Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sometimes It's Just A Feeling You Get

There are countless books, articles, websites, magazines, courses, conferences etc. etc. where a writer can go to learn his/her craft, to study the nuances of plot and structure, to learn how to incorporate symbolism and theme, to hone pace and develop characterization and a myriad of other technical elements that make up a story. But there is one thing that a writer needs to have in their arsenal of writing tools that is not so easily studied or obtained. That mysterious thing? The gut feeling when you know a story is not working.

This feeling can't be explained very easily. At least, I can't explain it well. Maybe it can be as simple as plot points not working but plot is one of the easiest things to fix, I think. What I'm talking about is when you know you have a good main character, a great idea, the pace is clipping along and the secondary characters are interesting, and there is escalating tension, a strong climax and appropriate denouement and, still, after all that, something is just not right. It is an undefined feeling that the story is just not popping off the page - for whatever reason. It's not about the technical components of the story. Those things can be fixed. But if, as the author of your story, you are feeling a general sense of unease when you read through your pages, or apathy, or reluctance to continue writing it, if you do not feel a little flame of excitement as you read the pages you've created then something is not working on an emotional level.

The other night, I was fixing up some things for THE BREAK as we head into the final stages for it's release in the spring, and my daughter asked me, "Mom, aren't you sick of that book yet?" And I honestly could tell her, no. I really love this book and I love tweaking it to make it better and spending time with it. Sure, I'm sure I'll get sick of it (there are only so many times you can read a book through before your eyes begin bleeding) but it hasn't happened yet. And that is the sign I look for when I'm writing my stories. You don't weary of it. It still holds some special charm over you. And it's not the fact that it's being published! I had one story (paranormal) that was sent out to a few editors and did not sell. Got great feedback and all that but just didn't sell. I still love that story. I could read it again even after all this time still get a little thrill when reading it. Still smile at certain scenes and want to keep turning the pages. So it's not about selling a story that makes it more appealing to me. That doesn't matter. It's that indefineable something a story contains.

I've been working on two WIP's this past year. One is finished and I've gone through a revision with it. I thought that was the one I'd be querying with this fall. Great premise, solid characters, etc. etc. But. There's something missing. I don't know what it is yet but I don't get that FEELING. I put it aside and picked up the other WIP. Still needs work, still need to finish the last 3 chapters or so. Maybe it's not as technically ready as the other WIP. But, boy, when I started reading it - BAM! - that feeling was totally there. There was something about this one…

So, there you go. Like anything that is creative in nature a strong emotion has to be involved or it doesn't work. You can have a technically perfect reproduction of Michaelangelo's David but, from what people tell me (because I haven't seen the real thing), there is something about seeing that actual statue that makes it special. I'm sure it was the emotion that the artist infused into carving that piece of marble.

What about you? Do you get that unexplainable 'feeling' when you know a story has - or doesn't have - something?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Milestone Birthdays

No, I'm not having one right now (thank God) but I just came back from celebrating my mom's 75th birthday and it's gotten me to thinking about not just any birthdays but the 'milestone' birthdays. You know - the ones where the entering of a new year or hitting the actual number means a pretty big deal in your life?

Mom's 75th wasn't big just because the number is. It was a big deal this year because she reached it. Last year, her battle with cancer really made her feel and think about mortality and how every day is truly precious. She (and we!) are so thankful to have her here to celebrate her life. This birthday, for her, is a pretty big milestone because it meant she made it through to the other side. Somewhat changed, weaker in some ways, stronger in others. I think that's what milestone birthdays are all about - knowing or believing that you are about to or have made significant change in your life. Maybe the change is not all good but after that birthday, upon reflection, you know you are a different person.

My milestone birthday was my 40th. I began thinking about it several months before I hit it (I'm always thinking about the approaching date well ahead that it's become a running joke with my husband who says I was born 60 years old already). But that one was a biggie and because I'd made it so significant it must have changed my brain chemistry or something. Why else would I, out of the blue, want to start writing a book? Which is what I started doing the summer before I turned 40. I also lost weight and just had a real "Is this all I want to do and be in my life" kind of moment. Call it a mid-life crisis, call it needing a change, call it what you will but if that big birthday hadn't been looming I wonder if I would have picked up that pen that changed my life in so many ways.

Next year I'll be approaching the big 5-0. In fact, I turn 50 the day after the Mayans say the world will end. Of course it will! I'm turning 50, dammit!! I have a feeling this will be another big milestone for me. I don't know what will change or how but I know that whatever happens I embrace it because now I know 'milestones' are not 'millstones' around your neck. Instead of dragging you down they can lift you up.

What about you all? What have been your milestone birthdays and why?

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Dedications and Acknowledgements

I thought I'd write a little blog post on these two often overlooked parts of a book: The Dedication and The Acknowledgements pages. Maybe not everyone cares about these two pieces, maybe not every book has them, maybe they're not essential to the enjoyment of reading a book but for an author (and sometimes a reader) these two things can add another layer to the story. A personal slant that can give some insight into the author's thoughts and feelings when writing that book.

Before I began writing, I never used to think much about, or necessarily even read, the dedication or acknowledgement pages. Well, perhaps the dedication because it was at the beginning of a book and maybe only consisted of a few lines. But half the time the dedication was so cryptic: e.g. For L.M. Huh? Who was/is L.M. ? What kind of influence did they have on the author? Was it their wife? Maybe it was the librarian at the public library? Who knew? Sometimes the dedication was more personal and offered a little tease like: For Alice. The woman who changed my life. Really? Again, who is Alice and how, exactly did she change the author's life?

Maybe I'm just an overly curious person. I know a dedication is a very personal thing. Maybe it's best that a dedication be cryptic. Maybe the person being dedicated to is very private and doesn't want their name splashed over the pages of a book. There is no rule that says the author has to explain anything about who he/she is dedicating the book to and why. Still, I kind of like to know. When I dedicated ILLEGALLY BLONDE I wrote the dedication to my parents both in Portuguese and English so that they understood why I was dedicating it to them. But, again, that was a personal choice.

The Acknowledgement page is a different beast altogether. I've read some beautifully crafted words that acknowledge the special people who have influenced or inspired the author in their writing. I've also read just a long listing of names that have no meaning for me whatsoever but, with space constraints, maybe a listing was all the author could do. I'm sure the author at least wanted to make note of all the people who have had some role in making the book come to fruition - whether with research, moral support or as part of the publishing team. Again, how an author wishes to acknowledge the people involved in their personal or writing life is up to them but in the case of acknowledgements, I feel like cryptic or a long list of names doesn't work.

Now that I'm an author I often read the acknowledgement page with as much interest as the book itself. Sometimes, an author will give the reader a little story as to how/why they wrote the book or who inspired them. Maybe the issue in the book has touched them personally in some way. Also, from a purely selfish publishing perspective, I love to read the acknowledgements that authors give to their editors or agents. Those shout-outs can tell a prospective author a lot about who they would love to work with in future. I find that in debut novels the acknowledgements page can go on for quite a bit. But that's understandable - who knows if a writer will ever get another chance to publish their thanks?!

I've just finished writing the dedication and acknowledgements for my second book, THE BREAK. For some reason this time it was harder. My dedication for the book is not to one particular person but is more generic in nature and it gave me a lot of trouble for being only one line in length! My acknowledgements were easier but I still fretted about acknowledging some of the same people I did in ILLEGALLY BLONDE while saying something different to them. I also acknowledged people who have passed away and hope I did it with caring and respect and didn't make it too maudlin. What I always worry about the most is the people who I have NOT acknowledged. Many of my friends and family may not be identified specifically but since I like to acknowledge a name with a statement as to why they're being acknowledged if I named everyone I'd have an Acknowledgement book not a page. Ah, well. I wouldn't be me if I didn't fret about something.

So, what do you think about it? Are Dedications and Acknowledgements important? Or do you not think about/notice them at all?

Friday, September 2, 2011

When Panic Hits - Keep Calm and Carry On

I thought I had things together. Figured that this past week when I was on vacation I'd get so much done before September hit. I would prepared. Yeah. What's that saying?? Something about best laid plans...?

Well, I woke up today, realized I was already two days into September and hit full blown panic mode.

Our house reno is so far behind I think it's in a different time zone.

My son's birthday is in two days and I haven't planned a thing!

I realize my MRI to look into this wonky back is scheduled the same day as son's said, unplanned birthday.

The four new toilets for the reno were delivered today but the guy wouldn't deliver them to the basement so had to put them in the garage where The Boy practices his hockey shots. I may have four new cracked toilets to put in the new still not finished house.

The Boy's hockey schedule firmed up and, yes, he has a tournament starting next Wednesday, going all weekend, and yes, he has one the same weekend as my mom's 75th birthday and, oh, yes, all his practices until November occur on Saturdays and Sundays too.

Our main computer got some weird virus so now all of us have to share my poor, overworked laptop until it's fixed (and I still haven't taken it in yet! School starts in four days!)

I'm still only half-way through my revision to the wip and still not sure it's working.

I have to write the dedication and acknowledgements for THE BREAK and the one, freaking line for the dedication is giving me more grief than writing the whole book. What is UP with that?

I'm only halfway through a beta read for a friend who I told I would get to it in a week and feeling very guilty about it.

And that's only the start of my panic. Let's not forget that I'm back to work next week and school starts too.

But you know how I get through the panic? I remember that all these things are small and the panic will soon pass. The Brits survived the Blitz and had the best saying ever to come out of a war: Keep Calm and Carry On.

It's all in the attitude. And remembering that there are way worse things happening to people who are handling true crises with grace, humour and way more courage than we shall ever know.

How are you all handling your busy lives? And how do you handle it when the panic hits?