Growing a Writer

We might not all write what we know, but we are all shaped by our upbringing and this bleeds into our writing whether we’re aware of it or not. I once heard an author say he believed his fans knew him better than his wife because they had read all his books and witnessed all of his little peculiarities made real in his stories.

Read on to find out how the Miss Demeanors were forged.

Read more

Back to School

I’m feeling just ever-so-slightly anxious. No, let me rephrase that: I’m a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (to borrow a phrase from Pedro Almodóvar’s fabulous film). Every few minutes I take deep belly breaths to loosen the knot in my stomach. I’m doing guided meditations with embarrassing frequency so that a woman with a soothing British accent can advise me to “watch difficult emotions without resistance.” I’m drinking copious amounts of tea because holding a warm mug makes me feel a little calmer. Why? My revisions for Blood Atonement are due uncomfortably soon. I’ve been diligently working for weeks without feeling at all nervous. I set up a schedule, made a plan and have been (mostly) disciplined. Yesterday, though, I looked at the calendar and became overwhelmed with a jumble of distinctly unpleasant feelings. With the help of that disembodied British voice from my meditation app, I acknowledged my anxiety and put it in perspective. Getting a revised manuscript to one’s editor is not a life-or-death problem after all. I know that, but the knot in my stomach doesn’t seem to. Rather than letting myself sink into the quicksand of nervousness, I decided to take a cue from the season and become a student. I’m going to learn from other writers about how they approach their craft (and, I hope, learn something to help me get through the next few weeks). So, I’m dedicating this week to going back to school.  Tomorrow morning, I’ll get a lesson in political thrillers from Rick Pullen. In the evening, I’ll be attending fellow Miss Demeanor and USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s book launch for Lies She Told. (If you’re going to be in New York on Tuesday, September 12th, I’ll see you at the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street at 6:30 pm!) Wednesday morning, I’ll pass on what I learned from Cate about how she comes up with her spellbinding psychological thrillers. Thursday, I’ve got a tutorial with Daphne-Award winning writer S.B. Woodson. On Friday, I’m attending a master class taught by my fellow Miss Demeanors about how to work through the anxiety that comes with writing.  … gotta run. I hear my tea kettle.     

Read more

Writing Books on My Desk

     I love to write. I love books. Why wouldn’t I love books about writing? I have shelves full of them, some better than others, a few well weathered from repeated readings and reference. Some provide inspiration. Others are instructional.     I’ll pull out Stephen King’s On Writing when I need no-nonsense advice about how to write without pretension or self-deception. “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” I snagged a first edition of On Writing for eight dollars recently. Score!     Elizabeth George (Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life) and Harry Bingham (The Writers and Artist Guide to How to Write) frequently come off the shelf when I need help with craft. Paula Munier’s (full disclosure, Paula is my agent and appears occasionally on Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene falls into my lap when I get stuck trying to tell my story, even though I know what it is. Her Writing with Quiet Hands: How to Shape Your Writing to Resonate with Readers is where I go when I need to remind myself about who I am as a writer.     There are so many other good books on writing, I could spend all of my time just reading about writing, but that would only fuel my avoidance of writing, something most writers seem to periodically suffer from. I try to read about writing in measured doses, either when a new writing book comes out and I am looking to ignite my writing, or when I’m in trouble, which happens a lot.    Three new writing books are sitting on my desk right now. Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel (revised and expanded) by Hallie Ephron is perched on the top of the pile. I learned how to write mysteries from Hallie in person and through her first book. The woman was born to teach. The new edition is bulging with information essential to new and seasoned writers.     The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings: How to Craft Story Openings that Sell, also by Paula Munier, reminds us that “the most important thing your opening needs to do is this: Keep the reader reading.” I spend an enormous amount of time aiming for a perfect beginning, terrified if I don’t write one, I and my fledgling novel are doomed. I need this book.     Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, first released in 2001, dared me to think about writing big and provided tools, which I return to when mired in a thicket of words.  His new release, The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, is sitting between Hallie Ephron and Paula Munier’s books. I’m writing a different kind of book right now, challenging myself to stretch into telling a story through a character entirely unlike any I’ve written before. I’m learning why readers really fall in love with protagonists in this book. “You are not the author of what readers feel, just the provocateur of those feelings,” Maass tells us.      I’m feeling fortified and challenged by these three new books, which also quell the fears I have about braving new territory. The comfortable presence and support of a team of pros waiting on my desk to assuage the panic when I inevitably get stuck keeps me writing because I know help is only a book away.What writing books are sitting on your desk or shelf?                  

Read more