Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Galley Stage

When a manuscript reaches the galley stage it's an exciting time. It's literally the last phase before getting a release date. So I was thrilled to find my galley file for The Vampire and the Vixen in my inbox earlier this week. This is my last chance to catch those pesky misspellings, grammar errors, and misuse of words. Any errors I find need to be listed out with page and line numbers.
Once I give the okay, it's going to publication as is.

Hopefully there won't be many. The mss has already gone through two edits with my editor and the read-throughs I'd given it before submitting. One major thing I found in the second round of editor edits was I'd used two different names for one of the minor charactors. Ooops.

But these types of proofreading errors are the only ones I'm supposed to be looking for. Which, as exciting as getting a galley is, can make doing this final, final read-through a little frustrating. Because at this point, it's past the time to correct or change anything about the story itself. What's on the page is on the page. At this point, if I'm second-guessing anything, I'm pretty much out of luck. My editor explicity said, "...stick to things that MUST be changed."

I honestly don't do a lot of second-guessing at this stage, but knowing I can't change anything about the plot makes this read-through very intersting. More clinical than creative.

But, like I said, it's an exciting stage to be at. My responsibility is to approve the galley. The publisher's responsibility is to create a cover. And then we'll be good to go and heading toward a release date. And there's nothing sweeter than that!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thoughts about Chapter One

“Be aware that anything that appears before "Chapter One" may be skipped. Don't put your vital clue there.”
I read this comment recently (from British writer Hilary Mantel, winner of a couple of major awards, and most recently a critic of royalty!). The full article of her ‘rules for writers’ appears here
Much of it is excellent apart from (in my case) the suggestion to write first thing in the morning. My brain is NOT in creative mode in the mornings. To quote one of my teaching colleagues: ‘Don’t ask Paula anything before 10.30am if you want a sensible answer.’ It’s true, and most people know not to call me first thing in the morning!
However, ignoring the ‘first thing in the morning’ advice, I’m not totally sure I understand this comment about anything appearing before Chapter One. Does this mean we shouldn’t put ‘important’ information in a prologue? Or does this means that the reader ‘skips over’ any back story contained in Chapter One?
I admit I do include some background in my first chapters – not  a huge chunk of back story, but maybe some hints about what has happened in the past, particularly if the hero and heroine have known each other before., or if there is something in their past that is going to prove a problem for them in the future.
How do you interpret this comment? Maybe I’m reading too much into it!
Also linked to Chapter One is her next piece of advice: ‘First paragraphs can often be struck out. Are you performing a haka or just shuffling your feet?’ Admittedly, I had to look up the meaning of ‘haka’ – which evidently is a Maori war cry or dance in New Zealand, with vigorous movements and stamping of feet.
This makes more sense. I know I’ve been guilty of setting the scene and ‘leading up’ to the significant moment, which is akin to feet shuffling, instead of plunging the reader into that moment where the story should really start. There are times when I want to re-write all my published novels and start them at a different point. Maybe one day I’ll actually get it right first time! 

Here's some more advice I read recently about Chapter One: If your first chapter drags because of backstory, world building, set up etc. copy and paste the first chapter into a new doc. Then delete everything but the dialogue. See what story needs to go back in for the dialoge to make sense. 9 times out of 10, if you wrote good dialogue, you won't need most of what you deleted. Tell your story walking (or performing a haka?)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I Won't Go There

So, for the past three weeks (or is it four), I’ve been going through a nightmare with Sears and my husband’s elliptical machine. It’s covered by a protection plan, which means everything is free. It needs a new part to be fixed. The part can be ordered over the phone, but so far, they’ve sent me the wrong part, twice. Same part, same box big enough for me to fit in, same problem. While they’re able to order the part over the phone, to reorder the correct part, I have to have the technician come out, identify that it’s the wrong part—even though everyone knows it is—and then reorder it.  I think I may have found someone in their corporate office who has identified the correct part and ordered it for me, but I’m not sure. She’s at least acknowledged and apologized for the rudeness of the customer service rep I’ve been dealing with, so that’s a start.

To say I’m frustrated is a supreme understatement. There are not enough swear words invented for me to use to describe how frustrated I am! My mom suggested that I think about how I’m going to write about this experience as a way to keep me calm.

I don’t think there’s any way I can write about this experience without being rude. And while I love being snarky, there’s a fine line between snarky and rude and I really don’t want to cross it. So I’m probably not going to blog about it – snarky tweets to and about Sears will have to cover it for now. However, it got me thinking about what I write and why.

In my romances, I write to escape, in the same way that people read or watch TV to escape. That’s not to say something won’t be realistic, but it’s got to be enjoyable for me to write. I might even work out a problem in real life on the page, make the hero or heroine respond as I wish I could, but ultimately, my writing has to keep me entertained and make me feel good.

In my blogs, I’m a lot snarkier. I make fun of situations, myself and issues that are going on in my life and around me. I use myself as a judge—if what I write is not going to somehow reflect on me then I’m not going to write about it. So, if I write about friends or family, it has to somehow lead back to my own relationship with them. And I don’t make fun of friends or family without making way more fun of myself—they might set the scene, but I’m the protagonist. It’s not that I’m full of myself; it’s that I wouldn’t want to use my blog to call them out on something.

In this situation, I don’t think there’s any way I can write about my customer service problem. Currently, there is someone who’s actually trying to help me. For me to trash the company while this is going on is mean-spirited. I hope the situation gets resolved, and if it does, there’s no point in my writing about it. If it doesn’t get resolved, well, actually, I think I’m probably going to make my husband jog around the block rather than continue to use it, so it will be moot.

So for now, I’m going to wait and see (and fume a bit more) and not write about it. It would be too easy to write about it and be really mean, which is never my goal. Besides, I have many more ideas to come up with in the meantime.

What kinds of ideas do you come up with and/or reject? How far will you go?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Formatting without total hair loss

As I get closer to finishing my WIP, the task of formatting for submission looms large.
My WIP has been in progress for several years on several computers, XP and mac.

It has quirks and smirks like an irascible toddler, and will need decisive keyboard strokes to erase the inevitable--and hidden--embedded "instructions." (Like I really wanted it to change the indent from .5 to .6. Not.)

I know publishers have their own set of formatting rules. So do contests and agents.
Do you have a secret for training your computer to know what you want in format?

Have you pulled out your hair trying to get Word to accept corrected chapters?

Do you cut and paste individual chapters into a final document and then final format?

Tips and horror stories would be appreciated.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I'm a big fan of critiques. I belong to a local RWA chapter that puts a lot of emphasis on critiquing. We have three critiques each month. During a critique, the reader can bring part of a mss (usually the first chapter), an outline, a synopsis, or even a query in order to get feedback from the rest of the group. The usual procedure is to have the reader read aloud, and then afterwards, there is time given for the listeners to write comments on the pages before the verbal critiquing session begins.

I swear by these sessions. Every full-length novel I've had published has gone up in front of my chapter before I even think about submitting it somewhere. Most of the time I get just as much out of listening and participating in other people's critiques as well.

About a week and a half ago I had an impromptu critique opportunity. The girl signed up to read at the meeting had to back out at the last minute and the Manuscript Chair sent out an e-mail Sunday night - our meetings are on Mondays - asking if anyone could jump in at the last minute. I had the first few chapters and some tidbits of a mss on file. I hadn't looked at in a while. I'd been caught up in revisions for "This Feels Like Home" and writing The Vampire and the Vixen. But I thought, what the heck? If there's a spot open, I can make some copies and bring it in to read. She gave me the spot, so I made my copies and brought the mss in to the meeting. I told everyone it was pretty 'raw' and that I hadn't looked at it in quite a while, but I didn't want to pass up the opportunity for a critique.

Once again, I'm so glad I volunteered to read. The mss was met with a lot of positive feedback...everyone really loved the premise and the characters...and I got some helpful suggestions for tweaking a few parts to make things even stronger. Of course since then I haven't had a chance to look to much further at it, but I've pretty much decided it will be my next project and I need to keep going with the project. FYI, the story is called "One Great Night". The opening line is, "I want you to be my sex tutor." The basic storyline is the heroine wants her brother's best friend to 'tutor' her in the bedroom. Right now I'm thinking novella length, but based on some of the suggestions made during the critique, I may decide to dig a lot deeper and bring it to a full-length. Only time will tell.

I'd love to have a regular critique partner, but to be honest, I don't have the time. I barely have enough time to get my own writing done, let alone give someone else proper due. Maybe I'll make it a summer thing. That's when I get most of my writing done anyway. I know some of you work with critique partners. How do you work it? Do you meet on a regular basis? Is it a face-to-face thing or via e-mail? Do you critique individual chapters? The entire mss? There are so many ways to work it. I think when you find what works for you, you stick with it and go from there.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What do your heroes and heroines look like?

I have an ‘inner vision’ of my characters as soon as I start a new story, and it’s occurred to me that all my heroines have had long dark brown hair (usually wavy) and either brown or hazel eyes (with one exception - Jess in ‘His Leading Lady’ who had blue eyes). I’ve never yet had a blonde or auburn heroine. However, my dark-haired heroines don't all look alike in my mind’s eye, as I can distinguish them very clearly.
My heroes have been more varied – two have had dark hair and deep brown eyes, one was dark-haired but with blue eyes, and two had light brown hair and blue eyes.
I can’t define why I choose these colourings. I don’t think I make a deliberate choice; instead, the characters seem to create themselves for me once I start writing about them.
Apart from describing their hair and eye colour, however, I don’t usually write much more about their faces. That’s mainly because I find it difficult to describe faces, unless they have some very distinctive feature. So I keep to very ‘standard’ descriptions. The heroes might have wide foreheads, well-defined jaws and maybe the trace of dimples. The heroines may have heart-shaped or oval faces, or ‘attractive bone structure’, whatever that is!
So, although I can see the characters in my mind, I think I tend to let the reader develop their own mental image of them, which may or may not be influenced by the cover picture, if the characters are shown on that.
I find it easier to describe their figures than their faces, but I admit I go for the stereotypical ‘romance book’ hero – tall, with broad shoulders and slim hips, and the heroine is usually slim, of course (as slim as I used to be in my 20s - a long time ago!)
While I was thinking about this topic, I started to wonder if I should actually be making more effort to describe my characters, beyond these basic details. However, as I'm writing the description of the hero from the heroine's POV (and vice versa), I wonder if the brief description is sufficient. After all, how many of us (in real life) actually describe someone's face, either to ourselves or to someone else? We don't (or at least I don't) analyse someone's facial features in any great detail.
All of this led me to wonder - how much description do you give of your characters' physical appearance?
And, just out of interest, how would you describe this guy? Someone posted this photo on Facebook recently and  I did actually challenge myself to describe him, but realised I was still using my usual phrases!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Would you believe my greatest temptation when writing is to give it up entirely? It doesn’t make sense, since I love writing. I love playing with words. I love creating stories. I love getting to know my characters. And I love, love, love getting the news that I’m going to be published—it doesn’t ever get old!

But when I’m sitting in front of my computer and struggling to find those words, oh man, do I want to give this all up. And when I get the bazillion rejections before I get the one acceptance, yeah, I want to give up writing altogether.

I don’t. And I haven’t. And I think that’s one of the benefits writing provides me. It forces me to have a very thick skin. That’s not to say that the rejections don’t hurt. They still do. But there’s a part of me that can look past it and convince the rest of me to keep going. It might take a day or two, sometimes even a week or two, but eventually, the part of my brain where my characters talk to each other (sounds so much better than saying I hear voices, doesn’t it?), nudges me and sit at my computer again for something other than Facebook.

The same is true when I’m uninspired. I look at what I’m writing and have no desire to continue. It’s horrible, it’s boring, it’s going nowhere. But eventually, my fingers move across the keyboard and something appears on the page. I have frequently had days like this during the 30K writing challenge in which I’m participating. But the challenge has forced me to write even if I don’t want to, even if I can’t. Sure, a lot of it is dreck and will be deleted later, but the discipline is kicking in.

I guess, in a way, writing is like eating your vegetables. They don’t always taste very good, they’re nowhere near as appealing as chocolate, for example, but they’re healthy. And as an adult, you realize you have to be healthy. So you eat them. And continue to eat them until you no longer mind them. And sometimes, they even taste good (except for Brussels sprouts and lima beans, I hate those!). J

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Ripple Effect

I have noticed a cumulative benefit from the various forms of reading and writing that I do.

For many years I read cookbooks like novels, devouring everything from Julia Child to Lutheran church cookbooks. When I started writing the recipe instructions for the soup, bread and seasoning mixes we make at work, I had the training. Package labels have limited space, so every word has to count, and each step has to make sense.

For thirteen years I have been responsible for a weekly CSA newsletter. Each Sunday during the growing season, I describe the veggies members will get in their upcoming box. Some veggies are somewhat exotic---purple cauliflower, lemon and lime basil, kohlrabi. I have to explain what they are, how to use them and suggest recipes.  In the 'anecdotes of farm life' section, I get to use my novel writing skills. These essays have been reprinted in local newspapers, regional journals, and two national  
publications. (Definitely a boost for my confidence--and a healthy respect for deadlines.)

I do astrological readings for clients, often via email. As my writing skills improve, the quality of the readings improves, in my opinion. Not so much in the substance, though I get better at interpretation of data all the time. My sentence structure, word choices, and "story" flow are better. Clients are better able to understand the information in their forecasts because I am able to explain it better.

My children now present to me drafts of their resumes and job applications for editing. My husband allows me to tweak his emails. (I have to type them for him, so he doesn't have much choice. I make him sound good.)

Newsletters and recipes and readings help me become better novel writer. I still have to work at deep POV and excise frequent lapses into third-person omniscent. But as they say, practice makes perfect.

Have you noticed a cross effect from perfecting your novel writing skills?

Thursday, February 14, 2013


While most people will be fixated on hearts and flowers and romance today, I'm going to take a different look at February 14 with a topic near and dear to my heart: vampires. To be specific, the most famous vampire of all.

It was today in 1931 that Bela Lugosi orginally took to the screen in the premiere of Dracula. The story itself had been around for ages, but Lugosi's film interpretation became instantly iconic. Even those who aren't fans of the vampire genre are familiar with his classic look and the name. In my upcoming novella The Vampire and the Vixen, my hero Rafe dresses as Dracula for a Halloween party. It was fun to recreate Lugosi's iconic look for Rafe: Flowing black cape with a high collar. White vest over a white tuxedo shirt with a white bowtie at the neck. The famous gold medallion. I even gave him some fangs. It leads my heroine to wonder if perhaps Rafe is a real vampire: not just dressed as one for Halloween.

Over the years, other film makers have also interpreted Bram Stoker's famous novel. Most have featured well-known actors in the title role.

In 1974 a tv version starred Jack Palance. Almost a household name when it comes to horror.

My first experience with a movie version of Dracula came in 1992 when my boyfriend at the time took me to see Gary Oldman play the part. Back then, I didn't know who Gary Oldman was (I'm more familiar with his work now.), but I did enjoy the movie. We saw it at a historic theatre with red velvet curtains, (padded) wooden seats, ornate decorative scrollwork, murals on the walls, and a tin ceiling. The setting couldn't have been more perfect.

In 2000 another version came out, aptly titled Dracula 2000. This has always been on my list of movies to see as I am intrigued about the plot tie-in to Judas Iscariot and those pieces of silver earned for betraying Jesus. However, I've never gotten around to seeing it. Although since I recently discovered that it's Gerard Butler playing the title role, I'm going to have to make an effort to move it up in the que. He's yummy: I'd let him bite my neck anytime.

I guess in a way having Dracula's original movie debut on Valentine's Day makes sense. For all the legends of blood and gore associated with these powerful creatures of the night, they are just as often thought of as dashing, romantic characters.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Moving out of your Comfort Zone?

Have you been tempted to move out of your comfort zone? I’ve written contemporary romance ever since I was a teenager, and it’s the only genre I’ve ever really wanted to write – and felt comfortable writing.
I confess to having no interest in fantasy, sci-fi, or horror stories, and not much interest in westerns either, so I haven’t read many of those, and certainly wouldn’t want to spend any time writing one. In addition, I know I don’t have the kind of mind to invent a complex mystery or thriller – I struggled enough with the ‘minor’ intrigue in my novel set in Egypt. I prefer to leave crime writing to those who like to write about murders, robberies etc., and I have absolutely no knowledge of police procedures, or of the inner working of the CIA or other intelligence agencies, so that eliminates detective or spy stories for me.
That leaves me with romance, but even within the romance genre, there are several sub-genres. Recently, I saw a list of the most popular kinds of romances (on an e-book distribution/review site):
1. M/M Romance
2. Erotica/erotic romance
3. Shifters and Vampires
4. Contemporary Romance
5. Horror and Paranormal
6. Sc-fi and fantasy
7. Multiple partners
9. Interracial
10. Historical
I must admit I was quite relieved to see Contemporary Romance in 4th place, but what about all the others?
There are only two categories that hold any interest for me – contemporary and historical. As far as the other eight are concerned, either I have no interest in them or do not feel qualified to write them.
I’m an historian by profession, with a degree in history and over 25 years’ teaching experience in the subject, and I’m often asked why I don’t write historical novels. Why indeed? The main answer is that I’m aware of how much research is necessary. At my time of life (rapidly approaching the three score and ten years!), I can’t spend years immersing myself in a particular historical period which is what the very best historical authors do to ensure absolute accuracy in every aspect, from the major events and ethos of the era to the minor details that add authenticity to their stories. If I wrote an historical novel, I wouldn’t want it to be simply a ‘modern story in fancy dress’ which I’ve seen all too often in so-called historical romances (not all, I hasten to add!). I would want my story, my characters and my setting to be absolutely accurate - and that involves a huge amount of research.
That leaves me with contemporary romance – so maybe I’d better stay in my comfort zone!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Page After Page

What makes a page turner?

That’s the million dollar question. I really don’t know for sure. I have some ideas—a compelling story, memorable characters, fascinating plot, suspense.

But while there are certain general rules to follow, I think whether or not a story is a page turner depends on the reader.

As a writer, we’re told not to end a scene or a chapter with someone going to sleep, or leaving a room. It’s better to put the scene break right before the ending of the scene, to end the chapter in the middle of what’s happening.

But even stories that don’t do that will cause me to keep reading, to keep turning the pages, if they hook me.
Certain types of stories interest me. I love historicals. I love sassy heroines and alpha heroes with a trace of vulnerability. Wondering what will happen to them will make me keep reading to the very end. Multi-layered characters draw me into the story. A plot that’s believable, fun or whimsical will keep me turning pages to get to the end.

Humor will also make me turn the pages. If I’m laughing, I’ll keep reading. I’ll stay up all night if I have to in order to prolong that feeling and to keep up with the story.

Contemporaries with a beautiful love story will pull me in. A story that conveys urgency, that makes me wonder what happens next, that sticks with me and makes me want to find out what happens next. A story that I can relate to, where I can envision myself in the role of the heroine, will extend the story even when I’m not reading it and will make me excited to get back to it.

So tell me, what makes a story a page turner for you? Or conversely, what makes you stop reading?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Voices, anyone?

I am still struggling with one of my WIP's, but this is a good thing. It is a story I want to fight for, even if I am fighting only myself as I search for the right way to tell it. 

My heroine, Angel, reveres Jeanne d'Arc, the French peasant girl who was burned at the stake for heresy at age 19.  Jeanne started hearing angelic voices when she was thirteen, and she followed the commands of these voices to don a suit of armor and drive the English out of France. 

Bishops and kings--all men--were threatened by her. She wore men's clothing and bobbed her hair to protect her virginity on and off the battlefield. At her trial, she skillfully side-stepped the verbal traps set by the prosecution. After she was executed, the coals were scraped aside so her charred bones could be seen by witnesses. Then they were burned twice more. 

She was decried and reviled by scholars and dramatists (including Shakespeare) for centuries. Five-hundred years later, she was declared a Roman Catholic saint. 

Angel hears voices. specifically her dead Granny Roswyn, still bitter and cruel. Roswyn's been quiet for some time now, and Angel has the audacity to think she's been left in peace. She focuses on her job,   works hard to move up the corporate ladder, and just when she is poised to shatter the last glass ceiling,
 Granny Roswyn comes back. With less than helpful instructions. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Too Stupid to Live?

So, you know how people always say they hate heroines (or I guess heroes for that matter) who are too stupid to live? I ran into a bona-fide real-life example last night.

The hubby and I were standing in a (very long) line waiting to return something at Best Buy. As always, I was doing my fair share of observing those around me. I'm an author, so I'm always looking for tid bits to include in my writing, and, to be honest, I'm just plain nosey too. So I'm listening to a man talking to one of the Geek Squad representatives. He was very upset that his computer was still not working. He was actually quite rude to the gal waiting on him. In fact, my husband was getting a little annoyed with his attitude. Anyway, the gal wound up calling her supervisor to help the irritated customer. The manager patiently demonstrated that the computer was working fine. The customer asked, "Well, what happens if I take it home and it doesn't work there?" The manager explained that it was probably then a problem with the man's cables at home, and he again showed the perfectly working computer. At this point, I was ready to give the manager a medal for patience. I would have lost it a long time before that.

Anyway, the customer, still looking clueless and annoyed, says, "There was a power outage during the Super Bowl on Sunday. Could that be the problem?"

See? Now at this point, I would have just hit the man. But the manager, with no hint of emotion in his voice said, "The Super Bowl was in New Orleans."

My hubby and I are still laughing.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Edits - a learning curve?

I’ve spent the last 6 days going through the edits of ‘Dream of Paris’ which I finally sent to my editor on Monday evening. By Tuesday morning, she had the galley proofs ready for me (she works very quickly!), and I spent another day hunched in front of the computer.
The edits were interesting. I didn’t realise how often I had my characters starting a sentence with ‘So’ (please take note, Ana, and kick me if you notice me doing that in future!). My other over-used word seems to be ‘that’. I’ve managed (on the whole) to get out of the habit of using it after words like realised, decided, thought (etc) but I’m still unsure of when to use ‘that’ and when to use ‘which’ in a sentence such as: ‘There was an expression in his dark eyes that ( or which?) kicked her heart into double time.’ In some similar cases, my editor changed ‘that’ to ‘which’; in other cases, she left it as ‘that’ – and I don’t really know why!
I also had the usual American/British English differences to sort out. My editor was quite happy for me to do this. As she said, she and her sub-editor have never been to England, so they’re not familiar with our phrases. Besides which, she says they both enjoy the ‘British’ tone of my writing. The main ones I had to change ‘back’ to Britspeak, were: ‘Let’s go make coffee’ back to our phrase ‘Let’s go and make some coffee’; ‘she glanced out the window’ to ‘she glanced out of the window’; and ‘hit his stride’ to ‘got into his stride.’ Oh, and we say Maths, not Math!
The thing I had the most problems with, however, was the use of the past perfect tense. To my mind, when characters are talking or thinking about something that happened in their past, then you use the past perfect tense.
I’ll qualify that slightly and say I do make an exception if it’s a paragraph (or longer) of thoughts about the past. In that case, I’ll use the past perfect in the first sentence, then slip into the normal past tense for the rest.
But if it’s just a ‘one-off’ thought, then I tend to use ‘he had’ or ‘she had’ (or the contractions) e.g. “She thought about what Jenny had mouthed to her.” In this case, Jenny had mouthed a comment to her ten minutes (i.e. about a page!) earlier. The sub-editor changed this to ‘She thought about what Jenny mouthed to her’ – which to me simply didn’t sound right! In all fairness, I have to say my editor accepted the times when I reverted to ‘had’ (or she’d or he’d in other examples), and it did make me look out for the times when I didn’t actually need to use the past perfect, so maybe that’s something else I’ll have to watch out for in future.
In fact I’ve just spotted one in my current WIP in something my heroine says: “He said I’d already seen one like this but I can’t remember where.” Now – should that be ‘I’d already seen’ or ‘I already saw’?
All in all, a useful learning curve – which all goes to show we’re always learning in this game, aren’t we?
‘Dream of Paris’ should be available on Amazon later this week – just in time for Valentine’s Day, which is very appropriate, since Paris is called the City of Love! And here’s the cover, which I think is fabulous – and very romantic!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Words, Words, Words

The good news is that I’m writing. Words are coming out of my head, traveling through my fingertips and appearing on the page. The bad news is that those words are horrible.

My NJ chapter of RWA is holding JeRoWriMo this month. The challenge is 30K words in 30 days (or 28, considering it’s February). Only manuscripts count, but you can divide your words among more than one. I joined because I thought it would be fun and also because it’s great motivation to actually get me to write.

It’s definitely fun. The group is a very encouraging one and everyone is very supportive of each other. We have a slogan, which I can’t remember (bad Jennifer) and a mascot (Jerry the Rhino). We even get a prize of some sort at the end.

It’s also been very motivating. So motivating, in fact, that I spent the three weeks prior to the start of the challenge getting all my edits done, as many other projects as I could, and of course, stressing—basically because that’s what I do.

I warned my husband that I was going to do this challenge. He was very supportive. He broke the challenge down into doable parts: based on how many hours per day I have to write, it works out to 10 words every three minutes. He even was so kind as to provide me with sets of 10 words. They were all similar to this: “My husband is the most amazing, modest man I know.” Sweet of him, wasn’t it?

Well, on Friday, I was on such a roll that I wrote more than 3,000 words. It was awesome. I was creative and even better, I didn’t have to find time over the weekend to write!

Today was not so awesome. I still wrote a little more than 1,000 words, but they are not good. My husband’s words would have been better. You know how when you’re a teenager and you get afterschool jobs, and most of them are horrible, but you console yourself with the thought that at least you’re narrowing down your choices of what you want to do? Well, think of my 1,000 words today as words that I know I will not be using in my final draft. Hey, maybe it will make editing that much easier!

I find myself watching my word count as avidly as I do my email box. Write a few words, check the word counter, write a few more, check again. I know challenges like this are for quantity, not quality. And ultimately, at least it’s getting me in the writing groove.

I hope, by the end, I’ll have made progress on my manuscripts—I’m alternating between two. But if not, at least I’ll know what NOT to write about!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

My Mother's Child

Recently I flew to visit my parents. Southern California in January is like a Mediterranean island compared to northern Minnesota. There's winter, and then there's WINTER. The jet stream delivered the coldest temperatures in years, but I knew by the time it whooshed east and north, it wouldn't cause much of a stir. 30 degrees feels like a heat wave after twenty below zero.

I picked oranges and tangerines from trees in the yard and squeezed fresh juice for breakfast. The avocado season was near its end, but there were plenty of pebbled green fruits to savor. The supermarkets offered jicama, globe artichokes, poblano peppers--foreign fruits to sub-Canadians.

Flowers were blooming everywhere, attracting industrious honeybees and hummingbirds. Fig trees had shed their leaves and were awaiting pruning. Ice plants suckered like drunken sailors, their green, fleshy shoots crisscrossing haphazardly.

After I'd adapted to seeing green everywhere, I was struck by how much I am like my mother. She loves to read and her genre of choice, now that's she's in her 90's?  Romance!

We went to the used book store at the library and bought paperbacks that we read and then exchanged. I read them like textbooks, looking for plot points, character development, head-hopping and hooks. She read for pleasure and escape.

Two years ago, I decided I would no longer fear the finger-pointing of my family if I wrote steamy sex scenes.

I don't have to worry about my mom.