Monday, October 14, 2013

Puppy Love

I've done little in terms of writing these past two weeks beyond reaching chapters in two books, Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing, by Les Edgerton and Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, by K.M. Weiland. I've been too distracted by one of the most adorable faces I've ever seen:

 
 
This is Penny, a long-haired Chihuahua mix we were hoping to adopt. She's one of the most well behaved, charming, funny, adorable dogs I've had the privilege of spending time with, and I'm absolutely in love with her despite her unruly hair. Unfortunately, whatever it is in our backyard that caused an allergic reaction in, and eventually killed, our Jack Russell Terrier is causing a reaction in her as well. As much as I want to keep her, we know it isn't in her best interest, so this weekend, she'll be going back to the safety of her foster mom.
 
The week after that, I'm scheduled to attend a writer's retreat of sorts that a friend set up. During those days, I hope to rewrite a good chunk of River of Life. Perhaps time at the beach will help sooth yet another pet-related broken heart. If I could capture the deep love and grief humans experience with our pets, I could write a bestseller.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Historical Research

I'm making progress on my novel, which delights me because I love this story. It's my favorite thus far. But last week, I had to put the story aside and work on an article.

To my delight, my editor wants me to include history on whatever town or destination we're featuring, so I have to do a fair amount of research before I begin. I'm not satisfied with regurgitating basic history I find on official websites. I like to dig a little deeper and make connections that aren't always obvious. With this current article, I wanted to go farther back in the town's history than its incorporation. Years ago, I had read Edward Bland's A Discovery of New Brittaine, in Narratives of Early Carolina. Most of the landmarks he mentioned had different names at that time, so I recognized little, but I knew part of the purpose of his trip was to find survivors of Raleigh's Lost Colony. That became my starting point.

As it turns out, researchers are uncertain as to whether Bland and his party made it as far south as the region I was researching, but I had a few names of people and some familiar places, and researching those led to other names of people and places. I found primary sources on UNC's Documenting the American South and on a Virginia site, which I cross-referenced with old maps, and I finally made the connection I was hoping for.

Why mention it on a fiction blog? Because fiction writers must often to do the same, even for a contemporary novel. In the story I'm currently rewriting, one character is from South Carolina's old Dark Corner. Although light now shines on the escarpment--revealing gorgeous scenery--the history of the area plays into the character's family and his upbringing, and the impact is had on his morals, beliefs, and behavior. I may not mention everything I learned, but by going back into the history of the area, I'll be prepared to make crucial connections.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Own Fiction

I haven't been around, that's clear. I've been writing for years and every now and then, I get burned out. Tired of the creative process, of the never ending edits and revisions without an end in sight, my muse often packs up and takes the hike that I'm dying to take.

When this happens, I often find myself staring at the monitor or typing out a plethora of one-syllable words. Mental scenes still flow, but they hit a dam somewhere between the right side of my brain and my fingertips, and pool up in whatever corner of the brain words are stored. A part of me is demanding I quit this nonsense, that's it's been too long. I can't. Writing is too engrained. My imagination, too vivid.

However, I can back off, and I do when it's necessary. During those times, I write articles that need to be written and peck out scenes. I also knit, read, and take pictures, all in an effort to work out thought processes that are kinked like an outdoor hose.

In paradoxical fashion, my writing has improved. With the help of a published author who has very graciously and generously taken time out of her schedule to give me pointers because she likes my writing, my eyes have been opened to technical errors I've been making and means of fixing them. A story I'm in the process of rewriting is my best. The author working with me has yet to see it. I can't wait until she does.

But my blogs have languished. Getting back on schedule is next on my To Do list.

Friday, June 14, 2013

New Novel by Mary Alice Monroe

My poor blogs languish these days waiting for attention. After more than five years of blogging weekly on Carolina Towns and Trails, I find I'm now posting on a need-to-blog basis, but I'm happy to log on for a good cause and today, I have one.

Two of my favorite Southern Fiction novels (which also falls under Front Porch Fiction in my book) are The Beach House and Sweetgrass, both written by Mary Alice Monroe. I love the stories and the way Ms. Monroe weaves in details of the South Carolina Lowcountry--a state and region I'm passionate about--and issues affecting vital natural resources.

Ms. Monroe is about to release another Lowcountry novel, and I have a particular interest in this because it somewhat mirrors my own life. In The Summer Girls "three half sisters scattered across the country" travel to Sullivan Island for a summer than changes their lives.

The book has yet to be released, so I can't offer a review at this time, however, as indicated, I have a high interest in this novel and not merely for the reasons I mentioned earlier. At the age of thirty, I met two half sisters I'd only recently learned about. Knowing the difficulties in our relationships over the years and our efforts to bond at our beach--Pensacola--I've lived the bittersweetness Ms. Monroe's characters surely endure. Our story has yet to find a happily ever after, but Ms. Monroe's novel will be available on June 25th, so you can read about theirs.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Overused Actions in Novels

The air is warm and azaleas are in bloom, so I guess it's time to wipe winter grime from the swing and spend more time on the porch. Not to be rude, but I have to begin with a bit of a complaint.

As a reader, these irritate me because it constantly catches my attention. As a writer, it annoys me because my wonderful crit partners won't allow me to get away with such boring and cliche actions. It's lazy, unimaginative writing and yet I see each in newly published novels. Quite often at times, and not only in the overall story, but in each chapter.

Actions I strongly encourage authors to avoid using  in their novels:  

Sighs

I understand a sigh is an excellent way to convey boredom, impatience, frustration, etc, but they're highly overused and they contribute little to the scene. Why use this:  

Careen and Suellen stood in the field and clenched wads of ruined cotton. "Scarlett, what are we doing to do?"  

Scarlett sighed. "I'll think about it tomorrow."

When this works better.  

Careen and Suellen stood in the field and clenched wads of ruined cotton. "Scarlett, what are we going to do?"  

Scarlett wiped sweat from her cheek and dropped the lost profit on the ground. "I'll think about it tomorrow."

Instead of relying on a cliche response, having Scarlett wipe sweat from her cheek shows she spent time in the field under the hot sun only to find ruined cotton--and hopes.


Blinking

Seriously? Everyone blinks. It's required, so why point it out?

Suellen threw the wad of ruined cotton at Scarlett. "Who are you going to marry this time to fix this little problem?"

Scarlett blinked. "Well, there's Rhett, and your old Mr. Kennedy."

A blinking response fails to show Scarlett's grit and determination, or the bitter rivalry between the sisters.

Running hand through hair

In the first draft of my second novel, one character constantly ran/raked his hand through his hair. It's the same as with sighing and blinking. It's overused and doesn't contribute to the story. Number of times that character runs his hand through his hair after I make revisions? Zero.

Chuckling at inappropriate times

In the past two novels I read, several characters chuckled to himself or herself during tense or sad moments. I've seen the same in other novels as well. It doesn't work.  

Scarlett fell to her knees beside Ashley. "Oh, Ashley. Melly's dying." 

Ashley stared at Melly's lone glove and chuckled to himself. Melly was always losing things.

It's one thing when a character is stressed and laughs inappropriately to deal with that stress, but that wasn't the case in those novels and it totally broke the tension.  

Crossing arms

It's an acceptable action to use when a character is feeling vulnerable and wants to create distance, but it, too, is used (and overused) as a quick action beat. Employ it once, maybe twice in a novel and at the most appropriate times.  

Wringing hands

No one does this. Don't have your character do it either.

And last (for now): saying a character has a row of even white teeth. It's a given that in every novel, all the character have an even row of white teeth, and yet, there is not a dentist or orthodontist in the storybook town.

I'd originally posted this in a Facebook status, and a non-author friend commented that these things don't bother him, that he usually glosses over those parts. That's part of my point. These actions are so unimportant, the reader just ignores them. Far better to use actions that enhance the scene, the tension, and the story.

That's my rant for the day. Now turn those lemons into lemonade.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Next Big Thing!

I've been tagged! And since I haven't blogged in some time, I decided to participate. Not to showcase my work, though, but to point you to tagger, Shannon McNear's, blog, where she talks about her upcoming novel, Defending Truth.

That's right--Shannon's debut novel will be released this year!

It's an interesting story. One I've had the privilege of reading. For more information, hop on over to Shannon's blog:

http://www.shannonmcnear.com/2013/01/the-next-big-thing.html

When my own story is available in e-format, I'll answer the questions in this tag.