.

--Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James
The Highwayman by Michele Hauf
What Happens in London by Julia Quinn

1 In the original book, the Witch is chasing Dorothy because she murdered her sister and now she wants the silver slippers, not a very original reason, but a reason nonetheless ; the book WICKED followed decades after the original and gave a whole new history to the Wicked Witch. I’ll let you decide if Maguire succeeded.

2 The supposed “first three” episodes of STAR WARS are all backstory. I won’t give my over opinion here, but we as writers know what too much backstory does to a novel. And I love STAR WARS (the original three).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stuff they didn't tell you

So I’m interrupting the flow for a moment. Yes, this blog is still about how to write a romance, but instead of continuing with the logical progression of topics, I’m breaking things up. I’ll get back to the elements of a novel next week with characters, who they are, what their make-up is, etc. Today I want to speak about one of the unspoken aspects of writing a romance novel: fear.

Fear accompanies the writer on so many levels. What if I’m not good enough? What if no one likes my story? What if I can’t write another novel? What if I can’t sell my novel? What if I can’t sell another novel? What if I get bad reviews? What if the judges slash my entry? What if my co-workers find out that I write Romance? What if I can’t finish? What if ...

What if my mother/children read/s it?
OK, the last one is a valid fear, but one not so serious.

Writing isn’t about the fear. It’s about the courage. The courage to put yourself on the paper. The courage to submit. The courage to bounce back even when faced with rejection. Or failure. Or low sales. Or editors leaving houses. To face detractors, the ones who laugh at your choice of genre, the ones who hate your book. The courage to keep on writing despite all the things that can and do and might go wrong.

Did no one tell you that writing takes guts?

I’ll see you back here next week for the continuation of How to Write a Romance Novel--Characters, when I’m no longer in the revision swamp.
--Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Nickled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Sunday, September 6, 2009

How To Write a Romance Novel--Setting

This is where the series becomes nerdy. OK, I like literature and the analysis thereof. I earned two degrees in it. But I believe Romance is worthy of and stands up to literary analysis. So bear with me while I write about stuff you may have learned in high school (or probably dozed through as your teacher presented it).

Last week I talked about the Hook, a crucial element in writing any novel. You want to draw the reader in. And then what? A hook does not a novel make. So today I’m looking at what constitutes a novel, what elements make up a novel. Every novel has five elements: setting, characters and characterization, plot, style and presentation, and theme. All five of these elements combine to create a rich event that carries the reader through to a new world, new ideas, and, at least for my authorial purposes, entertainment. Take out any one of these elements, and a book flounders. You can’t have a book without setting, characters, plot (although I’m sure literary fiction has tried this one—oops, that’s snarky), and theme (This is the one that Romance is accused of overlooking. Boy, does that ever irritate me.)

Each element deserves its own blog entry, so we’ll start with setting. Setting is more than where and when a story takes place. It is also special weather conditions, social conditions, and mood and atmosphere. But setting is important to a Romance novel because often setting establishes which subgenre of Romance the book falls into.

The three major breakdowns in Romance are contemporary, historical, and paranormal; but within each of those categories are further subdivisions. Within contemporary, for example, you have romantic comedy, romantic suspense, action-adventure, family saga, chick lit, etc. Within historical there’s medieval, Regency, Victorian, Georgian, Tudor, Edwardian, ancient, etc. Within paranormal possibilities include urban fantasy, contemporary, historical, futuristic, fantasy, science fiction, and so on. Setting helps establish all these subgenres.

Where the story takes place is the first thing someone thinks of when asked for setting. Place clearly helps set up the novel. The reader needs to know where the story is set. She needs a base from which to embark, a place that can help her begin to visualize the world of the book. It makes a difference if the book starts off in modern San Diego, an estate in Regency England, or standing on a grassy purple plain watching the setting of the six suns in the pale green sky of Planet Jellicorp. Your setting establishes reader expectation.

Time plays the same role. Reader expectation is different for books set in the present, past, or future. But don’t forget time of day or time of year. A book’s feel is different if the opening is at night or in the morning. Your description will vary between winter and summer. We’ll talk more about description in the future, but for now know that it is necessary for the reader to know where the book is taking place.

Weather conditions are an aspect of setting that shouldn’t come up too often, but when it does, it will make an impact. Think about the cyclone in WIZARD OF OZ or the rainstorm in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. In both instances, these weather anomalies must happen to further the plot. By the way, this includes natural phenomenon, like the tidal wave in POSEIDON ADVENTURE.

Social conditions are an integral part of the story as well. Especially in contemporaries, social conditions may not play a major role, but picture a Regency without the rules of society. Or any European set historical without the rules of class. And in many futuristics, social setting is crucial to the story. The new YA best selling series, THE HUNGER GAMES, requires its social conditions as part of its story. And where would 1984 be without the social conditions?

Mood and atmosphere are the final aspects of setting. Is your story Gothic? Is it light and happy? Does the atmosphere speak of danger or laughter? If your novel starts out light and humorous, it shouldn’t end with dead puppies. On the other hand, your story shouldn’t be so intense that it leaves the reader exhausted. Mood and atmosphere can vary in a novel. Real life does. In the Harry Potter series, Rowling moves from humor to tragedy in a seamless manner. And it’s all a part of setting.

Setting is interesting in that it sinks into the background once it is established. When setting comes into the foreground, it should appear for a reason: to announce a place change—from London to a country house, from the space ship to the planet, etc; an important description—in my book, THE WISH LIST, I describe a painting because it will play a role later in the story; weather will change the direction of the plot; etc. Setting pops in and out of the story then sinks into the background. As a savvy reader, you should notice when setting comes forward because it can be a clue to something important. Setting can be so important that the novel couldn’t take place with those characters, with that plot without that particular setting.

So if you’re working on a novel, you know where your story is taking place. Now consider what your setting says about your novel, and be aware of its role in your novel.

Next time, we’ll look at characters.
--Gabi
Books I’m reading now:
On a Wicked Dawn by Stephanie Laurens
Duchess in Love by Eloisa James

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Write Romance Novel Part Two

THE HOOK

Yes, I am continuing on this insanely ambitious blog series on How to Write a Romance Novel. Why not? It’s not like I have things to blog about from my everyday life. I’m a mother of three, two in college, one in high school, who all think they don’t need me any longer (except when they need to BUY something). I’m not traveling right now; my husband and I are doing great (not that I want you involved in my marriage, thank you very much). I am teaching full time, and I could actually fill a year’s worth of blogs with the anecdotes of my students, their parents and the frustrations of a teaching within a school system, but I don’t think any of my students or their parents would appreciate recognizing themselves on these pages and as for venting my frustrations…well, I still have to pay tuition for those two who think they don’t need me. So I’m left with writing and we’re starting at the beginning.

You want to open your book with something--an event, facts, actions, conversation--that will draw the reader in and compel her to read more. This is called the hook. Not being a fisherman myself, I won’t continue the analogy of landing the fish, but you do want to grab the reader. Something has to happen at the beginning of the novel. And you start with the first line. Here are some examples :

Audrey Magill went into the Third Street antique store looking for a chair and found a man instead. (READY AND WILLING by Elizabeth Bevarly, Berkley Sensation, 2008)

Why it works: We have the name of our heroine, and an unexpected twist in the second half of the sentence. It raises questions in the mind of the reader.

The Glitter Baby was back. (GLITTER BABY by Susan Elizabeth Phillip, Avon, 1987,2009)

Why it works: Uses the title. The word “back” raises questions in the readers’ minds.


Justice took inventory of his condition, his weapons, and his chances, as he’d done so many times before in his centuries as a warrior, and came up with:
1. bad
2. worse
3. odds-on favorite to be a dead man in the next five minutes
. (ATLANTIS UNLEASHED by Alyssa Day, Berkely Sensaton, 2009)

Why it works: We have the name of our hero, we have some background, and we know he’s in trouble. The situation raises questions in the mind of the reader.

“Not there,” said Collin. (THE TEMPTATION OF THE NIGHT JASMINE by Lauren Willig, Dutton, 2009)

Why it works: It’s the middle of a conversation. Where will this conversation go? And what’s not there? Or why not there? And other questions.

The aunts had summoned her. (THE WISH LIST, Gabi Stevens, Tor, 2010)

Why it works: Our character is being pulled somewhere. Why? Who are the aunts? Why are they summoning her? Who do they think they are “summoning” her?

You may have already noticed the common element: Questions. The desire to know more. I pulled these books at random from my shelves (with the exception of my own) but they all essentially are making the reader think from the first line. They aren’t giving much information; they simple start the story and ask the reader to come along for the ride.

That’s what your hook has to do: Ask the reader to come along for the ride. To accomplish this you have to start your novel with something happening, not introspective, not backstory. Unless you start writing your first novel after many workshops/classes/advice, most first novels begin with explanation. My first novel began with three pages of the heroine walking up the stairs thinking about her life, how she was an orphan, how nobody loved her, how wicked her aunt was, how sad her life she was. Three pages! And all she did was walk up the stairs! Ugh. And every other author I’ve talked to said they did the same type of thing--started with backstory or explanation.

Start in the middle of a scene. Start where the heroine’s day can’t get worse and then it does. Start in the middle of action. Start in the middle of an argument. Start with something that raises questions in the readers’ minds. If you start with dialog, for God’s sake, don’t start with ”Hello, how are you?” If you start with action it shouldn’t be She walked up the stairs. You’re trying to grab the reader, not put them to sleep.

The hook is more than just the first line, but you get the idea by now. Start with something that drags the reader in. Think of the movies. The opening scene of Indiana Jones has little to do with the rest of the movie except to introduce the hero and his rival. But, oh, that opening action! Look at Star Wars (The real first one, not the pretend early episodes) Look at Gone With the Wind. Look at Notting Hill. Yes, they establish setting and characters, but not in a boring way. That’s what you want to establish at the beginning of your novel.

So continue your writing. The best way to learn is by doing…and then analyzing after you’ve written.

Next week…Elements of a Novel
--Gabi

Books I’m reading now:
Sand, Sun…Seduction! By Stephanie Bond, Leslie Kelly, and Lori Wilde
Burning Alive by Shannon K Butcher
On a Wicked Dawn by Stephanie Laurens

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How to Write Romance Novels Part One

How presumptuous of me. Who am I to undertake such a topic? Yes, I have been published, but other authors have written more books with greater success. Yes, I do have a (actually two) degree in literature, but we're not talking literature. Or are we? You've probably heard some of what I have to say before, and maybe you know more than I. Nevertheless, I feel passionate about the subject (no pun intended), so I wanted to share with you my thoughts on the writing process especially as applied to romance novels.

Genre fiction is a fairly new phenomenon. Before the 1900's, there were simply novels. No one categorized them, but even then novels were considered the lesser child of literature. Modern thinking required that we categorize books into various genres. In one way, it makes reading easier. If someone likes, say, science fiction, then he/she knows where to look for science fiction in a book store. On the other hand, categories makes it too easy to dismiss certain types of fiction and miss out on others. How many times have you heard someone say, "Oh I don't read that kind (insert genre that you look down upon here) of book"? (British punctuation, BTW. Much more sensible I think.) Or if someone reads exclusively in one genre because he/she enjoys it (nothing wrong with enjoying a genre), he/she can miss out on wonderful books simply because he/she doesn't consider looking for a book in a different genre.

So genres can make handy labels or limit a person's reading (BTW, literary fiction is nothing more than a name for a genre). Romance is just one such label. If you've been watching the news on the recession lately, you've most likely heard that the Romance Novel industry is recession proof and is in fact doing great business in this economy. Romance novels make you feel good. You are guaranteed a happy ending and a few hours of escape.

I can hear the first snorts of derision. "That's because they're fluff." "That's because they're formulaic." That's because no one who thinks reads them." Really? RWA ® statistics will tell you that romance outsells every other genre, and that its average readers are college educated. And its authors come from a wide variety of fields and educational backgrounds, including lawyers, professors, doctors, teachers, EMT's, social workers, actors, and yes, even housewives (Hey, my mother was a housewife. I defy you to call a woman of her background anything but remarkable.) As for formulaic...well, I'd say all fiction is formulaic and I'm going to be exploring that formula in the upcoming weeks. Yes, romance is a story of a man and a woman (although not always, and the boundaries are expanding, especially in erotic romance) with an emotionally satisfying ending, but aren't mysteries formulaic as well? As well as fantasies, horror novels, speculative fiction, and literary fiction? I hear you protesting. Those books have variety. Um, have you read romance recently? You can find everything in romance novels including mystery fantasy, sci fi, and literary elements. And most of the time you can find romance or at least a love story in the other types of fiction. Love and relationships make the world go around.

Enough about defending the genre. Here's the first thing I want you to ask yourself. Do you love romance novels? If you don't, find something else to write. If you're in this to make a quick buck or to get published, you're in the wrong game. If you don't love what you're writing, it will show and your book will suffer for it. And trust me, no publisher will publish you in romance if you're just phoning it in. Just because romance is the biggest genre, doesn't mean it's easy. Writing is tough--wonderful, but tough--why would you spend hours, days, weeks, months working on something you neither enjoy or respect?

OK, so you love romance. Terrific. Your next question is, "What kind of romance do you want to write?" There are genres within the genre in romance, and sub genres within the sub genres. What books do you enjoy? What kind do you usually read? Do you have the temperament and the time for historical research? Are you comfortable writing sex scenes? If so, how sexy? Are you wanting to write lighter books or angst-filled books? Humorous or serious? Category or single title? Paranormal or contemporary? Vampires, werewolves or ghosts, oh my? Space ships, fairies, aristocracy? Sweet or sexy? Inspirational? Suspense? So many questions to answer.

You might already have a story that's been whirling around in your head. If you do, then you're already ahead of the game. There is no idea warehouse to find your story in, but ideas can come from anywhere. I once wrote a book based on a brief news item I saw on TV about a man who adopted an injured owl. The owl had only one wing, and the man would perch the owl on his shoulder and go roller blading around Lake Michigan in Chicago. The owl would lean into the wind and pretend he was flying. The man lost sixty pounds. But that story was the spark that ignited a novel called The Sea Eagle.

So gather your thoughts, and go ahead and start writing. I'll speak about other elements next week, starting with THE HOOK.
--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
Ready and Willing by Elizabeth Bevarly
His 7-Day Fiancee by Gail Barnett
Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Before the Scandal by Suzanne Enoch

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Emotions

When I was a kid, I cried a lot. My parents called me too sensitive and often didn't know how to handle me. What they didn't realize was that I also laughed a lot, sang a lot, danced a lot, played a lot, just felt a lot. The stuff I went through in high was high drama for them and my teachers (remember I went to boarding school). Because they didn't know how to deal with such an emotional daughter, they told me to keep feelings hidden. And I did learn to. I stopped crying, but I also stopped laughing, singing, and dancing. I don't blame them--to this day my mother says she has no imagination and leads a very controlled life. That's not bad. It's how she wants to live.

But I am passionate. I'm not speaking sexually; I mean I have deep feelings, and I think I'm finally old enough (it's about time) to give in to those feelings. I'm allowed to feel passion about things. So I laugh again, and cry. I argue with vehemence and am often accused of being angry, when I'm not angry at all, just passionate about my subject. I enjoy things with greater relish again. I dance, sometimes even in public places especially with my daughter. And I'm proud that I cried in three separate places at the movie UP. My favorite thing is laughing and I'm always searching for new things to laugh at and with. I'm finding ( after decades--yes, decades--of thinking I should hide my emotions) that the cathartic aspect of letting my emotions show is actually giving me a more fulfilled life.

And that emotion is going into my books. I make myself cry regularly when I write. I also make myself laugh a lot. And when my characters face injustice, I seethe for them. I can only hope that emotion comes through as my readers read my books.

So have a good cry. Or a good laugh. Funny that both those phrases exist: "good cry" and "good laugh." I don't find irony there at all.
--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
All About Love by Stephanie Laurens
Ready and Willing by Elizabeth Bevarly

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Local Conference

In November my local RWA chapter is hosting a one-day conference with a fantastic line-up.

2009 LERA Write From The Heart Conference

Come join LERA, Dianna Love, and Mary Buckham (with special guest Sherrilyn Kenyon) as they present their innovative, day long workshop:

From Thought To Plot

This interactive workshop will be held on Saturday, November 14th, from 8:30 to 5:00 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center,2401 12th St. NW Albuquerque, NM, just five minutes from Old Town Albuquerque.

Book signing after the conference at Borders at ABQ Uptown (2240 Q St. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110). Authors will include Sherrilyn Kenyon, Dianna Love, and Mary Buckham!


Are you kidding? Sherilyn Kenyon? NYTimes best (BEST!!!) selling author Sherilyn Kenyon, who is also one of the nicest ladies out there. And her cohorts, who present some of the most highly rated workshops out there? This is an opportunity you don't want to miss. Go to www.leranm.com for more info.

And if you're family (You know to whom I am speaking), I'll even let you sleep on my floor.

--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
All About Love by Stephanie Laurens
(Boy, reading has slowed down since I'm trying to finish up my WIP before school starts NEXT WEDNESDAY!)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Process

I am back from the RWA conference, pumped, and ready to work. I'm working on revisions and having a great time revisiting THE WISH LIST to get it ready for you to read. There's something about attending a writers' conference that rejuvenates and restores the writer's soul, not to mention all the great things you learn (about yourself and the craft) and all the great books you bring home. Of course, it also drains your energy, so sleep is good for a couple of days.

While I was gone, I received a question (Thanks, Eva):

How do you chose which story to write and stick with when there are so many beginnings in your head?

The answer isn't as straightforward as you might think. I personally like to work on one thing at a time until it is finished. Ideas are always whirling around in my head--the next book, characters that need a book, scenes from books I didn't even know I was going to write--but I work on one thing at a time. Part of being a professional (which by the way does not mean that you earn your living at writing) is completing manuscripts. Having first chapters, half finished novels, or outlines doesn't mean much if you actually want to get published. You must have a finished product at least once (more would be preferable).

But once that finished product is done, then what? If you have a contract to complete, it's the next book of that contract. I still have the third book of my trilogy to write; when the revisions for WISH LIST are finished, I'll be finishing the rough draft of SPELLBOUND, and when that is done, I'll get started on TOIL AND TROUBLE. The only reason I've interrupted my writing of SPELLBOUND is because revisions come first.

If you have the luxury of making your own choice, you can choose anything. I go with whatever (whoever--those characters can be obnoxious) is yelling the loudest. But I do stick with it until it is done.
EXCEPT...
Once you are published, you can start selling on porposal. For Romance, that's usually an idea, three chapters and a synopsis. One of the hardest things I've done was learn to let go of a project just after starting it, after letting it gel into a story, and getting to know the characters. They are still in my head, yelling louder than any ideas, but they have to wait until I sell them.

So once again, my answer is less than definitive. I have to add only one more thing: You have to do what is right for you. What works for me isn't what's right for you. You have to discover for yourself your own method. There is no one answer. How's that for indefinite?

--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
To Good to be True by Kristan Higgins
Witches Incorporated by KE Mills
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Friday, July 3, 2009

I got nothing

I have no thoughts this time. Absolutely nothing is coming into mind as I try to blog. No wisdom, no wit, no complaints (well, I have complaints, but I'm sure you don't want to hear me whine about my family--don't get me wrong, they're good people, but sometimes, ARGH, you just have to put up with them, because you won't change them and they won't do things the way you want them to do things. How hard is it to learn where everything goes in the kitchen. And then the pettiness beast rises up in me and I'm not willing to help as they need stupid things. Wait, didn't I say I wasn't going to complain?), no ideas. I am working hard on book two (SPELLBOUND is the tentative title) of the new series and it's going well, not as fast as I'd like (see rant in parenthesis) but I'll be done with the rough draft by the end of July. Then I can meet the characters in book three (TOIL AND TROUBLE).

So I am here simple to wish you all a happy Fourth of July, and I'm asking that you think about what it really means to be patriotic.
--Gabi

Books, I'm reading now:
Careless in Red by Elizabeth George
Atlantis Unleashed by Alyssa Day

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Stupid Backyard Games

I just finished playing five holes of golf. Before you get too excited, it was backyard golf. Armed with wiffle golf balls (there's probably a real name for those things, but I don't know it) and my husband's clubs, we pounded in the two croquet end posts at either side of the yard, and proceeded to play: me, my husband, and two daughters. A hole consisted of hitting the post on the other side of the yard.

Not only did this game prove how very little Tiger Woods has to fear from me, but it also proved how much fun stupid little things are when done with the family. So on this Father's Day (tomorrow), play some stupid games with Dad. I don't have my dad anymore, but I do have great memories of the games (mostly tennis and canasta) we played together. Trust me. You'll love the the time spent with the him of your Father's Day (whether it's your dad or the dad of your kids.)

And if you're the dad, Happy Father's Day.
--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
Highland Scandal by Julia London
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling (What? I had to read it again before the movie next month)
The Duke Next Door by Celeste Bradley

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Being Liked

I found a review of one of my older books on line yesterday. It was a beautiful review (she--I'm assuming it was a she--loved the book, gave it the highest grade she could, and basically glowed about it.) If you're interested, here's the site:
http://www.channelingboards.com/Romance/page1.html#Ever%20Yours
If the owner of the site is reading this, thank you. I hope you how much you made my day when I found it.

Being liked and enjoyed is an odd part of this business. As an author, I know that I shouldn't take reviews personally, that everyone's taste varies, that not everyone will like every book, and that we shouldn't even want that. As an author you want to evoke strong emotions in your readers, but strong emotions also means strong dislike in some readers. If everyone likes a book, that probably means the book is meh. But if some people love a book and others hate it, then you've done something special. Nothing is worse that doing OK. Succeed with glory or fail spectacularly, but either way go for the big emotional response.

With my new series of books coming out next year (in a new genre, under a new name), I feel a great deal of fear: What if it's not liked? What if no one wants my type of book? What if I never sell anything again? But ultimately none of that is important. I am writing with all the skill I can, putting in ideas that I find important, and hoping that out there someone will like what I've done and said. I can do no more. Fear is the one of the hidden aspects of writing you don't often hear about. However, doing the writing despite the fear... well, courage is something to be admired even if it isn't your conventional courage. It may not save lives, but it is admirable. It is the picture of someone having the guts to follow a dream, of living a life uncompromised.

Whoa, I didn't mean to wax philosophical.
--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz
The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore
Third Circle by Amanda Quick

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Entering the World

No, I'm not talking about birth. I'm talking about writing. The cool thing about writing is that you create your own world. It doesn't matter if you're writing science fiction, fantasy, contemporary, historical; the world of the novel is yours even if you base it in reality. You have to know your world to write the story. I lose myself in the world of the story. I sometimes have to remember that the reader doesn't necessarily care about the color of the wallpaper in the bathroom even if I can see it vividly. I have to let the reader do some of the work, to get invested in the story and use his or her own imagination to fill in the images.

The same thing happens to me when I read. I can see the story from the words. They won't be the same images that the author had when he or she wrote the story, but that doesn't matter. Reading is a active thing and requires participation from the reader. At least a good book will require participation. That's one of the reasons I don't like movies made from books (although if Hollywood wants to film one of my novels, I'm all for it). The images and actors just don't match the picture in my head. Not that some movies from books aren't great. Some are; but I can think of only two movies from books that I liked better viewing than reading. One was Seabiscuit; the other was The DaVinci Code.

--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley
True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson
The Third Circle by Amanda Quick
Nerds Like it Hot by Vicki Lewis Thompson
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Magic

When I'm writing, I always doubt that I can fill one page much less the thirteen through twenty that constitute a chapter. Even when I know what's going to happen, I doubt that the pages will be enough, especially since I am a short writer to begin with (And that has nothing to do with height). And then I start writing. Basically I'm just describing the pictures in my head and transcribing the dialogue I hear there. Not that it's a smooth and easy process. Sometimes the "film" breaks, or the projectionist takes a break, or the film is fed into the machine (Yes, this is old fashioned stuff here--no DVD's) wrong so the film isn't clear or runs ratchety. But the chapter grows and I am always amazed by how much I get on paper. Soon I worry that I'm going to overrun the chapter by five or six pages, because there's always so much more to tell. But eventually it always works out and my chapter is complete and the right length.

I call this the Magic. The story keeps playing in my head and all I have to do is get it on paper. Or computer if we're trying to modernize the process here.
--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
The Big Bad Wolf by James Patterson
Fast and Loose by Elizabeth Bevarly

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Interruptions and the Real World

The worst thing about being a writer is when your characters are waiting to jump on the page, the plot is wanting to pour out of you, and you can't sit down at the computer. The real world intrudes. The dishes need to be done. Toilets must be scrubbed, laundry has piled up to its limit, the floor can't be walked on without boots, and more. OK, not to be gross, but my house needed attention. And worse, my day job requires me to work at home this weekend. I have tests to correct. The Real World is a drag when my fantasy one is calling.

But at least the story is there and the magic exists. What a great feeling.
--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
All of Me by Lori Wilde
Rewriting Monday by Jodi Thomas

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Top Ten

Three weeks ago, my new agent sold my new paranormal series, Time of Transition, to Tor. The first book, THE WISH LIST, is due on bookshelves May 2010. I'd had publishing success in the past, but my career stalled when an editor left my publishing house. Despite having an agent, despite contest wins, good reviews, and a burning desire to succeed, my writing career was going nowhere. And then, as an added insult, I had to get a day job to pay tuitions for twins (yes, I know I was lucky before). When the first two years passed without any nibbles, I thought it was a fluke, but as the drought continued, it became harder and harder to keep going, to keep writing, not to quit. I started doubting my abilities, believing that I didn't have what it takes, that I'd never have another book published. I tried switching genres, switching critique groups, and going through many, many months of utter despair. So why didn't I quit? Here are...

The Top Ten Reasons I am Still in the Game:

10. I already owned the equipment — Computer...check; research books…check; paper...check. Are you kidding? I buy my paper by the case at my favorite office superstore.

9. The lovely fellow writers I have gotten to know over the years — They are a support group. They wouldn’t let me quit. They "get" me.

8. I couldn't turn off the voices in my head — If you're a writer, you know what I mean. Too many characters were demanding life, and every time I considered leaving them behind, they'd protest.

7. Nothing feels as good as typing "The End" — It’s a sense of accomplishment when you've finished a novel. And now I have three completed novels and three proposals that I can regale my agent with.

6. Time means nothing — Time exists, but the way we measure it is arbitrary. Why do we have a twenty-four hour day with sixty minute hours made up of sixty second minutes (I know, I know, the Babylonians)? I read a book once where the calendar was kept with a deck of cards. (Think about it: fifty-two weeks in a year, fifty-two cards in a deck; four suits times thirteen cards equals fifty two, and you have jokers for leap years.) And age is just a number. In my head I will forever be twenty. Only wiser than when I was actually twenty.

5. The importance of teaching my children that having a dream and pursuing it is (almost) as important as succeeding.

4. It's just cool to say you're a writer — the Muggle world...I mean the non-writing world...doesn’t "get" it anyway, but they're impressed.

3. I needed an excuse to keep my book buying habits — I read a lot. Too much. No, really. When I run out of books, I read my husband's robotics journals. I don't understand them, but I read them. I have no TBR pile. Actually I do right now, but it's only three books. Check back in a week.

2. I enjoy it — Yes, writing is hard, yes, it can be frustrating, but I like to play with language and words. I like looking up grammar rules and definitions. Diagramming sentences should be required for all students. It's fun.

And the number one reason I haven’t quit…

1. Embarrassment.

Yup. My prime motivator was not being able to face my family and friends. I couldn't tell them I failed. I try not to care about what others think about me, but this was different. I couldn't quit because I felt I made a liar of myself and disappointed those who believed in me. I wanted to be able to hold my head up, and I couldn’t have done that if I had quit. (Hey, this is about my reasons for not quitting.)

Wiser men than I have written about persistence, so I leave you with these words from Isaac Asimov: If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success—but only if you persist.

--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
--The Accidental Sorcerer by KE Mills

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Three weeks...



and still flying.

My agent negotiated a three book deal with TOR for my contemporary paranormal series, The Time of Transition. Every seventy-five years, the safeguards between the magical world and the human world are weakened as a new group of protectors are put in place. This time, someone is trying to take over. It'll take three special women to keep the entire world safe. Don't mess with them. They are the next Fairy Godmothers! These three books are lighter paranormals with a lot a fun and seriousness in them. The firs book, THE WISH LIST, will come out in May 2010, followed by the other two books in April 2011 and Mar 2012


I've already started work on the next book and have made good progress. Unfortunately I have a day job that gets in the way of writing--like the essays I have to correct right now. But only five more weeks until summer vacation and then I can turn into Super Writer Woman. I plan to have the rough draft of book two done by RWA National (hope to see some of you there.)

Odd how when you are involved with schools (as a parent, as a teacher, as a student), the year begins and ends with the school schedule, not the calendar. I keep trying to tell my students that the way we measure time is arbitrary anyway. It's for our convenience, without any real meaning. We could rework a clock to have ten hours, consisting of 100 minutes of 100 seconds each (they wouldn't be hours and minutes as we understand them now). Who designed this weird 24 hours, 60 minutes, 60 second thing anyway (I know, I know, the Babylonians)? Just as it would be easy to have one time zone for the world and we could simple do things at different times--In England they eat breakfast at 7:00 AM, while in California they would eat at 3:00PM, when it would be morning in California. No more resetting your watch. And different cultures already have different year counters--The Jewish calendar, the Chinese calendar, the Mayan calendar which claims the world will end in 2012 (actually this isn't true at all--the Mayan calendar doesn't predict the end of the world at all, but I won't go into that here).

So back to the two weeks. I've sold again, and I'm still thrilled no matter how you measure it.

--Gabi

Books I'm reading now:
Some like it Wild by Teresa Medeiros
Hunting Badger by Tony Hillerman
Accidental Sorcerer by KE Mills