My writing process

writer perceptions

 

One cool thing about writers is that no two have the same exact writing process. I’m going to share mine with you and would love to hear about how you get the words on paper in the right order.

I am fascinated with the way stories and characters evolve for me. It is a totally organic thing–always changing, growing in directions I didn’t expect.

So. Here’s the scoop on how I write:

Step One: The idea

seed germination

 

 

 

 

 

The germ always comes from somewhere in my universe, obviously. My first novel (which I am currently reworking) was sparked from my love of kick-ass girls like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hermione Granger, or Katniss Everdeen. I knew I wanted a girl who had special powers and fought hard to right the wrongs of the world.

The second part of the idea came from my husband, who is 100% Greek American. He loves all things Greek history, mythology, art, archaeology. I love it all too, it’s one of the reasons we started talking in the first place. So I started thinking about maybe a lesser goddess who might have some interesting adventures, and that’s when I hit upon the muses. Don’t think I’ve missed that irony. Writing about the muses has truly been an inspriational experience.


Step Two: The literary vomiting

stan pukingSo now I have an idea and I have a vague notion of where I want the story to end. Next comes the fun part. I write  out the story in one long, continuous vomit of words. I do not go back and edit stuff I’ve written. I get it all out in one shot. I do make notes as I go along of things I want to change (details, usually, or reordering of events). But I do not stop until the story has a beginning a middle and an end. Usually there is a ton of stuff that is extraneous, but that is the way I work out the story.


Step Three: The Puzzle

jigsaw puzzleNow I have the rough outine of the story. So I go back to all the notes I made as I was writing the first draft and start re-arranging things. Events, details, name changes, all happen now. I’ve cut out entire characters and added new ones that served the story better. This is where the story gets hammered into shape and starts to look like something that might resemble a novel someday. My husband (who will always be my first reader and first line editor) and I go through it together. I read it out loud and he stops me or I stop myself when something doesn’t sound right, or we forgot a detail, or the plot has a hole. I am truly dedicated to giving my readers the most authentic and complete story I can. I want everything to make sense, I want all loose ends addressed. I need to know the background story of events that might have taken place or will take place so the story will flow and my readers won’t be cheated by sloppy plotting.

In fact, I’d like to take a little aside to tell you a story about a story. It was Christmas Day a few years ago and my husband and I were sitting on our lanai (that’s fancy Florida talk for patio) and going over a particularly gruesome scene where a certain evil person dies horribly. Our neighbors were on their lanai as well (although we couldn’t see them, we heard them talking. We were discussing arterial spray and just how much blood there would be with a slit throat. As we discussed this we became louder and louder until we realized all conversation next door had stopped. Uh, Merry Christmas?


 

Step Four: More Cowbell

more cowbellYes, that cowbell. This is when we read through again and think about what needs to be punched up (a little or a lot) and I make a list of all things to be addressed. I really do call it my Cowbell list. Someday I want a whiteboard with an actual cowbell suspended above it. (Nerds have odd dreams.) In the past my cowbell list has included the following items: a character’s accent, mother’s addiction more evident, that blasted cane, and the black heist wig. You get the idea. Or maybe you don’t but you really want to read that book now. I know I want you to.

 


 

Step Five: Make it Shiny

magpieAfter there is no more cowbell to be had, we read it again. Aloud. I must say that this process requires massive amounts of coffee. We go through the manuscript page by page, line by line, word by word and ask: is this necessary? Does it propel the story forward? Is there a better word that could be used here? By the time we’re finished a magpie would pluck it in his beak and plunk it in his nest.


 

Step Six: Go on to the Next Story

which way

Did the story stop? Not with me usually. I tend to prefer telling a tale with a larger story arc above it. I believe in character development beyond what can happen in the confines of 300 pages.  Plus my brain never stops working. It’s constantly plotting, developing, and creating new worlds. It’s the best high you can imagine, creating something out of nothing.


 

So there you have it. What’s your process? How does it differ from mine? I’d be interested to hear from other writers. We often tend to be very isolated and finding community amongst word artists is a beautiful thing.

Talk to me, people.

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

magiciansTo say this is a Harry Potter novel for grownups would be a gross misconception of the author’s message.

Quentin Coldwater is 17 and living a normal life in Brooklyn. He has the usual teen angst–he’s in love with Julia, but Julia loves his best friend James. The three are interviewing for Ivy League colleges when something strange happens to Quentin. He is tapped by an unknown college called Brakebills that teaches magic.

Yes, Harry Potter kind of magic, only there are no wands. But there are classes, practical lessons, and a groovy old mansion on the Hudson where the school is magically protected.

Quentin was one of those kids who had always believed in magic when he was little and was sorely disappointed when he found out it didn’t exist. He used to lose himself in the fantasy books on Fillory (a Narnia-esque place to which the Chatwin children are magically transported and have adventures.)

So when he is summoned magically to Brakebills to sit for an entrance exam, he is stunned. He’s even more stunned when he is accepted and begins his lessons. It is a heady, euphoric time for Quentin, who just can’t wrap his brain around the fact that magic is really real and he is getting trained to be a wizard. He makes friends, finds a girlfriend, and his time at school slips by in a magical puff of glitter.

But then they all graduate and this is where Grossman gets to the point of the idea of magic. These kids (in their early twenties) are at loose ends. They could continue their studies, but they have the non-magical world at their disposal to be manipulated however they want. Money, drugs, sex, all easily attainable in vast quantities. The author shows how getting exactly what you want can sometimes be a very dangerous thing. If you don’t have to work for your pleasures in life, they lose their meaning.

But then Penny, one of Quentin’s former classmates, finds a way to Fillory–it truly does exist. Quentin is beyond excted–finally an adventure of which he and his magical skills are worthy. But nothing ever turns out the way we want, does it?

Lev Grossman has written a deeply engrossing book about magic, its power, and how that power corrupts. It’s a fascinating read for anyone (adult, that its) who loves the Harry Potter books, as it is a perfect counterpoint.  Magic isn’t all saving the day, about quests with happy endings, or character building. Magic is a much deeper than that, filled with the complexities of light and dark.

He has written more in the series and I am very much looking forward to reading them.

Things Found in Library Books

Most of you who know me and love me know that I keep a little collection of the things found in library books. These are usually pictures, letters, bookmarks, etc. Money happens once in a blue moon. If the items are returned in a book in our library system, we can usually find the person and get it back to them. But when someone leaves a pile of donation books on the back dock? Sorry, that is now officially property of the library.

I think once a week I’m going to share a few with you, and if I made a note of it, the book in which the item was found.

So let’s start with the most dramatic, shall we?

book with gunJust before Christmas, my husband Kosta, who handles the donations to our library found a book–A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference. He he thought it sounded like quite a snore. Until he picked it up.

And it clunked.

So curiousityhad him flip the pages and he was quite surprised to find the book had a not-so-chewy center:

gun in bookYup, that’s a .38 special. We’ve seen hollowed out books before, but they have always been empty. We couldn’t quite believe someone would just forget it was there and donate it to the library.

It wasn’t loaded, thank goodness, and we did call the police. The officer himself was quite blown away (oh, pun intended)  and they ran the serial number and came up with nothing.

My personal theory is that some old coot kicked the bucket (because Naples is where folks come to die), and the kids came to clean out the house and just packed up the books, not knowing it was there.

That’s about as exciting as it gets. But I wanted to start things off with a bang. (Groan.)


This next one is a personal favorite of mine. I don’t have the title of the book in which it was found, but this was an early find before I really started keeping track.

wb pay stubIt’s a pay stub from Warner Bros. Pictures with a date of August 6, 1938. The unnamed employee worked 12 hours and received a net sum of $18.94.

How cool is that?

 


 

And finally, we do find a lot of people use pictures as bookmarks. (Don’t tell me you haven’t.) And while the pictures are usually quite unremarkable, the book in which they were found can sometimes make for a bit of dark humor:

1st to dieThis one was found in James Patterson’s 1st to Die.

Sorry, kid.

Soundtrack to a New Year

Soul-Asylum-Grave-Dancers-UnionIf you’ve been reading my blog at all, you know I have earworm disease. But sometimes this is a good thing. Like this weekend. I don’t know what triggered it, but I caught a Soul Asylum song in my head.  So while I was cleaning out a closet I plugged in my earbuds and called up Grave Dancer’s Union.  Listening, I had forgotten how very much I love this whole album. Most of you who were around and listening to music in 1992-93 probably remember the hits of that record: “Somebody to Shove,” “Black Gold,” and “Runaway Train.” My favorite songs are deeper cuts from this album, and as I listened, I could hear a lot of the things I wrote in my New Year’s post echoed back to me. Let’s take a look:


Track 4: Keep It Up

Though the rain weighs down your wings
Still the caged bird’s got to sing
Singing “Na na na na na na na na na”

Message: Don’t fucking give up.

Track 6: Get on Out

I gotta get on
I gotta get on out
All these worried troubled thoughts gotta get on out of my head
Gotta get on out of my head.

Message: Kick the anxiety out of the car at 80 mph.

Track 7: New World

And the fields burns away
The sky breathes it in
So why sit and wait
For the new world to begin

Message: Get off your ass and do stuff.

Track 9: Without a Trace

Standing in the sun with a Popsicle
Everything is possible
With a lot of luck and a pretty face
And some time to waste

Message: Pretty face aside, your life’s possibilites are endless.

So that’s my soundtrack for life this week. I hope it inspires you the way it does me. Or that you can find your own, whether it’s new to you or your heart’s old favorite. Music has the power to transport us, and we might as well go somewhere fun, right?

 

Let’s Do This

Happy New Year!

I’ve been taking stock of 2015 for a few days now. Some really excellent things happened, the most exciting was that I found a literary agent who is head over heels in love with my book.  We’re looking for a publisher now and I can’t be more thrilled.

This year wasn’t really an easy one. I had to work out a lot of things in my head about my job, my passion for writing and how they can coexist peacefully. I’m still working on it.

New YearBut I have decided 2016 is going to be my sassiest year yet. Last night, when the clock struck twelve, I was in the middle of getting teal streaks put in my hair by a 19 year-old cosmetology student. (Who, by the way, did an excellent job.) I am going to keep hiring her to color my hair until she graduates and becomes too expensive for me.

Mid-life crisis? Nope, I really don’t think so. I’ve decided that I’ve spent too much time being miserable, waiting for things to happen. (Waiting to find an agent, a publisher, to get the hell out of my day job, etc.) And doing all that waiting makes one rather miserable. So I have decided to stop waiting and start doing things. Fun things. Crazy things. Daring things.

New Me

This was me in the car this morning on the way to my first breakfast of 2016. I had the bacon skillet at Hoots, I highly recommend it. See the teal hair? I am so in love with it. It is just the first of many things I will be diving into this year.

For instance, there are a few things I’ve been wanting to try for writing research. Archery, for example. In high school we had an archery unit in gym class and I was pretty good at it. I want to remind myself what it feels like to draw a bow and loose an arrow.

I found an outdoor archery club less than an hour away. They offer free lessons to newbies and let them borrow equipment until the newbie decides what is right for them. Now I just have to find a way to have a Thursday afternoon off in the middle of season. Wish me luck.

I’ve also wanted to know what it feels like to shoot a gun. Not that I plan on owning one, but I want to know the physical and psychological feelings a person has when they pick up a weapon and fire it for the first time. So I signed up my husband and I for our local sheriff’s gun safety class. There are four hours of classroom instruction and three hours at the range. My good friend, who is a former cop, is going to let me borrow her Glock for the actual practical aspect. I have to admit I’m a little scared about this, but the class isn’t until April so I have time to get used to the idea.

I’m also downsizing our posessions this year. We have way too much junk. Stuff that has been sitting in closets for years, things we never use, or even remember we had. I am making a run to the Goodwill tomorrow as a matter of fact. Every time I do I feel lighter.

Speaking of lighter, I also return to the gym tomorrow. In 2014 I went 3-4 times a week. I lost all momentum when I had to have my gall bladder removed this last January. That’s a whole year off. I think it’s time to get back on the elliptical machine.

But above all, I am going to be writing. It is the thing I love most. It gives me such a high to sit with my laptop and create a world and characters so real I feel like they really are out there somewhere living their lives. I have been on fire for the last month, writing every day. I am working o n rewriting my first novel and I am very pleased with how it is coming out.

So won’t you join me? Let’s go find new and interesting experiences to fill our days instead of stewing in anxiety until our fingers get all pruney. A champion worrier all my life, I have decided once and for all that anxiety can BITE ME.

Happy New Year. Let’s do this.