What if?

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What if your life was on autopilot? You were raising your children, going to work, watching the days fly past you? Life hadn’t turned out exactly as you hoped, but it could be worse.

A note arrives. An anonymous gift of a house needing fixing is waiting for you. Would you take it? Why or why not?

Sharpen Your Knives

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We had some snow here in NJ. My area got hit with about a foot. Maybe eight inches. I didn’t check and I didn’t bring out my ruler. I will tell you however much it was the shoveling wore me out. I tried to focus on the blessings like I’m healthy enough to shovel and I live in a house as opposed to a cardboard box. It’s the first snow storm in March since 1993. 

All that snow means the school closes. Two teens home. And the Coffee King certainly can’t drive to work and we share an office at home. Let’s not forget the noodgy dog. So, trying to get writing done with many distractions isn’t easy.

I’ve blogged about this before, but after about fifteen interruptions and it wasn’t even lunch time I had to take matters into my hands. I had to carve out some time to write.

First, I texted my good friend and writer buddy K.M Fawcett. (Her books are awesome. Check her out.) K.M. and I go to a local Starbucks at least twice a week for uninterrupted writing time. My text said something like, “I CAN’T GET ANY WRITING DONE.” It’s hard to get your mojo going every time someone sidetracks you. She gave me some good advice. Set a timer. Tell the characters in your house no interruptions while the timer is on.

Then I remembered! My red hat!!!  It had been years since I needed that hat. When the Noodges were little and I would try to write they’d interrupt me constantly. My desk was out in the open so I couldn’t shut a door. I instituted the red hat. When I wore the hat they weren’t allowed to talk to me. Unless blood or vomit was involved. I promised to always give them warning before I wore the hat and they could ask me as many questions as they wanted before the hat went on which was very important to Noodge 1. He can’t wait to have his questions answered. He’s still like that at almost seventeen. (I can’t believe that same little boy is almost 17!)

Yesterday, the hat made a revival. I took a picture of myself wearing the hat, and sent it to my family scattered around the house with instructions. I’d wear the hat with a timer going for 20 minutes. Please don’t interrupt me unless blood is involved. (They’re big enough to throw up in a toilet now.) It works.

Finding time to write isn’t easy. We all have lives that work around our writing. Unless you’re Stephen King whose writing can work around his life. Our families don’t always understand that we’re actually working even if all we’re doing is staring at the computer, but our hands aren’t moving. Every time our train of thought gets broken we have to start over and hope to capture the fizzle we’re trying so hard to get on the page. Writing isn’t like doing accounting or sewing.

I don’t blame them for not understanding. In fact, I’m a culprit in the interruptions. I often stop what I’m doing, no matter what it is, to help my kids or walk the dog or talk to CK. The hat creates a nice visual. (I just got interrupted while writing this. I’m not wearing the hat and Noodge 1 can’t find his sweatpants. See?)

The timer is good because they know how long you won’t be available. And anything can wait twenty minutes, can’t it?

Knives are sharpened. The hat is on now. The timer is next. It’s another snow day and plenty of writing to do.

Any questions?

 

Serial Killers Are Everywhere

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I’m sitting in my office, at my desk fretting over what to blog about this week. Coming from behind me, outside my window is either the sounds of a squirrel on crack, the roof coming off, or a drummer on scaffolding because I’m on the second floor. I’m trying to keep my mind away from the possibility of an intruder. Albeit, not a very bright one if he’s making that much noise on a bright, sunny day, at lunch time. However, I trust no one and my first thoughts are always to be careful. Serial killers are everywhere.

You know when you’re watching a scary movie and the character on screen decides to go look outside because they heard a crash or a gun shot and you yell at the screen, “DON’T DO IT. DON’T GO OUT THERE!”? I was compelled to look out my office window just now and thought this might be the stupidest thing I’ve done all day. But, there must be an explanation to the noises outside. We want to reassure ourselves the world as we know it hasn’t changed. We like the status quo, don’t we? And what was I going to do when I saw the rabid squirrel or the crazed drummer suspended in mid-air? Panic, that’s what. Not pretty.

Several years ago, I think before I even had kids, I was home and had somehow forgotten the roofers we hired were going to begin work. There I was home alone, footsteps pounded on my roof. It wasn’t Christmas Eve so that ruled out Santa immediately. I didn’t know what the sound was and then I heard voices! Robbers. Vandals. Serial Killers!!!!!!!! I panicked. Grabbed the phone and debated on calling 911. What was I going to say? I didn’t want to sound ridiculous and I didn’t want to go outside. I did bring myself to look out the window. Saw the roofer’s truck and passed out. No, kidding. I called myself a lot of stupid names for being silly.

I’m going to get a baseball bat. I’ll be right back.

There are disadvantages to having a vivid imagination. One of them is the stories in your head never stop. With baseball bat in hand, I investigated the noise. I opened the window, climbed out onto the ledge below and shimmied up the drain pipe to the roof above. A turkey vulture’s wing had tangled in the weather vane.

Looks like turkey for dinner.

No?

 

Where Does Inspiration Come From?

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I am often asked where I get the ideas for my books. All stories start with an idea, right? The idea is the thing that gets you excited about writing. It’s the thing you need to remember when you’re 30,000 words in and you can’t remember why you started that stupid book in the first place. I know, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m there right now.

When my son was about ten he said to me, “Mom, I had a nightmare. I was trapped in Hell and I had to answer math questions to get out.” And the idea for Welcome To Kata-Tartaroo was born. When I wrote the second book in the series, Welcome To Bibliotheca, I wanted to revolve the adventure around a quirky character trait of my main character. He’s a kid that loves the library. And that story was born.

Inspiration can come from something someone said. In 1967, Smokey Robinson was shopping for a Christmas gift for his wife with Motown producer Al Cleveland. Mr. Cleveland meant to say, “I second that motion.” A very common phrase. Instead he said, “I second that emotion.” The men went home and wrote a song around that misspoken phrase. It was a #1 R& B hit.

Inspiration comes from stories on the news or life experience. But be careful about the life experience thing. I hear a lot, “you should write my life story.” Yeah – No. Not everyone’s story is interesting enough. Sorry. Hard truth. That adage, write what you know, doesn’t mean tell your life story in a book. It means write what you know and if you don’t know something research it. But we all take pieces of things from our lives or from people we know and incorporate that into our books. That’s perfectly fine.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. What’s really important is what you do with that spark. Do you breathe life into it or do you let it burn out?

Any questions?

 

 

Ten Ways To Screw Up The Book You’re Writing

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  1. Wait for the muse. Yup, just sit there and wait. Your muse will show up dressed in pink satin and waving a wand. The muse will tap you on the nose three times then spin in circles spraying glitter everywhere and your novel will come spilling out of your fingers onto your keyboard at a rapid rate. You’ll write the best book ever, sell millions of copies, and be adored by fans world wide. Not.
  2. Do not set a daily writing goal. If you write one word or ten thousand, does it really matter?
  3. Only write a first draft. Your mother loves your writing. Who needs to edit?
  4. Never read a book on the craft, never attend a workshop on the aspects of creative writing. You read a fiction book in the seventh grade about a girl detective. What else do you need to learn to write that book?
  5. Believing all stories are worth telling.
  6. Only give your book to your parent, spouse, best friend for feedback. They know you take anti-depressant medication. They’ll be honest.
  7. Forget everything about grammar and punctuation. That stuff just clutters the page anyway.
  8. Rely on spell check to fix misspelled words. Does anyone really know the difference between there, their, and they’re?
  9. Put your hero in a jam and have a gun magically appear to shoot the bad guys with.
  10. Spend the first fifty pages telling the reader about the hero’s life before the book begins because the reader isn’t smart enough to understand your book without your long winded explanation.

How To Make Me Read Your Book – ETT

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I don’t write reviews about books I don’t like. I don’t think it’s good karma since I’m an author too and I know how hard this person has worked to write the book even if it needs more work. Instead, I come here and tell you what not to do when writing your books.

The thriller genre is one of my favorites. I’ve said that before. I read a lot of thriller novels. I’m okay with the book starting out with a killing. In fact, the book probably should start out with the very least a dead body. But the trick is making the reader care so early on. They don’t know these characters yet. There has to be a reason for the reader to keep turning pages. I don’t recommend starting in the killer’s point of view especially if we know right off the bat it’s the killer and he’s about to make a kill. I just put down a book that did exactly that. Right away the killer is on the prowl. He bashes his way into a professional establishment and starts swinging an axe at people. My first thought was, why should I care about this? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not so cold-hearted that I don’t care about people dying. This is a work of fiction, I hope, and my editor brain never sleeps.

The reader isn’t invested in the story on page two to have the killer describing what the axe feels like in his hands. I’d say if you’re going to be in the killer’s point of view so early on, get right to the point. Leave out the sensory details, blinding lights, smooth handles, the clothing of other people. All the inner thoughts of how he’s moving around the room or perhaps he pulled a muscle while swinging the axe. (I don’t know, maybe the author has a weird sense of humor?) The killer is crazy, he breaks in, swings the axe, the victims try to get away, but fail. Done. Now, get me to the protagonist whose going to stop this madman but not before the end of the book.

All that other stuff? Nobody cares yet. The reader isn’t sympathetic to your villain yet. Remember what I said about three-dimensional villains. You can’t pull that off on page three. I promise. But I tried a few more pages hoping it would get better.

Here’s another tip: Your protagonist, the main character, isn’t going to think about her beautiful hair and how she doesn’t have to fuss with it upon waking up. Do you ever think about that in the morning? Not me. My first thought is usually, why the heck is it so early? Followed by who has to be where at what time? Thoughts of my hair, like do I have time to wash it, are further down on the list. An author needs to hold off on fancy descriptions of hair until there’s a better way to let the reader know what the character looks like. Heck, here’s an idea, let the reader make it up for himself. And if you’re going to tell me your protagonist doesn’t fuss with her appearance, she isn’t mentioning her lovely locks.

I gave up completely a few pages later. The author tells us it’s early winter. On my calendar, that’s December. Anyone else’s calendar have a different date? Okay, the hero, the detective, and his partner and getting in the car. The partner is yapping about a professional baseball game he watched the night before.  NOT IN EARLY WINTER. Major League Baseball finishes in November except for 2001 when a few lunatics flew planes into buildings in this country. Where is this woman’s editor?

I checked to see who published this book. She’s an indie author. That’s okay. I’m an indie author and know plenty of very good indie authors. But if you are going to be an indie author I can’t stress enough the importance of hiring a professional editor. We could argue in circles all the stuff about point of view, caring about the characters, description of appearances, but a professional baseball game in early winter is just too big of a mistake to miss. You’ll lose all credibility if you don’t check your details. A professional editor would’ve red flagged that sentence. And if the editor wasn’t a hundred percent sure when the baseball season was, an editor worth her salt would’ve checked.

I closed that book. I will never recommend it and I will never read another book by that author. Don’t be that author. Be better. Learn your craft. Make me want to read your book until the end.

Any questions?

Holiday Traditions

I love dessert. It’s my favorite meal. In fact, if I could eat sweets instead of real food, I would. My sweet tooth lends itself to my fancy for baking. If you ask me to bake you anything, I will. If you ask me to make you dinner, my skin starts to itch, my eye twitches and suddenly the idea of cutting the grass with a pair of scissors becomes very appealing.

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These are my Tarallis. 

Christmastime provides me a good excuse to stretch my baking wings. All the possible cookie choices! Some years I make more than others, but every year I make Tarallis. Those are Italian buttery cookies my family has made for decades. The Tarallis are a popular southern Italy cookie (my baking family is from Calabria) and can be made in varying ways. My way is best. Just so there’s no confusion and also why I won’t link you to someone else’s site about them. So, if you’re interested in learning more about these or other Italian cookies, you’re on your own this time.

Why are mine the best? Because of my grandfather. Pop-Pop was a baker by trade and an excellent one. (I’m not showing favoritism either. Anyone who ate his pastries and cakes would have told you the same.) He was also one of my favorite people in the whole world. He taught me how to bake. (Among other things like how to drive and to stay away from boys.) He taught me to bake by marching over, assessing my progress, grabbing whatever was in my hand and saying in his heavy Italian accent only strangers heard and with complete love, “What are you doing? Let me do that.” That was when I took a step back and handled the clean up.

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Me and Pop-Pop maybe 1997ish

I lost him seventeen years ago. Christmas and those Tarallis give me an excuse to bake and when I bake I feel like I’m spending time with him. He is the person I think of as I crack an egg, or line a pan with parchment paper, or make sure I stir in only one direction. I don’t like to let this time of year go by without baking something. If I had my way, he’d be baking with me (though he’d be 95 now. Not sure how much baking he’d be doing.) But that’s not the way the story goes. Instead, my holiday tradition has been to bake in his memory and hopefully the results would do him proud.

(Here’s a little irony, I think the original recipe for those cookies that I, my mother, my sister, and my aunt use might be from my Aunt Genny on my grandmother’s side. But who cares?? I’m still baking. sticks tongue out here.)

What are your holiday traditions? What makes your holiday complete? Who do you share them with?