Tag Archives: Kate Austin

Thank You BIWP

It’s my final post here at BIWP, and it’s going to be short and bittersweet.

I finally met Kate Austin who invited me to be part of this collective and provided valuable advice when I started writing. She came to Toronto and we had dinner with Nancy, the friend who introduced me to Kate almost three years ago.

The evening was filled with laughter, and Kate was every bit as lovely in person as she’s been in the virtual world.

To everyone who made up this diverse group—it’s been a true pleasure writing with you.

Big hugs to all, and best for 2013 and beyond,

eden

nancy, kate, me

It’s the Night Before Christmas

and all through the house…

Many creatures are stirring…

And a whole lot of the creatures stirring in my house are memories, memories of my childhood Christmases, memories of the food we ate that I no longer make, the songs we sang which I still sing, the fun we had. It’s still fun, it’s just different.

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Christmas – and the traditions that go along with it – change over the years. We certainly didn’t have pizza elves when I was growing up. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, Christmas pudding were the foods on my grandparents’ tables and then for many years on mine. Oh, yeah, and I forgot the brussel sprouts which were often the cause of food fights – because almost no one liked them but we all had to eat at least one.

Christmas used to begin on the weekend before the big day when we put up our Christmas tree and would end precisely after breakfast on New Year’s Day. The season lasts longer for me now.

The pizza elves are from a dinner with friends in Toronto in early December. A week after that, I ate Italian food with a bunch of workmates. I’ll have a vegetarian Christmas with my sister in Victoria where they’ve come to escape the Christmas deep chill in Edmonton. My brother is coming for Christmas dinner and we’ll drink beer and Prosecco, eat a table full of Persian food and nibblies, and laugh until we make ourselves sick. We’re having friends over on Boxing Day for Spanish wine and some more Persian food.

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We’re meeting two different sets of friends the first week in January for two more Christmas dinners. Those ones are likely to be at a restaurant and we’ll drink wine (some of us – not me – will drink vodka, I expect), eat, and share all the things we’ve missed with each other over the past few months.

But for all of us, we somehow maintain the connection to our childhood traditions. We have the chocolates we had as children (always from Purdy’s), we have the Christmas oranges in our red and green stockings (though we no longer have a fireplace on which to hang them), we have the tree and the poinsettias (though this year mine is white rather than red), we still give gifts to our friends and families, we still listen to the same carols, watch the same old movies.

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I guess what I’ve learned over the years is that tradition isn’t about the trappings, it’s about the love and the connection and the warmth of the season – and that’s what I wish for all of you.

Kate

Rain is a many splendored thing

1In Vancouver, rain can change in a single moment. In one day, it can require a full suit of wet weather gear, then a light jacket, then an umbrella and knee high boots, then the ability to laugh at the few drops that hit the street. The sky can be a brutal grey bruise against the mountains, a pure white overcast where I can almost imagine the sun hiding behind it, or a blue sky scattered with clouds.

The moisture from each of those skies is different.

We live with rain in Vancouver. It doesn’t matter what season it is – we have precipitation to suit every month of the year.

Summer rain can roar through the city, moving from the ocean to the mountains in a single raging downpour, leaving foot high puddles in its wake, and all of us laughing with joy at the experience. We can go a week or two, sometimes even three, without a single drop of rain and all of us scared to speak of the lack, believing our words might bring it back.

Autumn is the season of surprise rain. It shifts from sun to shadow in the space of a commercial break. It rips leaves from trees and blocks drains. Cars race through the puddles and soak passersby at each corner. Walking to work is an adventure, wielding an umbrella like a defensive shield.

Winter is autumn amplified and because it’s cold, we add sleet to the mix. It might snow in Vancouver, then the next day it’ll melt, leaving lakes of messy, cold half-rain, half-sleet at every corner. On those days, waist-high waders or a sick day phone call are the only possible answers to the walk to work.

And then there’s the soft, sweet rain of the spring. It’s easy to use that phrase in December – the spring deluge is months away. But that deluge brings early blossoms – Japanese cherry blossoms always the earliest harbinger in January, then the tiny green shoots of crocus, the tall spears of daffodils and tulips, the soft yellow fuzz on the willow trees.

When you live in Vancouver, you learn to enjoy the rain, to buy a new umbrella whenever you see one on sale, because for sure you’ve left your umbrella somewhere you aren’t. Raincoats become fashion statements, and I’m willing to bet that few other cities can sell such a variety of boots.

Rain. Rain. Splendid rain.

Kate

Obsession

Artists are often the tiniest bit obsessive (I say it like that – the tiniest bit) so I don’t offend those of you who read this blog. I try not to think about myself this way and then I look at the notebooks on my desk, or the directories on my computer, and find that I may be slightly more than the tiniest bit obsessive.

Not all the time, but definitely some of the time.

One of the times was the year 2003. This was before I published my first novel and was a time I think I was trying to avoid my obsession by working very hard, trying to learn to play the cello, and going out a whole lot. But I couldn’t – though I’m pretty sure I tried – avoid it completely. In fact, from the looks of it, I only managed to avoid it for approximately 8 days.

On that day I went out and bought a very expensive leather notebook and began a project that would occupy me for… well, almost of the year. 313 days of it to be exact.

I decided that I would write a poem every single day – and I did. Up to and including November 27.

A lot of them were haiku – especially at the beginning. The very beginning:

Tonight it begins
riding the Skytrain home. Dark
anticipation.

And a lot of them were about my frustrations trying to learn to play the cello. But reading that notebook now, almost ten years later, I’m proud of many of those poems.

Beloved ones.
I miss you
now you’re gone
the wood shavings still
and silent since you’re gone
the chain saw’s buzz
missing, the air clean
without it.

***

The moon is an egg in the pale blue sky,
floating low between glass-bonded buildings
A thousand-year egg,
cracked and marked with
blackness
special, expensive, rotten.
Inedible.

Put it on the menu anyway.

Obsession worked for me that year, kept me writing, kept me watching the world, observing and creating. Something different, something new, something worthwhile.

Kate

The End – Part 3 of 3

You’ve done it, or rather you’ve almost done it. You’re almost done with your book. But here’s the most important part – the end.

This is the make or break, your readers have been engaged this far and you really don’t want to let them down. But what to do? How do you get through to the end? I’ve heard this referred to as the “writer’s event horizon”, the “long-slog”, that place where everything can either come together or completely fall apart on you.

Welcome to the beginning of the end.

K.B.

Oh the end, the glorious end! The rush! That headlong slide toward the final epic battle. Or the big reveal. Or the cliffhanger. Or-

*laughs sheepishly*

The end is where Lisa usually yanks on my chain, bringing me up short like an out-of-control puppy. *grins* I am notorious for rushing through the end of my novel, crazy and wild-eyed, desperate to finish. I tend to forget about the details, the important wrap-up of loose ends, and little things like grammar.

When I hit the “end” of the book, I tend toward extremes. I’ll either have to just write the hell out of it and hope I can fix things in edits because the story is screaming at me to write it down. Or I come to a screeching halt and stare warily at the end of my novel like a poisonous snake, unsure about how to take it down without getting killed in the process.

The rush option obviously doesn’t have much of a plan other than to throw myself in headfirst and hope for the best. *laughs*

When I do the other path though, I:

1)    Revisit the outline – I like to make sure that I’ve got things in order, that all my loose ends are wrapped up and the readers aren’t going to have a “what the hell?” moment after they read the last word.

2)    Revisit my character motivations – to make sure that everyone is behaving the way they would and not just doing what I want to make the ending fit.

3)    Explore my options – I’m not always locked into an ending for a novel. I learned early on that it’s a good idea to be fluid with your resolution because trying to write toward a specific ending can really mess you up. If I’m not sure how it should end I’ll sometimes sketch out two or three endings and see which one fits the best.

Kate:

Over the years, I’ve probably written somewhere around a two hundred stories, novellas, and novels. And it took maybe half of those before I figured out how The End worked for me.

You’ll know already from our earlier blogs on this topic that I’m a complete fogwalker. I don’t know what the next sentence or chapter is going to be, let alone The End. But there is a place in every single story—from the shortest to the longest—where a decision has to be made about what will happen at The End.

That spot happens despite the fact that I still don’t know the ending, but when I first started writing, I could get stuck at that spot for weeks. And it truly is a spot. It might be as small a spot as a single sentence or as big a spot as a paragraph.

But once that sentence or paragraph is written, The End is implicit in those few words. I don’t know what it is, I only know that I’m rushing toward it.

So this is what happens to me at The Damn Spot (which I what I call it), which, oddly enough, is what constitutes The End for me. Because once I get through The Damn Spot, The End is easy.

1.   First, and most importantly, I have to figure out that I’ve reached The Damn Spot. Occasionally, I figure that out very quickly. Mostly, I don’t. I’ll just keep writing, unhappy and uncomfortable with what’s happening and not knowing why.

2.   Eventually, I do figure it out because it’s not often I get stuck like that anywhere else. Once I figure it out, the next step is easy. I will rewrite the sentence (or paragraph) until it feels right. Occasionally, that takes me three or four tries. More often, it takes me ten or twenty or even fifty tries and I’ve learned to stop fretting about that because it works.

3.   When I get The Damn Spot right, I just keep writing until I reach The End. And how do I know it’s The End?

4.   The End comes to me and I’m there. Right there. No waiting. No worrying. No fretting. The End is The End. I don’t see it coming, I don’t plan for it, it just arrives. Full blown like the richest, most aromatic rose of summer. It’s a miracle.

Lisa:

As usual, I’m somewhere between Kate and Katy on the spectrum. I almost always know how I want the story to end when I first start writing, and I almost always realize – typically about two-thirds of the way through – that I’m not far enough along in the story to have the original ending I envisioned actually BE the ending. (It’s a good thing I write series, as the “original ending” generally works its way in somewhere else in the arc.)

Once the realization hits me – usually with a loud oh shit – I have two choices. A) Rework things so that I can use that original ending or B) Acknowledge that my subconscious knows what it’s doing, let that scene go and move along, trusting myself to find the way to the Real Ending.

I never take option A. 🙂

So how do I get from Oh Shit to The End?

1)  Like Katy, I sit with my characters for a bit and make sure their choices and motivations are in line with their authentic (albeit fictional) selves. Then I check for stray threads, messy plotlines and unresolved questions that need to be answered.

2)  I keep writing, keep moving forward in blind faith that at some point, the Last Line will manifest. It may materialize in the middle of the night or when I’m driving or taking a shower, but suddenly, it’s just there. I may not understand it completely (since I’m not tuned in to all that will precede it) but I recognize it for what it is. I write it down and set it aside, but I never forget it. It hovers around me like an aura, whispering its delicious secrets, urging me on – and making me a little nervous.

3)  Now there is a plan, something I must work toward, so  at that point, I do something I rarely do throughout the rest of the book: I start vaguely mapping out the remaining chapters in terms of What I Think Must Happen. This knowing is partly based on my notes from step one, but gut instincts play a big part in it, too. (Gut instincts always play a big part in my writing process; I’ve learned to trust them implicitly over the years.)

4)  Once I have my “skeleton” outline, I make like Kate and just keep writing until one day, my fingers are on the keys, typing away and the Last Line appears on the page. Then the cork popping ensues!

 Your turn, peeps. Tell us how you wrangle the monster named The End.

The Shadow

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.

One of the things I’ve contemplated often over the years is the shadow. What it is. What it means. How an artist can use it. How we as readers or viewers react to it and why it creates such intense emotions in those who read or see or hear it.

It doesn’t matter what the art – painting, dancing, writing, music, theater – the shadow has power.

The shadow haunts our dreams. That undefinable darkness or evil is far more frightening than the evil we can see or touch. That’s why movie makers don’t allow us to see the killer or the stalker until it’s too late. That’s why great horror stories don’t tell us exactly what the big evil looks like – our imagination of the shadow is far more frightening than anything we can actually see.

The shadow is individual. My shadow is different than yours and yours is different than the one that belongs to your sister or your brother. But we each have one.

One of my favorite shadow stories is the Pixar film, Monsters, Inc. That movie explores the shadow that all children know – the monster that lives under the bed or in the closet. Once we get to know that shadow monster, we’re no longer scared of it. The shadow is all about not knowing.

As a writer, I try to remember that shadow lurking in the hearts of my characters. No one is perfect, no one has lived a life without having done something they regret. Great stories – from A Tale of Two Cities to How the Grinch Stole Christmas – work because we cheer for the man who has done wrong and still turns out okay. That’s what we hope for our friends and our family, and that’s what we strive for with our characters.

Kate

 

The Sagging Middle

And, no, we’re not talking about the change that arrives with middle age. Last week, Lisa, K.B., and I talked about the things each of us needed to begin a new book. Now we’re going to talk about how we get through—and what we need—for that sagging middle.

The part of the novel between the beginning (which might be as much as five or seven chapters) and the end (which might be as little as a single chapter and as much as four or five chapters) is called all kinds of names: the tricky middle, the sagging middle, the middle-of-the-novel mud, the great expanse. But for almost everyone, the middle (also the longest part of the book) is the hardest part.

Here’s a list of each of our techniques for dealing with the mud in the middle.

KATE:

The middle for me is a great expanse of mud. It’s where I get stuck in the dirty muck of routine—or at least that’s how it feels to me. The beginning is pure joy, making me feel as if I’m flying and everything is going right. The end, while sometimes complicated, is so satisfying that the complications don’t seem to matter. But the middle?

It’s hell.

I’m a fogwalker, so I don’t have anything to fall back on when I get stuck. I don’t have an outline, don’t have character sketches, don’t have a page count or the slightest idea of what’s going to happen next. So what do I do?

I fall back on faith. I’ve gotten through that mud dozens and dozens of times, finished dozens and dozens of stories and novels and novellas, so I believe I can do it. Mostly.

When faith in the process isn’t enough, I try:

1.         Going for a walk. That often jogs loose the thing—that all important thing—I need to carry on. Walking on the beach is best, but any long walk might work. I can’t be thinking about the thing, that just makes it harder. So I think about grocery shopping or what I have to do for the rest of the week or what movie I want to see or book I want to read.

2.         Talking to a friend, usually a writer, though not always. Sometimes talking is enough of a distraction that when I sit back down to write again, the next line, the line, is there.

3.         Reading the previous three or four chapters out loud. This gets me solidly into the voice and the rhythm and then I just keep on keeping on. Or at least I hope I do.

4.         The one thing that always works? I sit down with my yellow lined newsprint pad and my perfect pen and I start writing by hand. That physicality seems to funnel the words through a different part of my brain and out the end of my fingertips. I might have to do this once, or twice, or when it’s really muddy, a dozen times before I come out at the end of it.
LISA:

Like Kate, I’m a fogwalker, though I tend to have somewhat better visibility. I usually have a sense of what’s coming in the next chapter or two, and I generally have two or three scenes or events in mind when I start a book, though I don’t have a clue about when they’ll happen. I’ve tried reading through from the beginning of the book when I get stuck, but that tends to throw me into editing mode, never a good thing for me in the initial writing phase.

And, really, I don’t get stuck as often as I get lost; the trees get so thick I lose sight of the forest. It’s not unusual for me to hit the 45K mark (or thereabouts) and panic, thinking OMG, nothing’s happening, this isn’t even a book! What the hell is this mess?

So for me, that squishy middle ground is the place where I turn to my trusty companions, the cherished few who read along as I create. When they tell me “the pacing is great” or “yes, this is a book”, or “tons of stuff is happening”, I believe them. Because, chances are, they remember what I’ve written better than I do at that point, and they’ve always been able to talk me down off the ledge.

When I do feel stuck somewhere along the way, when I can’t make a scene work or figure out what comes next, I’ll try the following:

  1. Go for a walk or a drive, or take a trip to the grocery store. I’ll put my playlist on my iPod or the car stereo and turn it low, letting it feed the back of my brain where the story lives. I’ll endeavour not to think directly about the work, but I’ll let it play around the edges of my mind until something bubbles up – or shakes out – and triggers the great Ah hah!
  2. Brainstorm. Sometimes, I think my mouth uplinks directly to the Muse and talking things through with someone is often the best way for me to get unstuck.
  3. Take a creative break. Go to a museum, get out the paints, mess with some clay, read a bunch of poetry, watch a play or a good movie. When the story isn’t driving me to the computer at every free minute, it usually means I’ve derailed myself and need some perspective (which only comes with time away from the screen) or that I’m running on empty and need some kind of inspirational recharge.
  4. Talk to my characters. Yes, I talk to them, often aloud. And they talk back, usually in the middle of the night when the cat wakes me up to be let outside. Story, for me, arises from character, so it pays to trust them, to listen to them and let their choices, thoughts, actions and reactions drive the plot. If I’m stuck, it’s usually because I’m not listening, not trusting, not allowing their stories to unfold organically. And that never ends well.

 

K.B.

I’m apparently the oddball of the group. (I’m sure you’re all surprised by this.) I do not have a lot of issues with sagging middle. *shows off writerly six-pack*

Ha! I’m kidding, sort of. I really don’t have a huge issue with writing the middle of stories. Those are the points where I usually hit my stride and power my way through. My issues are more often found in the beginning or about three quarters of the way through the book.

However, I do hit the occasional stumbling block, and when I do here’s what works best for me.

  1. Outline! Normally I’m a fogwalker. I let the characters take the lead and run the show. But I do have a habit when I hit mid-book (stuck or not) of going back to reread everything I’ve written. I’ve found this doesn’t slow me up, but rather helps me solidify the plot and various sub-plots, clear out any messes, take note of loose threads that have to be woven back in, and to do some foreshadowing.
  2. Brainstorm! Talking to my CPs or other trusted friends about what’s going on in the story. Normally that will knock something loose in my brain, but if it doesn’t I turn to…
  3. Fight Club! *laughs* Or more accurately hitting the heavy bag, hitting the trail, or anything involving a lot of effort and sweat. I turn the music up loud and put my body on autopilot so my brain can work through the problem.

Of course, sometimes none of those things will help and I still can’t figure out a way out of the mudslog that can be the middle of a manuscript. That’s when I pull out my secret weapon.

  1. Explosions! That’s right, when in doubt blow something up. Shoot someone, kill off a trusted character, have your MC’s life/plans/brain fall completely apart. Cause a little conflict. Have a plan go horribly awry. Have the pit viper in your characters’ midst strike. Anything to further the plot of your story and to get your reader to say: “Augh! Crap! I was gonna go to bed but now I have to find out if they’re going to survive this volcano.”

*grins* Trust me, nothing helps like an explosion.

In The Beginning

I’m a lucky woman. Kate and K.B. aren’t just two of my best friends. I have close working relationships with both of them and, therefore, I just so happen to know that all three of us are starting new projects right now. Beginning new books. It sounds daunting, doesn’t it? The blank page, the first word, the abyss of 90K stretching out endlessly before you, it can all feel so overwhelming, so thrilling but scary. But fears are easier to manage once they’re shared (or so I’ve heard).

So here it is: Our take on getting started. How we do it. What we need in order for it to happen. How we feel when we’re sitting at our computers, hands hovering over the keyboard, waiting to write the first few words. How/when we know we’ve hit a project that will last past the first ten pages and carry us off on a grand adventure.

We hope it helps you with your beginnings. And we hope you’ll share a bit about your process, too.

Lisa, Kate and K.B.

LISA:

Naturally, it begins with an idea, though in my case, “kick upside the head” is more to the point. My ideas don’t creep in softly; they gobsmack me, often right when I wake up from a deep, seemingly dreamless sleep. The ideas are vague things, concepts really, though sometimes there are characters lurking at the edges, holding up those signs you see limo drivers flashing at airports. They want me to climb in, go for a ride, let them take me where they will, and who am I to argue?

This leads to me scribbling a half-page or so of random notes and shooting off e-mails to Kate and K.B. (I won’t read those notes again until after I’ve written the book. So why bother writing them down? Because it’s funny to read them afterwards; they so rarely have anything to do with the final project.) Then I brush off my hands and file the idea in the back of my brain to let it percolate, since I’m always in the middle of some other project when the Muse strikes.

Sometimes, the ideas fade quietly in the interim. That’s a good thing, a writer’s version of natural selection. Other ideas stick, pestering me like a deep splinter, working their way to the surface until they simply won’t be ignored any longer. How do I know when I’m onto something good? I get a strange, tingly sensation on the top of my head whenever I think about/talk about a new project. (No really. My crown chakra buzzes, the same way it does when I have a profound spiritual or emotional realization.) I’m not one to disregard my intuition, so when that starts to happen, when the characters wake up and start whispering (or shouting) in my head, I take a deep breath, clear the desk, roll my sleeves and get myself geared up.

Things I Need to Begin a New Book:

1)      Whiteboard space. I’m a huge scribbler and I never use notebooks. I like to see the writing on the wall, preferably in colorful, fruit-scented dry-erase ink.

2)      Faces. It’s a trick I learned in Screenwriting 101. Cast your script before you write it. It makes visualizing your characters – and describing them – so much easier. You can use Pinterest to keep track of your cast if you like; I prefer pinning pictures on corkboard.

3)      A skeleton playlist. This will undoubtedly grow and expand as I work; most of my playlists shoot past the hundred song mark, especially if I’m writing a series. But to begin, I need a handful of songs that set the tone and capture the mood I’m hoping to set with the story.

4)      A title. I really hate starting without one. I can do it – and I have – but it bugs me.

5)      Location. I can’t write a story without knowing where it will take place. Ideally, the setting is a place I’ve actually visited, but if it isn’t, I’ll spend a day or two surfing travel blogs, reading official city web pages, studying maps, looking at photos on the web, trying to get a sense of the flavor of the place because for me, as a writer and a reader, setting always informs the story on some level.

6)      The first line. Obviously, I can’t begin without it and I’m not one for writing a false start and then going back to insert the real beginning during edits. I know that works for some folks, but not for me.

KATE:

It’s difficult to follow Lisa because my process is so different and yet, in some ways, so much the same. I spend a whole lot of time envying her because she’s so clear about what she needs, how it works, and articulating it to others. That’s much more difficult for me, for a whole bunch of reasons.

But the first and most important reason is this.

I am the ultimate fogwalker and, because it’s worked for many years, I hate to do anything that might change it. So I’m uncomfortable—and more than a bit superstitious—when talking about my process. But I’m going to do it.

I’ll begin with the concept of fogwalking. For me, that means I have absolutely NO idea of what’s going to happen next. I don’t know what the next sentence is going to be, or where it’s going to lead me, let alone where the next paragraph or chapter will take me. I simply sit down and start writing. I might do that with a pen and paper or on my computer, but the process is the same. Get myself into the Zone and write. I can’t tell you what the Zone is, or even how I get there, but it’s important. It’s the only thing that is and it’s miserable—both for me at times and for you—that I’m unable to tell you what it is or how I get there. But I can’t. Or perhaps it’s more that I won’t. I’m scared that if I figure those things out, if I intellectualize them, they won’t work for me anymore. So I don’t.

So there are no notes for me, not even the vaguest of outlines. That would stop me from writing, and has done so many times. My process, if you can call it that, seems to be fixed in stone. And it’s a stone big and heavy enough that I can’t shift it.

Things I Need to Begin a New Story (I’m not saying book because I write a lot of short stories and novellas, as well as novels):

1)      Words. Everything begins for me with words; generally a phrase or a short sentence. I don’t know why this is, but it is. I have many directories in my computer that are simply that—a phrase or a couple of words that will one day turn into a story. I find these everywhere. Sometimes I make them up, sometimes I see them in a magazine, a story, or written on a wall as graffiti. It’s all about the rhythm, I think.

2)      Pen and paper: I begin every story by hand because, in the beginning, it takes time to get into it and I type too fast and get bored too easily when my hands are on the keyboard and I’m waiting for something to happen. I use, mostly, a very specific type of pen and paper—the pen is a uniball that flows easily (blue, never black) and a pad of yellow lined newsprint.

3)      Title: This goes back to the first point. My title is often, though not always, that phrase or those couple of words that have fascinated me. When that’s not true, I might write a big piece of the story without a title, because I’m waiting for it to come to me as I write.

4)      A feeling:  I know, I know, this doesn’t make any sense but I think it’s a big part of the Zone. Whatever the feeling is—and no, I can’t articulate it, even to myself—I sink into it when I’m writing well. Oh, and to make matters more complicated, it’s different for each story.

5)      Characters:  They come with the words, with the voice that begins the story (notice I don’t say I begin the story)– and now that I’m thinking about it, maybe the words are simply a way for my fingers to translate whatever it is in my subconscious?

6)      A Deadline:  This isn’t crucial, but it helps. If I have a deadline, I find it easier to get into the Zone because I write more consistently and don’t walk away when I’m stuck.

7)      First line:  My first line is always the words I begin with or a slight variation of them. I can’t begin without it and I rarely change it.

K.B.:

Gobsmacked. Ha! *laughs* Yeah, that’s pretty much how I get new ideas. Most often in the form of a “vision” or a character kicking me in the head and announcing their presence. (The best ones happen at 3am, or so they’ll claim.) I get story ideas from songs, random poetry, one-liners, seeing someone smile, even from Christmas tree ornaments. Used to be that I’d start scribbling madly on whatever I could find…and yes, before you ask I have written down ideas on my hand before. *sticks out tongue* You use what you’ve got. Man, the invention of smart phones was a godsend though!

I also used to let story ideas take me wherever (and whenever) they happened on the wild ride that was normally promised to me. Now I don’t have that luxury and I have to be a little more discerning about what I choose to focus on. So, much like Lisa, I let myself mull it over for a while. If it’s still at the forefront of my brain then it’s a go. If not, it gets relegated to the dust bin. *shrugs* Not gone forever, sometimes I scavenge bits of stories, characters, plots for other ideas. Sometimes I even resurrect them in their entirety.

My list is really close to Lisa’s. *laughs* Probably one of the reasons we’re such good CPs. But it does differ in a few key ways.

Things I Need to Begin a New Book:

1)      Voices.  I don’t make any bones about the fact that my characters talk to me. (Sometimes loudly and at great length.) Or that I’m not so much “making up” a story as I am telling it. This is, for me, just one piece of my characters’ lives. They all come with histories and futures – that sometimes they share with me, sometimes not – and I’m really just getting a glimpse of this moment in time. Without these voices the stories inevitably end up in that dustbin, if I can’t hear a character then I figure my readers aren’t going to either.

2)      Scenes. I “see” my books as I write them. For me, this process is pretty much like going to the movies. Because of this I do a lot of the same things that Lisa mentioned in her “Faces” category. I make collages (either on paper or on Pinterest) with people who resemble my characters. I’ll also often reenact scenes before I sit down to write them to help me get the feel for what needs to happen in writing.

3)      Music.  All my books end up with soundtracks. Sometimes (often) they evolve as the project does, but there are usually one or five core songs that will hold true for the whole book.

4)      My CPs/Readers. In the early stages of a project I bounce a lot of ideas off those closest to me. I’ve found the feedback to be extremely valuable, especially in the formation of a plot – something that’s often elusive in those first heady days of story creation.

*grins* If some of that seems paradoxical that’s because it is. No one claimed this business was either linear or sane. I have found that I don’t really have the tried and true method like Kate does, my process changes with every story I write and every world I am invited to visit.

Your turn, folks. The comment thread awaits your input. Tell us how you begin…

The Best Time…

to plot a book is while you’re washing the dishes. At least that’s what Agatha Christie said…

to plot a book is before you write a single word, or after you’ve written the first draft, or when you get stuck somewhere in the sagging middle, or never plot it at all…

to write is first thing in the morning before you’re really awake. Many people say this – that your sleeping mind is the most creative of all and if you write first thing, your writing will be more intense…

to write is after a glass or two of scotch, your mind is more creative, less reserved, and definitely more intense…

to write is when you have five hours free, or in those fifteen minutes between work and complete exhaustion, or that half-hour lunch break at the office, or the hour and a half before you fall asleep, while your family is watching your favorite TV show;

to sell a first book is when you’re young and hot and fresh or when you’re old and jaded and famous…

to win an award is when you’re young and can build on it or when you’re old and can appreciate it…

to write a memoir is when you’ve lived a life that readers will find interesting, you know the difference between life and fiction, and you’re a good enough writer to sell it…

to write a story about something that happened to you is when you truly, deeply, and completely understand the difference between life and story;

to admit to your family you’re a writer is after you’ve sold your first story.

Kate

 

 

Summer’s almost over

So we thought we might celebrate the movies and books that are our summer favorites. It’s not easy to pick one of each but here goes.

Kate: The books (I count them as only one, although there are six of them) I read every summer are Jane Austen’s. I read them in a very precise order – from the ones I like the least (Northanger Abbey and Emma) to the ones I absolutely love, always ending up with Persuasion – one of my favorite books of all times.

As for movies – summer is a time for blockbusters and I’ve noticed that the blockbuster I often watch in the summer is Independence Day. Gee, I wonder why? But I love Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch, they’re smart and they’ve got that great father/son vibe going.

Lisa: I read a number of great books this summer, but my absolute favorite was Lauren Groff’s Arcadia. I stumbled across it on a list of editors’ top picks from small presses and the reviewer’s comment that “Groff’s sentences are so beautiful they make you want to weep” had me rushing to the bookstore. One page in, and I was hooked. Reading Arcadia is like falling into a dream; it’s mesmerizing and subtle and so, so evocative. The only thing I would change about Arcadia is the time of year I read it. It’s the perfect rainy Sunday with a blanket and a pot of tea kind of book.

Between our getaways and my son’s adventurees in summertime musical theater, we didn’t hit the theater very often, but the movies we saw were great. The Avengers was pre-Memorial Day but it kicked off the blockbuster season with…dare I say…a vengeance? The Amazing Spiderman was so much better than I expected it to be; I absolutely loved it. And ParaNorman might be the coolest animated film I’ve seen since Monster House. Trippy, strange, funny and heartwarming, with some seriously cool artistic touches.

What about you?

Kate and Lisa