Live Chat About Writing

I have a chat group on Gather.com that meets  on Thursday at 9:00pm ET. This week (April 8, 2010) we will be meeting here: No Whine, Just Champagne Writing Discussion #105.

I missed the discussions the past couple of weeks. I always enjoy talking about writing even if I’m not actively involved in the pursuit of words, perfect or otherwise.

So, let’s talk. If you can’t attend the live discussion, feel free to discuss your writing here. As I said, I always enjoy talking about writing.

What have you been writing recently? If you haven’t been writing, what are you planning to write? How do the traumas or dramas of life affect your writing? Do make time to write regardless of the horrors life throws at you? Do you find comfort in writing, or does your make-believe world seem trivial in the face of real life traumas? How do you motivate yourself to write in such times, or do you just  . . . not write?  

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Making Time, Finding Time, Having the Time of Our Lives

Once upon time when I worked in retail, I noticed that whenever a day seemed to go slowly for those of us womanning the cash registers, customers would complain about how the day was dragging. Conversely, when the day seemed to fly by for us, customers would also comment on how fast the day was passing. I started taking an informal poll then, asking people if the day was moving fast or slow. With but a single exception, the days went either fast for everyone or slow for everyone, which made me think that time was variable, though somehow our bodies and artificial timekeepers managed to key into the new time speed, so there was no way of knowing that time moved at different rates.

Oddly, time is no longer variable for me. It speeds up and keeps speeding up until I wonder how twenty-four hours manage to fit into a single day. Except when I write, of course, then it seems as if time doesn’t exist.

Time is a major factor for all of us. People often ask me how I juggle promotion, writing, and offline life, but the truth is, I don’t juggle very well. I always drop a ball or two so that a single ball is kept in the air at a time. (Am I mixing metaphors?) Right now my offline life is taking precedence (nothing particularly good or bad, just work). I am doing almost no promoting, not keeping up with my discussion groups (except for this one), doing a single blog post a week, and yet all that and more used to fit into a few hours a day. Now it barely fits into a week.

So, let’s talk about time. How do you make the time to write? For those of you who are published, how do you find the time to promote? How do you make sure that you are having the time of your life when you are writing, or does it become work after awhile? If you don’t want to talk about time, feel free to talk about any aspect of writing or your writing life.

Let’s talk.

My writing group No Whine, Just Champagne will be discussing this article during a live discussion about writing and the writing life on Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will stop by our Writing Discussion #96. If not, leave your comments here. I always enjoy seeing what you have to say.

Three Discussions with Me!

One of the real joys of my Daughter Am I blog tour has been the people I’ve had a chance to talk to. Dave Ebright, author of Bad Latitude was kind enough to be a host — twice — and he also followed my tour. How cool is that! He sent me a string of questions, and what ensued was a fascinating discussion. Well, fascinating to me. I like knowing how other writers work and how they think.

Dave: A few Qs, Pat – if you don’t mind:
Do you outline 1st?
Do you start at the beginning & write through to the end?
Book signings – Love ’em or hate ’em?
Favorite – 1st draft? Rewrites? Editing? or … uhm… Marketing?
Least favorite???
Character or plot? What do you consider your strength?
Coffee Tea or Vodka? (Kidding)
Thanks Bobby for having Pat as your awesome guest. Good interview.

Pat: How long have you been saving these questions to ask me, Dave?

Dave: Right off the top of my head — I was curious. You seem to really have your act together.

Pat: As for your answers — I don’t outline first. I know the beginning, the end, the general idea of the story. I start at the beginning, thinking out each step of the way as I go. The only time I deviate is that somewhere in the middle I write the end. Don’t know why. Perhaps it gives me the push I need to get through the murky middle.

Dave: That’s exactly how I do it. I make some changes during the rewrite / editing, but the story is the story.

Pat: Book signings — so far I haven’t done one. There are no bookstores around here, and I don’t seem to be able to get together with the librarians to plan an event there.

Dave:  I was scared to death with my first signing (there are pictures on my FaceBook from the one at the St Augustine Lighthouse) Fortunately, I write for kids & relate well (was a coach for many years), so I’m sorta in my element.

Pat: There are only two parts of the whole writing  process that are difficult for me — getting motivated to write and then incessant copyediting after I’ve written the book. Other than that, I enjoy the whole process. Or maybe not. If I did, I’d be writing! I like promotion, but whatever I’m doing doesn’t seem to be effective. At least not yet. I have hopes, though.

Dave: My problem is time – I’m not one for sitting down for only an hour or so. When I get into it — I’m good for several hours. Editing, I’m okay with snippets, but I print everything, mark it up with red pen & then make changes on the word doc. (several times).

Pat: That’s my problem, too. Some people can write in fits and starts, and few minutes here and a few minutes there, but not me. It takes a while for me to get into the proper frame of mind. That’s why getting motivated is so difficult for me — I know that I have to make a real commitment not just on blocks of time but for the year it takes for me to write a novel.

Pat: As for your question about character or plot: character and plot are pretty much the same thing in my books. Character determines plot, plot determines character.

Dave: I get most compliments about characters & plot twists. Love ‘the I didn’t see that coming’ reaction.

Pat: As for what’s my strength, that’s up to my readers to decide. Dialogue is the easiest thing for me to write, though.

Dave: Love dialogue with lots of quips & one liners. Current work includes conversations with a dead pirate (Calico Jack Rackham) which has been a blast to write.

Pat:  What do I drink? No coffee, no tea, no vodka. I’m strictly water with an occasional hot chocolate.

Dave: I am a coffee-holic.

Pat: Whew! I think I answered all your question!

Dave: Sorry – didn’t mean to be a pain. I just admire your ability to provoke thought. I’ve enjoyed your blog tour. Don’t worry though, I’m not a wacko stalker. Hah!

Pat: You weren’t a pain, Dave. This was fun. I’ve liked your impromptu parts of my tour, first the article on your blog, and now this conversation.

Dave: I’m anxious to buy your book. I went online to order from 2nd Wind using my wife’s PayPal account but, since I’m out of town, the shipping address didn’t match up with the account & that, apparently, screwed them up. I’ll be home in a week or so & I’ll order it then.

Keep up the good work Pat. What I’ve read of your work so far is excellent & your blog posts are always entertaining & informative.

Pat: Thank you, Dave! That was fun. If anyone wants to answer Dave’s questions, I’d like to hear your responses!

The second discussion of the day is taking place at James Rafferty’s blog. I met James through an online writing group. We are talking about contests and the difficulty of straddling genres. You can find James and me here: Collaborative Interview with Pat Bertram

The third discussion took place on Gather.com, a now defunct site, so it will remain forever a mystery! 

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

My Fruitful Summer

We are now officially into autumn, and where are the words I planned to write? Not in my head, not on paper. A Facebook friend emailed me the other day and asked if he could be part of the blog tour for my new book. All of a sudden it dawned on me that I have done no promotion for Daughter Am I, my young woman/old gangster coming of age tale. I’ve been so caught up in the edits, in making the book as perfect as possible, that I conveniently forgot that the finish line for one heat of the race is the starting line for another. To my dismay, I’ve discovered that getting published does not end the querying — I’ve spent the past few days trying to find bloggers willing to host my tour, and at the rate I’m going it will take many more days of querying to find enough hosts to make the tour interesting.

I did have a fruitful summer, though — I went to a u-pick cherry farm a mile down the road, (took pictures, have a great title for the photo essay, but the words to said essay are buried in the back cabinet of my brain with the rest of the words I’m not writing). I also picked plums — greengages — just a few yards from my house. Now that particular photo essay I managed to do while I was procrastinating on writing this discussion: Plum Tuckered.

Bear with me. There is a writing discussion in this.

All that fruit picking made me think that once upon a time food was free for the picking. Literally. That realization helped put me in my hero’s frame of mind — he is going to be living in the wild when I finally get back to my WIP. It also gave me a totem or token or symbol for the second part of the book (the token in the first part was a specific type of candy). And finally, it made me wonder about the use of fruit in stories. The only thing I remember about a certain book I read when young was a mention of greengages. “The children were sick from eating too many greengages.” That’s it. I don’t remember anything else — not the title, not the author, not the story.

So, has any fictional fruit made an impression on you? Eve’s apple, of course. Snow White’s apple. Apple sellers in the Depression era. Oranges in Victorian Christmas stories.

Has fruit ever played a part in anything you’ve written? Did you have a fruitful summer in any meaning of the word? What are you working on? How was your writing week? Did you accomplish what you wanted? Did you make any interesting discoveries? Did you have fun or was it a chore?

Let’s talk.

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Sun-Warmed Apricots and A Court of Western Kingbirds

July is almost over. I could ask where the time has gone, but I know the answer to that one — it passed me by while I was paying attention to other things. No, writing is not one of those things, unless you call sending dozens of emails and posting several blog articles writing. Of course, those are writings, and they are creative, it’s just not the sort of writing that adds pages to a manuscript.

So what have I been paying attention to? Starting a new blog for Second Wind Publishing, as if one isn’t enough! Posting to my own blog. Editing my final manuscript. Editing a great thriller written by another Second Wind author. Cleaning house. Oops. That’s not strictly a writing-related activity, but it is something I’ve been putting off and putting off for . . . let’s just say I’ve been putting it off for way too long so that I can participate in writing-related activities.

I’ve also spent too much time emailing and IMing friends I’ve met online. Can’t seem to get it through my head that just because I’m online, it doesn’t mean I’m being productive. But writing isn’t always about being productive. Sometimes it’s just about living. Replenishing the creative wells. Treating the senses.

I had a bit of a sensory treat today. I was standing in a small clearing, watering my trees and bushes (planted hundreds of them, turned this acre of land into a miniature forest), when I heard Western Kingbirds — a whole court of them — in the leaves a few feet above my head. Though I looked, I never caught a glimpse of a single bird, but I feel privileged to have participated in the aviary world for a few minutes.

Actually, I had two sensory treats. Several apricot trees planted themselves among the other trees, and this year they produced a bit of fruit. So as I was watering, I plucked one of the apricots, warm from the sun, and ate it. Truly a taste to remember.

Both these experiences will wind up in a one of my books, but those upcoming scenes wouldn’t exist if I had been writing and not experiencing.

So, what are your writing concerns? What writing activities have you been involved with this week? Did you have any successes, breakthroughs, realizations? How have you replenished your creative wells? Did you treat your senses?

Let’s talk.

The group No Whine, Just Champagne will meet here: No Whine, Just Champagne Discussion #75  for a live discussion about **** on July 23, 2009 at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will stop by. At least you cannot use the excuse that we don’t talk about what you want to talk about! If you can’t make it, we can have a discussion here — just leave a comment.

**** Insert your choice of topic here.

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Writing Discussion: Beverages

I know that everyone prefers general discussions about writing, but I like to mix things up at times and get specific. So today we’re going to be talking about beverages. What your characters drink, how they drink, how the drink personifies them, how it propels the plot forward, how it helps create atmosphere and setting.

An obvious use for a beverage is the poisoned drink. That certainly propels a plot! Another use of beverage (which I hope you’re all staying away from because it’s been done to death) is the cop with a drinking problem. As soon as I see that in a book now, I don’t even bother to read it. Unless of course, the drinking problem is more along the lines of Robert Hays’ drinking problem in the movie Airplane!. But even that has become stale.

Think of the feelings, the characterizations, the mood these drinks invoke:

Hot buttered rum
Mulled cider
Hot chocolate
Ice cold beer
Brandy
Champagne
Coffee
Herb tea
Fruit punch
Well water
Orange juice
Ratafia

I could list hundreds of drinks, and every one would remind you of something. Like every other element in a story, what your characters drink (or don’t drink — mine seldom drink coffee) needs to be more than simple window dressing.

Here’s an example of how a drink becomes significant. It’s a 100-word story called “Colorized”:

The drab little man in the gray suit entered the bar at five o’clock as usual, huddled on the same bar stool he always did, and waited to order his usual martini.

An almost pretty woman perched on the next stool smiled at him as if they were going to be good friends. Then a fellow wearing a loud shirt approached and handed her a rose. As she got up to follow him, a single petal fluttered to the floor.

“Your usual?” the bartender asked.

The man glanced at the rose petal, straightened his shoulders. “I’ll have red wine today.”

So, what do your characters drink? How does the drink aid in characterization? Does the drink have a greater significance in the story than simply something for the characters to do? Where do your characters drink? Most stories, especially those with a mythic twist, make use of the “watering hole,” a place where the characters gather to drink, talk, plan. Does this place have any significance to your story?

Grab your drink of choice and join the group No Whine, Just Champagne on Thursday, February 12 at 9:00pm ET for a live chat about beverages. Hope to see you there, but if you can’t make it, we can discuss beverages here.

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Writing Discussion: How Do We Make Our Writing the Best We Can?

Shirley Ann Howard, author of  Tales Out of School, is hosting my No Whine, Just Champagne discussion group. Please join us, either here or on Gather.com.  We want to know what you have to say.

How do we make our writing the best we can?

Reviewing previous discussions, I found a similar desire in all of us. How do we make our writing the best we can? I suppose it’s different for everyone. Some might like an exciting story with lots of action; others prefer a character driven novel. Last week I saw that quite a few of you do not like description, yet a previous discussion topic referred to it as imagery used to create a mood or enhance a reader’s knowledge of a character. I personally adore imagery/description.

A few previous discussions touted writing rules from well-known authors. How about if we discuss our writing rules, how we make our writing the best we can.

I’ll get us started with what I believe, and what I would suggest as rules if I were a famous author asked for advice. What fun…… What a great fantasy….. 

  • Write from the heart and soul.
  • Pretend nobody is going to read it.
  • Write what you know.
  • Write what you care about.
  • Write what you’d like to read.
  • Involve all senses, especially in an unusual way. I thought last week’s “smelling like horse manure” example was outstanding. It could have said so much about the male character. (Either he didn’t care enough to clean up or he cared so much he couldn’t wait to get to his woman.)
  • If you get stuck, go back and read your previous ten pages. When I do that, I’m always amazed that it seems so obvious what comes next.
  • Write from beginning to end, sketchily if necessary. Fill in the imagery, additional necessary exposition, and “he touched the side of her face” actions with dialogue later.
  • Then edit, edit, edit. Add, cut, correct.
  • Listen to the cadence of your language. It should flow like music with the rhythm of your action.
  • Avoid repetitious vocabulary. Use a Thesaurus…. carefully.
  • Avoid contrived situations and dialogue.
  • Make characters real, like the ones you know. Even Edgar Allan Poe said he did that, if you can believe it.
  • Edit two hundred more times.
  • Show your writing buddy. Take what he/she has to say under advisement.
  • In the end, write what you want… but please… do not use the word “gal.” 

So how about you?

Do you

  • Use an outline?
  • Read and study authors you enjoy?
  • Work on only one project at a time?
  • Write for today’s market?
  • Read “Writer’s Digest?”
  • Take writing classes?
  • Participate in a writing workshop?

Looking forward to what you have to say. I celebrate that we’re all different.

The group No Whine, Just Champagne will exchange ideas during our live discussion on Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 9:00pm ET. Meet us here.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules for Writing Fiction

I recently came across Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing Fiction and thought they were worth discussing. His advice:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the  reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

I originally planned to center this discussion on rule number 8, but since the discussions I host usually have narrow topics, I decided to throw this out there and let you discuss any of the rules you’d like. For example:

1. How do you keep a reader from feeling that his or her time is wasted?

2. Do you have a character readers will root for?

3. What does your main character want? What do your supporting characters want?

4. Do you make sure ever sentence reveals character or advances the action? Do you agree with this rule?

5. Do you tend to start too far from the end, frontloading your story with scenes that delay the action?

6. What awful things are you doing to your characters? Do you take every opportunity to traumatize them?

7. Who are you writing to please?

8. Do think readers should have such a complete understanding of what is going on that they could finish the story themselves? As a reader do you want it all laid out for you so that the end is inevitable?

My online writing group No Whine, Just Champagne will exchange ideas about Vonnegut’s rules during our Live Discussion on Thursday, October 30 at 9:00pm ET. Everyone is invited. Hope to see you there!

How Do You Create an Experience for the Reader?

My writing group — No Whine, Just Champagne — will be hosting a live discussion (#39) tonight at 9:00pm ET, as we do every Thursday. To participate, you need to be a member of Gather (free) but anyone can follow the discussion. Since Gather does not have an IM set up, you have to keep refreshing the page, but that’s a small enough price to pay for such wisdom. (I’m not being completely facetious; many good points are made during the discussion.)

Tonight’s topic,  “How do you create an experience for the reader?” poses a good question because when it comes to fiction it is the only question. Without an experience, the reader has no reason to read. In the end, that is why we read — to experience what we don’t experience in our everyday lives. Even in stories that seem to be a rehash of everyday life, we can experience something new, such as a different perspective.

There is only one way to create an experience for the reader: through the use of words. Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs give a feeling of immediacy, of something happening, of peril even. Longer sentences and paragraphs give a feeling of thoughtfulness, respite. You can create an experience by focusing on the experience — description, dialogue, action. Or you can create an experience indirectly by focusing on something other than the experience — by focusing on a lone daisy petal to evoke a feeling of love lost.

After tonight’s discussion, I’m sure I’ll come away with a better understanding of how to create an experience for the reader. And so can you.

Writing Discussion With Cliff Burns — Part I

When I asked Cliff Burns, author of So Dark the Night, if he’d like to guest host my blog, he responded that he’d rather have a discussion. I was thrilled. I enjoy talking about writing, but even more than that, I love learning how other writers approach the craft.

BERTRAM: For me, writing is like the world’s longest crossword puzzle, one that takes a year to complete. I like playing with words, finding their rhythm, and getting them to behave the way I want. I like being able to take those words and create ideas, characters, and emotions. What is writing like for you?

BURNS: I think your analogy is very good. Each story or novel is a puzzle, as you say, an enigma, a conundrum, a locked door mystery that demands great intelligence and ingenuity to solve. Finding the exact right combination of words (out of half a million or so) in common English usage that will perfectly express the mood or feeling you’re trying to get across . . . and then doing it again and again for ten or twenty or four hundred pages. It’s a miracle when we manage to get it right. Which is why I ended up dedicating So Dark the Night  “to my Creator”. There were times when I thought that novel would never get written, I’d never finish it. But something kept me going, supplied the word or image I needed at a crucial moment. Often, the impetus or inspiration seemed to come from outside. I know that sounds weird and creepy but it’s the truth. Have you ever experienced anything similar?

BERTRAM: Many times. And it was usually more than just inspiration. For example, when I began researching my current work and needed to know about relatively unknown extinct animals, every day when I opened my email, there would be an article about one of them on the today’s news page. And when I needed a reason for some gold to be hidden for another story, I happened on a book about the killing of the gold standard in the USA. And when I needed a place for my aliens to come from (and a reason) I happened upon a mention of the Twelfth Planet by Zeccharia Sitchen. Someone, I don’t remember who, called such serendipitous offerings “gifts from the library gods.”

BERTRAM: Writing, editing, and promoting are all time- and mind- consuming occupations. How do you manage?

BURNS: Barely. And my heavy work schedule is one of the reasons I’m just getting over a severe lung infection — my body was over-worked, my immune system screwed and so I was really knocked on my ass. I’m going to make some adjustments, see if I can find a hobby or some mode of relaxation to take a portion of the strain off. I’ve reached middle age and I just can’t maintain my punishing routine without doing lasting harm to myself. How about you? What’s your routine like and how do you cope with the pressure of creating?

BERTRAM: I have no routine. I used to write every day until I got a computer and the internet (about a year ago) and then my words got used up writing articles and commenting. But I was never one who was consumed by inner demons. I wrote because the publishing companies stopped releasing the books I liked to read — ones that couldn’t easily be slotted into a genre, yet not written with a “literary” style, and I figured if I wanted to read that kind of book, I’d have to write them, so I did. I say I don’t write every day, but I’m either thinking about the story and characters, researching, or editing. And now promoting. But come winter, my creative juices start flowing, and that’s when my novels get written.

BERTRAM: Are there any particular themes that repeat themselves in your work?

BURNS: Hmm . . . I’m not sure. I suppose many of my characters have been rendered powerless by the circumstances of their lives and are struggling to hang on by their fingernails. Robert Runte (an academic and nice fella I met at a convention years ago) commented along the lines that my characters seem to come from lower class backgrounds and that’s a rarity in spec fic. I agree with Nicholas Christopher (excellent author) when he says that each new work presents fresh challenges and one must learn to write all over again. If you’re doing it right. I never want to fall into the formula trap . . . that’s the death of art and the beginning of commerce.

Writing Discussion With Cliff Burns — Part II

Writing Discussion With Cliff Burns — Part III