Tag: #writerslife

#writerslife

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Two weeks ago, I had my first reading of Blessed be the Wicked at The King’s English in Salt Lake City. I haven’t lived in Utah since I graduated from high school a very long time ago. Still, Utah’s a place always close to my heart. My pioneer ancestors helped settle Deseret in the mid-nineteenth century. I grew up listening to my mom tell stories of her grandpa’s ranch out in Grantsville. The farm hands were up at the crack of dawn, and when they came in from the first labor of the day, around dawn, my great grandma would feed them steak, eggs, and potatoes for breakfast. Meanwhile, my mom would sneak spoon fulls of cream from the top of milk jugs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen happier grins than what I saw in the frayed black-and-white photo of my great grandpa in striped overalls with my mom by his side on his tractor. Grantsville, Utah, in the late 1940s was a place where people knew to cherish time. As a rancher, my great grandpa had plenty of work that had to be done. He did it and he did it well. If you’re a farmer and a rancher, there’s nothing to be gained by cutting corners. […]

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Transitions

Write what you know.  I’m not going to venture an opinion on this bit of writing advice, but I am going to use it as a jumping off point. Right now, what I know is that I’m on plane in Nashville waiting for take off. My husband and my son are here, too. My daughter is not. She’s staying behind to start her freshman year at Vanderbilt. She’s completely ready for this transition. Me? Not so much. After I hugged her this morning—and may or may not have shed a tear or three—we walked around the Parthenon in Centennial Park. There was time to think as we wandered among the exhibits and the enormous statue of Athena and her shield (that’s the photo to the right). I found myself alternating between feeling misty and knowing this is as it should be. By nature, I’m a person who wants to jump from one thing to the next. I’m not so sure that’s a healthy way to approach life. Transitions have their own beauty. Beauty isn’t pain-free. It can mean tears. It does right now. My daughter’s off to her new life. My new life will be one without waking her up in the morning or staying up past […]

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When the writing gets tough, the tough get writing.

 It’s hot. It’s sticky. If you’re feeling anything like me, you’re feeling a little lazy. Okay, maybe a lot lazy, but writers write. So how to keep it up as we enter the season of vacations, naps, and picnics? I’ve been thinking a lot about how to write through the tough periods. You know those times when your blank screen mocks you and your fingers aren’t able to find the right keys. (If you’ve never experienced this, count yourself blessed.) I know deep in my heart that it doesn’t matter whether the words come easily or not, I must write regardless. I also know that’s it’s more fun when you sit down to your computer and everything just flows. It’s nice when you start typing and the next thing you know, your characters have taken you down a road you never expected and the next time you look up, you’ve written three chapters. That’s a wonderful feeling. Savor it. None of us needs help when we have writing days like that. It’s harder when each paragraph–each word–comes slowly. When you find that your fingers keep hitting the delete key. Or worse: your fingers don’t want to move anywhere. Since I’m in the middle of one of those stretches, I’m going to share […]

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Inspiration Sideways

Most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with. (Yes, I did end that sentence with a preposition.) Finding inspiration is not a problem . . . except when it is. For me, this usually happens around the 30,000-word mark. I’m happily typing along, letting my characters do what they want to do when the words start to slow down until I click on the keyboard one last time. I describe the feeling as standing on a wobbly rock in the middle of a river. There’s no clear way to the other side and the rocks behind me are under water.  I am, for the most part, a big believer in AIC (credit to Nora Roberts). Writing output is directly correlated to time spent sitting at the computer. When I start in the morning, I set a timer and do nothing but write until it goes off. Just doing it works great when it comes to getting writing done. From time to time, however, we face something in our story that doesn’t quite work, and we’re not sure how to make it right. That’s when it might be time to step away. A few weeks ago, I found myself in a hole at the very end of the second Abish Taylor mystery. I spent […]

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Note to self

When I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors what advice they’d give their younger writing selves, the answers came quickly. I don’t know that I have anything to add, but I’ll share my thoughts any way. If you want to write, write. Don’t let fear of rejection or failure get in the way. The more you write, the better a writer you’ll be. Whatever happens, pay attention. You can always write about it. Cate: Quit your day job sooner. Better to starve (when you’re single) and do what you’re passionate about. Tracee: I agree with Cate. Get a good education, then try to live your dream…. maybe get some life experience. No better time to volunteer with a NGO and see the world. I used to see the UNHCR cases with their handlers on the train outside Geneva and wonder where they are going….. looking back I should have gone along. Susan: That’s a great question, Alison, and I think about stuff like that all the time, except that I’ve come to realize that most of the really stupid things I’ve done have led me to a better understanding of why I, and others, do stupid things, which is a useful thing to think about, especially when writing mysteries. So […]

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Rules and breaking them

A grammar and punctuation maven, I am not. I want to be, though. The more I read and the more I write, the more I appreciate those writers who not only dazzle with storyline and character, but who also construct sentences with careful thought. It isn’t that these writers always follow the rules, but when they break them, it’s with style. So, I’m happily embarking on the never-ending journey of learning the rules . . . and how to break them. What the rules are is up for debate. Reasonable people can disagree (cue: Oxford comma). I think it’s a writer’s obligation to make an effort to know both the rules and the debates about them. I may never have the depth of knowledge that, say, my editor or agent has, but I’m going to at least try. The Elements of Style is always a good place to start. I have the 2005 edition Maira Kalmon illustrated. It makes me smile every time I open it. Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Kingsley Amis’ The King’s English and Stephen King’s On Writing are some of my favorite reads when I want to give in to my inner writer geek.  I’m also a fan of some of the on-line grammar gurus. Grammar Girl, Grammarly, and Oxford Dictionaries are just the thing when I’m in […]

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Insecurity is part of the process

 “Reminder to writers who think their book sucks: This is normal — push through it. Insecurity is part of the process. Only bad writers think they’re good,” Harlan Coben tweeted last week. If you’re anything like me, your first response to this quote was relief. Hey, you’re not the only one who looks at your 80,278 words and thinks only about two sentences were any good. Your second response to the tweet was probably despair. Your inner critic will remind you “Harlan Coben can say that because he’s Harlan Coben. You’re not Harlan Coben.” True. I’m not.  “Maybe it’s not perfect,” I tell my inner critic, “but I did as well as I could.” That’s when powerful insecurity takes hold. The moment I admit that the best I can do may not be good enough. Not a pretty way to feel. Feeling insecure is distinctly uncomfortable. That’s why most people avoid it. That might be okay for most people, but not for writers. Being uncomfortable is a requirement for anyone doing new things. If you avoid feeling insecure, you avoid exploring places beyond your comfort zone; you don’t go where no one has gone before. That makes it hard to write. It makes it really hard to write well. The truth is no one can tell you your insecurity is baseless. Someone (besides you) is […]

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Writing: From A to Y

It’s early on Saturday. I’m snuggled in bed with a book:Y is for Yesterday, to be exact. I’m still in my pajamas with the covers pulled up over my knees. My first foray out of bed this morning was to the three-foot stack of TBR (“to be read”) books in the corner of my room.  With some difficulty, I managed to pull Sue Grafton’s last book from somewhere in the middle without causing the entire wobbly tower to collapse. I don’t know how I managed to have not read Y is for Yesterday yet, but I’ll admit my failure and begin to remedy the situation. The only reason I put the book down is because it’s my turn to post for Miss Demeanors this week. I hoped I’d have a brilliant idea for a theme by now, but I don’t.  I looked through my calendar, desperate for something to spark an idea.  Nothing. Then I realized that the next time it’s my turn to post, Blessed be the Wicked will be out. I will be “a published author.”  I looked back at the book I didn’t want to put down and decided that was the theme: getting from A to Y in writing. I can’t offer perspective on what it looks like when you’ve written enough books […]

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These are a few of our favorite quotes.

Some writers string ordinary words together–a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph–in ways that have as much in common with what most of us read as Belgian lace does with the friendship bracelets I made in second grade. These writers capture scents from far away places so perfectly that I’m sure I can smell them; they paint settings with such detail that I’m certain I remember being there. They describe emotions I didn’t know I had until I read their words and feel that way, too. Michele’s question last week about which writers we’d like to spend time with led me to think about the writers whose words stay with us; the writers we can’t stop quoting. For me, The Princess Bride springs to mind (“Life is pain, anyone who says otherwise is obviously selling something!” and “As you wish…” and “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” and … ) So, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors to pick their favorite quotes. Being the writers and the readers they are, they had a lot to say. I contemplated editing for the sake of brevity, but decided the answers were all too good to cut.   Fellow writers and readers, I hope you enjoy these wonderful quotes as much as I do. […]

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Alison McMahan: Mystery Writer and Filmmaker

 Alison McMahan has trudged through the jungles of Honduras and Cambodia, through the favelas of Brazil and from race tracks to drag strips in the U.S. in search of footage for herdocumentaries. Her most recent film is Bare Hands and Wooden Limbs (2010) narrated by Sam Waterston, which won Best Directed, short form documentary; at the SantiagoAlvarez in Memoriam Film Festival in Santiago, Cuba.Her historical mystery novel, The Saffron Crocus (Black Opal Books, 2014), won the Rosemary Award for Best YA Historical and the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palm Literary Award. On top of that, she’s written numerous other short stories and non-fiction anthologies.  Between writing and filmmaking, I managed to pin Alison down and ask her a few questions about her life and her craft. D.A. Bartley: Do I remember correctly that you lived in Spain as a child? If so, how do you think that has affected your writing? I grew up in a fishing village about eighty kilometers south of Barcelona, a place of great natural beauty, during the last years of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. My village is in Catalonia, but at the time the Catalan language and most aspects of Catalan culture were banned. The recent drive for Catalonian independence is just one aspect […]

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