The End – Or Is It?

The End
The End Credits

While not always written on the last page of a manuscript, the words ‘the end’ are implied when an author reaches the final sentence of a story. This can be one of the most satisfying parts of the process, the point where a punctuation mark acts like the fade out of the last scene in a movie, followed by an end credit card and a dramatic swell of music. Completing any draft of a writing project feels like a major accomplishment. Finishing the final draft can be magical when the author believes they’ve done the absolute best work possible for that point in their career.

Though I don’t often print copies of my works these days, I can well remember the stack of paper filled with fresh new words sitting atop my desk, the corners a little dog-eared from being shuffled and squared. I once loved the act of sliding a completed manuscript and a cover letter into a large envelope addressed to a far-away editor and taking my new baby off to be weighed and stamped before going out into the world. Sending an electronic file doesn’t have quite the same feeling of ceremony, but is still an exciting time that incites an exhilarating feeling of both joy and terror in a writer.

Reaching the end of a story doesn’t always instill the same feelings in a reader, though. When written well, many characters become good friends, so leaving them can be a painful process. A reader often wants to know what happens next. Where did the character end up? Are they happy? Why did they make the decisions they did? The withdrawal of finishing a good book can leave a reader with a hangover that takes days, weeks, or even longer to get past. Those are the types of books people go back to again and again when they need comfort. They are the books with broken spines and dirty pages from being read over and over again.

Those are the books that both writers and readers want.

When reaching the end point in any story you may be writing don’t just think about the satisfaction you may be feeling, but consider whether the finished product will leave your readers crying out for more. Remember books you’ve read that you didn’t want to put down and what made the endings so memorable. Do you think your story has similar elements? If not, you may want to revisit where you’ve left your characters. Don’t become so drunk on the feeling of having finished the task you’ve found so maddening for however long you’ve worked on it that you aren’t willing to revisit that ending.

If your book were a movie would the reader be sitting in the theater watching the end credits in stunned silence? Would they be chatting with their companions about how much they enjoyed the story? Or would they be so enthralled they wanted to re-watch the movie right away?

Ask a few people aside from your family or friends to read your story and ask how they feel about the ending. Use their responses as a gauge as to whether or not your story is one that people will latch onto the way so many have to books like the Harry Potter series. As someone who has read the books many times, attended midnight book releases and movie showings, and continues to want to read and watch them over and over, I consider them a good example of the type of writing many people want to read. The books are not only about magic, they are magic, and I felt a deep sense of loss when I reached the end point of both the books and movies.

Those are the feelings you want to inspire.

Fade to black…dramatic music swells…

The End.

 

 

Time Thief

“Procrastination is the thief of time.” Edward Young, 18th Century British Poet

What kind of distractions would an early 18th century writer find to keep them from putting pen to paper? The evenings of the well-to-do would be full of parties, dances, the theater, or games. By day, they might visit friends, travel abroad, or refurbish their homes. The impoverished would, of course, be more worried about day-to-day survival: earning enough to pay for food, clothing, and shelter. Though we might consider the 1700s to be a simpler time with fewer distractions, that wasn’t the case. The dreaded time thief procrastination could be just as much a problem then as it is today.

In the early 21st century, modern authors have the added distraction of being able to use the internet to access a world’s worth of information spanning the history of the human race from the comfort of their own home. We have TV shows, movies, video games, etc. Plus, we still have the same distractions as our 18th century counterparts to go along with all the newer ones.

Why has procrastination been such an issue for writers?

This article in The Atlantic from February of 2014 discusses why authors are the worst procrastinators. The one that resonates most with me is imposter syndrome – or the fear of being unmasked as a fraud. Even when I’ve done what I feel is my best writing, I often think my work is not up to the standards of the truly great writers. Doing everything but getting my words down on paper gives me an excuse not to risk embarrassing exposure as an imposter. If I don’t write, I won’t be embarrassed.

Yet I can’t not write. When I watch TV or a movie, read a book, do housework or whatever else I might be doing instead of writing I’m always thinking about current or future WIPs. If my mind can’t give up the idea of writing, why can’t I sit down and work? Wouldn’t that be easier than stressing about what I want to (or should) do?

Did poet Edward Young write about the time thief all those many years ago because he suffered from the same problem? Was his education a form of procrastination? Or did he avoid putting pen to paper by dancing or game playing? I’d love to know what issues might have prevented him from getting down to work and to learn what means he used to get around them.

My chosen form of procrastination at the moment is writing this blog post instead of working on my current project. Is reading this yours?

Time for us to lock away that horrible time thief and get down to the real business at hand. How else will someone from the early 24th century wonder what we did in order to settle down to write?

The Comfort Zone

We all tend to fall into the comfort zone where we do the same things at the same time in the same way. We may do this because we’re busy and it’s the easiest way to complete tasks on a deadline or we might just be too tired from our day-to-day routine to change things up. Whatever the reason, the comfort zone is a, well, comforting place to be. The problem is that doing the same things over and over and over again can stifle creativity by settling our thoughts into a groove they have trouble escaping. The longer we spend stuck in the rut the harder it can be to climb out. What can be done?

The easiest way to break out of a strict routine is one step at a time. If you drive the same direction to work every morning, turn left instead of right and see where you end up. Try reading a book in a genre you haven’t yet tried; if possible, try reading one in a non-native language. You might even try sleeping on the opposite side of the bed than normal. One little change can open the mind up to all kinds of new possibilities.

Over the years, I’ve done a few things I never imagined I could and each has led me to learn something new about myself and the greater world. Despite my shyness, I ran for a local political office and learned I could survive interviews in a variety of media without too much humiliation. Entering a series of 5k races despite my childhood aversion to exercise taught me I could run farther and faster than I’d thought possible (though I’m still working on finishing without walk breaks). Taking on day jobs that I thought were beyond my skill level got me promoted to a professional position I never imagined holding…and one that I’m lucky enough to love.

This Lifehack article by Karla Jennings has some great insight into some of the small steps that can be taken to escape the comfort zone. Seeking out new information is a great one, especially for those of us who write, as is turning off the TV to read (though I think that watching TV as a group activity can inspire interesting discussions which can lead to learning new things about the people we know). Facing fear is a major factor in breaking out of a rut since we tend to stay in the places we know because we’re afraid of what might happen if we end up in an unfamiliar situation.

I’m in the midst of taking steps to get out of my current comfort zone by reading outside my favorite genres to find out what the expanded experience brings to my own writing. Not only have I been stuck reading in the genres I love, I’ve been re-reading the same books over and over and over again. This is great when I need to unwind without thinking too much but doesn’t stir up my creative juices. The books I’ve started reading have already opened up vistas I hadn’t imagined and I’m excited to continue exploring them.

Take a small step out of your own comfort zone. You may be surprised where you end up.

The Comfort Zone
Escaping the Comfort Zone

 

 

 

 

Summertime…and the Livin’ is Easy

Sierra NevadaOr so the song says, anyway. We’re well into summer here in my little part of the world and we’ve been busy, busy, busy. The good news is that the most hectic part of my season is over so I can settle in for a little catch-up on my various interests: updating the house I share with JT Hume, reading (both for pleasure and as research for my writing), and starting some new writing projects I have in mind.

I’m rushing out the door for another week at the day job, but wanted to take a few minutes to share a quick update with everyone to say that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth just yet. I’m getting back into the swing of things again and you’ll be hearing more from me in the coming weeks.

Until then…have a great Monday everyone!

 

 

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys

Nancy Drew Mysteries
One of my favorites.

A librarian first introduced me to the Nancy Drew mysteries back when I was in elementary school in the 1970s. Once I’d caught up to that series, I started in on the Hardy Boys. This was in the days when the books were released as hardcovers and the stories continued to be set in the 1950s and 1960s so they were full of women wearing awesome dresses and getting their hair done, the men sometimes wearing suits and ties, and them all driving around in what I imagined to be cool classic cars.

Nancy Drew, an eighteen-year-old from River Heights, lived with her father Carson and their housekeeper Hannah Gruen. Nancy’s mother died when she was a young child and she’d grown up with her lawyer father and the motherly Hannah. I loved the fact that Nancy was able to go out and solve mysteries with her best friends, tomboy George Fayne and the more ladylike Bess Marvin, as well as her long-time boyfriend Ned NIckerson. Though I always felt I resembled Bess in stature (she’s often described as being a bit overweight), I loved that my hair color seemed to be close to Nancy’s, which is called ‘Titian’ (or strawberry blonde) in the books. The Nancy Drew series gave me my first glimpse into a world where kids weren’t always hanging around with their parents; the characters were young adults able to go out into the world on their own to explore and experience exciting adventures, which I wanted to do in the worst way. As I entered my pre-teen and early teen years, I also enjoyed the romantic element of Nancy and Ned as a couple and dreamed of finding my own version of Ned someday. The books also introduced me to an expanded vocabulary, such as the word ‘stentorian’ (uncommonly loud) from The Phantom of Pine Hill. 

Another favorite of mine.
Another favorite of mine.

The Hardy Boys, who lived in Bayport with their father Fenton, their mother Laura (who I don’t remember), and their Aunt Gertrude also went out in the world and got into trouble without much in the way of adult supervision. Like Nancy Drew, they often got in over their heads while trying to solve mysteries, and were sometimes in life-threatening situations. I was less interested in the romantic exploits of the brothers than I’d been with Nancy and Ned and tended to be jealous of any female who showed an interest in younger brother, Joe, a fact which carried over when I started watching the television version in the 1970s and developed a huge crush on Shaun Cassidy.

Both series of books were well-written and I always looked forward to either checking out or buying the most recent release. The stories held my attention and I got into trouble on many an occasion for reading past my bedtime and being too tired at school the following day. I admired authors Keene and Dixon and had a secret desire to write both experience and write about exciting adventures the way they did.

I admired the authors until the day I learned they were nothing more than a couple pseudonyms assigned to ghostwriters hired by the Stratemeyer Syndicate (which is a post for another time). Upon first learning this news, I felt a strong disappointment in both the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys Mysteries, but I got over that when I revisited the books as an adult. When I went back and re-read them again, I found my nostalgia for what those books had meant to me cancelled out the sense of betrayal I’d felt at learning the truth about the authors. From Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys I learned the importance of the cliffhanger chapter ending and how I couldn’t put the book down until I’d learned what happened next. I also learned not to be afraid to use words that might be unfamiliar to some readers because that can help expand someone’s language by making them curious enough to look up the term. Most of all, I learned to love reading the continued adventures of a beloved and familiar character. All these things are important to the creation of a story that will be so loved by fans that they will be re-read over and over and over again.

 

To Re-Publish or Not to Re-Publish

After all  the hard work of writing, editing, and proofreading your work you’ve finally reached a point where you upload the file to the various publishing sites and wait until you receive word that your e-book has gone live. You happily tell anyone and everyone who will listen about your achievement and hope a few of them might be interested enough to buy and read your story. If they’re really nice, they might even write you a review. Unfortunately, that review mentions a major flaw in your work; missing scenes, the jarring POV shift you thought you’d fixed, misspellings, incorrect words, punctuation problems…the list is endless.embarrassed

Finding out your work isn’t as perfect as you’d hoped can be humiliating. You may have done everything possible to create as clean a copy as possible to provide your readers an enjoyable experience: worked with critique partners, beta readers, editors, proofreaders, and maybe even someone who specializes in formatting your document for publication. Yet somewhere along the line those pesky errors still managed to slip through. These things happen to even the most diligent authors and publishers.

The good news is that self-publishing e-books allows authors to go back and fix those embarrassing issues. The trick is to determine whether or not a problem is bad enough to warrant the time and effort involved in making and uploading changes to the various publishing sites. Indie authors are often short on time in the best of circumstances so, in my mind, fixing a few missing words or punctuation marks wouldn’t be a great idea unless the author has a lot of free time on their hands. Major problems should, of course, be addressed as soon as possible after the author learns of the issue. The book can then be re-uploaded and made available to readers who’ve purchased the less-than-perfect version.

An author needs to be careful not to get too caught up in trying to achieve perfection in their writing because making revisions can be a never-ending process. if your story is good in a technical sense, but you feel it’s not quite what you’d hoped, the best thing might be to move on and create other works. Previous publications are a reflection of who you were at the time they were written and may not live up to your current standards, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable in their own right. The early works of famous authors aren’t always their best, but reading them helps show their evolution as artists, in the same way as the early works of famous painters, dancers, and actors.

Don’t be afraid to go back to make corrections and re-publish your works, when necessary. Your readers will thank you for taking the time and making the effort to ensure their enjoyment of your works. Just be sure not to get caught up in an endless loop that takes time away from creating your next masterpiece.

Writer Wednesday: Georgette Heyer

fridays-child
The cover of my most well-loved edition of the book.

When I first read the Georgette Heyer Regency romance, Arabella, back in high school, I fell in love with the author’s style and story-telling ability. Everything about the book appealed to me: the large, impoverished, Tallant family; the arrogant Robert Beaumaris; and the descriptions of the Regency era, from the difficulties of getting into Almacks to the use of postillions for a traveling chaise. I re-read the book so often I started to think in the language of the time with a modern British accent.

While Arabella is near the top of the list of all the Heyer books I’ve enjoyed, I have to say that my all-time favorite of her romances is Friday’s Child. From the opening of the book, when the Viscount Sheringham (Sherry) decides he’ll marry the first woman he sees, until the convoluted series of improbable events of the climax, I couldn’t put this one down until I finished. I adore the heroine, Hero Wantage (Kitten), and how her innocent naivete keeps getting her into ‘one scrape after another.’ The way Sherry’s friends Gil Ringwood, Ferdy Fakenham, and George Wrotham want to protect Kitten is incredibly sweet. Wrotham’s desire to duel everyone who shows the least bit of interest in the woman he wants to wed, Isabella Milborne, is an amusing thread throughout the story. And the development of the relationship between Kitten and Sherry is not only well-done, but takes on a heart-wrenching quality about 2/3 of the way through the story. I can almost quote verbatim the beginning of my favorite chapter of the book since I’ve re-read it so many times.

Reading the works of Heyer has influenced my writing style in subtle ways. I tend to use more formal words than are common to most contemporary romances. The relationships between my heroes and heroines develop slower than many modern readers might like and physical intimacy between them happens late in the story. What I haven’t mastered is Heyer’s skill at conveying her stories in such a way as to make readers fall in love with them so they want to go back and read them again and again. That skill is a very important one to authors in any genre and can be difficult to learn, though some seem to have a natural talent for it. Heyer seems to me to be one of the naturals.

Georgette Heyer is credited with having created the genre of Regency romance. She did extensive research into life in Regency times: the language, the clothing, and societal trends. She wove her research into her books in such a way as to make the reader feel as familiar with the times as the author. Many of her readers were so inspired by her style and skill that they started writing as well.

I knew nothing about Heyer’s background or influence on others when I first came across her books all those years ago. All I knew was that her stories took hold of my heart and refused to let go. That’s why I continue to search for any of her books I haven’t yet read, why I often re-read my favorites, and why I continue to work to make my own writing better. If someone someday says something I’ve written has made them as happy as Heyer’s works have made me, I’ll feel I’ve achieved success.

Isn’t that what every writer hopes deep down inside?

Intention vs. Interpretation

One of the greatest parts of being a writer is the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas to readers. The problem is the writer and reader have differing outlooks on life; they often don’t have shared experiences upon which to draw that will help the reader make the connection the writer hopes. Most times, the reader has never met the writer in person and only knows them through their online and/or professional persona. What the writer intends to convey isn’t always what the reader interprets since they have little to no shared background.

This never occurred to me when I started my writing journey oh-so-many years ago now. At that time, my focus was on getting my stories onto the page in such a way as to tempt a publisher to take a chance on me. The stories I found the most success with were ones based upon my favorite television show at the time because the characters, situations, and back-story were all well-established. Whoever read the stories already knew and loved the characters so they would be interested in picking up the tie-in novelizations in order to explore new adventures with their beloved friends.

I’m no longer writing what I now realize was a form of subsidized fan-fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I still enjoy reading fan fiction and tie-in novels, but now I’m trying to embark on my own path as a writer). Many people enjoy exploring all the ‘what ifs’ of the worlds they know and love and others enjoying reading the thought processes of people who share some background, but different overall life experiences. The differences in background become a means of exploring a shared love through new eyes.

In the case of original fiction, the well-known and well-loved characters don’t yet exist. There are no established backstories or situations for the reader to draw upon. Everything is new territory and potential readers look for stories in their favored genre that look as though they may be appealing. The writer then has to successfully draw characters and build a world for the reader to love. Creating the relationship between the reader and the characters can take time and patience and the reader has so many options from which to choose these days that they can and will give up if the story takes too long to catch their interest.

The writer must know and love their characters very well and be able to express that so the potential reader’s interest is captured right away. The writer must know the back-story in such detail that they can indicate what has happened while putting the current story into play. Choosing the right words, phrases, and overall tone is vital to catching reader interest. These facts are all either well-known or instinctive to the successful writer. Some writers, like myself, may need a little more time to wrap their mind around the concept of successful world- and character-building.

These are thoughts I’m keeping in mind as I work to create enjoyable characters and stories in the future. I’ve got to make sure my intention is clear enough for the reader to be able to interpret what I’m trying to say in such a way that they enjoy my stories and characters as much as I do.

And now…back to work!

A Tale of Two Cousins

In May of 1969, just a little over a month before I turned six years old, I attended my first funeral. Most of my memories of that day so many years ago have disappeared into the mists of time. Yet, a couple moments stick out in my mind as clearly as though they happened just yesterday: walking into a dark room and up to a large black box where my cousin Larry slept on a bed of red satin and being startled by gunfire as I stood in a rainy cemetery surrounded by crying people. I don’t know for sure how much I understood of what happened at the time, but I know now that I’d seen Larry in his coffin wearing his Marine Corps dress uniform, though he’d only been visible from the waist up due to the fatal wounds he’d suffered in the far-off country of Vietnam. The gunshots were the result of the twenty-one gun salute fired off as he was buried with military honors.  Cousin Larry died on May 10th, the same day as the Battle of Hamburger Hill and Operation Apache Snow, but hadn’t fallen in action; he’s listed as having died as the result of a non-hostile action – an accidental homicide with a grenade. He’d only been in-country for a few short days and was all of nineteen years old.

Cousin Larry
Cousin Larry

My memories of Larry before he went to Vietnam are almost gone now. I have a hazy recollection of a photo of the two of us taken at his graduation from Marine Corps boot camp just a few weeks before I attended his funeral. He stood tall and proud in his fatigues and I looked a little like an orphan in my pink dress, black tights, cardigan, and uneven ponytails. My family often told me stories about how I’d asked my cousin to marry me when I was all of four years old. I’d adored him for the short time I’d known him and though I can no longer see his face in my mind without looking at a photo, I’ve never forgotten him.

Cousin Johnny (Larry’s older brother by two years) also served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. Unlike Larry, Johnny survived his tour in the war zone, though I heard he went through a rough readjustment when he got back to the States.  We lost touch many years ago and I didn’t know what was going on in his life until I stumbled across his obituary a couple years ago; he’d died at the still-young age of sixty-six. Unlike his younger brother, Johnny had married, had children and grandchildren, ran his own business, and enjoyed many hobbies. The photo that accompanied his obituary looks like one of a happy man enjoying the prime of his life and might be how Larry would have looked if he’d survived Vietnam. I can definitely see a resemblance between them.

Cousin Johnny
Cousin Johnny

I hope Johnny came to terms with the demons he fought when he first returned from Vietnam and that, in the end, he had a happy life. I’d hate to think that he’d spent forty-something years suffering the after-effects of his time serving his country the way I’ve heard other veterans are suffering. Though the deaths of the young women and men like Cousin Larry are horrible tragedies, I must admit I sometimes wonder if the ones we lost over there weren’t in some ways luckier than those who came back.

The parents of Larry and Johnny, my aunt and uncle, have now outlived two of their four children. As a mother and grandmother myself, I can’t imagine having to deal with the pain of such a loss for so many years. When I think of how many parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, and children are in the same situation, I’m moved to tears by the sacrifices made by so many.

As an another Memorial Day dawns, I remember and honor my two cousins who went to Vietnam as young marines – as well as all the young men and women in uniform now facing their own nightmares in various parts of the world. I also wish comfort and peace to those who’ve come back and to the loved ones of everyone affected by war.

Seasons Change

Some dreams are in the night time…and some seem like yesterday…

Reading has been a favored hobby of mine since early childhood. I remember well visiting the local branch library with my dad when I was about four or five years old: the smell of books new and old, the crinkle of the plastic-wrapped covers, the texture of the pages, and the vividness of the fresh ink on the checkout cards tucked inside the back cover pockets. Being allowed to take home my early readers caused me a great thrill. An introduction to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series often kept me up well past my bedtime (and got me into quite a bit of trouble) during my later elementary years until horse books took over from them during my pre-teen years. Romance, of course, took over in high school and remained a favored genre well into adulthood. Being a fan of both Star Trek and Star Wars led me to read science fiction. School English assignments broadened my horizons to the classics. These days, I’ll read just about anything I can get my hands on and I’m currently working my way through the hundreds of books I’ve downloaded on my Kindle.

This deep love of reading led to a desire to write stories of my own. The idea of writing romances felt…well…romantic. I wanted to be the next Barbara Cartland in the worst way and started putting pencil to paper. After awhile, my husband bought me an electric Smith-Corona and I started a love/hate relationship with correction tape. Our first computer helped ease the frustration of fixing mistakes, but led to the impatience and annoyance of listening to my dot-matrix printer whine out line after line of text. Now I have the convenience and portability of a dedicated writing Chromebook, along with a desktop computer with second monitor, a bluetooth keyboard for my Kindle, and the ability to make notes on my smartphone, yet I don’t write half as often as I once did.

Seasons change…feelings change

In recent days, I’ve often wondered why I’m having such a hard time motivating myself to write. I’m still a huge fan of reading and the written word. My dreams of becoming a successful romance author have faded a bit, but not enough for me to give up on the idea. What seems to have changed is the hunger I once had to prove myself. My earliest attempts at writing were a way to maintain my sanity while staying at home with my three young kids as well as a potential avenue of making a much-needed financial contribution to our family. The kids grew up and moved out so I no longer need to distract myself from the stresses of full-time parenting. Our finances have also improved so I’m not desperate to earn money. Plus, I fell into an unexpected career that takes up a good portion of my waking hours during the week, draining both my physical and mental energies.

My desire to write simmers beneath all the outside forces taking up so much of my time these days; the trips to visit my kids and grandkids, the household chores, and all the other little distractions of day-to-day life. The change of seasons in my life led to a shift in my feelings about writing. I’ve realized the reason I’m having trouble writing as easily as I once did is not because I don’t want to write, but that I’m no longer looking for the escapism and fulfillment I once found in the process. No longer do I feel the burning need to prove I can be a success at something other than motherhood. Nor do I now feel the urgency of bringing in a second income to help make ends meet. The story ideas that once obsessed me are now no more than an afterthought most days.

There’s time for love and for play

While the mature me continues the long-time love affair with reading that began almost half a century ago, my more recent relationship with writing has suffered. My love of reading has been as easy to maintain as my love for my husband and kids because it’s such a major part of me. Writing these days seems more like a difficult relationship that takes too much time and effort.

I need to bring back the romance I once felt with my writing in order to get any work done. Wine and candlelight may be involved.

Change the season.

(Italicized lyrics from “Seasons Change” by Expose)