You’re Almost There, With Much at Stake: Back on the Chain Gang

This round of the blog chain was started by the soon-to-be-famous Leah Clifford.

Her question:

What do you do to amp up the conflict?  What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls?  How do you torture your characters???

Leah was also sneaky enough to postpone answering her own question, leaving me to get this topic rolling. Which is tricksy.

Naturally, an engaging novel needs conflict and lots of it to keep a reader’s interest and provide the impetus for your character to truly evolve during the course of your novel.

The trials a writer forces their characters to endure, and the characters’ reactions to those trials are the essence of what a novel really IS. So regarding the specific pins in my characters’ voodoo dolls, I’m tempted to say, “You’ll just have to read my novel to find out.”

But this topic does bring up something I’ve been thinking about lately.

There’s a line in the movie Funny Girl, when Fanny receives a telegram from Ziegfield asking her to audition. “No, this is too easy! I haven’t suffered enough.”

That’s the bit I’ve been pondering on lately… when have your characters suffered enough?

As writers, we pile on the stressors: murder, rape, job loss, relationship troubles. When I was writing the first draft of The Edge of Memory, there was a phrase that kept running through my consciousness as I closed in on the climax of my novel.

It’s a silly quote, from a silly movie, but that phrase represents knowing when I’ve finally pushed my characters to the breaking point. It captures for me the build to the frenzy of the climax, the character’s exhaustion, and the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

The movie?

Jumanji

By the climax of the film, the characters have fought carnivorous plants, wild animals, and a man who hunts people. The two adult protagonists are trapped and one of the children is dying from a poisonous dart.

The quote appears on the Jumanji game for Sarah’s last turn.

“You’re almost there, with much at stake. And now the ground begins to quake.”

Yes. That’s exactly what I want to achieve. My character at the breaking point for all she’s endured to that point, out of time, with everything on the line… and then the final blow to light the powder keg.

Next up in our chain is the fabulous Jessica Verday, so be sure to pop over to Jibberings tomorrow and see what she has to say.

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I Say WIP it… WIP it Good! (Back on the Chain Gang)

Time for another blog chain posting. This chain topic was selected by Abi.

Leah Clifford wrote the previous link and Jessica Verday (whose book cover was just revealed!) will be up next.

The questions are:

  1. What writing related things have you done in the past?
  2. What WIPs are you working on now?
  3. Do you have anything brewing for the future?
  4. Are you setting any writing goals or resolutions for 2009?

What writing related things have you done in the past?

I’ve done a variety of writing projects. In high school, I was the editor-in-chief of our school newspaper. I also won creative writing awards, primarily for my poetry, but also for a few other things, including a script for a comedy called Feuding Families where “Sudden Death” took on a sinisterly literal meaning.

In college, I continued to write and publish poems in our school’s literary magazine.  Once I started medical training, my writing took a more technical turn as I compiled case presentations and lectures.

And, of course, THE EDGE OF MEMORY is currently out on submission with several agents.

I also posted my first book (THE TWO FLOWERS) here on my blog for your amusement.

What WIPs are you working on now?

My current project is suspenseful women’s fiction, tentatively titled “Enter Like a Needle.” It’s the story of a pediatrician (like myself) whose kids are being secretly harmed by a patient’s mother who is out for revenge. The doctor’s trying to figure out who’s responsible and protect her kids, but everyone– including her husband– think she’s the guilty one.

Do you have anything brewing for the future?

Of course. But I think I’m going to be cagey about that. 😉

Are you setting any writing goals or resolutions for 2009?

Why, yes! As a matter of fact, I just posted some writing resolutions that you can actually KEEP on the new QueryTracker.net blog. 🙂

I’m not making any resolutions about finding an agent or getting a contract, because I have very limited control over that. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep working my tail off to achieve it.  Meanwhile, I keep stewing on marketing ideas. I have lots of marketing plans for THE EDGE OF MEMORY, and it sure would be exciting to put them into action!

Geekiness to Spare

A long time ago, I celebrated my uber-geekiness here when I discovered how to use Palm Markup Language to create my own ebooks with formatting, table of contents, etc.

I love having a copy of my manuscript handy on my palm pilot, and I love reading my crit partners’ manuscripts on the go this way. Ebooks also display nicely on the PC (with ereader) when I’m only looking to read, as opposed to adding comment. I like to read manuscripts I’m critting through once for big-picture feel, then I go back in Word with track changes and all. 😉

Anyway… ebooks=highly cool. Since I posted last May, I’d been planning to post a tutorial so that other folks could make their manuscripts into formatted ebooks. Last night, I finally sat down to write it up.

And I discovered it wasn’t necessary. The geek requirement has been dramatically decreased by a super-easy program called “Publish Ebook“. Seriously, you can do this without a smidge of geekiness whatsoever.

If you have ereader installed on your computer, handheld, phone, or whatever, you’ll be able to read your manuscript. The files are tiny, too, so you can store a lot of them even on devices without much memory.

Here’s my ebook for The Edge of Memory displaying on my PC.

It has a clickable Table of Contents and everything.

In other news, my blog stats show that someone is searching for “Heather Dyer UIUC” and “Heather Dyer poetry”. So if you’re looking for the quirky bio major and Linsey-Woolsey Lit Magazine staffer who wore bell bottoms and was often the only person dancing at O’Malley’s (despite sticking to diet coke all night), you’ve found the right person. 🙂

And either way, thanks for stopping by.

Douglas Adams Would Be Proud. (In Deep Smit 12/05/08)

If you’re reading my blog, chances are you fall into one of two categories. You are either a friend (online or otherwise) or you are involved in publishing. Or both, natch. 😉

If you’re in the latter category, this is undoubtedly no news to you, but publishing has had rather a rough week. A rough year, actually… but this week the discussion rose to fever pitch.

After reading grim postings everywhere from Publisher’s Marketplace to GalleyCat to various publishing professionals’ blogs, it’s easy to fall into the frenzy of alleged Armageddon.

You know…

Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes…
The dead rising from the grave!
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

So this week, I am deeply smitten with the agents at FinePrint who are calmly assuring us that Armageddon is NOT at hand. Both Colleen Lindsay and Janet Reid have posted why the sky is NOT falling.

They have both instructed us not to panic, and I have taken the liberty of making those letters as large and friendly as is practical. So I present the Publishing Industry “Don’t Panic” graphic…

I will be displaying it in my sidebar as reassurance.

Furthermore, we are not helpless in this crisis. As long as there is demand for books, they will continue to be published. And WE are the ones who create the demand. Moonrat on Editorial Ass has started a group called “Buy a Book, Save the World” if you want to join forces, but more important is to BUY BOOKS.

BookEnds agent Kim Lionetti posted recently about books as holiday gifts so you can check there for some gift ideas. 😉

It’s My Blogiversary! (sort of)

It’s not quite Friday yet, but I have a very good reason to celebrate my weekly “In Deep Smit” a day early…

It was one year ago today that I signed up for this spiffy blog on WordPress.

I started this blog when I was just one month (and about 40K words) into The Edge of Memory, mostly as a way of documenting the process.

I was quite private at first. Only my husband and BFF Clara knew I was blogging, and I kept the blog out of search engines and whatnot.

After my first round of editing, I asked for test readers on a number of internet chat boards to which I belong. I set up the Test Readers pages so folks could discuss their thoughts after reading.

But aside from my clandestine beta-readers and a handful of close friends, no one knew I was here.

In May, when I started marketing my novel, I made this a public blog. So Trying to Do the Write Thing has only been public for six months, but it’s a year old today.

I’ve come a long way in a year. Finished a novel and started another. Revised my query letter approximately 72 million times. Learned that publishing is to weeks what football is to minutes– it’s a slow process. I’ve reached a zen-like state of understanding there.

As a physician, I’m used to ordering things “Stat” and that really doesn’t apply in publishing.

I mean REALLY doesn’t apply. But there is an element to that fact that is kind of refreshing. It makes me appreciate the journey.

A journey on which I’ve met (and virtually met) a lot of fabulous people. If you’re reading this, THIS MEANS YOU. 😉

Thanks for stopping by!

Smug as a Bug in a Rug (Back on the Chain Gang)

The Blog Chain has circled back to me again, so I’m postponing my usual “In Deep Smit” posting (unless y’all will buy the deeply-smitten-with-the-chain-gang thing two weeks in a row. 😉 )  This chain’s topic was selected by Kate Karyus Quinn.  If you didn’t already find your way here from Leah Clifford’s blog, be sure to check out her post.  And Mary Lindsey will be up next.

The topic this time:

How as a writer do you find the balance between having too much or too little confidence in your work?

So, I’ve titled this entry, “Smug as a Bug in a Rug.”  And by “in a Rug,” of course, I mean “wearing a toupee.”

Rubber Tree Plants aside, have I done what the topic question asks?  Well, I will answer that with a strong, confident “Maybe.”

If you’ve followed our chain since it started, you’ve seen that most of us don’t really have a “balance”– more like a teeter-totter of ups and downs.

I have to say, this blog topic is not the first time I personally have pondered about my confidence.

In April, I attended my first writing conference, The Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling. (Posts about that here, here, and here.)  I did NOT anticipate the nervousness I experienced there.

I’m a physician and the director for a hospitalist program.  I think we can safely agree that a 35-year-old woman does not get where I am without a healthy portion of professional self-confidence.  I am an experienced public speaker.  From Speech and Debate teams in high school to delivering medical lectures, I’ve never been uncomfortable talking to anybody.

So I was as surprised as anyone to find myself picking at my conference lunch, envisioning myself puking on the agent’s shoes during my pitch session.

I’m a powerhouse, I told myself.  Why am I terrified of a 7-minute conversation?

The answer to that, I think, comes from the blurring of “professional” and “personal” that comes with writing.

To write a great story, you need to pour yourself into the work, so professional detachment gets a bit harder.

There are some components of writing that I am quite confident about.

  1. Professionalism. Business letters come easily to me.  I interview well.  I’m comfortable with public speaking.  My work requires skill in starting and conducting much more difficult conversations than any I could have about my writing. I know many authors are less comfortable on the networking/business side and would prefer to stay comfortably behind the keyboard.  This is thankfully not a concern for me.
  2. Stories. I love the story of The Edge of Memory.  I may need to revise some of the nuts-and-bolts of how the story is told (and I am always willing to consider ways to tell it better) but the story itself is solid.  I think about my stories for a long time before writing them, so the web of connections is already well-defined before the first draft.  This helps me weave in the details that eventually come together more naturally into the narrative.
  3. Communication skills. I’m not talking here about my writing, but more about my comprehension.  It is a running joke among my family and co-workers that I translate English to English.  Quite frequently, I am called upon to explain when folks have “a failure to communicate”.  I’m fluent in Mother-in-Law to Son translation, as well as Resident-Physician to Nurse.  When I receive feedback on my writing, I believe I’m good at understanding and then acting on it to improve my story.  Beyond a good story foundation, that might be the most useful skill I have.

Every writer has crisis moments. I know I have. All of us have reached the point where we’ve announced we were ready to give up.  We didn’t.  That makes all the difference.

I once read a quote from Erma Bombeck.  It’s not really about confidence per se, but more about perserverance:

~

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything you gave me”.

~

I’m a writer.  I am going to have crises of self-doubt.  I’m going to think what I’ve written is the worst drivel ever to be strung together.  I’m going to believe my test readers are just being nice when they tell me they stayed up all night to finish my novel.  I’ll convince myself that I’ll never be good enough to make it in this industry.

And then I’ll get over it and write.

In Deep Smit– 10/17/08

It’s Friday again. And this week I have a secret love. I didn’t want to let this happen, but you can’t fight a tidal wave.

This week, I am deeply smitten with Facebook.

Since I began trying to publish my novel, I’ve done the recommended steps to make myself a desirable client. I’ve worked to build my blog readership and have dramatically improved my SEO results. If you search for H. L. Dyer, hldyer, or the name of my novel, The Edge of Memory, you can easily find me now.

But if you search for Heather Dyer, I won’t come up as quickly. This is because there happens to be a fabulous children’s author with the same name. Oh, for my college and med school days, when googling my name would bring up only hits about my poetry…

In hopes of boosting myself a smidge higher in google searches for my actual name, I finally caved and joined the social networking sites. I have been active in many online communities (both writing-related and not) for years, but I had avoided sites like Facebook for one simple reason…

I inspire weird crushes. I have no idea why this happens. Apparently, slightly nutty people are REALLY into plus-sized chicks with rosacea and buck-teeth. So I tend to avoid sites where matchmaking is among their stated purposes.

Hoping that my recent transition into the “women 35 and over” demographic might afford some protection, I swallowed my concerns and joined up. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Rallystorm

We were supposed to have purely a business relationship… Facebook and I. I did not expect to be in deep smit, but there it is.

Thanks to Facebook, I have found three old friends from grammar school that I would never have found otherwise. I’ve also reconnected with some high school friends. I’ve gotten to learn more about a few of my test readers. I’ve chatted with some of my crit partners. My blog traffic is increasing. It’s been a whirlwind romance so far.

Yes, deep smit.