Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Love/Hate in a Novel Lists

As promised, here are the things I LOVE to see in a novel:

1. A beach or lake setting
2. Siblings
3. Perspectives of characters from different generations as they experience the same events
4. Romantic relationships in progress
5. All relationships in progress, actually (I'm not a big fan of new characters showing up in chapter thirty-six.)
6. Meaningful spirituality
7. Humor
8. Details about unique family rituals
9. Dogs
10. Heroism

And another list of things that I'm not such a fan of:

1. Hopeless settings
2. Love that seems so impossible that it hurts to watch
3. Stereotypes of beleaguered new moms
4. Plots that hinge on a character making a choice I don't think s/he'd actually make
5. Cats, hamsters, gerbils
6. One-dimensional bad guys (or girls)
7. Unbelievable careers
8. Unrelenting personal devastation
9. Characters that seem unconnected to anyone or anything
10. Sad endings

Now YOU might be just the opposite: you might hate a story about brothers who train dogs on the beach as their Uncle looks on and does tai chi...and love a story about a lonely spinster who had to give up her gerbil collection because she found a baby on the front steps and hasn't showered in three weeks but must find a way to fend off the evil mayor who is determined to take down the house that has been in her family for generations so he can build a strip club....

You get the idea. We all like different things, and that is a spectacular thing. But as we go into our book project on Saturday, I found it really helpful to think about what I like and what I don't, so I can make sure me and my characters are hanging out in a place we want to be. How about you?

I'll close with a great quote from Jeanine Mason, one of the contestants on So You Think You Can Dance:

"This whole experience has shown me that I'm capeable of so much more than I give myself credit for."

I'm believing that in 42 days, at the end of this adventure, we'll be able to say the same :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reading to inspire writing

I'm over at my friend Mary's blog today, talking about the book that kicked my butt back into gear as I was working on the manuscript for book #2.

But I'm soooo busy that day...

I've been a little out of touch with the calendar this summer. I had two dates circled in bright red: the day my manuscript for A Maze of Grace was due, and the day we left for vacation. Since then, it's all been a bit murky.

This morning I realized that August 1st, the day we're kicking off Want to Write A Book? How About This Month? (and I say "we're" kicking it off because I can't imagine trying this alone) is Sunday. THIS Sunday. And on this Sunday, I have events I'm expected to be at during every single minute from 7:30am to 7:30pm. Not my favorite sort of day to begin with, but a truly TERRIBLE day to start a novel.

I almost canceled. I was all set to push the start back a day to Monday. But then I thought about the almost 100% fail rate of anything I've ever started on a Monday (there's a reason no one gets married that day) and decided to stick with the original plan.

Here's the thing: there's NEVER a good time to start a book. We will always be too busy, have too many balls in the air already, too many people/things/obligations competing for our attention to possibly add one more. Oh well. The best writers write anyway. So that's what we're going to do. We'll start out by aligning ourselves with the cream of the crop and figure out a way to write no matter what. I'll focus on Chris Baty's First Law of Exuberant Imperfection: "The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy."

It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be a start.

That, I can do.

ADDENDUM: Yep, I just realized that August 1st is Saturday, not Sunday. Which is actually worse, in terms of my schedule...but better in terms of the cool story I'll have to tell about overcoming adversity when my novel comes out :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

On Winning A Pulitzer

I'm gearing up for "Want to Write A Book? How About Next Month?" this week, reading Chris Baty's wise words on doing just enough--but not too much--planning.

One thing in particular that caught my attention was his admission of how badly he crashed & burned when he tried to write a "serious" book, rather than the kind of story that came naturally to him (you know, the kind he'd actually like to read...)

I've been thinking about this. I tend not to like serious books unless they speak specifically to something I'm thinking about in the moment. So Steinbeck's East of Eden rocked my world a few weeks back because I was working on a talk about sibling rivalry and how it traces all the way back to Cain & Abel. But then a friend recommended this Pulitzer Prize winner, and I barely made it past chapter three. Yes, the author captured the grim bleakness of certain (perhaps many) lives. But no matter how I tried to force myself to buckle down and appreciate the lyricism of the prose (or whatever I was supposed to be captured by) I couldn't get past the basic truth that the characters were not folks I wanted to spend time with.

Which means that no matter how interesting it might be to win a Pulitzer, I'd likely make myself miserable trying to write something along these lines. We have to WANT to spend time with our characters, in the situations they go through. We have to care how things turn out. (And we shouldn't have to be reminded of this, but somehow, I do...) Chris' wise words:

"As you plan your book this week, remember, above all else, that your novel is not a self-improvement campaign. Your novel is a spastic, jubilant hoe-down set to your favorite music, a [forty]-day visit to a candy store where everything is free and nothing is fattening. When thinking about possible inclusions for your novel, always grab the guilty pleasures over the bran flakes. Write your joy, and good things will follow."

A spastic, jubilant hoe-down? Sign me up!!!

Chris also made a good suggestion for this week I'll pass along:

Make two lists:
1. Things you love to see in a novel (situations, settings, relationships, time frames...)
2. Things that make you drop a book unfinished into the "to be donated" pile.

If they're not too embarrassing, I'll share mine later this week :)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Want to write a book? How about next month?

Toward the end of my vacation last week, I felt my brain starting the slow spin indicating it was coming back to life. I found myself mulling over a couple of new writing projects. One of which was a novel (which is such a bizarre thing for me to think about that even now I'm wrestling with the urge to backspace right over that last sentence).

I've never wanted to write a novel. It just seems too daunting, vast and without boundaries to create an entire story without the pre-made decisions and check points non-fiction/memoir provides. And yet...I might try.

Anna Quindlen is one of my writing heroes because she moves so easily between fiction and non, books and articles...she has the dexterity that marks her as a master of her craft. (Ditto Barbara Kingsolver). I spent parts of last week reminding myself that at one point, they had to face a blank page in a new genre, too. They had to try...

So I'm going to try. And I wondered if maybe, some of you might like to join me?

Here's what I'm thinking: I have a blog called 40 Days of Faith. I'll need some faith for this, so I thought that might be a good place to post. (We can call it 40 Days of Fast Writing or something...) Starting August 1st, I'll post an inspirational/funny quote about the writing life, and share/brag/confess/admit how much writing--in pages and/or words--I did or didn't do that day. You can do the same in the comments, and we'll cheer each other on. Our goal will be to have a finished rough draft of something--memoir, novel, screenplay, whatever--that has a beginning, middle, and end. You know, something we can revise until Christmas :)

If you're curious, the book that inspired me to take the leap is Wendy Wax's The Accidental Bestseller, a novel about four friends who met at a writing conference and supported each other into life as published authors. I love that idea. So I thought maybe we'd try something similar, and see what happens.

If you want to join in, here's what you can do between now and August 1:

1. Click over to the 40 Days Blog and leave a comment to say "I'm in!"

2. Read Chris Baty's No Plot No Problem for some great inspiration (and if you've read my book, then when you see the name Paul Griffiths on page 55 you can say, "Hey--I practically know that guy!")

3. Check out Wendy's book and think about the one character who writes 20 pages a day, rain or shine, the one who treats her pages like brushing her teeth or eating dinner--something you wouldn't dream of skipping if you could possibly help it. Now granted, it makes her a little crazed and almost costs her all her relationships...but what might it mean for each of us to move writing from "optional" to "required" for six weeks? I'm excited to try.

I wish...

...I'd thought to start our wedding like this:

Priceless, right? All the best to Jill & Kevin, and all their fun friends. (My guess is that that was a VERY fun reception...)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Philosophical musings three days back from vacation

We're back! It was so relaxing--a great week hanging out with my sister and her family, doing girlie-things with my little niece, and laughing with Steve about a million little nothing/somethings that we hadn't had the time to notice in awhile. Steve and I even got to go out on the boat with my Dad, something that hasn't happened in a long, long time.

Last year, I spent my week in Rangely sitting by the lake reading (okay, absorbing might be a better word) a book of quotes by C.S. Lewis I'd grabbed from the library. It gave me some heady, happy moments, in that it felt like every word was an inspired encouragement written just for me.

So I went into this year wondering what my amazing, fabulous, inspirational book would be. I'd just finished writing my own book, and was still negotiating the transition of our entire lives from Cambridge to Ithaca, so I was pretty depleted (Read: so tired I barely knew my name). But no such book was forthcoming. I had some fun reading moments: escaping into a couple of novels, finding my friend Paul mentioned in a book on writing a novel in a month, sitting around the fire at night with Steve, Meg, and her husband Pat as we all dove into different worlds. Good stuff. But I didn't find the book or the paragraph or the single sentence that I could tack up over my desk here at home to remind me of why or how to live.

I needed that sentence.

But a strange thing happened when we got back (after Steve recovered from the food poisoning, and I recovered from the 11 hour drive and the Burgar King chicken sandwich): I felt like down inside, I knew something about my life--what to focus on, what is extraneous and stressful and needs to go--that I didn't know before. I'm not afraid of blowing it anymore, even if things blow up around me. I'm not sure I can describe it, but it's good. Better than a pithy quote, better than a book that stares at me from my shelf and says, There must be something more... Something inside that feels suspiciously like God saying, You're gonna be amazed by how this all turns out...just wait.

I'm not always so good at waiting. But if I'll be amazed? I'll try a little harder :)

Thanks for listening. It's good to be home!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

All day/All night/All day

Book due day after tomorrow. A day and a half, to be exact. Less if I sleep. Which I haven't been. It's really too bad writing isn't like law school, because I'd have some serious library cred if I'd have pulled these kinds of hours back then. (But if writing were like law school, I'd also spend every day longing to run away to some small mountain town to live in a tent until my grim, sad life finally ended, so I guess that exchange wouldn't really be worth it).

Just thought I'd drop in with an update.

Back to work...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Just read this interesting post about mistakes video bloggers make, after watching a great video blog by singer/songwriter Brooke Fraser and thinking, "Hey, maybe I should try that!"

Do you like video blogs? Why or why not?

Guide me! I know video killed the radio star, but who knows what it might do to further the creative reach of a blogging D-lister??? :)