♪♫ All You Really Need is Heart! ♪♫

I talked my man into going to an arts and crafts fair this weekend.  It’s a huge show with way more stuff to see than I can take in. I love it!

Some years when I go, I see so many things I love I’m looking for a way to ship some of it home. Other years . . . meh. This year, one thing really caught me and wouldn’t let go. It was a line of handmade dolls. The business is called,  “Polka Dot Pig.”

The first thing that caught my eye was the woman’s booth. It wasn’t just a table or a couple of shelves. It was an elaborate set of antique shelves and crates and what looked like it might have been part of an old post office at one time. But what made me come back at the end of the day was the merchandise. These sweet babies.

Now, I’ve never been a doll lover. Didn’t like them when I was little, don’t care a lot for them now, because most of them are just lifeless blanks. Think about Barbie. Or even Raggedy Ann. They’re all the exact same.

To be honest, these aren’t all that different. I saw very similar dolls in a couple of other booths at the fair as I looked around. But those left me cold. Why? I wondered. What was it about this woman’s dolls that made me have to go back?

So this morning when I couldn’t sleep, I got to wondering why. It was more than just being handmade. It wasn’t just the antiques used to display them. And it wasn’t that each doll had something extra with it.

Finally, I got it. In her booth, every doll had a story to tell. One of the mammy dolls had a pair of antique scissors around her neck, hanging on an old piece of twine. The mama doll in the picture above has, “Mammy loves fried chicken” embroidered on her apron and an old cup in her hand.

One of my favorites was “keeper of broken dolls” angel. She had a Betsy-Wetsy doll in her arms. And the B-W doll was obviously broken.

 This is the queen of the flamingos. Besides holding a darling flamingo, she has old buttons edging her crown.

Of all the dolls and pretties in the show, I had to have one of these dolls. (I really wanted to buy several, but I restrained myself.) The woman who makes these dolls goes the extra mile. Each doll has a story, and I have to think of it as “heart”.

What’s that have to do with writing?

In the same way there are lots of dolls looking for a home in the world, there are millions of writers trying to sell. When an editor is looking for a new book to publish, how will she choose?

If I were an editor, I’d look for a manuscript with heart.

It’s easy with dolls, right? Just add an antique or embroider her skirt or give the doll a doll. But how do you give a story heart?

I’m not an editor, but I am a reader who won’t finish a boring book so in a sense, I am an editor.

I’ll tell you what I’ve learned from reading great authors. The way to give your story heart is to go the extra mile. Make your settings real. Find out what the place smells like in the morning. What your characters hear when they can’t sleep in the night. What does the light look like when the sun goes down before it gets dark. And how dark does it really get?

Make your characters real. Vulnerable. Imperfect. Give them scars and warts.

Give them true emotions, then let them experience conflict. And let your reader feel her gut wrench as she lives through your character. (Just don’t make it melodramatic.)

I’m rereading one of Marilyn Pappano’s books right now. Just a few moments ago, I (when I read, I’m the POV character.) wrapped my hands around a steaming cup of chai tea. I closed my eyes and enjoyed breathing in the cinnamon and clove scented steam wafting off of it, and finally took a long sip.

I really think my sinuses warmed a little when I read that paragraph. Her description is something a lot of writers would skip over or they’d quickly skim through it. Instead, Marilyn let us enjoy drinking that tea with the character. The character was comforted by it and, to be honest, so was I. 🙂

How do you make your book stand out in a world of kajillions of books? Make your characters come alive. And to do that–

♪♫ All you really need is heart. ♪♫

Let the Fireworks Begin!

Several days ago, I joined a few hundred others–and at least that many gnats and critters–along the banks of the Arkansas River to watch the annual Fourth of July spectacular. And it was…well..spectacular.

We arrived early with comfortable chairs, cold drinks, mosquito spray, and our patience. Anticipation of the big event kept us swatting bugs, checking our phones, and watching for the first pop and bang that signalled the beginning of the show.

For me, writing is a whole lot like this. When a book is in the planning stages, I spend a whole lot of time getting ready for the actual writing. I get comfortable, fill my mug with a nice Diet Coke (splash of lime required), and then I swat bugs (real life interruptions, ideas that don’t work, etc) while I await the big show (an actual synopsis I’m happy with). Or I skip the synopsis and just start writing. And somewhere along the way, the fireworks begin.

Image

On the Road Again…to Where?

On the road…

I’ve had a love affair with long, aimless drives well before I found love with a man who shared that passion. Sliding behind the wheel, plugging in the iPod or adjusting Pandora radio, and then pointing the car toward an unknown destination has long been my idea of a grand day.

If the weather’s nice, the top is down and the sunglasses are on. Always, there is the requisite Diet Dr. Pepper or iced tea (aka the house wine of the South) in the poorly designed item that passes for a cup-holder in a Mini Cooper. It’s all great fun, especially when our drive takes us down odd little country roads kicking up a dust trail in our path.

Now it’s midweek and I’m back at my desk doing another kind of wandering, this time on the page. A new book is brewing.

This book has a tentative title, a publisher’s signature on a contract, and is already a synopsis with at least one character who will see print in a previous novel before his story is told. It’s all exciting stuff, this new beginning, though any writer who tells you he or she isn’t at least a tiny bit terrified at not living up to any prior books…well, I digress.

So, I’m thinking about this man with whom I will be spending the next few months (yes, my husband knows all about him), and I’m filling in the gaps left by the brevity of the synopsis and the few conversations he is allowed in book 1. Instead of the requisite character worksheets or plotting exercises that some authors swear by, what comes to mind as I plan his tale is an image I saw on a dirt road last week when my husband and I were on one of our aimless rambles, and I was certainly not looking for writing inspiration. A gloriously beautiful hawk perched on a low branch so near the road I could almost reach over and touch it. Its stare was jarring, the way it almost dared us to approach. And then, abruptly, the massive bird attempted to fly…and flopped to the ground with great indignity. My heart hurt for that hawk, so proud even as it was wounded. Nothing showed on the outside until it made a move.

From that hawk comes the germ of an idea that will fill in some of the blanks in a certain New Orleans Pinkerton agent. His pride, oh, I know where that comes from. But his hidden wounds? Those are part of the journey, and right now I don’t know the destination.

Thus, I am on the road again…to where? In this case the destination is to THE END. Won’t you join me?

The Kid In You

What’s the most fun you ever had as a writer?

Not a very mature question, is it? Sorry.

But I’m convinced that, basically, most people are just little kids, who’ve grown tall. Kind of like Tom Hanks in Big.

Okay, we might be too shy or “grown up” to play a giant keyboard in front of a crowd, but admit it. We do what we do because we like it.

Even something that’s not particularly enjoyable–like a job,maybe– gets done because we enjoy something it leads to, such as eating, shopping or hobbies. And to pay for them, we have to have a job.

I believe writers create because, at least in the beginning, they have fun writing. I’ve always looked at writing like I did playing make-believe with Marsha and Debbie when we were kids. Lots of fun, and we could go anywhere with it.

I’ve just had to learn to apply some rules. A lot of rules. 🙂

For some people, the answer might be getting the first draft written that’s the most fun.

One of my friends is excited about seeing her first book in print in the very near future. (Congratulations, Linda!) I have a feeling that holding her first book might be her most fun.

For another, it might be winning that top award and holding the golden statue in her hand. (How about it, Rita Winning Author, Marilyn Pappano?)

Romance Writers of America Award

Some might answer, “I have the most fun when I write The End.”

Others, “While I’m creating my characters.”

And still others, “When I’m doing the research,” or “Traveling so I can experience the area I’m writing about,” or “When I put my check in the bank.”

For me, it’s a three-way tie.

  1. I have the most fun when (on the rare occasion) I read something I’ve written and realize it’s pretty darn good. That’s FUN!
  2. When I get back a critique from my most trusted critique partners and have      been told I did good. Or they like a description. Or my dialogue. That’s more than fun. It’s FUNtastic!
  3. When I’ve written about something on my blog and someone comments that what I’ve written has touched them. That’s AMAZING.

  How about it? What’s the most fun for you when you write?

Is There a Writer I Can Talk With, II

I love being part of the writing community. Well, the romance writing community, anyway. 🙂 (I’m not sure if all writers are as sharing as romance writers.)

In her blog on Wednesday, Jackie Kramer mentioned that a writer needs another writer to commiserate and/or celebrate with. And she’s right. Only somebody who’s been through the fire knows how hot it really is.

But I’ve learned over the years that I need to talk to another writer for more reasons.

  • Only another writer can teach you how to write for publication.

English teachers know grammar and punctuation, etc., but an author will tell you that each house has its own style. (Serial commas, one or two spaces after a period, and that kind of thing.) No matter how educated you are, you aren’t going to teach a publisher how to publish.

  • Writers know EVERYTHING.

They really do. Some of them are very humble about their knowledge, and they make it easy to learn from them.

*Thanks, Marilyn, for all the things you’ve taught us (me especially) over the years!!! We appreciate you!*

  • Writers really do know EVERYTHING.

Sounds as if I’m repeating myself, but on a little different note, if you need to know something, there’s a writer out there somewhere who knows it. Or she knows somebody who knows it. Or she can help you research it.

Several years ago, a friend of mine wrote something that referred to glaciers during the ice age having been in the area which is now Oklahoma. I offered to check with my Dad (a geologist) about it.

I didn’t have to, though. Both my husband and my son knew for a fact glaciers had never graced Oklahoma. (Okay, I don’t know a lot, but I know people . . . )

Just yesterday, writer friend Jackie Kramer, who’s also a nurse, answered my call. My great niece is in the hospital, where she works, with RSV. She calmed my fears and educated me on the sticky virus.

  • Writers cheer you up if you get down.

I promise you, if you do something silly or just plain stupid, there’s another writer out there whose done it, too. And someone has done it bigger. And they survived to tell the tale. (And they’ll probably share it with you.)

  • Writers understand.

We look for insight–the underlying reasons behind other people’s actions and emotions. We have to be able to make sense of the people in our lives. It’s what we do.

Because we just might want to write about it some day. 🙂

Conflict

Someone who tells me they have a ‘perfect’ marriage, children, childhood, or life, and I’ll call them a liar. We all have conflict in our life in some form or fashion–doesn’t mean it has to be as large as what’s going on in the Middle East. It is within the conflict we experience that either draws us closer or separated as far apart as the Grand Canyon. 

Conflict gives our characters and our stories depth. 

Is there a ‘conflict’ situation in a book that you really like? One you really hate?

Let The Sun Shine

Not only the words to a great song, but words that can turn a scary time into something bearable.  

Vampires aside, have you noticed people who don’t have sunshine in their lives? I hate writing characters like them. Downers….but yet every story needs one or two. Can’t have all Pollyannas. 🙂 How boring.

So today I’m going to celebrate another day of sunshine before the rain starts again this weekend. (Which may not be a bad thing as racing season is supposed to start Saturday night and I’m just not up to it yet.)

Tell me what are your favorite characters to write? Least favorite? Do you have any hints to pass along on how to write them?