Research, revision, and redecorating

I don’t know everything, and sometimes, I realize I don’t really know what I thought I knew. So if I want to write believable fiction, I have to research. A recent blog post by Christi Craig started me thinking about what I’ve researched lately.

  • Common sayings using the phrase quicker than or faster than. I didn’t want to use a cliché, but I hoped reading some would help me come up with something original. Still hoping.
  • Modern techniques for inscribing grave markers. I did this late at night after I saw the movie Woman in Black and had to stop because I started imagining ghostly sounds in my house.
  • How alcoholism affects the kidneys. I need to know if a man only two years sober can donate a kidney to a family member.
  • The tobacco growing process in the 1960s. I eventually found my way to YouTube where I listened to people talk about how the process has changed since they were young(er).

Those topics were research for three different projects, but now I’m looking at them and see that I could fit them all in one work. But no. I do not need the distraction of another story idea.

I’ve finally wrangled a few people into giving me feedback on some short stories I want to include in a collection. Then I’ll have to revise/edit them. Sometimes that’s easy, but other times my brain refuses to deal with it and I have to back away for a while. I know I could ruin the story if I force it, so I’ll trust my Muse to sort it out and get back to me.

A non-writing note. I don’t know how you other WordPress bloggers respond to your comments, but I use my Dashboard exclusively. I try to avoid looking at my blog too much because when I do, I want to fiddle with it. In the early days of this blog, I changed themes every couple of weeks, which I’m sure was a bit disconcerting to my new followers. Then I realized that if I didn’t actually see my blog’s “face”, I left it alone. Recently, when I uploaded my new book cover and saw it on my blog, I got that old urge to give it a whole new look.

The problem is, even with dozens of theme choices, none of them is quite what I want. So I’m using one of my private unused blogs to audition each possible choice to see what comes closest. Anyway, don’t be surprised if you come here and fail to recognize the place one day soon.

Hmmm, I guess that’s a kind of research too. What about you? Have you researched anything lately?

My muse ain’t lazy

If I’ve learned one thing about myself as a writer, it’s that I’m impatient. I want to write faster, I want to edit faster, I want to get feedback faster, I want … well, you get the idea. So I get impatient with my Muse when she doesn’t seem to be cooperating with my “I want” schedule. I tend to forget she could be working behind the scenes.

Frequently, usually when I’m driving or in the shower, a single line or a great story title comes to me. When I’m lucky enough to get those written down before I forget, I file them in my Opening lines and Titles folder. Sometimes, when I need a jumpstart for a story, I browse through that file to see if something jumps out at me. It’s nifty when I realize an opening and a story title fit together.

Such was the case for the short story I finished a couple of days ago. I had matched the two many months ago, and even made a couple notes, but never actually started the story. I thought about it once or twice through the months, and then forgot it again. But it came to mind when I wanted to write another story last month.

As is my habit, I opened the file, read the first sentence, then closed my eyes and waited for the scene to play out. Before long, I’d typed the first three paragraphs, but nothing more came, so I closed the file, expecting to get back to it later that day. Then I got distracted with the process of the new cover design for Brevity, and didn’t return to the story for three weeks.

A mental flash of the main character in the story is what reminded me to get back to work on it. I saw an angry woman, an indignant woman—a woman scorned. I sat down at the keyboard and she took over. Within a few hours, I’d written the draft and did a first edit. Fun stuff. I mean, this rejected woman cleverly redeems her self-respect—what’s not to love about that?

The ease with which the words flowed, once again, demonstrated that my industrious Muse had worked on the story while I was off doing who knows what. My advice? When your Muse tosses you a line or title, pay attention. Something’s probably in the works.

Eventually, it always comes back to writing

So, yeah. I’ve been writing. As soon as I finished the first draft of one story, I started another. Now, scenes from my next novel are playing in my head. It’s a bit distracting, but I’m not going to drop everything and open that novel file yet. These little previews are just the Muse letting me know she’s working on it.

Still, it’s hard to be patient with the story collection project, when I have a novel waiting. I have a couple more stories to write, and then, as I get feedback on the lot, it will be editing time. Recently, I received valuable feedback from someone I’ve never worked with before. She wrote seventeen comments on a story of less than seven hundred words! I had to laugh because that’s the way I critique. I think we might work well together. ;-)

In other news: Has the weather this season been unusual where you live? We’ve been dry most of our rainy season, but finally got a good drench a couple of nights ago and then again last night. It’s been so warm and sunny, my peach and nectarine trees were set to bloom, and now the rain has brought a chill back to the air. Has anyone checked the earth’s tilt lately? I know my equilibrium’s off.

You all probably know that Adele won six Grammies Sunday night. Well deserved, in my opinion. I saw a link to an analysis of why her song “Someone Like You” is such a tearjerker. Though the song doesn’t quite make me cry, I do get chills at moments when I listen to it, so this analysis sounded reasonable to me. Now, if only I can figure out how to apply that “appoggiaturaa” thing to writing highly emotional scenes.

And there you go, I’ve brought the subject back around to writing again, so I think I’ll go do that. You go do something you love to do too.

Bluegrass, Super Secret, and Select

I’m happy to report that I haven’t posted since Thursday because I’ve been writing fiction. If you follow my Facebook Author Page you know that I was working on one of my “down home” stories, with a bluegrass accompaniment to set the mood.

That story is one I’ll include in my story collection (yes, that project is back on the table) and eventually will be part of a larger work, probably a novel in the form of connected stories. The house pictured here inspired the concept. My great-great-grandfather, or maybe his father, built that house. It grew from the original settlement, a log cabin in a little holler beside a crick. I’m imagining the stories of some of the people who called that place home.

A couple of other writing-related projects occupied me. One is Super Secret … and Super Cool. Yes, I know that’s a tease. :-) You’ll hear all about it in time, but I’ll give you a hint: it involves a new face … of a sort.

The third writing-related project was researching the KDP Select program recently implemented by Amazon. In short, authors can enroll one, some, or all of their e-books in the program to have them included in the Amazon lending program. In that program, Prime Members can borrow the book to read on their Kindle. Also, through the KDP Select program, the author can mark a book FREE for a limited time.

I think the real benefit of that option is potential sales of an author’s other books after someone downloads their free book and likes it. Since I have only one book published, this program would not benefit me now, but I’m watching how it’s working for others. So far, I’m definitely undecided whether I should take part in the future.

The downside to the program is exclusivity. While your e-book is enrolled in KDP Select, it can’t be available anywhere else—not for sale, not for free. (This refers to e-book only.) So, each author has to consider how this might affect their sales. In my case, so far, 85% of my e-book sales have come through Amazon. Since the free Kindle app is available for PC, Mac, most Smartphones, and the iPad, the KDP Select exclusivity eliminates mostly those who own the Nook reader.

So there you go, my essay on how I spent the last five days. What have you been up to?

Something old, something new, something borrowed, and I’m not blue!

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about what I was writing until I’d written it, but, like all fiction writers, I lie. I won’t go into detail though. The title of this post says enough. After months of wrapping myself in rope after rope of “shoulds”, I ended up so tightly bound I couldn’t write at all.

What happened to my plan to write more short stories for a collection? Well, critique comments pointing out things you “can’t do in short fiction”, depressed me. I see now that half the stories I’d written are really novel chapters in poor disguise. My lack of higher education has smacked me down. I don’t know the conventions of short fiction, and I don’t want to take the time to learn them—at least, not right now.

But I do have a story to tell, and it’s novel length. In fact, it’s the story I started to tell months ago, before I let my marketer’s brain take over. The story excited me then and it excites me now. I write what I write. It finds the readers it was meant to find. That’s my career plan.

Of course, now that I’m fired up, it’s almost time to take a break for the holidays. Life has a wry sense of humor. I’m not worried though, I’ve lived with this story for a good while. It’s not going anywhere. And PLEASE, if you hear me starting to doubt again, will you kick me?

Do you take a break for the holidays or try to keep your regular writing schedule?

It has to end somehow

If you’re a writer, I’m asking you to forget all the writing rules you know, and think like a reader for a few minutes. How do you like stories and novels to end? I realize your answer will probably depend on the genre of the read, so feel free to give me multiple responses.

I know if the book is one of a series the ending will wrap up parts of the story, but leave something open-ended. I expect there are other factors, besides genre, that influence types of endings.

When I write, it’s almost impossible for me to end on a truly negative note. As a reader, I don’t need a happily-ever-after ending, but a miserable-ever-after ending is likely to leave me wishing I hadn’t bothered to read the book or story. Also, in my writing, I have a tendency to want to wrap things up—most things. And I suppose I have those same preferences I when I read. I’ll be frustrated if I’m left asking, “but what about …” too many times.

That’s not to say I don’t like to wonder what might have happened a day, or months, or years after The End. Sometimes, as with the ending of my novel The Brevity of Roses, one might assume things will go smoothly, but one could be wrong. I don’t mind entertaining the possibilities of future story after the last page, but I expect the author to have finished the story they’ve just told me.

I’m told literary journals love ambiguous endings. What exactly does that mean? I don’t mind a twist or a bit of surprise at the end to make me think back through the story for clues I missed, but you leave me cold if you leave me screaming, “What the heck?!”

I’m reasonably intuitive. I like nuance. I don’t need everything spelled out for me, in fact that annoys me. But an author needs to respect my trust.  I’ve read stories that kept me guessing, a bit confused even, but I read along expecting it would all fall into place by the end. When it didn’t, that author made me one angry reader.

Of course, I’m asking about endings because I’m struggling with writing one. That’s why I’m asking you AS A READER, how do you like your endings served?