Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I am a Golden Heart Double Finalist

I was just going to post some pictures from my trip to the lovely city of Savannah this past weekend but today I got a call from RWA that BOTH of the manuscripts I entered finaled in the Golden Heart contest.

My friend and chaptermate Amy E Jones ( http://aejonesauthor.com/), also from Northeast Ohio RWA (NEORWA) also finaled in the paranormal category with her manuscript Mindsweeper.

Thanks to all my chaptermates and friends who've helped me, supported me, read my stuff, and helped me get here! You all know who you are and I will thank you all personally.

And congrats to all the GH and RITA finalists, all of whom are listed on the RWA website here

View of a Savanahh, Georgia, garden through a wrought iron gate (my photo).

Friday, March 15, 2013

Do you read to escape...or for something else?

Author David Shields got his new book How Literature Saved My Life written up last month in the New York Times Book Review. It's a memoir that discusses the reading and writing life of a distinguished man considered to be a genre-breaking author (see http://davidshields.com/).

If interested, you can read the review here:   http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/books/review/how-literature-saved-my-life-by-david-shields.html?_r=0

The reviewer, Mark O'Connell, quotes this passage from the book (It's a passage I can't stop thinking about):

"Acutely aware of our mortal condition, I find books that simply allow us to escape existence a staggering waste of time (literature matters so much to me I can hardly stand it)." 

At first, I dismissed this comment, thinking that many a time I pick up a book  to escape my worries and concerns, i.e., I unabashedly use books as therapy.  In fact, especially the books I read at night tend to be lighter, funnier, and more reality-escaping than what I read at other times because I enjoy sleeping instead of staying up worrying about my problems (and everyone else's).

But this phrase kept coming back to me.  Is there something wrong with me? Do I not try to eek out all the traces of life lessons, self-revelations, and insights about the human condition that books contain? Am I reading the wrong books--maybe I need ones with more despair and existential crisis that end badly and in much pain. (Okay, just kidding, but I couldn't resist poking a little fun at literary fiction.)

Well, maybe I do eek out traces of life lessons of books--all the time. Actually, maybe we all do, just not to the urgent and intellectual extent Mr. Shields seems to. Maybe it actually happens as we enjoy the story.

We read for connection to other human beings--do you think? What are they always telling us in writing workshops--make your characters relatable. Give them a complex array of traits and flaws so that your reader immediately identifies with them. Take the reader on the journey as your character faces her worst fears, challenges her world view, and changes--works to overcome obstacles in her life that make her a better person.

This is why I read, especially romance. I love the journey. I love the hope that we can change our faults,  can learn to see that our weaknesses and flaws aren't boulders that can never be moved, and I love that love--connection with other people--is the one thing that matters in our very mortal existence.

So this ain't highbrow, but I truly believe that no book we truly enjoy is ever a means of just blanking out our existence. We're searching for something--connection, encouragement, reassurance that this journey we're  all on does mean something--that our life means something--and we're searching for wisdom to make it the most we can.      

Image of Bluebells from FreeFoto.com http://www.freefoto.com/imagelink/?ffid=12-36-1&s=s"

Friday, March 8, 2013

Starting a New Story: Thoughts from Michaelangelo

Note to my dear characters: Yes, alas, it's time to say goodbye. I created you, amid much sweat and blood, and I know you now like I know my own children (except that you're both far more predictable than they are!).

My hero, you were such a good guy, a real gentleman. And my heroine, so brave to take on what you did and make the best of it. 

I know you both so well--your senses of humor, the way you laugh. I know your deepest flaws and inner fears, and how you worked so hard to overcome them to become the best people you can be...and find love in the process. I know where you live and the quirky things you keep in your houses. I know your dreams and hopes for the future. I know how much you both love one another.

But now, just when I'm so sure of who exactly you are, I have to let you go. Turn over a new page, begin again the tormented process of discovering new people, create a new story out of these twinklings and shards of ideas that float about precariously in the swirl of my mind.

My fingers freeze over the keyboard. A thousand characteristics, flaws, hopes, dreams, and wishes appear. Which ones to pick? How to make this mess of emotions, memories, yearnings, gel into new characters, a new story? A coherent, good story that tells a message about strength, resilience, and courage.

I don't know how it happens, how this aimless blob of ideas takes shape and becomes an undertandable story. It's like what Michaelangelo said:  "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."

Supposedly, Michaleangelo carved as if he were "witnessing the revelation of a submerged object." He would put a stone model into a container and slowly dip water out of it, and this would help him visualize how to carve the stone (see  http://www.stoneproject.org/2-reductive-thinking-skills.html).

Same with writing. We visualize, we struggle, and slowly, the path is revealed. A new story takes shape.

As Michaelangelo said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

But don't think for a minute that came easy, even to the greatest artists. Because he also said, "If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."

There is hope in hard work and struggle!

Image from FreeFot.com, "Aubretia," #12-43-1

Friday, March 1, 2013

Donald Maass: Tension, Tension Everywhere

I heard famed writing craft author and literary agent Donald Maass speak at a one-day workshop back in January. It was revelatory.

So I went back to my copy of Maass's The Fire in Fiction and reread Chapter 8, Tension All the Time.

How do you create the type of tension that keeps a reader reading every blessed page of your novel?
A page-turner. Can't put it down. Kept me up all night.

How? How? Well, Maass says, it's not by creating a big plot with a big question that will keep the reader turning the pages to find out who-done-it. Even if it's high-stakes. Really high stakes.

It's not setting each scene up carefully with a goal your character goes after, as we are taught to do.

It's not incessant action, sanppy dialogue, or reading about what is going on deep in your point-of-view character's mind.

Not saying that any of that stuff is not important. IT'S JUST NOT ENOUGH.

Maass says that an instinct for tension is the best predictability he has for which writers will go on to become career novelists.

This tension has nothing to do with the set-up of the book and all the other things I've just mentioned.

Rather it is about permeating your novel with constant tension that arises from CONFLICTING EMOTIONS, not from outer action going on but from your character's INNER CONFLICT.

No one will give a rat's arse about your beautiful passages of description, your careful backstory hidden in dialogue, your contemplative sequel where your character mulls over what just happened, your carefully choreographed sex scene, or ANY emotion your character feels UNLESS you infuse every single bit of it with MICROTENSION, which Maass defines as "the moment-by-moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but IN THE NEXT FEW SECONDS." (Boldface mine.)

I am going to sticky-note that last part to the corner of my computer screen.

As Lori Wilde has said in her writing classes, it's all about EMOTION. That's why readers read.

Maass says tension comes from INNER CONFLICT, FEELINGS IN CONFLICT WITH ONE ANOTHER, not from the outer actions we put on the page.

If you are intrigued, read Maass's book. This chapter that I'm talking about has tons of examples and "Practical Tools" section that helps you workshop your own trouble spots so you can up the tension stakes in your own writing and create your own best-selling, page-turning blockbuster of a novel.