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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dear You. It's Me again.

Yesterday, a magical thing happened. I saw a piece of binder paper shoved back in my overhead cubicle cabinet. It looked like a kid had ripped it out of a notebook and folded it up with the intention of giving it to a friend or keeping it in her hope chest for safe keeping.
I was bewildered. What in the world is this?
I took it out and unfolded it. There, in clumsy handwriting, was a letter to me from Ana Bardwell, my protagonist. She started off telling me about her mother and her poor relationship with her. I read, charmed the whole time. Ana can be charming in an irreverant, childish way even though she's eighteen years old and needs to start acting like an adult.

I believe we've discussed this before on this blog, but I can't stress enough the value of character letters. Every good piece of literature has characters you can't forget even if you try. When people talk about Pride and Prejudice, do they talk about the plot as much as they talk about that irresistible Mr. Darcy? In Harry Potter, are people entranced with the typical good vs. evil fight or Dumbledore and Fred and George Weasley? What attaches us to Catcher in the Rye? What's the plot of that book? Um...a guy walks around and does stuff for a day. We're enthralled with Holden Caulfield, aren't we?
Most of the time, when I'm in a jam, it's because I don't know or understand one of my characters. It's taken me years to understand Ana. She used to be a subservient, passive creature who never did anything proactive. The plot revolved around her while she sat there. Needless to say, the book was unpublishable.
If you're stuck, the best thing to do for many people is to write a letter to you from one of your characters. This technique has written entire scenes for me! At the end of the day, you'll be looking at a document that comes directly from the heart of your character and doesn't seem familiar to your personal style.
Our characters are more than just helpless vessels we use to drive the plot. They can rise up from the ink and become flesh and blood, just as an actor transforms into a make-believe identity spawned from the imagination of a screenwriter. Our characters aren't us. We aren't interesting enough for that. They are their own individual creatures sent to charm, seduce, intrigue, warm, inspire and even anger. Just like regular humans.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Time for Writing...

I must admit, a conversation with my blog partners inspired this post. Mare was saying that summertime is treating her well for writing, and I know Kara finds summer best to write. And it got me to thinking how many writers I have come across have mentioned that there is a particular time of year that they feel most inspired or productive. From my experience, it seems that many writers like wintertime best. Maybe because cold, rainy weather keeps us inside with no excuses but to sit at the computer.

I fall into the winter crowd myself. Don’t get me wrong, I can meet a deadline, but I think part of the problem with summer for me is that my house seems to be a gathering place for friends and family (it isn’t hard to do the math, we have lots of 100+ days, and I have a pool.) I’m also a night owl, and the heat zaps me in the summer and I find myself getting less done in the evening after a long summer day.

Which begs another topic. Do you write best in the morning, afternoon or evening? My writing group has a motto, “Write First.” In other words, get the words on the paper before you do anything else. It is a principle I’ve tried to abide by without much success, probably because of my night-owlness and because I’m always thinking of what else I need to get done. I have been trying to get back to it lately. Because those dishes in the sink or load of laundry can wait…but will that idea? Probably not worth the risk.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Steampunk Shoes!

I went to Nordstrom Rack the other night. I have to confess that I usually despise shopping. However, there was pizza involved. I ended up finding lots of cool shoes that sort of reminded me of Steampunk.

Some guy came up behind me while I was crouched with my camera poised and asked, “Are you taking pictures of shoes?!” I answered with, “Sure!” and kept snapping. I think it really threw him for a loop and astounded him, which in turn astounded me because I don’t know what’s so strange about it. I think my true agenda was stranger than what could have been assumed. I might have been asking somebody’s opinion or trying to decide what shoe looked good with an outfit I had at home.

Alas, he was male, meaning the concept of planning such things and dealing with complex color schemes, seasons and temperatures is completely beyond him. Even me, a female who abhors shopping and has simple wardrobes understands the need to coordinate. But that’s another post for another blog at another time.

I stand by my belief that Steampunk is hitting the mainstream a little bit at a time. “Cowboys and Aliens” has the potential to be amazing or extremely suckish. As I’ve said before, I believe that fashion is beginning to take notice of it more and more. Nothing is sexier than a man in a frock coat with a top hat and subtly placed tattoo or earring. (Or old-timey gun. Or brass cane with a doodad. Or dark glasses.) Likewise, Steampunk can be complimentary to any female figure. Come on, it’s got corsets! What can be more thinning and yet voluptuous-ing than that? Not to mention the fact that it’s juuuuust sensual enough to hint but not slutty enough to leave nothing up to the imagination. In other words, it flatters everybody. Even the loyal moralist.

Anyway, enjoy the shoes. You may or may not agree with my belief that they have an edgy vintage twist. I was a fan. At any rate, I know that when (WHEN, not if) I get my book published, I can definitely wear the fashion without having to buy expensive “Steampunk” attire on random websites. I can be creative. And that ain’t not bad.  


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Special Saturday Post! You Have Issues...

I have issues, you have issues, everyone has issues. Especially our characters, hopefully.

I belong to a weekly critique group led by the amazingly talented Thriller and YA writer, Bonnie Hearn Hill. She says that everyone has a hole in their heart that really lends to who they are, and is what motivates their actions. She always wants to know what our characters “hole” is. This has been so helpful in my writing and in creating authentic back stories for my characters.

Why is it so important for your characters to have issues? Well, I think most importantly, because it makes them empathetic. It’s hard to like someone who’s perfect, or read about them, because for one their not interesting, and secondly, because we can’t relate. We read because we want to see ourselves on paper, and we want to see the characters making the same kinds of mistakes, and having the same kinds of problems we do.

It’s human.

It’s kind of like how some women tend to always go for the bad boy. Why do they do it? Because they see vulnerability within them. Take Captain Kirk in the most recent Star Trek movie. He was definitely a bad boy, but he was an empathetic character because we knew that the reason he was having such a hard time was because his dad died when he was young, his mom was always away on other planets, yada, yada, yada…and we liked him despite his actions because we believed he was really good on the inside. He has issues, and once we saw that, we started to root for him (well, and Chris Pine is sort of gorgeous….)

So anyway, if you have a character who is seemingly perfect, you better rethink that. Give them some character flaws, create some back story, and you’ll go from making your characters flat to round.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Is your Writing on the "Down Low?"

This is a question I have for other writers: who and how many people do you tell that you are a writer? When in your writing process or career do you actually start thinking of yourself as a writer, and not just a person messing around on the computer?

A couple of years ago, it all began late one night with a blank computer screen and an idea. At first I thought: I could write a page. And when one page turned into 50, and 50 turned into a book, at first I was very, very secretive about the fact that I was trying to write a book.

Little by little, my husband, kids, and very closest friends got in on my little secret. When I joined my critique group, it did get easier to identify as a writer, much in part because suddenly I was surrounded by other writers. But still, it was hard to "come out" to people.

"I am writing a book."

The reponses, well most of the time they were kind of patronizing, like, oh how cute--she is taking on a new hobby.

I think my parents thought I was having a mid-life crisis. Once I got an agent, I thought it would be easier to tell certain people, that I would have more of a sense of credibility, but then I realized that most non-writers have no idea how hard it is to just get an agent. The struggle is lost on them. I found that some just weren't going to believe it until a book was in their little hands.

My dad has asked liked a million times if I paid my agent to take my book, and, "don't you know there are a lot of scams out there?" Sigh. I guess he can be forgiven because he is a farmer, and the publishing world is about as foreign to him as growing crops are for me.

So my method is, tell only people who will give me the most positive response, and when that book hits the shelves, point them in the direction of the nearest bookstore and smile.
But what I'm really curious about, is--are there some people out there who, the day after they started writing, told people what they were a writer? That takes real bravery, I think.

Anyone out there wait until agented? Their book sold? Hit the shelves? Got a website?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Making up your own sport.

Right now, I’ve written about 35,000 words that I believe have the potential of being published. I was at around 145 before, but I’ve scrapped a lot of that and decided to do another rewrite. I do rewrites like I change my underwear, honestly. (Frequently, in case you were wondering.)
One of my biggest challenges has been describing a sport I made up. Sometimes, I sit back and think about J.K. Rowling and her ingenious invention of Quidditch. Similar is Final Fantasy X and their Blitz Ball creation. You literally have to make a little rule book for yourself in order for it to be genuine. You can’t just toss your characters out there and hope for the best because even you won't know what in the blazes you're talking about.

My ardor for sports has helped me. I’ve always been fascinated with watching athletes so inventing my own sport has been a way for me to channel this bizarre energy I have for my favorites like Tim Lincecum, Tom Brady, Apolo Anton Ohno and Ray Allen. But it’s a challenge. It makes me appreciate the many creative terminologies Al Michaels finds of describing a catch. I mean seriously. How many freaking ways are there for me to narrate a series of actions to you when you can't see what I see?
I’ve had to weave in conflict between my descriptions of the sport, as I’m sure J.K. did with good ol’ Harry in his first match when they think Snape is bewitching the broom. (Snape is so the best character, by the way. The best right hand man ever, second maybe to Doc Holiday and that’s it.)

See, J.K. and the Japanese definitely based the passion for their respective athletic companies on the thing every country except America goes crazy for: soccer. (Football) The Quidditch Tournament in the fourth book is so the World Cup and we all know it. I'm sure J.K. herself is a fan and maybe even wears her colors and everything.

It's fantastic how much we use what we know in our stuff. I'm a black belt in kung fu, so you can bet that my "sport" is a fighting one.

I have the encouragement of my critique group, Bonnie Hearn Hill and my two fellow bloggers to thank for pushing me forward with this project and inspiring me to put a lot more energy in to my made-up sport. I can’t tell you what it is. You’ll have to wait for the book!
Happy writing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Get Inspired.

People have asked me what inspired me to write my first book, and honestly, it is a difficult question for me to answer. I think inspiration can come from anywhere, and often out of the blue. It might be a song, a movie or a trip to the beach. No matter where I go, I take along a notebook so that I can jot down notes if something hits me. I’ve even met a character out and about that I didn’t know was in the book! Very strange when that happens.

I mentioned in my first post that I changed the setting when I rewrote my book. I will be the first to admit that I was a little reluctant at first, having pictured my characters in one locale for so long. But the truth is, once I accepted it, that change of scenery made everything come alive.

I set the story at the beach, in a place my grandparents lived when I was growing up and had traveled to many times. So many ideas and characters came to me that I had no problem finishing the new version of the book. In fact, I spent a little time in the place where my fictional town is set just for research (not hard, believe me it is gorgeous there) and even more ideas came to me.

I think that no matter what, it’s about beating down the blank page. So when inspiration finds you, seize it and don’t let go until that idea is down on the page.

So, what inspires you?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Upon Which She Finds Herself Agented...Again

It is still strange, talking about one's personal journey to publishing. I think because I am technically an introvert (I'm a pretty good extrovert faker, though), I wonder who would possilby care about my silly little life. But then I remember, in my earlier writing career, how any news of how a writer got an agent, published a book--helped. Tremendously. (Still does, in fact.)

Because of this, I thought I'd share what happened to me, in hopes that others might find something of value to take away.
Back in late March, I signed with my first agent. I was elated! She was sweet, professional, enthusiastic, and most of all, she really got my book. We were a very good fit. And she helped me edit my book--thanks to her critique, in a month's time I added about 12,000 words and a whole lot of texture to the story. We were just about to get ready to go to submission when she told me that she needed to leave agenting to pursue her own writing career.

Oh, I was bummed. Devastated for a brief, brief moment, but then I realized, you know what? It was meant to be. She needs to follow her dream, and I need to keep following mine. So I picked myself back up, brushed off my query, gave it a mini-makeover (extra lip-gloss and hair product, so fab), and started querying again in May.

Things happened, guys. This time, I got a lot of interest right away. Nine requests for fulls. And for a grand total, five offers. Wow. Needless to say, I was stunned that the situation was so different! I had five lovely phone calls with five amazing agents, and instead of being elated, I was stressed (I know, I know--how ridiculous). But it was very hard to choose, partly because I hate to hurt people's feelings and partly because it was all so overwhelming! (But in a good way, my husband kept reminding me.)

In the end, I decided to sign with the lovely Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch. She loved my book, and I think when she referenced The Bachelorette, I knew she was a girl I could hang with. But most of all, she got my book, and the thought of FINDING PONY on a bookstore shelf is just...well...I'm pinching myself.

So here it is, my little story. It sounds cliche, but I guess the lesson here is when you have a dream, don't give up, and keep trying. You will get there.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Try until you can't.

My uncle was discussing the family business. He said, “We were just too dumb to give up.” I thought to myself, “Yes. That is writing.”
I don’t want to make anyone start to hyperventilate, but think about it for a minute. Think about all of the books in print. All of the writers who have Yale and Stanford educations who are trying to publish their “brilliant” piece. Then think about you. Little ol’ you with your dusty laptop and your tiny bedroom with nothing but a mason jar of ideas and chicken scratches you make at work on yellow post-its when you’re supposed to be data entering for the man.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get that black monster on my back. It’s called “Self-Doubt”. It’s a freaking jerk. It scratches at you and starts to make you view your work as nothing more than an intangible dream that you should have forfeited long ago.
But the difference between you and everyone else is that you won’t give up. You refuse. Damn it, you have a good idea. You know it’s good. People deserve to read what you’ve put down in your hard drive or your post-its. If it dies with your computer then the world will be out a really good idea. THAT is what separates a success from a failure. A true failure gives up. A success fails and fails and fails and is just too dumb to give up, as my uncle would say.
A writer will doubtless have countless “failures”. But they aren’t really failures. They’re only alternate options to the correct one. You won’t be allowed to choose the wrong one. Whether you credit fate, the universe or God, the right opportunity will find you as long as you keep looking.
That’s the key to success. It isn’t necessarily talent or the best idea ever. It’s believing in your idea and trying until it happens. As Regina Spektor says, “You try until you can’t.”
So why might you get published and not the smartest guy in the world? Your refusal to surrender (like the Americans in the Revolutionary War) and your ability to take criticism because you don’t think you’re the best thing since the invention of the wheel.
See? Now get writing.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Building Character

Last week I talked about plot. I think getting to know your characters is equally, if not more, important than plotting. Many times when I have been stuck on a plot problem I figure out that what I really have is a character problem. Often there is some vital piece of information missing that I need to know about them before I can move the story forward.

Before I start to work on a new project, I write myself letters from my main characters. I learned this from my wise mentor, Bonnie Hearn Hill. At first I felt a little silly doing this-I mean they aren’t real people, after all. But it is truly amazing what happens when you put pen to the paper and channel your characters. You find out all kinds of useful things about them-where they were born, what kind of childhood they had, why they committed that murder.

I may not always use the information they give me, but I’m convinced that knowing their back story helps when I’m working on my project. And more than once, when I’ve gotten into that tough spot, I’ll sit down and write myself a letter from that character. Lo and behold, I’ll find out some key piece of information I needed to know.

Go ahead, try it out.

No one has to know you’re talking to yourself- and really are you? As a writer, our characters come alive, and that’s where the magic happens.

Friday, June 10, 2011

It's Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday....

So, I just realized that I was supposed to blog today on here...oops! no, not oops, because here I am, blogging! But today will be a little on the lighter side, you could say. I thought I'd usually try and write about some of the books I've been reading lately, and I've certainly been busy with that.

Just finished (for the second time) PERFECT CHEMISTY by Simone Elkeles. Wow, what a great summer read. I can't wait to read CHAIN REACTION, her third in the series which comes out this summer. The PERFECT CHEMISTY series is a YA contemporary series that is sort of like West Side Story meets Grease. It's the love story of perfect high-school A-lister Brittany and the hot and fiery Alex Fuentes, the local gang-banging bad boy. They get paired up in their Chemistry class, and sparks fly. Be sure to check out the whole series.

But wait! you ask?

What is with the amazingly awesome cat-with-monacle that I see up on my screen? Is this EXQUISITE animal in any of Simone Elkeles dazzlingly awesome books? And the answer to that, my friends, is a sad no. But still, it was shown to me by my amazingly talented and hilarious steampunkian writer-niece, Meredith, and every time I see it, I have to laugh. And on Fridays, laughing is good, no? I must say that if cats with monacles are what the steampunk genre it all about, then sign me up, folks. Please, sign me up.

Have a good one, everybody.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wind me up.

I just got through watching Sherlock Holmes for the first time. Ridiculous, I know, considering the level of Steampunketry involved in the plot. My personal favorite? The SP taser.

I believe we have entered an era obsessed with fusion. It’s obvious in music, for instance. You have symphonic metal groups like Apocalyptica, who boast of classically trained cellists and yet rock my face off with metal. Speaking of, you may also remember “No Leaf Clover” performed by Metallica with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra back in 1999. In 2000, Yellowcard made the unusual choice of using a violin in their songs. Adolescents went crazy for it. “OMG…” (Did they still use that back then?) “They’re using a VIOLIN.” Most recently, we have Muse, whose album Resistance is filled with symphonic tirades.

Fashion, of course. I’m not saying people are walking around dressed in Victorian era clothing. All I’m saying is that we may well be on our way to widespread Victorian fusion in the cut of our fabrics. I would like to point out that magazines like Vogue are sometimes filled with fashion that leans on period pieces. I was also rifling through a magazine at a doctor’s office and stumbled upon a Taylor Swift advertisement that teetered on the cusp.

A lot of my initial (and unpublishable) inspiration stemmed from Japanese Visual Kei movement, which has taken some interesting twists on the SP look and has picked up in popularity over the years. When it’s done right, it can really seduce you without trying. We want to be sophisticated without being stuffy. We long to be sexy, dashing, dapper and leather clad all at the same time. It sits primly with a heavily plumed hat and a fitted dress with fishnets underneath. It’s a top hat and shades, a cane and a leather waistcoat, a frock and a smoking pistol. We’re talking about elegant edge. Sherlock Holmes bare-knuckle boxing, for instance.

You can’t get any more awesome than that.

Monday, June 6, 2011

I think someone is plotting something.

Let’s talk about plot. I’m working on my next project, and getting acquainted with characters who have been floating around my head for a while. Naturally, I’m trying to flesh out the plot and figure out just what their story is.

How much did you know about your book before you sat down at the computer? Did an idea come to you and you sat down and ran with it? Or did you meticulously plot out every chapter before you even started?

For my first novel, I fell somewhere in between. I had a good idea of where my manuscript was going, but my outline was very rough. In fact, the person who turned out to be the killer in the end wasn’t who I thought they would be when I started. Too obvious, for starters. A rookie mistake.

I think a manuscript is a living, breathing thing that changes as time goes on. That can be a hard concept to come to terms with when you are writing a murder mystery and you have to have a certain idea of where your book is going. For me, the most important part of plotting was dividing the manuscript into three acts, and knowing the basic events in each one. For me, the second act is the longest, about 50% of the total length of the book. At the end of the second and third, I put a major event, a cliff hanger to drive me into the next act. Those events I knew before I started, even if they changed a little as I went.

In all of the plotting going on, I think it is really important not to forget the characters. Often times they will come to me, whisper something in my ear (or hit me over the head with it) and things can change drastically. I have learned not to fight those moments, but embrace them and trust my characters. After all, they know best, and my plot has never suffered for it, but only become better.

So, I want to hear, are you plotting something?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kara Lucas, YA Writer

I was a very prolific writer as a kid, especially the fifth and sixth grade. My teacher in sixth grade, Mrs. Dann, saw a young girl with a love for reading, writing, and creativity and was an infinite source of encouragement for me. She gave me an award for being the best writer in class, the Wonderful Pen that year, and told me that one day I would be a great published writer.

Fast forward many years. I still loved to read, wrote copious amounts of words in my many journals, but the dream to write faded, much like other dreams one has when they are young. Doesn't make enough money, said my mom.

But then, after marriage and kids and a career in social work and many an evening spent behind the pages of a book, wishing that I was the one who had crafted that story, I took a leap of faith, and wrote a page. And another. And another, until I had myself a book. Then I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to make a go out of this writing thing, and joined a critique group, and dragged my two very talented nieces along as writerly companions. That was a year ago.

Currently I have been querying my manuscript, FINDING PONY, and at the moment I have a couple agents I am talking to, so hopefully my next post will be about how I got my agent! Oh, and I write Young Adult fiction--mainly contemporary, and leaning towards issue-driven, at least for now. I have fallen in love with the Young Adult genre--the sheer creativity, the support, the plethora of amazing current YA authors out there right now.

It's a great time to be a writer. I'm so happy I started with that first page.

What a difference a year makes.

The last year has been a crazy, wonderful journey. A lifelong writer, I can remember spending lazy afternoons in my daybed as a teenager, writing what I now know would be considered historical fiction. Unfortunately, like a lot of people, I got sidetracked along the way, somewhere not far from law school. Writing went on the backburner.

My current journey actually started a few years ago. I was inspired to pick up the pen—er the laptop—and get to writing again. A story came to me, and within a matter of months I had written a novel.

Now, I use the term novel loosely. I knew it had problems and needed work, but it was about 300 pages of words tied together in a plot—with chapters and all! I loved the characters. They had become real people to me. Then my Aunt Kara (AK) and I discovered we had both written books. We swapped our manuscripts, but I didn’t show it to anyone else. Then I put it away and didn’t look at for a while. Frankly, I just didn’t know what to do with it anymore.

Then last spring AK and I connected with a local author, a real, published writer, and started taking her class. Meredith joined us along the way. It really evolved into a critique group, and the gallery we met at was a magical vortex of ideas and words. After a few months, I came to terms with the fact that the first book had to basically be scrapped. I spent a little time mourning it, then I got to work.

I brainstormed with my mentor and the group. The characters moved to the beach, where they were much happier. Some were spared, others were cut, but the majority of the old book was sent to the word spa (more on that in another post.) I started writing.

And writing.

This was in between being a full time attorney and involved in several groups, and everything else life throws at you. There were lots of late nights and weekends at the laptop. The new version was ready just before Thanksgiving, just in time to be submitted for the St. Martin’s Minatour/Mystery Writer’s of America First Crime Novel Contest.

I spent a few months editing, and then I started querying. I have some manuscripts out, and I’m keeping my head up in this brutal game called publishing.

Because after all, this time last year, I started with a dream and a blank computer screen.

What a difference a year makes.


Writing is a Marathon. Not a Sprint.

I was always a B student. Not excellent enough to be Principal’s Honor with my solid C+ in math and not cool enough to be a problem child. Just somewhere in the middle. Rarely praised. Never punished.

In seventh grade my persuasive essay on capital punishment was read aloud in class. It was one of the first times I was told I was really good at something.

In eighth grade, while I was preparing for high school, my teacher told me I was an excellent writer and that I needed to be in honor’s English in the next year.

My sophomore year, I developed a crush on a boy who had written pages of fantasy. I thought to myself, I wonder if I could do that. Then I did do it. It was a rambling mess but it had a storyline and characters.

When I graduated, I wrote a “novel” with characters based on Japanese rockstars because I wasn’t sure what else to do with my fascination. I let my best friend read it and she told me she thought I had something. Perhaps the most overly elaborate fan fiction of all time and also not publishable, but the passion was beginning to take hold of me.

For years I would labor into the wee hours of the night. My friend gave me the harshest of criticism, eventually desensitizing me to prepare me for later “grilling”. Getting critiqued is like having a teeth cleaning. You may hate it during the drilling and the pain, but afterwards you’ll feel polished and clean and more ready to show your smile.

I was asked by my aunt and cousin to join them in a writing group. I resisted at first. I think I imagined a community college situation with a know-it-all professor, since these had been my only experiences in the classroom. Finally, I decided to go. It would end up being one of the best decisions I would make for my writing journey.

The instructor was a published authoress, for starters. She knows the craft. She took my overly-descriptive chaos and taught me how to streamline it into stuff that’s headed in the right direction. She also led me to Steampunk, which I had never even heard of before she said it beneath the warm lights of an art gallery.

I’m finishing up my Steampunk Y.A. and will start seriously querying agents within the next year. My passion for writing is at its height and I can’t wait to enter this amazing industry. I hope to dedicate a small part of my Wednesday to my Steampunk journey as I learn more about the genre and share my discoveries with you.

Keep reading and keep writing. Write on napkins and toilet paper if you have to. That’s how some of the greats began.


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