Building Chops

“I want it. And I want it now!”

Okay, mature adults might not say that, but most of us would love to live our lives getting what we want without having to work years to get it.

Who wouldn’t love to be at the top of the game from the word, “Go!”? To have every word you write drip from your fingertips, sparkling and bright, and have editors and agents jockeying to get a chance at it?

Who wouldn’t love to have the knowledge before you ever start trying to write that each and every manuscript you pen is going to be so good, so lyrical, that people will line up the night before it goes on sale, just to have a chance to buy it?

An Instant Society is what I’ve heard it called. Newlyweds expect to have what their parents took years to save for. New businesses spend as if they have the same budget as their long-lived counterparts. New employees want to have the same authority as the boss and TV Star.

Think about instant a moment. Instant Coffee. Instant Tea. Instant Success. Is that really what you want? I’ve never been able to stomach Instant coffee or tea. Although I know people who drink it, I’ve never met anyone who names it as their first choice. “Not bad for instant,” is usually how they describe it.

Look at how long it took some artists to become who they are. Take the Beatles, for instance. They were all performing with other groups by 1957. They went through a time when, after they’d found each other (at least some of them) they worked in Germany playing eight-hour shifts.

They gained members and lost members until finally, in January of 1962, they recorded 14 songs for Decca Records and they didn’t pass the audition!

In October of that year, they released, “Love Me Do,” and “PS. I Love You,” and hit the charts.

Six years of constant work, work, work to become an “instant” success.

Was it worth it?

Just as there’s a difference between instant coffee and coffee that’s been brewed from good, roasted and well ground beans, there’s a difference between instant success and those who’ve taken the time to learn and built the chops to be the artist you’d like to become.

Without discouragement. So what if you don’t sell in the first year? Or even after five years? Many of the writers I know have written for ten years or more before selling their first book. But it’s worth it.


What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.

My advice, for what it’s worth–Take the time to learn what you need to know. Don’t worry about how long it’s taking you or if you’ll ever be able to sell it. Learn it for the enjoyment of learning. Write it for the love of writing.

Find the joy in doing whatever it is you do, and you’ll never have to work.

BTW: Whatever your endeavor, whatever your goal, you may just find the most important ingredience is tenacity.

Or, as they used to say when Shep was a pup, “Keep On Truckin!'”

Query Blurbs

I was going to write about voice today, but something happened the other night that didn’t just refill my well, it flooded it. (I’m referring to Marilyn’s post yesterday, REFILL TIME.

I got a call from one of our new members and it flooded my well! I love it when women like this one joins our group because they love writing and the want to learn and write and achieve their goal of Published. (Insert angel choir singing.)

I was just like that when I first joined. I knew what I didn’t know and wanted to learn, learn, learn.

The ugly truth is, I got a C in English my senior year in high school (although I did much better in college) so to this day, I depend on my critique partners.

If a trusted critique partner (trusted is the magic word there) tells me my participial has taken a hike, fallen off a cliff and is dangling by its fingernails, I’ll believe her.

If she tells me my G dissolved and my MC got hammered, I’ll back up the bus and go to work.

If she tells me my black moment is actually a dull shade of gray, I’ll get out my paint box and go to work.

So when this woman called for advice the other night, I was stunned.

“I hear you’re really good at writing queries, and I wondered if I could talk to you for a minute.”

“Me?” Nearly fainting, I grabbed a counter top for support. “You’re still kind of new to the group. Are you sure you don’t have me mixed up with someone else?”

“No. They said Susan Shay.”

“They did? Who did? Are you sure they weren’t teasing?”

“Linda and Marilyn both said it.”

“Wow. I’m good at writing queries? I had no idea.”

Seriously. No idea. So I said, “Tell me about your query and I’ll help if I can.”

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Finding Sight

This is one of those posts with a question (or two. Or three) at the end. I hope you’ll answer.

I’m going to give you three examples.

#1- Blind Sight: A few years ago, I had an idea for a book about a serial killer that I called BLIND SIGHT.

He lived in a small town world (big surprise, huh?) and was killing women.  The small town world police force hadn’t figured out he was active, because the deaths of the women weren’t the same.

The funny thing about that story is that from the beginning, I just knew my heroine. Her name was Cassaundra, but everyone called her Cassie.

Cassie was a touch psychic. If she touched something someone else had touched who’d recently experienced an intense emotion, she lived his experience and emotions. But that was the only way to see through him, unless he was very close and experiencing extremely intense emotions.

Cassie does her best to NEVER see through anyone, because most experiences she picks up aren’t pretty. One day, Cassie touches something that the serial killer has touched in the bookstore where she works, and it’s as if she’s inside the killer’s body. She’s seeing through his eyes as he disposes of the body of a young woman.

After spritzing the round table, she cleaned the top and finally made the circuit pushing chairs into their proper places. Glancing down, she saw a cup left behind on a seat. As if in slow motion, it toppled off the edge. Without thinking, she caught it—then remembered she’d forgotten to replace her gloves.
 The vibration crashing through her was like thunder from a colossal drum, quaking long and hard and painful, deafening her to the sounds going on around her. A brilliant flash stabbed into her eyes and, as her irises contracted painfully, she nearly collapsed to her knees.
The bookstore disappeared.
Her body shuddering in the cool air of night, Cassie smelled dust and rain on the breeze. A feeling of devout piety stole over her as her heartbeat slowed to a sluggish thud. Casting her gaze downward, she saw a young woman, her face white and still as if it had been carved from alabaster, lying near the edge of a rocky crag. With hands that were not her own, she crossed the girl’s stiffening arms over her cold, unmoving chest, then straightened her skirt, pulling it to her knees.
As gently as if she were putting a child to bed, she slipped the body over the precipice where it crashed helplessly into a tree, flipped almost completely around, hit the ground, and rolled down the steep slope until it rested brokenly against a jagged boulder.

I’d never even heard of touch psychics until a few years ago, when I saw a movie called, “Vibes” with Jeff Goldblum and Cyndi Lauper.

Kind of a silly comedy, but I enjoyed it. 🙂 In it, Jeff Goldblum is a touch psychic. In one scene, he helps his girlfriend fold laundry, and when he picks up her clean underwear, he “sees” another man taking them off of her.

That movie cooked in my brain for a long time until I finally took that ability for my book.

Now, I’m working through this book a chapter at a time with my critique group. One day, Marilyn Pappano comes to critique and says, “Susan. Do you know Kay Hooper?”

I thought for a moment. “I went to school with Frances Hooper, and there’s another family of Hoopers in C-Town, but that’s all the Hoopers I know. Is she related to any of them?”

Marilyn shook her head. “No, Kay Hooper’s a writer. Ever heard of her?”

“Nope.” I always love discovering a great author. “Is she good?”

“Yes, she’s very good. She had a book come out not too long ago called, “Stealing Shadows.” It’s about a touch psychic who lives in a small town, where a serial killer is active. And get this–the touch psychic’s name is Cassandra.”

I was flummoxed! I didn’t know what to say. I’d never heard of the woman. Never read her books. Never even heard her speak at a conference or been in a class she’d taught, but I was in the process of writing a story that sounds as if I’ve lifted it from her.

How could that happen???

One thing for sure, I’m not psychic. I certainly didn’t channel my book from Kay.

I’ve since read Kay’s book, and it’s absolutely wonderful! She is a master writer and story-teller. Any similarity between my book and hers is merely superficial. (And a little hopeful on my part.)

I wouldn’t mind being her when I grow up. LOL.

#2–Several years ago a friend of mine wrote a story that had a terrorist attack mass killing as part of the story. She and her husband took a trip to the area where the story was set, she took pictures and notes and plotted how the attack would happen.

She worked hard on the book and had interest from an editor, who was working with her to get it ready for publication.

Before she’d finished the book, a tragedy just like the one in her story became headline news.

Upset and worried that A-people would think she was trying to cash in on that tragedy or B-the FBI might investigate her, thinking she had something to do with it (apparently it was nearly identical, at least in her mind) she stopped all work on that book and never did finish it.

As far as I know, to this day as talented as she is, she’s never sold a book.

#3 Another woman I know wrote about a death in her WIP. Not long afterward, a famous singer died the exact same way and made big headlines.

This woman considered changing her story out of respect for the singers family.

Question I hope you’ll answer. 🙂

  1. Have you ever written something and found it was at least outwardly similar to someone else’s story?
  2. Even scarier, have you ever written something, then had it come true in real life?
  3. What do you think the writer should do? Drop it or keep on trucking and hope to cash in?

Bad Guys Need Love, Too

I might have mentioned it before, but I’m a reader first, and then a writer. I’ve loved reading since before I started school, and that’s never changed. I think it’s getting to live other people’s lives that makes reading so enjoyable for me. Kind of keeps Terminally Curious calmed down. 🙂

Right now I’m reading Lisa Jackson’s DEVIOUS,

Official publicity photo for Lisa Jackson

and I’m enjoying the guts out of it.

The book is set in New Orleans (yep, one of my favoritest places in the whole world to visit) and much of it is set inside a convent. Want to know why I like it so much?

  1. I’m not a Catholic, so I’m learning new things about the religion.
  2. She delves into the mystery of nuns.
  3. She has an almost-nun (novice?) who’s psychic and looks as if she’s going to fall in love with a man.

And I’m LOVING the way she writes her villain. Lisa knows Bad Guys (antagonists) need love, too! More to the point, she knows the antagonist needs to make sense–in his own head at least.

Plotting classes (at least in the romance genre) nearly always ask for a GMC (goal, motivation and conflict) for the hero, heroine and villain. Why?

Because, those of us who enjoy reading murder stories like to figure out “who done it.” We follow the clues and see if we can tell who is doing the killing, and we like to beat whoever is trying to solve it in the book.

In order to do that, the killer has to have some kind of logic, even if it’s twisted logic.

And if it is twisted, it must consistently twist in the same way.

Why? Because all killers are humans.

And while most of us might not like some things about ourselves, all humans love themselves enough to at least sustain life. Villains do, too.

Just like everyone else, they are who they are because of where they’ve been and what’s happened to them in the past.

Something in his life (usually a combination of something during childhood added to events in adulthood) made him a villain. And he’s never a villain in his own mind. He’s nearly always doing the right thing–he thinks.

Even if he know what he’s doing is wrong, he has to have a reason why he has to do it. They aren’t just mad dogs that go around killing everything they get close to.

The author can’t change the M in his GMC in the middle of the stream. We are who we are. People almost never change who they are at their core. Villains don’t, either.

As I was saying, Lisa Jackson is doing a great job of loving her bad guy. She’s letting us inside his head, so we know how his mind works. (He’s a real bad one, too.)

She’s given us a red herring or two, I think. (The best part about a red herring is when you think it is, but you aren’t really sure. And she’s a master at that!)

I’m between halfway and three-quarters finished with the book. I have my fingers crossed that she’s going to start letting us into the villain’s head a little more, because the more we understand him, the more easily we can recognize him.

And I hope the bad guy is someone we’ve met, because if she drags someone in off the street we haven’t seen before, I’m going to throw the book at the wall. And that wouldn’t be good for my Kindle. (I hope the creator of Kindles knew about the way we throw books that cheat and were smart enough to make them bounceable.)

Now I have an important question for you–anybody know where the term Red Herring originated? I sure don’t. 🙂

PS: DEVIOUS is a great read. I recommend it!

Star rating? I give it a country night sky full of stars.

Capture Springtime

Prunus avium Deutsch: Vogel-Kirsche im Frühlin...

Have you noticed yet? It’s SPRINGTIME!

I know, it happens every year. I shouldn’t get so excited, but I just can’t help it. Spring is one of my top four seasons. Make that my top two! I. Love. Spring.

Why? you ask. Like everyone else, I adore the warmer-but-not-yet-hot days we have, and the chance to glimpse my neighbors who’ve started walking again.

I enjoy seeing the critters as they make their reappearance into my world here on the lake. Bluebirds were trying to make a nest in my decorative birdhouses I have hanging on my New Orleans tree. (I’m hoping for a bluebird box for my birthday this year. AND someone to hang it.)

But most of all, I enjoy seeing the world come to life. The first thing I usually notice is a tree blooming in the woods along the road. Before anything in my yard is ready to make a bud, these trees put on beautiful white flowers.

Wild plum, dogwood and redbud all make our countryside gorgeous early in the spring. And the golden-green color of new leaves on the trees always astounds me.

Of course, for me it’s a miracle every year when something I’ve planted sticks its head above the soil again. I’m amazed I haven’t killed them off yet.

Painted ferns and hostas have started making an appearance in my yard. When they uncurl into the world, it reminds me of a puppy, all curled up for a nap, waking and stretching little legs.







And with all that new growth comes a difference in the fragrance in the air. (I’m ignoring allergies.) It nearly takes on a physical presence as it picks up odors from everything that’s happening in the world.

And sunrise. Have you noticed? Where the sun peeks over the horizon has shifted. I know it happens all the time, but I get such a thrill when I notice it heading south again.

Everyone gets it when you write about spring. But just like we don’t all get spring at the same time, we all perceive it in a little different way.

Characters in your books will see it in a different way. Instead of paying attention to the ferns as they unfurl, maybe your character will see the weed growing next to it. And instead of the scent of honeysuckle, they’ll catch the smoke in the air. Or they’ll see spring through an ugly red haze because of the misery of allergies.

Stop the words you’re showering on your WIP today and write your impressions of spring for the next springtime setting in one of your manuscripts. Then write it from a villian’s POV. Is it different? 🙂

As writers, we’re lucky. We can capture what happens in our lives like dreams in a bottle to be opened and experienced over and over. If you can, take time and do it.

And sometime, IF you can find what you’ve written, you’ll be glad you did.



What’s Your Job?

Marilyn mentioned in her blog this week that our newest member is writing 35,000 words a week. Honestly, I think I heard the angels sing when I read those numbers.

35,000 words? That means she could finish a novella in a week. She could finish a short contemporary in a week and a half and a long contemporary in two weeks. Wow.

No. Make that . . .


Of course, Marilyn’s 10,000 words a week are nothing to sneeze at. I’m impressed! I get to thinking about all those words and how little time I have. What with my job and the other things I do for the RWA chapter. And the blogs I write.

I just don’t have much time. (I’m gritting my teeth as I write that phrase.)

That’s when I remember a story my mom liked to tell. (Yes, I’m sharing it again. Sorry.)

A fire chief hired several new firemen. When they all came to work the first day, he lined them up. “We firemen must take care of our equipment or it won’t work when it’s needed. So Smith, you’ll take care of the hoses. Make sure they’re put away properly. If they begin to fray, you see they’re repaired. Jones, you’re in charge of tires. Watch them. Make sure they’re in good shape. A blow out is tragic. Brown, I want you to keep the ladders in good working order. Nothing wrong with them.”

The chief went on, handing out assignments until everyone had one. Then he stood back and looked at his new crew. “All right, men. Let’s see how well you remember. Shout out your job.”




The men shouted until each had been heard.

The captain just shook his head. “Wrong, wrong, wrong.”

The most agressive of the recruits stepped forward, “But Chief. That’s what you said.”

“No.” The chief answered. “Your job is fighting fire!”

In any group, people tend to get so caught up in the business of the group that we forget what our job really is.

For those of us who belong to RWA chapters, it is To. Write. Not run contests. Not chair committees. Not bring in recruits. Not get speakers.

Not to do any of the many things that have to be done to keep a chapter going.

Our job is to write.

So why don’t we all write 10,000 words a week?

Animated Gifs

Oh, Happy Day!

This is St. Patrick’s Day, and as they say, “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” Are you wearing green? (I won’t pinch you if you don’t pinch me.)

As a romance writer, I should be wearing a t-shirt that says–

but I’m not. Instead, I’m wearing my jammies. (A perk of being a writer: You don’t have to get dressed to go to work.)

Do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? I wish I’d planned to celebrate it this year, but one son is in Big D, watching his wife and THE TALK OF TULSA compete against other choruses. (Good luck, guys!)

And another one is getting ready for a wedding, with the third brother helping that one out.

Something writers do that you don’t usually see in their books is get to know their characters’ histories. Some go way back, some not so far. But in doing that, I’ve become more curious about my own.

I learned I really do have an Irish connection, besides being married to an Irishman. My great-grandmother’s maiden name was McCrackin. Before you tell me that’s a Scottish name, not Irish, let me finish.

Sometime my predecessors scooted over from Scotland to Ireland, and lived there for a few generations before migrating to the Land of Opportunity. So does that make me Scottish? Does it make me Irish? Nope.

IT MAKES ME AN AMERICAN! (And proud of it!)

I also have German, Black Dutch and (I was told recently) French in my makeup. I could be the melting pot of the world. 🙂

So lets all celebrate the Irish in us with a big glass of green apple juice.

Just don’t show me your green teeth when you’re through.