Talk to Me: In Deep Smit (03-06-09)

So… um… it’s Friday again. Actually, it’s been Friday more than once now. I think with my posting on the QueryTracker.net blog, my In Deep Smit posts will become more biweekly-ish.

But I definitely have something I’m deeply smitten with to share this week.

I’m in the middle of another manuscript revision. An agent who loved my partial and requested my full manuscript identified a plot point that didn’t work for her later in the story. Her comment gave me a eureka moment for a small backstory change that I believe makes the novel stronger.

I rewrote the chapters primarily affected, and now I’m finishing a detailed line edit to make sure I haven’t missed any inconsistencies along the way.

And since I’m going through word by word, I figured I’d take the opportunity to tighten my manuscript wherever possible.

Now, you might think this post would be about the agent who inspired the idea. And I am indeed, deeply grateful to  her for her time and insight. But the object of my affection for discussion today is the Narrator tool on my PC.

I had heard that text-to-voice software was included on most recent PC’s, but I’d never bothered looking up how to use it before. I find reading aloud to be a great editing tool, but have noticed that when I read from my manuscript, I sometimes miss problems like missing or repeated words anyway because I know what the text is supposed to say and my brain corrects it without my noticing.

I wanted something that would read my text to me, so I looked up where to find the preinstalled software.

And there she was… Microsoft Anna, the robotic narrator, hiding under “Ease of Access” in my “Accessories” folder.

Together, Anna and I have obsessed over each word of the first 3/4 of my manuscript. Despite frequent careful editing by myself and hundreds of beta readers, I still found a few small typos. I’ve also found a few overuse quirks, like my apparent fondness for starting dialogue lines with “Well,” which each of my characters indulged to some extent.

Hands down, this is the best edit I’ve done. So I’m deeply smitten with Microsoft Anna, and I’m not afraid to shout that to the blogosphere. 🙂

Now, if you don’t mind… Anna and I would like to be alone for a while. 😉

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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.

I’m Grateful and U-R-A-QT (In Deep Smit 12/26/08)

Another Friday here, although I suppose for most folks today was a holiday.  But just like there is no crying in baseball, there are no holidays in the hospital.

Regardless, it’s time for another “In Deep Smit” posting. I have many things to be grateful for this week, especially.  I’m grateful for the time I spent with our family in the last few days. I’m grateful for the helpful pitch critique I received from Jessica Faust at BookEnds. I’m grateful I made it safely through the dangerous ice storm this morning, even if it took over 2 hours to get to work.

But for this week’s smitten discussion, I’d like to talk about something I’m very excited about: the QueryTracker Blog.

If you’re a writer reading this blog, you should already know how useful QueryTracker is when searching for representation.  (If not, you’d best scoot over there and check it out.)  Soon, the associated blog will be a busy place.

A few wonderful, talented folks and  I will be co-authoring lots of hopefully helpful postings there. You’ll find tips on how to maximize the benefits of the QueryTracker site, articles covering topics in writing and publishing, featured guest bloggers, contests, and more.

All of us participating are very excited about this new venture, and hope to see you there!

I, for one, am deeply smitten with both the project and my partners-in-blogdom.

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.

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. 😉

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.

Hmmm… Is Sarah Palin Watching My Book Trailer?

My book trailer is posted on youtube.  Along with a shorter version.

I’ve discovered you can view various stats on your videos when you post them.

For my original book trailer, I have viewers from about 20 states so far, but mostly it’s just one or two random views.  Most of my viewers, naturally, are in Illinois.

But today I peeked at my stats and was quite surprised to see that Alaska is coming in as a strong number two.  I have half as many viewers from Alaska as from Illinois, and that’s including myself in the Illinois group (I haven’t found a way to copy the code for my video without accidentally triggering a “visit”)

I don’t know ANYONE in Alaska.  I don’t even know OF anybody in Alaska, except for the Palin family.

So… what other explanation is there?

Two Minutes of Your Time–

I decided that the original mock-up trailer I made was a bit too long.  So, I’ve edited to just under the 2:30-minute mark. 

My Only Friend The End: Chain Gang Wrap-Up

We’ve added a new link to our blog chains: the wrap-up.  A official end to the chain with links to all the fabulous posts.

Well, what a wild and crazy ride that was!  I am consistently impressed by my chain gang buddies.

I absolutely loved reading all the responses on creating story worlds.

Here’s a quick recap:

I started our chain on story worlds discussing how my setting was unexpectedly chosen by Child Protective Services and the route of the California Zephyr.

Michelle McLean wowed us with her passion for history and research.

Kate Karyus Quinn shared her struggle to define her Urban Fantasy World.

Over on Archetype Writing, Carolyn discussed defining rules for a Sci Fi/Fantasy world.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan continued the Sci Fi discussion with how she bases her story world features on emerging technologies.

Kristal Shaff felt that research was a necessary evil to bring her fantasy world to life.

Mary Lindsay stole the show with a timely post discussing her research into the Great Storm in Galveston in 1900 and the recent Hurricane Ike.

Abi at bloggingexperiments contrasted the imagination involved in her fantasy world creation to the research needed for her cozy mystery.

Elana focused on the world-building aspects of her fantasy novel and the importance of making the setting part of the story.

Terri Rainer shared the amazing story of how she found the setting she’d imagined in Scotland.

And finally, Leah Clifford let her MC Eden guest blog about the world she lives in.

All in all, it was a rocking great chain, and I loved reading all my chain gang buddies’ thoughts.

Rock on!

The next chain is started by the always fabulous Mary Lindsay.

Opportunity Knocks: Chance to Improve Your Project and a Great Cause to Boot!

Moonrat from Editorial Ass is running a raffle to raise money for a friend who’s fighting cancer.

The amount needed is totally doable, so let’s get this thing done.

You can buy tickets for any of four raffles.

Prizes include:

An editorial review of your full manuscript

An editorial review of your partial manuscript

A review of your query and a revision

Books and love notes from moonrat

The fundraising site is here.

The Long Long Trailer– Fun with Mock-Up Novel Trailer for The Edge of Memory

So, everybody (and their brother) makes book trailers these days.  Or so it seems.

I’ve greatly enjoyed watching them, but had no plans of making one myself.  After all, I am seeking representation… not published yet.  And I wanted to use the song with the lyrics snippet that inspired me with the idea in the first place, but I don’t have rights to it.

Once I discovered Windows Movie Maker was already installed on my laptop, I decided to make a quick mock-up… just to test it out and I loaded it into youtube so I could show it to a few friends, but was hesitant to post it here.

As an aspiring novelist, I have deep respect for intellectual property rights.

But today, I noticed a little marker on my youtube file… the music I used (Half-Acre by Hem) has been claimed by its copyright holder and they do not object to it’s use on youtube.  Score!

So, here’s my mock-up trailer.  Eventually, if I’m marketing impending publication, I have some fabulous photographer friends I intend to hire to take some pictures for a new version.  The ones I’ve used for the mock-up are mostly public domain pics and a few of my own.

In Deep Smit– 09/26/08

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Another Friday is here! Today I have a very writer-friendly deep smit posting. 😉

Today, I am deeply smitten with Lulu.com

You can use Lulu for print-on-demand self-publishing, of course, but that’s not why I love them.

Back when I was finishing up my first round of major editing, I noticed that I found different changes I needed to make when I read my manuscript on the computer vs. on paper. I wanted to print it up like a novel to read-through for my next round of edits.

Unlike a lot of other POD options, Lulu gives you the option of a private project, which means you can print up a nice-looking, bound paperback without ever making your manuscript publicly available (so you still have first publication rights to sell).

I decided it was time to reprint, since I’m done with editing until an agent or editor wants changes.

My manuscript for The Edge of Memory is ~275 pages. In 11-font standard paperback format, it makes for a ~350 page novel and cost $11.77. You can design your own full wrap cover.

I ordered it last Tuesday, and a week later my package arrived.

I know it’s nothing close to getting published, but it still feels amazing to hold what looks like a novel in your hands and know you wrote it.

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