October 14, 2012

The Right Place to Write

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What constitutes “right” when it comes to a place to write is elusive and according to taste. Do you need silence? Noise? Music? People around you? Privacy? I can’t answer these questions for you, but I can give you an example of the perfect place to write for me.

Ninth Street Espresso in LES – New York.

Music: soft electronica, mild country or Leonard Cohen.
Drip Coffee: round, dark, with just a hint of bitterness.
Lattes: damn near perfect, in a range of sizes, all deliciously blended.
Charging possibilities: plentiful.
Wifi: free.
Clientele: a good mix ranging from seniors to hipsters to families.
Sound level: low, with a buzz of conversation. Haven’t broken out the headphones yet.

In my opinion, Ninth Street has it all. Plenty of seats at 1-2 man tables with just enough space to put a coffee cup and a computer. Good chairs. Great coffee (yes, I’m a bit of a coffee snob, so this has become one of my main criteria for a place to write). Friendly staff that do not mind long bouts of writing interspersed with few purchases of coffee. This is a place where people come to work, and it shows. If I could bring this coffee shop with me wherever I went, I’m pretty sure I’d be more productive.

What’s the perfect writing place for you? Inquiring minds want to know.


March 21, 2012

Writer Wednesday with Deborah Bryan

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Before I knew what a lovely blog Deborah Bryan has, or what a wonderful author she is, I loved her. I loved her because, when I took my first small steps onto this blogging platform, she welcomed me with open and encouraging arms. She was the first to press my “follow” button, and the first to comment. So I have to admit that I’m a bit biased about Deb. She could pretty much murder someone in front of me, and I’d still think she was all right (she’s like Kyle MacLachlan in that respect).

From her For This I Am Thankful (FTIAT) guest post series to her heartbreakingly personal posts, she always knows how to hook her reader and win their hearts. She certainly won mine.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go have coffee with my main character.

Taking time for coffee with character(s)
When I wrote my Glass Ball trilogy in 2004, time was in much, much more abundant supply than money.

Writing was my escape from being broke and without internet access in Japan. As long as I was writing, my world was the fictional town of Munsen, Montana. One of Munsen’s teens, Ginny, was a friend whose nearness helped me overlook the distance of my real-life friends.

I nurtured that nearness by writing virtually non-stop over the course of a month and a half. I’d wake up at 2 or 3 a.m., boot up my laptop and write until I had exactly twelve minutes left to get ready for work. I’d rush to get everything together and fly to work, arriving (barely) in the nick of time.

After work, I’d come home and crank out words until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I’d then sleep for a few hours and repeat.

I did this daily for the month and a half it took me to write the trilogy.

Seven years later, I commute, work and take care of a dog and a toddler as well as caring for myself. I’ve edited only one of the books I wrote in Japan. I recently started editing the second, a task which seems so very much more daunting in light of my current circumstances than writing a book in six days or a trilogy in six weeks under my old ones.

When I’m away from the computer imagining what I’d like to do with my time, my answers include things like “watching Castle,” “reading,” “playing Bejeweled Blitz,” and “cleaning the toilets.” Just about anything quickly done seems better than working on a task that can’t be done except in microscopic bursts over a very long haul.

But when I do sit down at the computer, I remember how much Ginny meant to me when I really, really needed a friend nearby. As I breathe life into her story, I’m touched to remember how her strength in the face of her struggles helped me feel a little stronger in the face of my own.

I’m only able to give her 20 or 30 minutes of my time at a go these days, but when I do actually sit down to give her both my time and my attention, I discover I’m giving myself a gift, too. In those moments, I remember the old days with Ginny as if we’re sitting together and chatting over lattes. As she tells me about her troubles, I listen and give suggestions I hope she’ll heed.

Each moment I sit down to write, I invigorate a good old friend no less real for all she lacks a physical presence. She got me through loneliness more intense than any I’d endured before, or have endured since.

It may be a struggle to find the time for her, but she’s worth it. Only by giving her this time will I ever be able to learn her full, true story—not just the one she predicts is coming, but the one she’ll actually live.

I’m probably going to keep on wishing I’d decided to give her the time a few years ago, before I became a mom. But in the moments we share while the rest of my household sleeps, I’ll savor the time I do have to catch up with Ginny … and the joy of seeing, as we talk, her path become illuminated.

March 19, 2012

Five Writing Lessons I Learned at University

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Last week, I wrote a guest post about the differences between writing fiction and academic research. Well, to be honest, it was mostly about fear of rejection, but the differences between academia and fiction writing was in there. If you don’t believe me, go read for yourself. But that wasn’t the point. The point was: today I’m going to semi-contradict myself and talk about the similarities.

You see, there are five important lessons I learned from academic writing that I readily utilize in my fiction writing:

1. Research, research, research
The only way to really know a subject is to research it extensively. This is as true for world building as it is for academic papers.

I learned that lesson during the defense of my thesis, when my opponent brought out three relatively obscure sources using a different form of language research, but overlapping source material, and asked why I didn’t reference them in my reading list. How could I have missed those?

I imagine that feet melting feeling to be somewhat similar to one you’d get after reading a forum comment by a fan who didn’t buy your universe’s quantum mechanics because you didn’t adhere to some not-wikipediable theory. And sure, you can bluff your way out of it, like I did in the defense of the thesis (it went okay), but wouldn’t you rather be on top of your game?

2. Research, then move on
The flip side of the first lesson is knowing when you’ve studied enough. How to draw the line between extensive research, and procrastination. Sure, it’s important to know your field, but you have to make it narrow enough that you can know it well. And you have to move on once you have a good enough idea about what you’re studying that you can write the story.

I’m sure we’ve all gotten stuck in endless research mode once or twice, the key is knowing when to shake ourselves loose.

3. Write the introduction last
Okay, so I know this header is a bit misleading, because I always write my introduction first. That’s how I get into any article, story or novel. But the advice stands. The only way to write a good introduction (or a great first chapter) is if you know what’s happening at the end. You need to know what to allude to.

My method: write the introduction first, then never look at it until you’re done writing the whole thing (be it article, thesis or novel). Then write the intro again, fitting the shape the story took, not the shape you thought it would take in the first few weeks.

4. Make an outline
When I moved from academia to fiction, I threw out all my outlining lessons and let my imagination run free. After finishing the first draft of a novel, I understood that the outline was key after all, so I brought it back into my work. You see, outlines structure us in a good way. A good outline helps you shape your story, and gets you past those bumpy parts where you can’t remember what you originally thought you wanted to say and maybe you’re not sure you want to be a writer after all, maybe you were really meant to be a trucker, driving along the open road, or maybe a boss at a big company or a personal trainer, they have fun, right? I hate those parts, and my outline lets me skip past the panic by letting me save the hard parts for later, because I know where the scene leads, so I can start there, and go back later.

5. Screw the outline
As with academic papers, stories evolve while we write them. That’s why I use my outline as I use my initial introduction. I write it, then I ignore furiously. Outlining is a good exercise, but never let yourself be bound by it. The goal is knowing where you want to go on the map, but if you take a detour, the outline will change to match it, not the other way around.

How about you? Any other similarities between academic and fiction writing? What was your greatest success going from academia into fiction, or the other way around?

March 5, 2012

Let’s talk about sex

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Here’s a fascinating talk about whether or not you should spell out the sex scenes in your novels. Go to CBC’s The Next Chapter to listen.

Let me know what you think! Do you keep the sex scenes in, or leave it to the reader’s imagination? And what is your favorite steamy romance novel descriptor?

February 28, 2012

Writer Wednesday with Jeffrey Chapman

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Today, I’m proud to present Jeffrey Chapman, an aspiring novelist from Montreal who not only writes short fiction and novels, but also manages one of the fastest-growing writing groups in the city: JustWriteMontreal.

Jeff is one of the few people I know who gets all my pop-cultural references right off the bat. This seemingly endless well of knowledge adds depth and snark to his writing. It also makes for excellent conversation. Hook up with Jeff on twitter.

Write First

I’m like a crack-addled meth addict when it comes to writing advice.

Every day I read tweets from author-types, looking for nuggets of wisdom about the craft of writing. I follow a bunch of people that have great writing advice (my favourite today is Chuck Wendig – check his blog). I have stacks of books that cover different topics on writing (current bedtime reading is PLOT & STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell – Amazon link here). I take classes, attend workshops, and go to seminars to hear others talk about writing. I feel like I’m learning.

That’s the thing: there’s so much to learn about writing. Figuring out the craft is important to become a decent writer. Understanding plot, making dialog believable, injecting the story with action and compelling tension are concepts that will make people enjoy reading what I write. There’s also the “weeds” of language – spelling, grammar, punctuation, metaphors and similes – they’re important as well, and they fascinate me. I’m in love with the English language.

But I’m not writing. At least, not writing much. Reading about writing dominates the free time I’ve given the craft. It’s a problem I’m working to fix. So how can my confession help you?

Although obvious, it’s good to start by remembering we have a finite amount of time. Reading is important, and making an honest study of the craft is not a waste of time, but it’s not the only way to learn. The act of writing will teach you. Just as musicians must put in countless hours with their instruments, so too should writers. Put one word in front of the other, completing your tales, and you’ll improve. Although cliché to say so, practice really does make perfect.

Also, consider this: you’ll have something to improve. We learn during the revision process, and because we’re human no first draft is perfect. As painful as it can sometimes be, the best place to start is with your own work. Read it aloud, hear the words in your head, and you’ll often be able to spot weaknesses. Does it sound stilted and awkward? Does your punctuation use (or lack thereof) leave you breathless? Attack these issues. If you’re stumped, then it makes sense to seek help from a book. It also helps to share your work with writing friends, but the only way that will happen is if you actually get the damn words written. Seriously, WRITE first.

Here’s another way to look at it. Have someone tell you ten random numbers between one and nine. Commit them to memory, wait a whole minute, and then say them aloud. Now have them tell you ten new numbers, and immediately write them done. Wait a minute, and then read them back. Which is easier?

Okay, that might be a useless test, but the point I’m trying to make is that there’s a kind of magic to putting words down on paper. Things just stick better when you actually write. Some smart scientist with fancy equipment could probably say something about brain waves and memory muscles and such, but I’m sticking with “magic.”

Let’s come back to the topic of time for a moment. Life is finite. If we don’t spend it telling the stories that burn inside us, we should be out experiencing it. If anything, living life is the best way to collect stories. So I’m going to sound like my father for a moment: do as I say, not as I do. It’s the only way you’ll get that story written.

And with that, I’m going to shut up and go read some writing blogs.

February 22, 2012

Status report!

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Between work, training, writing groups and my own deadlines, I’ve been a bit swamped lately. But it’s in the bowels of great stress that master pieces are created, right?

Anyways, I’m just here to tell you that I’m still alive, and as soon as I get through this week, I’ll be back to regular posting.

Keep writing!

February 15, 2012

Writer Wednesday with Kourtney Heintz

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Today I’m proud to present writer Kourtney Heintz. She has braved something I’m still trying to muster the courage for, which is to attend a writing conference. You might scoff and think this just means she’s perfectly comfortable in a room full of strangers, but no, Heintz struggles with the same issues as the rest of us. So the fact that she still dared to go to not one, but two writing conferences by herself in January is quite impressive. It must mean she’s something of a superhero.

In this guest post, Heintz shares her thoughts on James Scott Bell’s talk at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York last month. Are you exited? I know I am.

Hook up with Kourtney Heintz on twitter, facebook, at her blog, and discover more about her writing at her website.

Conflict and Suspense—A Necessity in Any Book

Thanks so much to Martine at Nascent Novelist for hosting me on her blog today!

I just returned from New York and the Writer’s Digest Conference, where I heard a master of the writing craft, James Scott Bell speak on conflict and tension. I’d like to share some of the wisdom he imparted during his workshop.

– The foundation of the story is a lead character that readers care about. That is the soil for conflict and suspense.
There has to be conflict and suspense because a protagonist’s true character comes out in times of conflict and the reader wants to see the character at his core.

– Trouble is important on the very first page. Trouble being anything that disturbs the character’s world. Don’t opening with “happy people in happy land” because it’s boring. Readers are looking for the initial disequilibrium.
“The cat sat on a mat is not the beginning of a story, but the cat sat on the dog’s mat is.”

– The reader’s bonding experience with the main character comes from the stakes of the story involving death. Either physical (body at risk), professional (promotion/career on the line) or psychological (harming psyche or shrinking soul).
Even a category romance involves death. It’s the psychological death of not being with your soulmate. Your life is forever less than it would have been if you could have been with your soulmate.

– The opposition in the novel is not always the villain. It can be a force opposing the main character or having an opposing agenda.
Don’t make bad characters pure evil. All great villains believe they are justified in what they are doing. The best villains don’t just evoke fear, but also sympathy.

– Scene tension can be built by having the viewpoint character have an objective/purpose. He must face a series of obstacles to that objective in the scene to create conflict. If the viewpoint character accomplishes his objective, make sure it leads to more trouble.
Suspense is the “withholding the resolution to create an enjoyable experience for the reader.”

He concluded by reminding us that writers are “styling reality for emotional effect.”

If you’d like to learn more about conflict and suspense, check out James Scott Bell’s book, Elements of Fiction Writing—Conflict and Suspense.

January 1, 2012

Happy new year!

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Thank you to all my wonderful friends for sharing 2011 with me. I have a feeling 2012 will be an excellent year.

I don’t really have any resolutions for this year. I have training goals, and writing plans, but no set improvements that I wish to make upon my life. But I know that 2012 will be exciting. You see, I have exciting news. On Tuesday Jan 3rd I’ll become a Text Coordinator, proofreading and editing text for computer games, and coordinating the collaboration between the localizations team and the writers of games to make sure everything is running smoothly. I couldn’t be more excited (unless someone wanted to publish my latest novel, of course. Oh gods of the publishing world, hear me). Anyways, that means 2012 will be a different year no matter what I do. I’ll be a full-time employee in a writing community and doing writingesque stuff. Life couldn’t be much better.

Other plans for the new year include a fresh training program, and a second go at the 30 day Paleo challenge after I read this inspiring blog post by Sarah Fragoso. The only person holding me back is myself. So this year I’m going to kick-start my new job with a fresh start at healthy, natural living and exciting changes to my training. Stay tuned for more info on that.

I have a good feeling about this year people.

How about you? Any resolutions? Any goals? Any premonitions about 2012?

December 5, 2011

Writing on airplanes

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I used to be able to write anywhere. I’d just bring my notebook and a pen, and I’d be set. Then, I got carpal tunnel syndrome and I had to write solely on computers. But I got one of those early luggable portable ones and tried the same thing. And it worked…sorta. Five years later, the carpal tunnel is gone, but the limited range of writing venues remains. I can write at cafés, in people’s houses, in libraries, in parks (depending on the glare of the sun), on the sofa, at my desk, in the kitchen (okay, strike that last part, that never really works for me), but the one place I can’t get anything useful done is at an airport, in the air or pre/post flight.

How great would it be if I could spend my five hour wait at Heathrow airport writing the non-fiction piece for my writing group that was due that day (instead of avoiding doing it now, two days later)? How great if I could get some words out about the book I’m reviewing? Or, how ’bout I just get some useful editing done? But no. The only thing I’m capable of doing at airports is drink coffee or look at tax free items I don’t want.

Is there something they pump into the air? What is it about travelling that makes me unable to focus? Can you work and travel at once?

November 30, 2011

Writer Wednesday with Krista Holle

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Today, I’m lucky enough to have author Krista Holle share her experiences with points of views and staying true to your writing style here on nascentnovelist. Krista Holle is a romantic novelist, which I assumed meant that she liked flowers and candle-lit dinners while writing, but which apparently means she writes about people liking flowers and candle-lit dinners. The jury’s still out on whether or not she’s a romantic, or if she just enjoys spinning tales about the lovelorn.

Her novel, The Lure of Shapinsay, goes on sale in mid-December. Until then, you can catch sneak peeks at the book at Krista’s blog, and follow her on twitter and facebook.

My $20,000 Mistake

Okay, so it wasn’t really a $20,000 mistake, but more like a 20,000 word mistake. Please understand, I’m a romance writer with a flair for the dramatic. I write a sexy type of romance and not the kind with the undulating body parts. Hope that doesn’t disappoint anyone. While working on my most recent novel, The Gingerbread Man, a historical novel centered around the taboo relationship between a plantation mistress and her slave, I kept feeling a huge disconnect to my work and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then it hit me. This was the first novel I had attempted to write in third person.

To better explain my dilemma, I need to explain my desire as a reader. When I read a book, I want to be the main character so I can fully experience the character’s life—goatee, ball gown, motorcycle, whatever. Give it to me warts and all. This is very important to me and transitions over into my writing. I want my reader to be my main character. In The Ginger Bread Man, I want my reader to be Winnie and feel the horror Winnie feels when she first sees August lashed by a team of paddyrollers (Poor August didn’t have a pass). So 20,000 words into the novel, I realized my reader would be viewing Winnie’s life and not experiencing it. Back to the drawing board.

I’m now convinced that the first person point of view works best for my style of romance writing. Compare a before and after. Winnie wakes up to discover her husband is not the person she thought she married.

Third Person:

Winnie brushed a tear angrily aside. “I am your wife now. You stole with bear paws and antlers what I would have freely given!”
“Don’t be angry,” Cary said gently as he rose from the bed, his finger tracing playfully along the ravaged sheets. “The next time we couple, I’ll give you a strapping son. Would you like that?”
It frightened Winnie that she could be so easily chained to Featherstone. “One must be a wife before she can be a mother,” she cried.


First Person:

Hot tears stung my cheeks, and I brushed them angrily aside. “I am your wife now. You stole with bear paws and antlers what I would have freely given!”
“Don’t be angry,” Cary said gently as he rose from the bed, his finger tracing playfully along the ravaged sheets. “The next time we couple, I’ll give you a strapping son. Would you like that?”
A baby? My stomach knotted at the very suggestion. It frightened me that I could be so easily chained to Featherstone. “One must be a wife before she can be a mother,” I cried.

Can you feel the difference in the writing? A few rearranged words and of course a change in the point of view can make a huge difference. In the second version, I hope my reader will be inside Winnie’s head and not viewing her from afar. Many authors write quite well in third person, but after writing four novels in first person, I think I’ll stick to what I do best.

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