Back on the Chain Gang: Heart to Heart

This round of the blog chain has gone all creative-writing-assignment.

The topic, chosen by Jessica Verday:

I’ve chosen to put all of you writers to the test and am throwing down the challenge to…WRITE! I want a short story. (Mine is 250 words. Feel free to write one hundred, three hundred, five hundred…whatever! words)

Mary Lindsey was before me and I’ll be the last link this round.

Now the last time I wrote a short story, was the last time I actually had a creative writing assignment. Read: high school. Short stories are not my medium, but here goes:

Shape of a Heart

Brice patted the lump in his jacket pocket as his eyes darted to the entry once more. Any minute now. A drizzle of cold perspiration crept down his right side. Maybe he should have rented a tux, but then Desiree would guess for sure and Brice would never live that down.

He threw back the rest of his gimlet and then sucked on an ice cube as he waved at the waiter for another drink. The waiter whisked the empty glass away just in time.

Desiree stood posed in the entryway, the slender straight-away of her long legs drawing his eyes to the gentle slope of her hips. She slid soundlessly across the room, her dark curls barely daring to bounce. At the table next to Brice’s, a man made a hollow sound and bent to rub his shin, revealing familiar daggers in the eyes of the woman who’d done the kicking. If Desiree hadn’t told Brice herself that he should propose, he would never have believed she’d say ‘yes’ to someone like him. But she did tell you, he reminded himself, so what are you so nervous about?

Brice leapt to his feet to pull back her chair as she wafted towards his table. “You look beautiful as always.” He kissed her cheek and adjusted the chair as she settled into place.

Her lips permitted a slight curve. “That hardly gives a woman cause to make special effort.”

He cringed as he slid into his own seat. “Now, honey, you know that’s not what I meant…”

“Especially when her boyfriend shows up in the same brown designer knock-off suit as every Friday night for the last six months.”

“I thought you liked this suit.” His collar had shrunk at least an inch. He wiped his hands on his pants.

Her large diamond pendant flashed candlelight in her cleavage as she leaned over to look through her lashes at him. “I said I liked you out of that suit.”

He smiled as he shifted in his seat. “Well, this is a nice restaurant. They require pants. So we’ll just have to wait until after dinner.”

“So let’s order.”

He exhaled as her eyes disappeared behind the menu. All he had to do now was keep her in a good mood until dessert.

*

Brice hardly touched his chicken piccata. Actually, he didn’t care for chicken; he’d just gotten used to ordering whatever was inexpensive. Desiree raised one dark eyebrow like the blade of a scythe as she wriggled her seafood fork deep in her lobster tail. She’d be ready for dessert soon. Slipping his hand into the lumpy pocket, he felt the soft heart-shaped velvet box roll into his palm. He perched his fist on his knee and his fingers clamped until his knuckles hurt. His tongue felt too big for his mouth and he took a gulping sip of his wine.

Desiree’s eyes settled on his loaded plate. “If there’s something wrong with your food you should send it back.”

“No, it’s fine.” Brice stabbed a large hunk of meat and packed it into his mouth. “It’s delicious.” He struggled to speak normally with his lips stretched tight over his full mouth. “Perfect,” he meant to say, but the meat lodging in his windpipe snuffed the sound. Not now! He forced a smile as he twisted his fingers into an “OK.”  No way was he coughing that thing out in front of Desiree… especially not with her engagement ring in his lap. He kept the ring out of sight as he shot to his feet and Desiree’s eyebrows rose almost as quickly. Fighting the burning tightness in his throat, he held one finger aloft and nodded towards the restrooms before walking away.

He could feel Desiree’s eyes searing the back of his head as he entered the men’s room. Deserted. His chest and belly spasmed as he gave in to the urge to cough. Silence. Setting the velvet heart on the counter, he caught his own wide eyes in the mirror as his shoulders shook in silent convulsions. His face was red as his tie. Balling his hands into fists, he plunged them into his belly, pushing up as hard as he could, but the chicken wouldn’t dislodge. He felt dizzy. His face blazed purple. He fingered the cell phone in his pocket, but how could he call when he couldn’t talk? His eyes darted to the door, still stubbornly closed. Didn’t anyone ever use the bathroom in this place?

He knew he should return to the dining room where someone could help him, but Desiree would never let him forget something like that. He had to find a way to get it out himself. His lungs were filling with sands and pin-pricks swarmed over his legs like fire ants. He couldn’t make it back to the dining room if he tried. The edges of his vision faded to black as his gaze tunneled on the heart-shaped box clamshelled open with the 4-carat ring inside.

Desiree had said three carats minimum. The same day she suggested he switch majors from music to business. His vision narrowed to a pinpoint on the flash of the diamond, the clearest diamond the jeweler had available. But even under the jewelry store lighting, the stone hadn’t sparkled like this and that’s how Brice knew he was dying. He grabbed at it like a toddler at a soap bubble. Each facet reflected images from the last few months: his guitar in a box for Goodwill, the look in Boomerang’s eyes when Brice left him at his brother’s.

Brice wondered how long it would be until they found him, dead on the marble floor with the ring in his fist. He pictured Desiree’s face smooth like powdered sugar when she saw him. “Such a shame,” she’d say as she reached for his hand. “This wasn’t what I wanted at all. The cut is all wrong.”

Enough! What am I thinking?

Pushing against the cold porcelain of the sink, he hoisted himself from his slump. He staggered towards the hazy charcoal lines that he knew must be the bathroom stalls, dropping the ring box at the base of the commode. The toilet seat seemed glued in place as he ripped it up and then belly flopped, driving the edge of the toilet seat into his diaphragm. He heard a slap and a plink as the ball of chicken bounced against the wall and landed in the toilet. Sucking in the sweet coolness of air, he leaned against the cold metal wall of the stall, panting. He pulled a few sheets of toilet paper from the roll and mopped his forehead. “That was close.” His voice scratched.

The wheeze of his cell phone echoed through the bathroom. Brice wiped his watering eyes with the heel of his hand and read the Caller ID: Dave.

“Hello?”

“So are you and your hottie girlfriend engaged yet, bro?”

“Nope.” Brice cleared his throat. “And I don’t think we’re going to be.”

“What happened? Chicken out again?”

Brice’s eyes darted from the box, its jaws open like a carnivorous plant, to the ball of meat in the toilet. “Yeah. I guess you could say that.” He grinned. “I chickened out.”

Brice chuckled quietly as he hung up. Then laughter shot out of him with more force than that stupid piece of chicken. Chicken out… it was ridiculous. He pounded his fist against the wall of the stall as his whoops bounced off the walls. When he finally managed to stop laughing, he smoothed his jacket and straightened his tie. Desiree would be ready to pitch a fit he’d kept her waiting so long. Reaching for the ring, he snapped the box closed and tucked it back into his pocket. He couldn’t wait to see what kind of fit she’d pitch when she found out he was leaving her.

Maybe he’d show her the ring first.

An Open Market: Back on the Chain Gang

So someone needs to start off the next round for the blog chain gang.

So all of us on this blog chain gang have worked feverishly on what needs to be done before a novel gets published. Some of us are quite close to publication, including the next link in our chain, Jessica Verday whose debut novel The Hollow will be released later this year. But lately I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to the work that needs to be done during and after publication.

Besides writing new stuff, of course.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about marketing.

Now, many aspiring authors I’ve encountered dread the idea of marketing. So you might think I’m getting ahead of myself, but I see this as sort of like wedding planning.

I mean, after all, I’m going to notify all my family and friends of the date when I’ll finally be able to walk down the aisle (of the bookstore) and hold my handsome love (whom I’ve been seriously involved with for a year or two) in my arms.

So why wait until I’m officially “engaged” to start planning?

But seriously, I don’t think it can possibly be too early to start thinking of ways to market your project. Although certainly a publisher might have different ideas and choose to go in another direction, but it can’t hurt to have your own plan developed and ready to go.

So, blog chain buddies…

What plans do YOU have to market your novel? How will you make sure the public finds your work?

(Pssst, gang… this would be an ideal time to show us your book trailer, if you have one)

Naturally, I plan to use the tried-and-true marketing methods (guest blogging, conferences, maximizing my online presence, bookmarks, etc.), but I also have a couple of ideas I’m very excited about that are specific to The Edge of Memory.

First of all, my novel features a silver charm bracelet, which my protagonist discovers with the hidden letter from her birth mother. For a contest prize, I would like to create a similar bracelet. I would also have some less pricey prizes available. To enter the contest, people would have to view my book trailer.

Speaking of book trailers, I already have a mock-up one:

When the time comes, however, I will produce a professional version. And I’m especially excited about that, as my diverse group of test readers includes photographers, actors, musicians, make-up artists/stylists, and an amazing videographer. They might even give me a discount. 🙂

But the idea I’m really excited about doesn’t involve flashy trailers or prizes. It involves a concept I think will help generate interest with a specific group of readers: book clubs.

Book clubs usually involve three main activities: reading the book, discussing the book, and EATING. So all the better if I can create a food connection to my novel, right?

My protagonist Beatrice cooks when she’s stressed… and I gave her a lot to stress about. So there are a few dialogue passages where she’s preparing a meal during the conversation.

A friend of mine runs a fabulous cooking blog (seriously amazing… more drool-worthy pictures than most mortals can handle) and has graciously agreed to some guest blogging with recipes for the meals my character prepares.

How much fun is that? I’m anxious to cook them myself.

Anyway, I’m excited to hear how the rest of the gang envisions themselves marketing their novels. And our next blog chainer will have extra cool insights, since marketing her debut novel is not just a fantasy for Jessica Verday.

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.

You’ve Got a Friend: Back on the Chain Gang

Hello, bloggy peeps! Another blog chain in progress, this time chosen by our own Terri Rainer.

Leah Clifford had the link before mine and Jessica Verday will be up next.

I’ll be answering the “Alternative Question” Terri posed:

Alternative question: Do you brainstorm with a friend when you are plotting, or do you prefer to be the only one who knows what your characters are going to do?

Well, I have to say… I am quite grateful that Terri chose this topic. Because up until now, I have never properly acknowledged the awesomeness of my BFF Clara.

Although I do a LOT of pre-writing plotting, there are always the detail issues that come up along the way. Whenever I find myself sinking into a plot hole or running into a wall, I torture poor Clara by making her hear all about it.

Seriously, she is the best listener ever. She doesn’t tell me what to do or suggest something can’t be solved. If I give a possible solution(s), she simply tells me whether or not she thinks it will work or which solution might work better.

At risk of jinxing myself, I have always solved my plot problems within 48-hours of talking to Clara. The solution may not come during our conversation (in fact, it usually doesn’t) but talking it through with someone encouraging, but not leading, really helps me organize my own thoughts.

God bless BFF’s. Seriously.

And a ginormous  to Clara, the best BFF ever.

Just Keep Swimming! (Back on the Chain Gang)

Time for another link in the blog chain! The current topic was selected by Elana at Mindless Musings.

Leah Clifford had the post before mine and Jessica Verday will be up next.

This week’s topic is a two-parter:

When you’re in a pool of writing funk, how do you get out?

What favorite funny and/or thing makes you happy?

First of all, let me just say that being “in a pool of writing funk” makes me think of this:

Which actually sort of holds the answer. If you remember Ghostbusters 2, the premise was that a river of negativity had been created under New York City and anyone who came into contact with it turned mean-and-nasty. To counteract the effects, the ghostbusters had to coat the victims with positively-charged slime (why does it always have to be slime?).

It’s pretty much the same thing. Yes, the economy stinks and publishing is especially hurting. Yes, it isn’t easy to find a way to “Published” under the best of circumstances. So you have two choices: you can wallow in the negativity, or you can make the effort to coat yourself in positivity.

Find people to support you. Accept that things won’t necessarily happen on your internal deadlines. Start new projects. Incubate ideas. Develop your craft.

I know maybe now isn’t the best time… so I’m trying to use this time to PREPARE for the right time.

And now for something completely silly:

I also greatly enjoyed this post from Kelley on Elvis, Elves and Chocolate Chip Cannoli

My favorite excerpt:

For me, this news is all rather like being a runner in a marathon. The gun has just gone off and suddenly a voice comes over the loud speaker.

“Sorry,” it says. “There’s been a little glitch. The finish line? At mile 26? We had to move it to mile 48. Nothing we could do. Good luck.”

Well. That sucks. The problem, however, is I’m already running the race. I got up at the butt crack of dawn to be here, dragged my family and friends out to cheer me on. I even have my number safety-pinned to my back, for pete’s sake. And did you see my shiny new hot pink sneakers? Vair sweet.

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!

A Few of My Favorite Things (Back on the Chain Gang)

For the holidays, my blog chain gang decided to try something different… instead of each of us posting in turn on a topic chosen by one of us, we would each choose our own topic and post whenever  inspiration struck. Make sure to check out the Jingle Bell Blog Chain posts for Archetype and Abi.

Now settle in, gang, cuz I’m about to go all Oprah on you.

No, I’m not about to endorse any fake memoirs or lose/gain 20 pounds in 30 minutes. But I am going to mention a few of my favorite things.

(Almost) Every Friday, I feature something I love or am grateful for in my weekly In Deep Smit posting. These are generally things I discovered or rediscovered during the week before I post them.  But there are many other things I love… things I’m surprised to find other people don’t know.

So, I present a haphazard collection of obscure or underappreciated things that I love.

  1. They Might Be Giants— the sound of their music is certainly not for everyone but their clever, funny-yet-deep lyrics are beyond awesome. (And for me, music is mostly an appealing vehicle for conveying lyrics into my consciousness).  My personal favorite (though hard to choose) is Ana Ng, where the singer suggests that if there is, indeed, one perfect soul mate in the world for everyone, then (with his luck) that person would be on the opposite side of the world. If you’ve never enjoyed “Dinner Bell” or “I Palindrome I”, you can listen to some TMBG on my playlist on imeem (although sadly, Ana Ng is only on imeem as covered by Self).
  2. Diane Wakoski— I love many of the big poetry stars… Sylvia Plath, Alan Ginsberg, etc.  But my single favorite poem seems to be much less widely known, Blue Monday.
  3. The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread— One of my favorite books growing up and recently back in print. 9-year-old Morris Bird the Third decides to prove his self-worth by journeying across Cleveland to visit his best friend and arrives just in time for the Cleveland East Ohio Gas Explosion.
  4. The Cinnamon Bear— My father grew up listening to this holiday program on the radio every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It’s a bit sappy, and some of the songs are downright insipid, but it is nostalgic good fun, nonetheless.
  5. www.ereader.com — In the hoopla over readers like the Kindle and Sony Reader, it’s easy to forget that lots of other devices can allow you to read electronic books. On my palm pilot this very moment I have dozens of books, from the classics, to modern works, to manuscripts I’m critting for my writer buddies.

To everyone who’s joined me in this first year of blogging here on Trying to Do the Write Thing… I wish you a 2009 filled with health, good fortune and lots of your favorite things.

Wish List (Back on the Chain Gang)

Well, the blog chain has swung my way once again.

This chain’s topic was selected by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan.

Terri Rainer made the most recent post on this subject. She also wins hands down for most gratuitous hottie picture, so if you don’t go check it out you have only yourself to blame. 😉 Mary Lindsey will be up next.

The topic this round:

What is the role of wish fulfillment in fiction? What personal wishes do you want your stories to fulfill? Are they the same ones you want to read about? How do our fictitious wishes affect our everyday wishes?

Well, I already talked in a previous blog chain post about my specific reasons for writing about triumphing over a traumatic childhood in The Edge of Memory, so I’m going to take this post on in “Big Picture” mode.

My favorite Tori Amos song is “Tear in Your Hand” which includes the line, “You know, you’re full of wish.”

I am. Absolutely full of wish.

I’ve had ideas for stories forever, but I only started writing novels a little over a year ago. So what was the catalyst?

Wish fulfillment. Or more accurately, the lack thereof.

Like, oh… everyone else in the world, my life has not turned out exactly the way I thought it would. And like other reasonable folks, I’ve realized it’s silly to expect it to. As John Lennon (Sandra’s muse) once said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

I’m a physician and the director of my department. I am used to taking control of situations, whether that means managing patient care, arranging on-call schedules, or running a code in an emergency. I thrive in those situations. I’m a problem-solver and a take-charge gal.

I struggle when I feel powerless to fix a situation. Among other complications in the last few years, a car crash forever changed the life I planned. I wish I could have stopped the other driver from running the red light. I wish everyone was healed and pain-free. But I can’t make that happen.

So the catalyst for me to start writing grew from my desire for control… to put my characters through all sorts of stress and know for a fact I could pull them through to a happy ending.

That’s why the world loves a happy ending. People need to believe wish-fulfillment is possible.

And that is the spine of every story really… to engage the reader to the point that (s)he WISHES for an outcome for the characters, and to fulfill that wish in some way. Even if not quite in the way the reader expects.

So, that’s my response. Probably not really the way Sandra intended, but you can’t always get what you want.

No matter how hard you wish for it. 😉

Can I Quote You on That? (Back on the Chain Gang)

Well, folks, it’s time for another blog chain post.

This chain was started by the fabulous Michelle McLeanJessica Verday posted before me and Abi will be up next.

The topic this week is…

Share a favorite poem, quote, joke, anecdote, or anything of the sort that deals with writing, writers, the publishing industry, or the other strange and unusual tidbits that belong to our little world.

Now, the folks most interested in talking about writing are those called to do it. Which makes it no surprise that there are many different quotable sources for this topic.

I’m going to focus then, on one author in particular: Maya Angelou. With my poetry background, I have a soft spot for Ms. Angelou. I was lucky enough to hear her speak once. It’s always fabulous to hear a person in love with the sound of words. 🙂

First…

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Then if one is lucky…

If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform a million realities.

Then a fabulous mantra for the publishing process…

All great achievements require time.

And finally:

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.

So, blog chain ladies… you up for a little ass-kickin’?

Angst in Writing– Back on the Chain Gang

Blog Chain time again!

This chain’s topic was selected by Carolyn over on Archetype Writing. If you didn’t find your way here from Leah Clifford’s blog, you should check out her post.

The topic is:

Some people argue that creative people need “angst” to produce good work. Do you? What emotions drive you as a writer?

Is angst necessary for good writing?

Well, when I was in high school, my writer friends and I certainly thought so. The word “Angst” became a sort of mantra among us, emerging as a guttural grunt to be shouted when appropriate. And I certainly wrote angsty things during that time… poetry mostly.

Breakdown

A smash
Through the glass
Would leave my
Hand
Tied with pretty
Red ribbons

A walk
With a train
Would leave me
Thin
At last

But
His key
In the lock
Leaves me
Heaped
And shaking.

But I don’t think good writing is angsty all that often. And I don’t think of angst as something a writer must acquire in order to write well.

I think of it more like research, I guess.

As a writer, I think it’s important to experience as much as possible. Actually, scratch that… as a HUMAN BEING, I think it’s important to experience as much as possible. I’ve always tried to learn whatever I can. When I was 13, I made my young cousins show me their piano lessons, so I could teach myself. I learned sign language and translated for the Children’s Theater productions when I was in high school. Calligraphy, hula dancing, coding for electronic books, medicine, palm-reading, law, Spanish folk songs… all these things widen my personal experiences and make my writing richer.

It’s the same way with emotional experiences. The more personal extremes you’ve experienced, the more genuinely you can empathize and express those sentiments for your characters. Every emotion– including angst– is valid and useful in writing.

So, no… I don’t think a writer needs to suffer for their art, per se. I don’t think making yourself miserable or melancholy is going to improve your work. But I do think a writer needs to be OUT THERE, taking risks, making themselves emotionally vulnerable and just plain embracing the rich up-and-downs of life. The benefits for the writing is just a bonus. 🙂

Next up on the chain is the fabulous Jessica Verday, so tune in tomorrow and see what she has to say about this topic.

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.

Back on the Chain Gang: My Life’s Quirk

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So, Friday is here… which would ordinarily mean time for my weekly “In Deep Smit” posting. But it’s also my turn to post in our Blog Chain Gang. Photobucket

Luckily, this post can be a two-fer, cuz I’m Deeply Smitten with the current Blog Chain topic, started by Mary Lindsey:

What kind of quirky habits or rituals do you have regarding your writing?

(or regarding anything else, if that is more fun.)

Leah Clifford is the last link before mine, and next up after me is an awesome new Chain Gang member, Jessica Verday.  I have loved reading my chain gang’s responses to this topic. But now that it’s my turn, I am deeply grateful for the parenthetical part.

I am uber-quirky. But not when it comes to writing, I don’t think.

I don’t write in a scuba mask, or act out my upcoming scenes with sock puppets. I don’t tango with my teddy bear when I need inspiration or compose my dialog in pig latin.  I don’t do my best writing after stuffing myself to the gills with Olive Garden breadsticks*. (*To be fair… I don’t actually know this is true, since I’ve never tried it.)

Pretty much, I just write. Photobucket

BUT… I am plenty quirky, I swear!

Some of My Quirks:

  1. I could have been Weird Al Yankovick if I wasn’t all distracted by this doctor-and-novelist stuff
  2. I cook without measuring
  3. Richard Dawson’s family feud made a greater impression on me then you might expect
  4. I remember almost anything I hear or read
  5. I have a wide selection of hot beverages available at all times
  6. I have tumbling impulse-control issues

I have lots of other quirks, but let’s look at these for the moment.

I could have been Weird Al Yankovick. I compose parodies all the time.  Weight loss parodies.  Sports team parodies.  I planned an entire musical parody of West Side Story about rival health insurance companies.  I compose them in the car to whatever’s playing on the radio as a means of coping with road rage, such as this one I rattled off a while back:

*cue Beach Boys music*

Wouldn’t it be nice if you were driving
like you had a clue on how to steer?
And wouldn’t it be nice if I was home now,
‘stead of burning gas just sitting here?

Please choose a lane and stop this sudden braking,
there’s only so much stupid crap I’m taking.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you were not the
self-important bozo that you are?
and wouldn’t everybody else be safer
if they simply took away your car?

You probably shouldn’t have a license really
everyone driving here can see that clearly…

Maybe iiiiiif you weren’t such a stupid, selfish, shagging ass…
Maybe theeeeen you’d pull aside so everybody else could pass.
We could get past ya (we could get past ya)
And traffic’d move faster (and traffic’d move faster)

Wouldn’t it be nice?

I cook without measuring. This drives a lot of people nuts, I know.  But I can’t give you my recipe for fudge. Or garlic shrimp pasta.  Or almost anything, really.  Cuz I just do what seems like a good idea at the time.  A handful of this, a few shakes of that.  Saute until it smells right.  Yes, this means I can’t always exactly recreate a recipe, but that’s just one of those things.  My mother says it’s genetic; apparently her Busia (who was a cook for a Polish count) did the same thing.  The only reason we have the recipe for Busia’s Bread is because my mother and grandmother teamed up to wrestle each ingredient out of Busia’s hands so they could measure what she used.

Richard Dawson’s family feud made a greater impression on me then you might expect. This is another stress-saving defense mechanism, not unlike the angry car-composed parodies.  When someone is making me angry, and I cannot express that anger, I use visualization.  What do I visualize, you ask?  The big red “X” graphic from the old Family Feud right over their face.  Yes, of course it’s accompanied by the imaginary buzzer sound.  Trust me, this tactic helps.

I remember almost anything I hear or read. I do.  It’s a bit freakish, what I remember really.  It comes in handy, though, for identifying plot inconsistencies in storylines and also for annoying my husband. 🙂

I have a wide selection of hot beverages available at all times. This is also freakish.  In a really-great-hostess sort of way.  If you pop by, you will have your choice of a variety of coffees and flavored syrups for your espresso/cappuccino/latte or whatever. I’m partial to a sugar-free caramel latte myself…

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Or you may select any of the 24 varieties of bagged tea in my mahogany velveteen-lined tea box.

Or if you prefer loose tea, I’ve got that too.  And your choice of plain or flavored hot chocolates.  Whipped cream and cinammon sticks, too, natch.  It’s a bit obsessive, sure.  But completely delicious.

I have tumbling impulse-control issues. Now perhaps the oddest of my quirks is one entirely confined to my own mind.  Whenever I find myself alone in a long empty corridor (as often happens working late nights in a hospital) I get a compelling urge to execute a dazzling front flip/round off/handspring/back handspring sequence.  I take a deep breath, and my muscles tense as my body pitches slightly forward in anticipation.  The problem is… I don’t know how to do any of those things.  Like, at all.

So, if you ever read a mysterious case where a pediatrician’s battered and broken body is found at the end of a deserted hallway without signs of a struggle, you will know what really happened.

I think that’s plenty quirky for me to get in one post.  But rest assured, there’s lots more where these came from. 😉

Back on the Chain Gang– Certificate of Authenticity

It’s my turn to start the Blog Chain this round, which means it’s my turn to pick the topic! Photobucket Image Hosting

I had another topic in mind, but the recent discussion about the “Realness” of characters got me thinking along a different line. Photobucket Image Hosting

For any novelist, it is important that the story seem real to the reader at some level.  Even the most fanciful of fantasies needs a grounding in reality for people to relate to it.

The previous chain covered the “Who” pretty thoroughly, but what about the “Where” and “When”?

So my question for the group is:

How do you as an author choose or create your story-world  and give that setting authenticity?

I am really interested to see the responses on this with such a wide representation of genres in this chain. Photobucket Image Hosting

For The Edge of Memory, my story was set in the real world, so I had a bit of a head start. But it was sheer authenticity issues that set my story primarily in Nebraska.  Although I’m quite familiar with small Midwestern towns, I’ve never been to Omaha.  So how in heaven’s name did my story end up there?

I Photobucket Image Hostingtrains.  I love the sounds they make, the romance of them.  I love that rhythmic sway that your legs remember for hours after you disembark.  And I love the predestination of the path of the tracks.

When I decided that Beatrice was going to be searching for a place she had no idea where to find, she needed something concrete to lead her there.  So I looked for a passenger railway line that didn’t branch, where if someone knew they needed to find a particular town along the way based on landmarks, that task would be overwhelming, but not impossible.  This line also had to have been operational in 1951.  And I found that in the California Zephyr Line.  It leaves Chicago heading for California and after the branch near Galesburg, IL, there is nothing but a straight shot all the way west through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.

Then, for my backstory, I needed a town near a major river… a river that was large enough to be dangerous. The Mississippi was out, since I was setting the starting point just before the last fork in the Zephyr line (very near the Illinois/Iowa border).  The Missouri River was the next likely option.  And it happened to cross the Zephyr Line at Omaha.  Suddenly I was writing a story set in Nebraska. Photobucket Image Hosting

*I should add here that I was fortunate enough to have several test readers from Nebraska who were later quite surprised to discover I’d never been to Omaha.  That was a major relief!

I used real U.S. cities for most of the novel.  Gladstone is a real small town in central Illinois.  Naturally, Chicago and Omaha are real cities.  But for the town Beatrice is searching for, where all the ugliness goes down, I wanted a fictional location, but I still wanted it to be believable.

Using Google Maps, I found an area of Nebraska close to the Missouri River which appears completely uninhabited by satellite images.  That is where I set my fictional town of Corbeander and the imaginary area near the river where Hawthorne Mill and Clemmons Field are found.

The timing of my novel was also specifically driven by the story itself.  The backstory action ended up set in 1951 for specific reasons.  I needed a time period where an abandoned child in a small town could be adopted without state social services getting involved or a nationwide police action.  I needed local officials to be able to handle the situation at their own discretion.  In Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services was started in 1964, and smaller scale social service programs were in effect before that.  So, the background storyline got pushed back to the 50’s.

Since the story is set a bit in the past, the dates in my story have already happened.  I made efforts to make those aspects as real as possible as well.  My story dates match the days of the week and the historical events and holidays that occured on them.  For some days, I even checked the weather archives.  The Korean War battle that kills Thea’s husband was chosen based on the timing of Stacey’s birth.

In short, my entire setting (both time and place) were chosen by my story for the sake of authenticity.  I never guessed I would be writing a novel set in Omaha in the 50’s and 80’s.  It just turned out that way. Photobucket Image Hosting

So, that’s how it worked for me.  But I bet a lot of other folks chose their settings and worlds first…

There’s only one way to find out though, and that’s to follow the blog chain.

Next up would be the always fabulous Mary Lindsay, if she wasn’t current battling a hurricane.  Photobucket Image Hosting

So the equally fabulous Michelle McLean will be up next instead.  Links to my other fabulous Chain Gang cohorts are in my sidebar. 😉

Back on the Chain Gang: Get Real!

PhotobucketAnother round on our ever-growing blog chain! Photobucket

The current topic was started by the lovely Leah Clifford : How Real Are Your Characters?

I’m only the second blogger to post on this topic, but I will bet big money that every blogger after me will insist their characters are quite real to them. Photobucket

Cardboard cut-outs just don’t inspire people to write about them. 😉

So how real are my characters? How much do I know about them? Photobucket

Like most writers, I know an awful lot more about my characters than will ever make it into my book. Photobucket

Although I could tell you tons of details about any of my characters– from why Raymond has a Buckeyes magnet on his refrigerator… to how Dr. Evans ended up practicing in a little town like Gladstone… to what Helena ever saw in Vincent– I think it’s only natural that I have special affection for my protagonist.

Beatrice was a bit of a challenge to write, and I hope I’ve finally hit upon the right mix for her. Given her incredibly traumatic background, despite having repressed the memories, she simply can’t be well-adjusted. Her relationships and development had to be subconsciously influenced by the trauma she can’t remember.

Which is why she puts up with Dane’s crap.

Why her self-esteem barely registers.

Why she struggles to interact socially.

Why her emotions are stunted at the beginning of the novel.

And as she reclaims control over her past, she begins to recover. There are components of her character that are almost teen-like, as her social skills and sense of self catch up with her chronological age

Beatrice changes dramatically throughout the novel (as all protagonists must) but even as she triumphs over her demons, she also needs to incorporate that traumatic past into who she is at the end.

So, yes… I could tell you how Beatrice takes her coffee (two sugars and a drop of cream) or what kind of music speaks to her (think Smokey Robinson), and while those details certainly help to define her as a real entity, to me they contribute less to her character than her motivations.

Our characters have to want something. If there’s no goal, there’s no conflict. But it’s the complexities of the WHY they want what they want that really adds depth for me. 🙂

That’s about as coherent as I’m going to get on this topic since I’m on hour 38 of no sleep. Photobucket But you all can look forward to a gorgeous and organized post on this interesting topic coming up on Mary Lindsey’s shiny new blog! Photobucket

Back on the Chain Gang: What’s the Big Idea?

null My turn again for the Blog Chain posting! null

Today’s topic was started by the lovely Elana Johnson on Mindless Musings. The question before the group is “How do you get your ideas?”

I, for one, am big into “What if?”.

The inspiration for The Edge of Memory started out in a random way. It began as a tv commercial for an insurance company. I don’t watch much TV, although my husband often has it on while I’m doing other things, but the music from this commercial stuck with me so strongly that I googled it. The song turned out to be “Half-Acre” by a band called Hem.

The song is about your home being a touchstone, but the part of the lyrics that got wedged into my imagination was:

I am holding half an acre

Torn from a map of Michigan

And folded in this scrap of paper

Is the land I grew up in.

Half an acre is not very big– my yard and the yard next door. So I began thinking how a small piece of a detailed map would be practically meaningless out of context. And that led to conceptualizing a person who would need to find this out-of-context place. Why would that place be important to the character? And if it was so important, why wouldn’t she know about it already or remember it? null

To have a true attachment to the place, I felt like the character needed to have lived there for a good chunk of time. Of course, the longer she’d lived there, the stronger the connection, but also the less likely she wouldn’t already know about it. So then I had to reason why she wouldn’t remember a place where she’d lived. Using my medical background regarding plausible explanations for memory loss, I knew that I would have to give her a pretty traumatic background. That raised questions: Is it better or worse to remember something traumatic? Does the truth really “set you free”?

As a hospitalist pediatrician (an inpatient specialist), I see the sickest of sick kids. And many of the most striking cases I’ve handled have been for victims of abuse. I see patients who get very sick or die from brain, heart, or lung problems, from cancers, from serious infections. Every bad outcome is tragic in pediatrics, but the difference is that in cases of abuse the problem is purposely inflicted. And unlike the other sick patients who usually have a loving entourage of family and friends at the bedside, the victims of abuse are often alone. null

And of course, the effects of child abuse don’t stop once physical wounds are healed. They can suffer from prolonged psychological problems: depression, fear of intimacy, anger problems, substance abuse, eating disorders, and hosts of others. The future can seem grim for child abuse survivors, but I like to believe they can find their way to peace and happiness eventually.

So I resolved to write a story of survival and triumph. And entertain the snot out of the reader along the way, natch. null

Short answer… Overanalyzing song lyrics allowed me to tap into my medical experience and my mushy hopes for child abuse survivors. Then I made my story as interesting as I could. 😉

Okay Bloggy Peeps, I’m out. The Next Big Idea is over on Mary Lindsey’s site. Write on! null