Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Burlesque Wednesday Returns!

Alas, I have been slacking in my duties as Burlesque Wednesday moderator.  Let me make it up to you...

Burlesque Dancer

Friday, December 14, 2012

World On Fire: Thoughts On A Tragedy

Today, a mass shooting at an elementary school in Conneticut claimed the lives of children, teachers, and a profoundly troubled gunman.  Old and young.  Innocent and guilty.  Too many lives cut short, too few answers as to "why".

We live in a world that can sometimes seem very dark.  A quick look at the news of the week, even prior to this tragedy, reflects this all too well.  The violence in Syria seems without end.  Protests continue in Egypt.  North Korea conducted a successful missile test, quite possibly with the help of Iran.

But on a day when our collective shortcomings are all too real to us, it's important to pause.  Reflect.  And remember: we are not defined by the actions of the worst of us, but by the courage and compassion of the best of us.  The people who devote themselves to service of the poor.  The members of our military who put their lives on the line to defend those they've never met, and likely never will.

We must also decide just how we want to live our lives.  How we want our children to live theirs.  Do we want to be consumed by our anger and bitterness, dart from our houses to our cars, live our lives in fear?  I don't.  And I don't want my son to, either.

We need more goodness in the world, not less.  More kindness, more bravery, more hope.  We can't let madmen rob us of everything that makes us different from them.

Even those of us who don't pray as a matter of course, are praying today.  Including me.  I am praying for the people who were affected by this terrible crime, a circle that includes all of us.  Praying for our civic leaders to find a way to address events like this.  Praying for peace.

Mostly, though, I'm praying for the strength to teach my son to walk through a frightening world with his head held high.  Children are our future, the best of what we have to offer the world.  We must prepare them to face it with dignity and even- especially- today, with hope.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Things I Learned From My First Novel

Muhammad Ali once said that a man who views the world the same way at fifty as he did at twenty, has wasted thirty years of his life.  The same premise holds for writing.  The author who writes the same at 70,000 words as she did at the first, has wasted 69,999 words.

It's the mantra of creative writing teachers everywhere: you learn to write by writing.  In this spirit, I'd like to share some of the things writing my first book has taught me, both about writing, and about myself.

1) Follow-through.  I've stated it elsewhere on this blog: I've never finished a book before.  Never even come close.  Come to think of it, I've had trouble finishing lots of things in my life.  I had gotten to the point where I questioned my ability to follow-through on anything

It is perhaps the most important lesson I've learned from this process: I can finish something.  I can plant my butt in a chair, day after day, with a toddler pulling on my clothes and spit-up on my shoes, and finish a book.  That's pretty powerful, and it's something I'm proud of.

2) It's okay for first drafts to be shitty... 

3) ... as long as you fix themSee my post The Value of Feedback

4) When editing, don't cut so much your readers get lost.  One of my beta-readers pointed out to me that at the beginning of the book, there is a distinct lack of essential information: the heroine doesn't really make sense, the setting doesn't come through, not to mention she couldn't figure out just what the hell they were doing in between make-out sessions.  I immediately knew the problem. 

One of the things you always hear when you're editing is that it's better to cut words/ phrases/ descriptions, than to add them.  By and large, this is true.  We writers can be blustery, long-winded bitches (or sons of them).  During the creative process, it's easy to get lost in our own prosaic genius (see?  Like that.).  Editing is when you bite the belt and amputate whatever it is that doesn't serve your story. . 

However, such revisions require a scalpel, not a chainsaw.  During my editing, in an effort to avoid sounding like I was lecturing readers, I cut out a lot of information that was actually necessary to the book.  Good news: these are pretty painless fixes.  Bad news: if not for my beta-reader, I might not have seen this.  Another good argument in favor of beta-readers!

5) Capture a place.  Setting is important to a story.  Duh, right?  But somehow, I had overlooked this.  In a romance, the focus is supposed to be on the characters, the love story, the emotions involved.  Setting, while it plays a small role, takes a back seat.


If setting is supposed to take a back seat, my setting wasn't even in the car.  As I mentioned in my previous post, a lot of writers get tripped up by the basics.  Setting is about as basic as it gets.  Where are your characters?  Paris?  Madrid?  The moon?  Figure it out.  Then remember to inform the reader.

6) Build a story.  I learned a lot about story structure that I didn't know.  A well-written book has its own flow, and believe me, that flow does not come naturally.  Many people who read books think they are relatively simple to write.  Not super simple, but relatively.  Anyone who's actually sat down and tried to write a book knows there is nothing further from the truth.  Pacing.  Plotting.  Characterization.  All these things are crucial to a good book.  With few exceptions, no one is born with these skills.

This is only a smattering of all the things this process has taught me so far.  There is an indefinite multitude of threads that go into weaving a good story.  I'm still learning to work the loom, but I already know vastly more than I did a year ago.  I'll say it again, you learn to write by writing.