Tag: #AmWriting

#AmWriting

Social (Network) Distancing

A topic that comes up at nearly every writers conference or workshop is social networks. Most insiders agree there’s value in a social media presence. They also agree there’s no “right” network to join between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. The right one is the one where you feel comfortable consistently interacting and engaging with readers and other writers. Personally, I’m a fan of Twitter. No particular reason, I just gravitated to it. The lens I view these platforms through is a little different, though. Before I reply to a tweet or retweet, my first thought is how the information may be used. Or, rather, misused. Call it an occupational hazard. A good example happened last week. Someone posted what appeared to be an innocent question, “Who is your high school’s most famous alumni?” Over 6,700 people answered, including several authors I know in real life and some I Twitter-know. I was about to respond, too. Seemed harmless, right? Then I realized the answer revealed key information that can and probably will be misused. See, over the last few years, there have been massive data breaches exposing personally identifiable information on more than 9 billion people. On any given day, […]

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I Am A Nasty Woman

In the fall of 2018, my friend and fabulous noir crime fiction author, Kelli Stanley, and I were on the faculty of the Mystery Writers Conference in Corte Madera, California. Kelli had just founded Nasty Woman Press, in response to current events. She wanted to bring the writing community together to produce an anthology that spoke to the theme of women’s empowerment and support Planned Parenthood. That’s the day that I, and so many authors I admire, including Heather Graham, Cara Black, Hallie Ephron, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Anne Lamott, became a Nasty Woman. Kelli’s vision is available today. Shattering Glass is the first Nasty Woman Press anthology, featuring short stories, conversations, interviews, and essays. It’s a unique experience unlike anything I’ve ever read. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.

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My Favorite First Chapters – The Big Finish

I’m a huge Joseph Finder fan. Technology is featured prominently in most of his books, interwoven seamlessly. It’s not a big surprise, given his background in intelligence. When I want a refresher on describing technical topics in a reader-friendly manner, I read Joe’s books. He’s who I want to be when I grow up. One of my favorite first chapters is from Joe’s recent standalone, Judgment. The subtext is so thick you can cut it with a knife. We’re steeped in time, place, and the protagonist’s internal conflict with a subtle but growing undertone of menace despite a situation that doesn’t seem all that dangerous. I was left with a delicious sense of dread but I didn’t know why. That’s the very definition of a hook. This first chapter is what other first chapters aspire to be. I started reading Judgment on a flight from New York to San Francisco. By the time the plane landed, I had finished the book. Every chapter was a grabber that built on the chapters before it. I tried to put it down a couple of times to catch my breath and to savor the experience. Maybe watch a movie. But I kept going […]

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My Favorite First Chapters – Day 3

I’m often asked about authors or novels I think best tackle techie topics without making me cringe. There are two standout authors to me, in this respect. Each take pains to get it right but make it look easy. They both are adept at adding touches of timelessness without sacrificing accuracy. That’s why I love them. First up is my friend and hero, Lisa Gardner. The first chapter of Never Tell is a perfect example of an author who embraces the influence technology can have on a story. Like it or not, our online lives leave breadcrumbs that sometimes provide insights to the darker side of our personal truths. The opening of this book hooks us with the damage wrought by just such a collision of what a character thought she knew to be true and conflicting digital information. By the end of the chapter, we know all is not as it seems and the truth lies in the ether. The cloak of foreshadowing is draped in technology while the word “computer” is mentioned only once. After reading this first chapter, I knew I was buckled in for a great ride. Never Tell takes us on a journey through the […]

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My Favorite First Chapters – Day 2

In my second installment of first chapters I love, today I’m highlighting our very own Alexia Gordon for a very specific reason. One of the hardest feats to pull off is how to start a book that’s part of a series. A population of readers are already familiar with the principal characters, while each book in a series needs to stand on its own to attract new fans. In my completely unscientific study, researching the careers of authors I hope to emulate, I’ve noticed authors’ third books in a series tend to hit bestseller lists first. The all-important first chapter needs to hook existing fans and newcomers alike. I’m a big fan of Alexia’s Gethsemane Brown series. What’s not to love about music, an American fish-out-of-water in Ireland, and a ghostly sidekick solving crimes in a tight-knit community? In Killing in C Sharp, Alexia makes the first chapter challenge look effortless. We’re introduced to Gethsemane, her background, current location, and the ghost of the composer whose home she now occupies all while laying out this episode’s characters and theme. Alexia’s words are lyrical and whimsical, deftly setting the stage with a maestro’s ease (puns intended – read the book). By […]

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My Favorite First Chapters

The first chapter of any book is critical. It sets the stage for everything that comes after it. Tone, setting, point of view, and main characters are all established within the first few pages. Personally, I revise these pages more than any other, which is why I appreciate the first chapters written by other by others. One of my favorite first chapters comes from Lou Berney’s November Road. It’s a master class in openings. It’s so perfect that when I read it the first time, I went back and reread it two more times before moving on to Chapter 2. This isn’t a knock – I definitely got hooked and couldn’t wait to read more. It’s just that the first chapter packed such a wallop, I had to go back to study it. The third time was just for fun and when I went on to devour the rest of the book. I’ve been told quoting another author’s work here could be a potential legal quagmire so, instead, I’ll just explain why this book is my go-to reference on how to open a standalone novel. I also encourage you to read November Road, if you haven’t already. It’s obvious Lou […]

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Suggestion 2: Plan Your Re-write Attack

This is hard. Even writing about it is hard. I’m not going to lie. When you have eighty thousand words, give or take, and editorial pages critiquing what works and what doesn’t, making a plan can seem overwhelming. Don’t let it be.  For me, there are four basic steps to the rewriting process.  Step 1: Check the calendarCount the number of days you have until your deadline. Be honest about how many days in the week you can work. Is Sunday impossible for you? Take it out of the rotation. Is there a family wedding? Be honest about how much time you can sneak away from family obligations. There is no right answer, there is only a truthful one.  Step 2: Attack the big stuffBy “big stuff” I mean the major plot issues. In Blessed be the Wicked, my editor had wanted a minor story line to become more central. She was completely right. I ended up writing a handful of completely new chapters developing the relationship between Abish and her brother. I had always adored her brother and I knew Abish and her brother John were close, but none of that made it into the first version of the book. My editor was right to push me on it. It was natural. The writing came easily because it was what the story needed.  Step 3: Make a master list of all the small stuff.It’s easy to forget the little stuff, so I make a list of “global changes” that I literally check off as I go through the manuscript. This is something that is ongoing, but by the time you are at your deadline, every item should be checked off. This list consists of everything from language tics (I use the word “just” too much, so I search the entire document and eliminate every non-necessary “just”) to checking times and dates (if the murder happens in the late morning and your detective has spent hours working, you don’t want him to then meet someone for breakfast…unless you explain the time lapse). The main point here is to not lose track of the details. Suspense and mystery because readers are a very observant lot.  Step 4: Let everything else in your life take a back seat.This step has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with writing. You have creative energy, that’s why you write. When you are on a deadline, you need to manage that creative energy in the most exacting way. If that means shifting your exercise routine, do it. If it means ignoring the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, ignore them. Let your dear friends and family know that you are working and will be back to your normal self soon enough. After you’ve finished your revisions. Good luck on your re-writes! See you tomorrow for a discussion with my fellow Miss Demeanors about writing demons and how to make friends–or at least learn to tolerate–them.

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The next generation of writers

 Earlier today I met with a young writer. Some time ago, I was contacted by her elementary school to serve as a mentor and we meet every few months at her school. She’s in fifth grade, a time when most kids are probably trying to get out of homework assignments, much less coming up with their own. I hope I’ve helped her, I know she has helped me.  The biggest take away is look both ways. Find adult mentors for young writers, and if you are a writer and have a chance to mentor a developing writer, do it!  “O” and I don’t have lessons in grammar, and there are no assignments. Instead we talk about writing. “O” brings her stories and poems and we discuss. I mark them up with no regard to her age, there’s no grade so she can sort out the ‘tasks’ she wants to address. Then, once matters of punctuations and clarity are out of the way we discuss the creative process.  At one of our very first meetings, I mentioned that her story lines are a bit dark. “O” replied, if bad things don’t happen then the story isn’t interesting. Clearly she understands the basic concept of storyline and plot. (One story had an amazing deathbed scene. Brief, yet a tear jerker. I did a little checking with her teachers and found that “O” has a happy, no-dark-stories, life. Since then I’ve not worried when her Thanksgiving tales are stories of disaster. As she tells me, it’s fiction.)  “O’s” journey is pure joy. She writes because she can’t not write. She has multiple projects going at the same time. She takes everyday ideas like the painful wait through the last five minutes of class and creates an entire fantasy world. Similarly, she takes the idea of snow in August and builds a storyline from there.  She is the epitome of ‘write what you know’ in a bold, unrestrictive way. She takes the emotions of loss, vulnerability, friendship and wonder, and makes that the core of the story, not caring if the story is set in Japan, a place she’s never visited. I hope to be invited when she receives a national book award on her 21st birthday. But even if that doesn’t happen, being part of the early journey has been inspirational.     

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National Novel Writing Month

Well, I’m writing…. ALL month. However, I’m not officially participating in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). I’m not participating, since I’m in the midst of heavy editing/re-writing for a work in progress and word count doesn’t matter. Now if NaNoWriMo had a plotting and editing calculator I might have signed up. Plot point fixed (check), tone evened out (check, check). Wouldn’t that be fun! I do keep a weather eye on NaNoWriMo progress. Over the weekend I was reminded that Paolo Coelho wrote The Alchemist in two weeks. There’s proof that doing a made dash to write a novel in a month isn’t all that crazy. Now, he did have the idea, actually the entire story firmly in his mind, before seeing pen to paper. An important caveat to speedy creation.  I hope that anyone who has been ‘thinking’ about writing ANYTHING creative (novel, poetry, play, movie or television script) considers NaNoWriMo to get started. Collective energy and the notion that Yes, you can! is a great motivator. You don’t have to write the great American novel, a finished rough draft will do. After all, then you can join me and use the next month to revise and rewrite.  For more information on NaNoWriMo look to their website: https://nanowrimo.orgOr follow them across most social media platforms: #NaNoWriMo  

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Resilience

 Like any writer, I need an occasional reminder that I can do this thing we call on Twitter “#amwriting.” It sounds so simple. You pick up a pen or pencil and apply it to paper, or you tap on a keyboard. Bingo, you’re a writer.            Not so easy, as most writers know. Somewhere in the brain, between the creation of what you plan to write and when you actually put it into words, an assortment of messages can appear. Once in a while, the message may be, “Damn, this is sweet. Get it down on paper.” More often, the message is apt to be, “No one wants to read your crap. Go watch TV.” Or “You don’t have anything to say worth reading.” Often it can be, “Remember your last rejection? That agent/editor knew what she was saying. Give it up.”            It takes resilience to be a writer, to overcome the criticisms, rejections, and self-recrimination that outnumber the tiny slivers of success by far. I’m always looking for inspiration and advice about how to buoy the human spirit after a plummeting defeat. Yesterday, I found an unexpected one.            I spend more than half the year living in Outer Cape Cod in a town bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Cape Cod Bay on the other. Life is supposed to be easy here. Cape Cod is blessed with endless breathtaking beaches for swimming and surfing, lobsters, clams and oysters for eating, and bike paths and hiking trails inspired by Thoreau.            I’m not particularly adventurous when it comes to outdoor sports, having grown up under an odd admonition about what activities are “lady-like” and constant warnings about what is not safe. I’m working on that, but while I do, I frequently watch and admire others who know no fear. Brave the elements. Fall down and get up.             Surfers on Cape Cod are my go-to inspirations. All year long, young and old, surfers brave the relentless surf. Age and gender are irrelevant. Each summer, surfers compete in the Cape Cod Oldtimers Longboard Classic.              I am as fascinated by these human creatures of the sea as I am the whales, seals and yes, sharks. I go from beach to beach, usually later in the day, to watch surfers in their wet suits tote their boards down steep sand embankments into the frothy sea. I silently send messages out to them when I think a good wave is coming, as if I were their partner, but they have minds of their own and pick their own wave. They climb up, sometimes gracefully, more often clumsily. The moment they capture that wave, ride it triumphantly, even if it is only for a few seconds, I feel their elation.             More often they fall before rising, or never even climb up. No matter, falling is irrelevant. There is always another wave, another chance. You need only to get up and try again.            Yesterday, I rode to Newcomb Hollow Beach where a young surfer died from a shark attack several weeks ago. Much has been written about the tragedy. There I photographed a memorial for twenty-six year-old, Arthur Medici, with messages of love and support. If you look in the distance beyond the memorial, you will see two specks of black in the ocean. Surfers. While you may question the wisdom of taking to the sea, you cannot question the power of resilience.

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