Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's on Your Bookshelf?

I say it all the time: I have a stack of books waiting to be read that's at least as tall as I am. Now I have the proof. I can't help it, I'm a bookaholic. I buy books faster than I can read them (much, much faster, actually.) I try to read them all, I really do, but there just aren't enough hours in the day.

Right now I'm reading three books at once: 1984 by George Orwell, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. When I finish with those, I'm anxious to get to Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen, and The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. All of these books are on my bookshelves, waiting to be read, along with many, many more.

Of course it's important for a writer to be well read and keep up with what's currently being published. That's one great thing about being a writer. I get to read all these fantastic novels and call it "research." Sure beats reading electrical instrumentation catalogs or computer programming manuals.

So, how about you? What's on your bookshelf, waiting to be read? What have you read lately? What's your favorite book at this moment?

Until next Sunday, happy writing (and reading), and may your coffee pot never run dry.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What's Your Passion?

Right now I'm sitting in my car in the church parking lot, waiting for my two middle school kids to come home from a weekend church retreat. My daughter just texted to tell me they left the hotel half an hour late, which means I have an extra half hour to sit in my car and wait for them.

There was a time when this would have been an inconvenience, but not anymore. Now I see it as a blessing - unexpected free time to write. Between kids, their activities, my activities, housework, etc. finding time to write is one of the biggest challenges of my day. Yes, I do still get up early and guzzle coffee by the potful, and I still cherish that morning ritual. But it's not enough. All day long my characters are still with me, telling where they want to go, what they want to do, who they need to talk to. Any time I can spare to get back into their story and move them a little further along on their journeys is a gift. With a busy schedule like mine (and, I'm sure, like most of yours), that spare time is hard to find, so I squeeze it in when I can.

Long, long ago, in another lifetime, I worked as an electrical engineer and then as a computer programmer. It would never have occurred to me back then to bring along a vendor catalog or a bit of code to peruse while waiting in the church parking lot. That's one way I know writing isn't a job (well, that and the fact that I'm unpaid at the moment), but a lifestyle. Writing isn't something I do, it's something I am. There's a world of difference.

So, what are you? And I don't mean your job, I mean your passion. Is there a passion you've been meaning to pursue but haven't found the time? If so, what's stopping you? If you're already pursuing your passion, do you have any words of advice about how you're able to fit it into your schedule?

Until next Sunday, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

To Outline, or Not to Outline

I'll begin with some disappointing news. This past week I heard back from Leucrota Press, the fantasy/sci fi publisher that's had my manuscript, In the Seventeenth Year, under consideration for over a year. They emailed a rejection, but it came with some very encouraging comments and a helpful critique, which I am immensely grateful for. I plan to make the changes they suggested and continue submitting In the Seventeenth Year.

In the meantime, I'm still working hard on Killing Kessler. As I mentioned last week, I received some excellent constructive criticism and have been revising accordingly. Some of these comments were far-reaching and required major plot changes, so now I find myself rewriting almost the entire second half of the book. I'm trying something new as I do this, sort of an experiment. I'm writing as I go along without having everything planned out in advance -- flying by the seat of my pants you might even say.

I'm a planner, not just in writing but in all areas of my life. When I begin a new book, I spend at least a month creating a detailed outline, character biographies, setting sketches, and just about anything else I can think of that might help keep me on track. But I purposely did not plan this rewrite. I knew what needed to change, and I just dug in and started making it happen.

Of course it's all slop at the moment, as my first drafts always are. But some interesting things are happening now, things I didn't plan for. It's kind of fun this way: even I don't know what's coming next. My characters are getting themselves into all sorts of situations I didn't see coming. There have been times when I did not know what a character would do next until my fingers typed the words. I've heard about people who write this way, but I never thought I, with all my organization and planning tendencies, could be one of them.

Like I said, I'm in the rough draft "slop" stage right now. I really don't know how it will turn out. I may revise and find I can't use a word of it. I may write myself into a corner and not know how to get out. I may end up with so many loose ends that I can never tie them together. I suppose, even if those things happen, that I'll have learned and grown as a writer, and that's always worth the effort. I'll let you know sometime (soon, I hope!) hope my experiment works out.

So now I'm wondering about the rest of your writers, artists, etc. out there. Do you prepare a detailed outline in advance, or do you fly by the seat of your pants? I've heard of successful writers in both camps. Have you found any pros or cons that you could share?

Until next Sunday, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Gingerbread Houses and Spaghetti

I'm back! It's been a nice long break, but I'm ready to enter the blogosphere once again. I'd like to start by addressing a comment left on my blog last week. Big brother Ed would like to know how our gingerbread house decorating tradition went this year (another one of those holiday traditions - gotta love 'em!)

It went okay, though to be honest, I've been getting lazy on this one in recent years. Long, long ago, when the children were very small, I bought a Pampered Chef gingerbread house mold. The kids and I made the dough from scratch, pressed it into the mold, baked it, glued it together with homemade icing, and then the kids decorated it. I took pictures, made black and white prints, and hung a new set up in frames on the kitchen wall each year. It was an all-day project, but back then the kids and I had a lot more time on our hands, and everyone looked forward to this special event.
As the years went by, eventually I realized they actually make kits for that sort of thing. What a revelation! I started buying the kits with the prebaked pieces and the premade icing. We did this for several years, and more than once I couldn't get the house to stand up and ended up throwing away the whole thing. But this year I discovered something even better - a kit with a preassembled house. This is the easiest way to go, for sure, though it does take something away from the sense of accomplishment.

So we did decorate our gingerbread house this year, and it sat on the kitchen window throughout the month of December, as is our custom. Does anyone else out there decorate gingerbread houses? Do you buy the preassembled houses, the prebaked pieces, or bake it from scratch? Do you eat it when you're done? We keep ours on the corner window sill for a month, so we don't actually eat it, though I'm sure the kids wouldn't hesitate if I'd let them.

Another small note: thanks for the blog topic suggestion, Ed! And if anyone else out there would like to make a suggestion, please do so. Your ideas are always most welcome.

In closing, here's a quick update on my WIP (work in progress). I finished the second draft of Killing Kessler (my time travel/romance/young adult novel) right before Christmas. I had one of my critique group buddies, my sister, my 14-year-old niece, and my 13-year-old daughter read it. They all had nice things to say, but a lot of great constructive criticism, too. Now, instead of a manuscript, it feels like I've got a big bowl of spaghetti with loose ends leading everywhere and nothing really connecting. Such is progress, I suppose! I know it will all pay off in the end and result in a much better book. And a huge THANK YOU to my critiquers - you guys are the best!

Until next Sunday, happy writing, and may your coffee pot never run dry.