Everything’s Fodder

That’s something you hear a lot from writers, especially when their or their friends’ lives are going down the toilet. No matter how bad a day (or week or month) you’re having, there’s going to be something in it you can use in your work down the line. Trust me.

Three years ago this month, my sister’s only child died just days after his seventeenth birthday. It was an amazingly awful time, but those emotions were there to tap when I wrote a character who’d lost her fifteen-year-old daughter. Last year I broke my wrist and had to have surgery. I know exactly what my current hero feels when he breaks his wrist. And earlier this year, my husband broke his  wrist and had to have surgery, so I know exactly how the heroine feels taking care of him post-injury. (And I’m convinced that no matter how whiny or grumpy my hero gets, anyone who’s ever nursed a man through an injury will know that there’s no such thing as “too much.” LOL.)

Granted, we don’t have to live through an event to be able to write characters experiencing that event. After all, we’re authors. Imagination is our biggest tool. I’ve never killed anyone (though maybe I’ve been tempted a time or two), but I can imagine it quite well.

But emotions that we’ve felt ourselves can certainly add a feel of authenticity to our stories, and emotions are the backbone of romance novels. In other genres, the focus is on other things — the who-or-how-he-dunnit in mysteries, the world in sci-fi, etc. — but romances succeed or fail on emotion. You can have the best characters, plots and twists ever imagined, but if the emotion’s not real, the readers won’t care.

I knew a woman who lamented that her books weren’t finding the success she wanted; in the same conversation, she remarked that she hadn’t read a certain book — a really emotional laugh-and-sob romance novel that was flying off the shelves — because she didn’t like anything that made her feel too deeply. Duh! That was the problem with her own books: she had good characters, good plots and good writing, but nothing really touched the hero and heroine or, as a result, the readers. The emotions were superficial, and so was her readers’ connection to her books.

How are you with emotion in your own books? Do you have any tricks for getting it in, or do you rely on your critique buddies to send your pages back with “more, more, more!” scrawled on them?

Can you think of any books that really, truly reached down inside you to tug at your heart? The one that always comes to my mind first: Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath. I cried from about the second page on. I loved that book!

Playing with Putty

The following article was written by Marilyn Pappano for the award-winning Inklings newsletter.

Last year, I broke my wrist and found myself, post-surgery, devoting much of my time to physical therapy. Included in my bag of toys, as the therapist called them (she has a wicked sense of humor), were several seemingly harmless items: a deck of cards, clothes pins, a sponge, and a tub of putty. Green, stiff, sort of a grown-up Silly Putty.

Initially the exercises with the putty were tough. Simply squeezing it in my hand was about a nine on a pain scale of ten, and the first time I tried flattening it on the table by leaning my weight into my palm, the pain was so intense that I almost fainted. The therapist had to help me back into my chair.

But as the injuries healed and hours of daily work helped me regain the strength I’d lost, working the putty got easier, too. Now I can stand at the table, flatten it, roll it up, and do it again for as long as I want with no more than a twinge of discomfort, and I can think about other things besides not passing out.

Yesterday, as I watched the putty ooze out from beneath my hand, it occurred to me that it and I have a lot in common. We’re both malleable, a very good thing for a writer. You can’t make it in this business if you’re rigid and unbending; it’ll beat you to death. (How about the time my editor said, “I love your hero and heroine! Keep them, but throw out everything else”?)

We’re resilient. No matter what pressures are put on us — deadlines, rejections, writer’s block, bad reviews, bad editors, bad agents — we keep coming back. (Or the time two already-scheduled authors missed their deadlines and my editor called in a panic: “I know you’re a fast writer. Can you turn your manuscript in two months early?”)

We bounce. Okay, so it was a bad idea to test it on the putty, especially when I hadn’t vacuumed the dog hair in a few days. But you throw us or drop us, we don’t break. We bounce back. (And there was the editor who did such a job on me that, for the first and only time, I lost faith in my writing. I hated it. Even after I finally got away from her, I dreaded facing the computer, until one day, I sat down and words flowed. I practically wept.)

We’re strong. We can give and we can take, and if we need more strength, we can get it. My therapist has stuff to mix into the putty to make it even harder to work, and I find stuff to make me tougher everywhere — in family, friends, God, in good times and bad. There’s an old saying: “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I thought for a while that the putty might kill me, but in the end, I did come out stronger and have the proof. On the first day of therapy, my grip strength in my uninjured left hand was forty pounds; in my right hand, it was only ten. Two months later, I measured forty-five pounds in my left hand and forty-six in the right.

Adversity’s no fun. I’d rather live a smooth, easy life, both personally and professionally, but that’s not going to happen. When the next bad thing comes along — and it will — I’m going to be just like that tub of putty. I’ll be malleable. I’ll be resilient. I’ll bounce. I’ll be strong.

And I’ll come out of it even stronger.

Be a Contender!

“I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender.” Spoken by Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) On the Waterfront.

“Let’s get drunk and be somebody.” Sang by Toby Keith.

“I wish I would have…” words spoken by damn near everyone at some time in their life.

In my humble opinion, there is nothing scarier than the prospect of lying in a hospital bed someday with tubes stuck in every orifice, knowing I’m about to take my last breath, and wondering “What if…”

God save me from that fate!

I always wanted to play the guitar. So you know what? I’m taking lessons. I thought Karate looked like fun. I took some classes, got my Orange belt and decided it really wasn’t for me. But along the way to my Orange belt, I broke a board and fire walked. That’s right I walked barefooted over a 12 foot bed of hot coals.

And you know what? I didn’t die. I didn’t even get burned. You see the trick to doing something scary like a fire walk is keeping your mind focused on where you want to go. It’s recognizing that YOU are the master of your life. YOU are in control of what you think and what YOU do.

Some of the bravest people I know are the writers I’ve met through RWI. These ladies pour their souls into their work, and then have the huevos to put their manuscripts in front of an editor, agent, or critic knowing all along that editor, agent, or critic may rip it to shreds. And in doing so, shred their heart. Still, the prospect of rejection doesn’t stop them.

And do you know why? Because they have dreams, published or unpublished, they have goals that drive them to success. To do more than just say “I wonder…” “What if…” “I wish…”

THEY ARE SOMEBODY! THEY ARE AUTHORS!

So let’s start writing and be SOMEBODY!  Can you be a Contender?

P.S. I know how truly terrifying it can be to send out queries and partials only to get rejected. The worst part is never knowing why you were rejected. But there is a way to put your work out there and have it critiqued by people who genuinely want the same thing you do…to see you get published.

Enter the WHERE THE MAGIC BEGINS Contest for Unpublished Authors. The whole purpose of this contest is to provide feedback and encouragement to aspiring authors. What have you got to lose?

If you are serious about writing AND selling, then give this contest a try. I know I am.

For Rules, FAQ’s and more details, go to: WWW.RWI-RWA.COM, click on Contest tab.

Who decides?

When I go shopping, I always check out the book section.  I even do this when I go to Dollar General; did you know they have waaaay old titles for a buck?  Anyway, today at my drug store, I visited their tiny book shelf, just in case there was a title I wanted.  Most of the books were thrillers and I got to wondering…who decides which titles are stocked in a particular store?

Now, most chain stores have similar books.  Target, K-Mart, Wal*Mart, etc…if you go to one store in the chain, you know what the rest of the stores carry.  But, sometimes I’ve noticed that the percentages of the titles can differ.  When we still have Albertsons in town, the one at 31st & Garnett would have a lot more Western titles than the one at 51st & Memorial.  Target and K-Marts have really limited SF, but my local Reasors has none at all.

Is it by geography?  I know if I want a confession magazine, I have to go to the Warehouse Market on 18th & Garnett, but can’t find one at the WM only 1/2 mile from my house.   Of course, I can always go to Steve’s if I’m desperate to find the unusual book.  Steve’s carries about anything.

Does the broker get to decide?  Does he/she stock his favorite covers or titles or authors in the stores in his district?  Does his boss tell him which titles to put where or does the individual store manager decide which books will be stocked so he/she gets to pick out their favorite covers, titles, authors?

Maybe its magic.  The book fairies sneak into the stores at night and stock the shelves with whichever author leaves the correct cookies and milk.  Wait…that’s Santa Claus, isn’t it?

All I know is that sometimes, I have the devil’s time finding certain titles.  Now, it’s a given that if I want a POD, I’ll have to order it.  But I’ve had some long time favorites who I occasionally have to search for their latest book.   Sometimes, I can’t find it anywhere and have to order it…and that’s counting checking for the book at an honest to God book store.  So even there, who decides what titles they carry.  Is there any organization to the process???

Writers and Racers

Yesterday, DH and I took the ‘Vette out for a Sunday drive through rural East Texas. With the wind whipping through the car, he drove while I turtled in the sun until the temperature rose above 94. The total relaxation for me was wonderful after a stressful week, and the race on Saturday night. It wasn’t a bad race and it wasn’t a good race. It was a boring race, even watching it on video. Yeah, DH & I critiqued my driving style and why I didn’t mash the gas all the way. What I wanted was a do-over and if I had, I would have done a pit manuever on the driver ahead of me to get him out of my way.

But my time in the fresh air had me thinking. Writing can be a lot like a race—good, bad, and boring. Like I let that driver control my race because I wanted to stay ‘safe.’  To save my race car from a possible crash, I was too cautious, and well, boring. Some writers are the same as they never venture out of their comfort zone.

Then you have the balls to the wall, foot through the floorboard personality who zooms ahead, not caring if they produce good work. Careless without a clue—they will smash into or run over anyone near them. A good racer and smart writer plan as well as look to the next turn on the track, but they also are able to adjust to the track conditions. Flexible, using instinct as well as common sense.

Although I finished the race a respectable 10th out of 18, I was still disappointed in my performance, as I have been for the last few years with my writing, only producing a bland short story. Better safe than sorry, but that’s not the way a writer sells. No one wants to read safe and boring. And I if I never venture farther than that, I’ll never sell another book. Or win a race.

(Sorry, no You-Tube video clip from me this week although I did produce another 12 minute video complete with music!)

Courage

My step-grandmother was laid to rest yesterday. She was 97. She lived a long and fruitful life. She lived through 2 world wars, the great depression, was pretty much a Rosie the Riveter, and tried to bring joy to everyone around her. She was straightforward and if you didn’t want to know what she truly thought, you didn’t ask. The woman seemed to be fearless.

In recent years, she became an adoptive widow by several young people in her church who took great joy in going to the nursing home and applying make-up and painting her nails. She loved it even though she didn’t wear much make-up and seldom wore nail polish. It was the interaction with the girls that was important.

Why am I basically posting her obituary here? Because she wrote poetry. A love she shared with those teenage girls. She had a wonderful collection of poems she’d written over the decades and even told her sister she wanted to have them published. But she never did. We’ll never know why.

Even though she lived almost a full century, she never fulfilled that one dream, except to have an occasional poem printed in the church bulletin. I wonder if her life would have been any fuller if her works had been published. Maybe not, but the rest of the world has been denied the privilege of reading them. We have been denied their beauty.

For those of us that have been hesitating and dragging our feet in pursuing that writing career and sharing our love of writing with the rest of the world, I ask the question, “Why?”

As Verda Hixson would say, “Why, indeed?”

MEN . . . AGAIN

Last night some of us Sluts went to hear Sister Slut Jackie Kramer speak to Tulsa Night Writers.  As usual, Miz Jackie was wonderful!  Her topic was creating new characters, and she spoke about the differences between men and women.  I didn’t take notes, and I didn’t get a hand-out because so many people showed up to hear her, but she had some great advice.  I especially loved her comparisons between men and women — including the ones that men see life as a competition and women see it as a co-op.  She really hit the nail on the head, as she always does.

Rather than trying to recall the rest of her comparisons, I’m hoping she can be persuaded to share some of her insights here on the blog.

After all, I have proof she can be bribed, and I have dark chocolate.