Writing Tools

Visit his website at http://www.matthewlieberbuchman.com/

Visit his website at M. L. BUCHMAN

Yesterday I attended an amazing workshop by M. L. Buchman called “Series Thinking in a Hybrid World.” Hybrid is the term authors now use to explain their publishing options, especially in the genre fiction world where fans want lots of books, now. Some readers want all the books in a series to be available before they begin the series so they will not have to wait months (or years) for the next installment.

A few years ago, M. L. Buchman (Matt) and his wife, a librarian, were facing tough times. With a sense of determination (and some desperation!) he began writing romantic suspense novels. His first series The Night Stalkers was created. Matt has published some of his novels with a traditional publisher (digital and mass-market paperback) and other novels in the same series through Indie venues so they were available between the traditionally released stories. Readers liked having more books, now, and that they are able to get those books in the digital format of their choice.

Matt now has published over thirty novels and has a variety of other publications. I haven’t read any (yet) but some of my writer friends are his fans and his books get 4 & 5 star reviews, and have won reader awards. He also writes nonfiction and short stories.  This was his first workshop on this topic and he’s planning to streamline it and present it at future conferences.

Aside from presenting great information on writing, how-to craft characters in a series to be unique, and a wealth of business insights, Matt also shared his writing process. He will choose a storytelling or writing technique like “cliff hangers” or pacing, or voice or non-verbal dialogue, and make that the primary writing practice for a whole novel or series. This is his method to assure he’s always improving as a writer and bringing something fresh to his readers.

The timing for me to attend this workshop was perfect as I am making solid progress on future novels that will make the currently published one as part of a series. I now have lots more insight into how to turn the organized chaos in my files and writing room into a solid series bible. This will serve me well for more than the projects in process.

I’m also grateful for all the talented authors who share their tools!

Question Answered

Tall Ship in Coos BayWe had a great Mother’s Day in summer like sunshine at our weekend place. The grandsons rode dirt bikes and the six year old was undamaged by his spill through a barbed wire fence into a small stagnant pond. His mom had stopped to caution him on the turn so got to watch – which she said was like watching it happen in slow motion.

The massage I had yesterday was devoted to my neck, shoulders and hands so I’m feeling pretty good again. I’ve been taking care of writerly business stuff and now am ready to return to a novel in process. There was really no doubt which one to give my attention but I like when a nudge from the universe give me a “Yep, on the right track” message.

Paty Jager posted the above picture on Facebook with the  caption, “Spending our anniversary in Coos Bay and this drifts by our hotel.”  That’s my Yep, as Coos Bay is one of the main settings of the novel I set aside last month. Now the storyboard is again set up and binders and books are spread across the dining room table.

Power Wash

Spiked Helmet 1

This is our eldest using Ed’s new power washer to clean her two story home and driveway.

Whew – we’re past the biggie stellar energies and we’ve survived! I believe things will lighten up now and May could be wonderful for many. You can read about this at jbuss astrology – “Everybody survive?”  The most important point is to remember that once we’ve learned a new truth, or had an epiphany, there’s no going back.

The best metaphor I read about this journey is that the symphony within our DNA is now harmonious with the heavens. Doesn’t that sound peachy? Do you hear the music? For me it has felt more like a psychic and physical power wash. For months.

Power washing is an annual requirement for homes, gutters, drives, and everything that endures the Pacific NW environment. Ed has always been one for power tools and I and our girls know how to use them.

Ed is no longer allowed on ladders as he tends to topple, but he can hold the ladder. This means he was under the constant spray as our eldest cleaned the front of her home, and as he had no hat used the most practical thing available. Our five-year-old grandsons bike helmet.

In other news, the weather is awesome and summer like as it was this time last year but I won’t be kayaking in the 80 degree sunshine this week. I have grandbabies to take on walks to the park and a trip to New Orleans in less than two weeks!

A close up view.

A close up view.

My grammy-nanny routine is working out better than I hoped and I’m writing the first draft of my next novel in hundreds of words daily. It’s a horrible disaster; scenes totally out of order, loads of purple prose, hopping heads,  stilted dialogue, and characters floating around naked in gray space because I haven’t fleshed out the setting or picked out their wardrobe.

This is the super fun stage for me but I am embracing this creativity instead of finding the time to write between other tasks. As one reader recently said to me, “There’s no way I could ever write a book. Your brain never turns off, does it?”

Nope. There’s always one part of my brain that is constantly chugging along with the story. (It’s a good thing I am able to multitask.) But that reader comment made me claim my talent. I can write a book. There is no going back. I’ve been power washed. Cue the music.

A new story to craft

Oct 2013 013The whirlwind of book activities has now calmed and my calendar is no longer full of wild scribbles across future dates. I have picked up a 2014 calendar because I have events already to add.

This is the storyboard I created for Checkmate First Mate a few years ago. This book was my learning-to-craft-a-novel story. Years ago I’d written by the-seat-of-my-pants, which is a fun way to write, but doesn’t produce a story worth reading. Over the years this story remained fun to work on, between big life events and other challenges. Each time I learned a new process to strengthen my plot, story. characters, theme, or concepts, this was the novel I’d pull off the shelf to apply what I’d learned. It tickles me that this is my First Published Novel.

I’ve been dithering over which should be my second novel. I finally chose. It is a story that was drafted before CMFM, but the characters and story still speak to me. It’s also complete, and titled. When I pulled all the files out of my cabinet and started looking through them I was pleased to also see contest critiques and extensively personal rejects from editors. (That’s a big deal, when an editor takes the time to send paragraphs of pointers!)

So I began reviewing the actual binders. That’s my process, I create craft binders with sheet protectors and colored graphs and charts. The storyboards are created in a planning flurry and post-its are added and moved around during the early stages. Then it just sits there and gets dusty and is only studied when I’m stuck. (Or is folded closed and filed with others awaiting my time and interest.)

When I opened the story board for this work-in-process, I was surprised it lacked pictures. It was multicolored post-it notes, hand printed in different color text. Then I noticed there were no emotional journey graphs for these characters, in the binder. I developed these graphs, to supplement Micheal Hauge’s Story Structure Template, two years ago and even did a quick workshop on it once.

Before I got too deep into my research, I called my sister to “brainstorm.” I’ll do it again with my other sister when I’m a little farther into the rewrite. Then I have my two brainstorming/writer friends for when I’m really into the solid stages.

Now I have stripped the old storyboard of notes, added pictures, and feel I can craft this story  because I can now SEE these characters and Main Events. These are the exciting times, the creation of a whole new world.

Cover Reveal

I’ve been SUPER BUSY with my writer life AND this cover for my contemporary romance novel arrived in my email – ON MY BIRTHDAY.

Scheduled for digital release in September, 2013 (print version a few months later!)

Final Checkmate First Mate #3 copyBlurb:

Reiki masters, crystals and astrologers… oh my!

Adam McGiver is a Coast Guard EMT, on injured reserve, and thinks all of the above are an interesting waste of time. The stars are for navigation on the seas.

Melanie Cramer, third generation of psychics and healers, charts her life by the stars but prefers to spend her days with computers. She’s ready to embark on a global adventure dedicated to databases.

When Adam rescues Melanie from a boat that’s dead in the water, they are sure they’ve met before but soon hope they never meet again. These star-crossed lovers are desperate to outrun their fated attraction. But the universe, through their friends and family, tightens a romantic noose around them – before Melanie flies off to the other side of the world, and Adam sails away in the opposite direction.

Will they still be in love sometime next year? Or are they just two ships that passed in the night?

Fire in Fiction for the 21st Century

It’s funny how many times I think of a great blog post topic and by the time I come here, blank page! Posts have been started but lost their luster when I look at them the next day. I know this turbulence is more than being in an exciting new stage of my life, many energies are affecting my thoughts and routines.

I read “Fire In Fiction” and its message resonated with what I like about my favorite books. On Saturday I will be attending an all-day workshop presented by Donald Maass regarding his latest book on the craft of writing and storytelling:

What distinguishes “Writing 21st Century Fiction” from other craft books on the market today?

Don: There’s a great chasm dividing the nation of fiction writers. On one side are the literary writers, on the other are commercial storytellers. Generally speaking they don’t meet, talk, share the same values or even work the same way.

Each side has something the other needs, but how do you talk with literary writers about that dirty word “plot”, and how do you open up storytellers to beautiful writing when they sneer as they try to get to the bank?

Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional StorytellingThis is probably going to be a very good workshop for me because I have bounced around doing too many styles of writing these past six years. From memoir to nonfiction, screenwriting to commercial fiction, and even How-To and journalism. It’s been a blessing I wasn’t also trying to work as a technical writer during these years.

The advice for writers is always to pick one style, or genre, and stick with it. Which I did, sometimes sticking with one specific project for months at a time. I considered all other writing projects as temporary suspensions from crafting novels. All the big events in my life were research for when I returned to fiction. When would that be? I even had an answer – “When I get the conflict and drama out of my life and into my books.” And, oh yeah, that pesky “plot” issue…

When the publishing contract for my novel was signed and dated with my mom’s birthday, there wasn’t this euphoric lottery win sensation, well, there was that too, but it also felt like a surreal shift in the fabric of the universe because – “It’s time.” And as my sister says, the stars have aligned.

The cool twist is, I had registered my author business on my mom’s birthday three years earlier. This means the message from my mom is – writing novels is what you love, do that. Everything else is business.

The None of the Above…

In my previous post, I stated there was a “None of The Above book” to read as part of my writing process. It’s usually a re-read or a go-to author. The objective is not to be inspired, or explore new territory. It’s chosen for the comfort zone, the steep-within the familiar to savor the known, the subtext, the hidden corners of story and world building. When I learned Bob Dugoni re-reads The Green Mile as part of his writing process it validated mine.

I haven’t picked a book yet because I just realized I was focusing more on the heroine’s story, but the hero has the more interesting role. This is the benefit of writing romance novels as there’s always two primary characters involved in the story concept. This means I’m not in a between-drafts place NOW because there are plot points to shift and research to do.

Our local library is in a transitional place so there’s not a lot of books on the shelves, and there is still no place or plan for a new library. However, they do have a great DVD selection and I chose some go-to movies to review. It’s not as easy to get into the subtext and hidden corners in a movie unless you’ve seen it enough times to know when to pause and review. Thankfully the technology of today lets us do that.

 Failure to Launch is a 2006 movie with a stellar cast, and it’s all about the heroes journey. It’s also written and produced by men so I figure it’s good for research, and also great for laughs! So I watched it twice and took notes. Then I went online to read about it, including reviews.

I was soon caught in a webbit hole of research as I first read a 2010 Psychology Today article – Is Blaming Parents for Failure to Launch a Red Herring? Then a 2012  FORBES article – Failure to Launch: Adult Children Moving Back Home. “Failure to Launch” is a potential syndrome and there’s an organization now to coach young men off the couch and into independence.

Before I got too distracted with a variety of heroic challenges for my story, relating to the above articles, I reviewed the archetypes and in a section on “How Heroes are Harmful” my mind really started humming when I read:

Ancient heroes would often return after their journeys to marry and lead a mature life, imparting their hard-won wisdom to their people. Burke says the lack of portrayal of this part of the hero’s life in modern media leads to an “arrested adolescence” that “constantly avoids social responsibility and marital commitment.”

Ha! That’s what the Happily Ever After of a romance story is all about. The heroes claiming social responsibility and marital commitment to impart their hard-won wisdom to their people.

I guess that’s why romances are referred to as escapist fantasy stories!

My between-drafts process

I’m working on a new novel and am creating a new process to do so.

Before the turbulence of social media, ereaders, and big life events the past decade, I had a process for writing romance novels. This was before I attended writer conferences or workshops. I didn’t have a plan for my stories, or even a plot, but I had a process I enjoyed.

I was a pantser, which means I wrote forward on my story with a vague idea of the end, and a confidence that I would get there. And I did. Then it was time to celebrate before I began the next draft. I didn’t know about GMC; The Heroes Journey, or the three-act-six-point plot structure, or turning points, or character arcs, or Story Engineering.

I did know revising and multiple drafts were the process of writing. The only writing advice I heard a decade ago was – “Writing is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.”

While in the throes of a draft, I remained focused on my story from first page until the end. No distractions beyond the day-job, my girls activities, family, friends, and pets. Only one story in my head at a time. Between drafts I would read at least two contemporary romances, one book on the craft of writing, and then a book for fun that was none of the above.

I’ve only written a third of my first draft, but I have now storyboarded and plotted all the way to The End! So that’s good for a reading break in my new novel writing process.

Here’s what I just read, and both were great and very different from each other and my own story.

Untangling the Knot

Untangling the Knot by Deanne Wilsted

This is a charming story of a wedding gone wrong through mistakes and angelic nudges. Its texture is layered with multiple point-of-view characters and even the bride-zilla shows her endearing side.

Set within a Catholic Church, the style feels like a watercolor painting of a wedding – with lots of  Catholic guilt and grief. I found it a highly enjoyable read.

Prince Charming, Inc.Prince Charming, Inc. by Jamie Brazil

This is a delectable romantic journey in designer and vintage clothing, through historic landmarks of Sausalito, and the nirvana of delicious cheesecake.

The beauty of this story lies in the heroine’s emotional contradictions. Her  inner desire is for a secure and cozy home and happy family. But she is also focused on the dreams and reputations, and agendas, of the prior three generations of eccentric women in her family. The style of this story puts it at the top of the genre class, and the brass TUB and bathing rituals are beyond awesome.

My craft book is Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass and should arrive soon. Until then, I’ll focus on writing the first draft. I will be attending an all day workshop presented by Mr. Maass in 4 weeks too.

I expect my new process will mean a greater percentage of inspiration and less sweat. My girls are grown and in their own homes, there is only one pet (a 15 yr old cat) and writing is my day job. It feels good.

A Writer Business Day

Saturday was one of my favorite type of being-a-writer days, aside from the leaving the house completely polished with makeup and earrings at 7:00 am. I met two writer friends for breakfast prior to our monthly chapter meeting.  I’d go out for breakfast more often if it wasn’t such an early morning thing.

RCRWThe business of the meeting was fast and intense, including kudos and awards. I was presented my White Rose for First Contract, any future ones will be red roses as I’ll no longer be a virgin novelist. The elections of the new board of directors for the chapter was next and I’m the VP of Programs for the coming year. This means the craft of writing and storytelling will be the focus of future workshops.

Courtney Milan  presented a fabulous three-hour overview on the business of self publishing, including the number of e-sales needed per month to pay a modest mortgage. These numbers were compared to a best case royalty rate at the current percentages from print publishers.

Stark numbers reveal this isn’t a career for fast money in either case. But there are plenty who make a living as authors and there is always the potential of viral marketing and stratospheric sales. It’s still all about the writing quality of the book, and the story told, but now the backlist makes the difference. Ten novels is a new benchmark for career authors.

After the meeting, some of us went downtown for Afternoon Tea with Jane Porter.  It was a thrill to see her again, especially since she barely got out of the east coast before Nemo shut down airports.

At The Heathman Hotel in Portland, OR

At The Heathman Hotel in Portland, OR

Jane explained why she is not renewing any of her publishing contracts. She’s not sure what the future will bring but she needs to write the books of her heart again, which is how she grew her career in women’s fiction.  She has a distinct style and loyal readers love having her attend their Book Club meetings, even if only through Skype.

She’s concerned about the choices of her future career as about half of her readers want print books, not digital copies. I was happy to explain briefly about the hybrid and boutique publishers who do both. She’s been busy and knew book world was changing but hasn’t had the time to explore new options.

When I got home it was only 5:30 pm and I remembered I spent many years leaving home dressed to impress at 7am and not returning until after 5pm.  It was a standard business day for me. But this one was tons more fun.

%d bloggers like this: