The Secret Handshake

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I hope the title caught your attention, but the sad truth is there is no secret handshake in writing. When all is said and done, a writer has to sit down and write the words whether through a computer and keyboard or pen and paper. However, there are lessons I’ve learned since I’ve started writing, and I wish I’d known some of these five hints when I first sat down with a laptop and typed in the words, Chapter One.

  1. Literary or genre. There are English majors who could debate the definitions of these two categories until the cows come home. To oversimplify it, genre fiction tends to gravitate toward happy endings and can be broken down into different categories, such as romance, mystery, science fiction, and more. Literary fiction tends to be character driven with vague or unhappy endings that delve more into truth and thematic purposes. Both defy exact definitions, but I found my niche when I discovered I like reading romances with happy endings and cozy mysteries with the search for justice complete. That meant I’d be happiest writing genre fiction.
  2. Writers’ Associations. If you know off the bat you want to write a romance or a mystery, there are writing organizations that can help you learn some of the tricks of the trade. While there may not be a secret handshake, there are certain expectations from readers of the romance and mystery genre. For example, a romance needs a happy ending, and a cozy mystery needs justice. Romance Writers of America (RWA) and Sisters in Crime are wonderful places for you to meet other writers and start your writing journey. Within RWA, there are local chapters and online chapters. If you live close to a local chapter, that’s a great way to meet other writers and ask for tips or find someone to critique your work.
  3. When you open a craft book, there might be initials on the page. This is one place where I can do a little fist bump with you and help you learn some common writing acronyms.
  • POV=point of view. See number 5.
  • RUE=Resist the Urge to Explain.
  • TSTL=Too Stupid to Live
  • WIP=Work in Progress
  • HEA=Happily Ever After
  • HFN=Happily For Now
  • GMC=Goal, Motivation, Conflict
  • ARC=Advance Reader’s Copy
  1. Genre categories. Within the world of genre writing, there are also sub-genres. In romance, writers are often asked, “What type of romance do you write?” When I was asked this at my first local writing program, my eyes widened and my pulse accelerated. There were different genres within the genre? I listened to other people and figured out I wrote contemporary. In terms of romance, there are a number of subgenres: Contemporary Short, Contemporary Single Title, Historical, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Romantic Suspense, Inspirational, Erotic, Erotica, Mainstream with Romantic Elements, Women’s Fiction, and more depending on who you talk to. Mysteries are often broken down into thrillers, suspense, and cozies.
  2. Point of View. Books can be written from either an omniscient POV, where there’s no specific narrator (think Harry Potter) or from deep POV, where the story is told from the perspective of a certain narrator. There are also different viewpoints. There is first person, where the story’s narrator uses I or me. Second person isn’t seen much in genre fiction, but this person uses the word “you.” Third person is when the narrator uses he or she. In romance, deep POV allows the reader to view the scene from one person’s point of view as if you are in the shoes of that character. Head-hopping refers to scenes which alternate back and forth between different characters’ POVs.

These are five of the tips I wish I’d had when I first started writing. I’ll be writing five more next week. Happy writing.

Pursuing a Dream

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A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about resolutions. I’m not big on them. Rather than wait for a specific day on a calendar, I’m in favor of taking action. But what is a resolution? In my opinion, it involves taking stock of your life and instituting change. A while back, I looked at myself. All my life, I’d been jotting down stories or dreaming up characters in my head, but I’d never taken steps to live my dream. In this age where we have the world at our fingertips, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in life and not think about whether it’s too late to pursue a dream. For some people, it’s playing the guitar or another instrument. For some, it’s painting or sculpting or some artistic expression that satisfies their need to make the world a more beautiful place. For still others, it’s traveling and experiencing the world from somewhere beyond their backyard. For writers, however, it’s getting that story out and putting it on paper. So, how do you make that dream change from a wisp of an idea in the mists of your mind to reality?

Contemplation. Being truthful with yourself is a great place to start. Truthfully, I’ll never play on Center Court of Wimbledon on Championship weekend. While some people love to dance, it makes me self-conscious. What I do love is coming up with a new story and new characters. So while I won’t be a championship ballroom dancer or a professional tennis player, I can make writing my career and work hard to achieve my dreams.

Action. If creating art is your dream, check out community colleges and your local YMCA. If recreational sports are your dream, check out USTA or your local YMCA. Don’t sit around waiting for something. Make your dream a reality.

Writing. If you’ve always dreamed of becoming a writer, there are easy steps you can take. Check out local writing organizations or online ones. Romance Writers of America is a great resource for romance writers, just like Sisters in Crime helps mystery writers. Read. Read a craft book about writing and read in the genre you want to write. If you want to write a family memoir, go ask your local librarian for some good local memoirs and read those books to get a sense of the tone, style, and tempo of the book. Most importantly, sit down with a blank page in front of you and write. If you can do this day in and day out, you’re a writer. If you’re a beginning writer, I hope you’ll join me over the next couple of Tuesdays as I discuss some of the basics of genre writing. What does BICHOK mean? What are some commonly used acronyms? What is POV and what does head-hopping mean?

Even if you’re not a writer, I hope you’ll take some time to dust off your dreams and figure out how to make them a reality. Sunrises represent a fresh start to a new day. Make today the sunrise for your dreams.

Reading for a Lifetime

In my house, you can’t find a room without a book or some sort of reading material. Even the garage has books in it as I have set aside some books I’ve read to donate to the local library. In my house, you will find books for all age groups that span all genres. Toddler board books? Check. Children’s dictionary? Absolutely essential for the parent of twin second-graders. Sci-fi books? We have several. Classics? I kept most of them, even my copy of Madame Bovary. Romance novels? Of course. How to write a romance novel? Below my desk in a neat row. I love books, and if there’s one thing I pass on to my children, it’s a love of reading.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. Or maybe it’s because I’m the mother of four, but people ask me when my children started reading. I say it’s not important at what age they started reading, but what’s important is I read to every one of them the day they were born. What’s important is whether they keep reading throughout their lifetimes.

I’m even writing this blog at a library. Looking around I see books on a variety of topics: Soul Food Love. Fishing for Dummies. American Guide to Hiking Trails. (Note: I try to sit near the nonfiction so I’m less likely to stop writing to go look at a book that’s caught my eye.) There are books for everyone.

As a writer, I love books and often have my Kindle in my purse so I’m never far away from the book I’m reading. Yet as a parent, I often wonder if my kids will read when they are adults. The other day when I was driving my son to school, he told me he knows kids who don’t read outside of school. They haven’t picked up a non-assigned book since elementary school. Yesterday, my youngest daughter and I were talking in the car about schoolwork. I told her one of the best ways to do better in school is to read at home. I told her the more she reads, the more she’ll improve her vocabulary, the more she’ll be able to read the math word problems on her own, and the more she’ll be able to understand the textbooks. I stopped when I started to sound like the narrator of the wonderful children stories by Laura Numeroff, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

What was the last book you read (I won’t ask when)? Let me know.

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How are your 2018 resolutions coming along?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I’m a believer in if you want to change something, it’s better to start right now rather than waiting for a date on a calendar. To quote Nike, just do it.

Yet, a while back, I joined my local romance writing chapter, Georgia Romance Writers, in the month of January. Since then, I’ve found out that GRW has a spike of visitors in January when a new crop of writers come to see what writing a book is all about and see what GRW is all about. (Sounds a bit like the Hokey Pokey really). For me, it was where I found other writers who wrote genre fiction and loved talking about it. I knew I had to go back, and I did go back in February of 2013. For some, a January GRW program is the litmus test about whether they want to actually write a book, sit down and make that fantasy in the back of their head a reality. Some go on to finish their book; others don’t.

Resolutions come in all shapes and sizes. For some, it is sitting down and writing a book. For others, it’s losing the holiday weight. According to one website (I’m using Martin Armstrong’s list from his article on www.statista.com. If you want to see it for yourself, here’s the link: https://www.statista.com/chart/12386/the-most-common-new-years-resolutions-for-2018/ ), the five most common New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 were eat healthier, get more exercise, save (more) money, focus on self-care (for example, getting more sleep), and read more. Do any of them sound familiar?

For writers, starting a book or finishing a book or increasing their word count are often mentioned in late December as worthy resolutions. However, writing in itself is solitary. When it comes down to it, a writer has to practice BICHOK (bottom in chair, hands on keyboard). So now it’s February, and I’m here to ask. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions and if so, how are they going? How is your book coming along? Are you going to the gym more often?

If you’ve succeeded, great. The question then becomes what made this year different? For me in 2013 (even though GRW wasn’t a resolution, I did join in January), GRW was a great way for me to meet other writers, learn about writing a book, and I felt like I’d found my home away from home. I became involved and I held myself accountable for my writing.

If you haven’t followed through with your resolutions, you don’t have to wait until next January to exercise more or eat healthier or write that book. Figure out what happened. Maybe that flu bug hit your household and you weren’t able to go to the gym. Maybe your dishwasher went kaput and you couldn’t add to your savings. (Okay, our dishwasher is currently broken so it was the easiest savings-busting scenario I could come up with).

So did you make a resolution? Let me know.

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Photo courtesy of Alamy Stock Photos.

Welcome to my new website.

I’m so glad you dropped by. I’m launching a new website, and I hope to return to regular blog writing again. So what can you expect from my blogs? A little of everything: a whole lot of discussion of the craft of writing, some discussion of isolated moments about my family, some posts about tennis and baking, and, of course, Cary Grant (because hey, it’s me and I love classic movies). Thank you for dropping by and following my journey with me as I forge forward with my writing.

Writing Tuesday: Climbing into the Stands

There’s something almost intrusive about watching an athlete after he or she wins a championship or event. No matter the sport, the winner usually seeks out his or her group. In golf, the winning golfer may hug his caddy (or jump in a lake). In baseball, the teammates rush the mound. In tennis, the player may climb into the stands to hug his coach, team, friends, and family. This summer, after the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic and Flavia Pennetta both made their ways to their player’s box where hugs abounded between the player and his or her support staff. Even in individual sports, athletes depend on their team to push them the extra mile and support them when no one else may even expect them to be victorious. Writers can appreciate those elements. Writing itself is solitary. An author sits down by him or herself to capture the words on some sort of device, whether laptop or pen and paper or something else. No one else will do it for him or her (from here on, I’m just going to use herself). Rainy days. Sunny days. The writer must find that inner burning in her innermost self to sit down and capture the characters and the story. At the same time, there is something about a support team that can be an invaluable tool. Writing is hard. There are rejections, bad reviews, and naysayers. A support team won’t turn a rejection into an acceptance, but your team can give you hugs and even the occasional ice cream cone. How does a writer build her support team?

Friends and family. Over the past couple of years, I’ve realized how lucky I am to have people who support my writing journey. I’ve talked to writers whose spouses demean their writing, wondering why they don’t spend more time with their families. I’ve talked to writers whose friends keep calling during their writing time. I’m fortunate. Cupcake, my five-year-old often tells me that when she is a publisher, she will publish my books. Chunk used to give me eleven kisses before I went to my local chapter’s writing programs. And my WH believes in me. That says it all.

Fellow writers. Some writers love critique partners, and most rely on some form of beta readers. Whether it is a fellow writer giving encouragement or giving advice, the words and wisdom of those writers are, in and of itself, the meaning of support. Knowing a writer has been rejected one hundred and five times before getting the call gives me a boost. His or her perseverance in the face of rejection sends a positive message that it is possible to get better, it is possible to fulfill your goals. As a member of a local romance writing group, I call the monthly programs my pep rallies. They invigorate me and help me connect with other writers, some of whom are celebrating their first sales, some of whom are celebrating their fortieth sales, and some of whom received rejections. As the chapter president says, a rejection can be good news because it means you’re getting your work out there and continuing to persevere.

Online bloggers and online writing friends. Online writing friends are invaluable in that they understand the joys and the frustrations from sitting at a keyboard trying to form a story that is not only coherent but also fun to read. Whether through social media or online blogs, it helps to check in on online writing buddies to gain perspective or to read a funny meme or learn something new about the craft of writing. Sometimes when I go to conferences, I run into someone and I’m convinced I know them. It usually turns out we read the same blogs or are friends on Facebook. We have a shared thread and are able to talk about writing. Online writing friends are often great resources because they don’t have any preconceived notions about you, and they want to encourage you as much as you want to encourage them. It’s usually a win-win for both of you.

All those dedication pages you read in books? They’re there for a reason. They’re writers’ versions of climbing the stands and giving their support team a hug.

Do you turn off games and sporting events before the celebrations or do you watch them? Let me know.

Reading Thursday: Anthologies and Novellas

Lately it seems as though I’ve read as many short stories as I have full-length novels. This isn’t a new trend. In high school, I read many short stories by the queen of mystery, Agatha Christie (and let me give a quick shout-out to the fact that this past week marked the 125th anniversary of her birth). Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence, and Poirot were as familiar to me, if not more familiar, as my classmates. In law school, I fell in love with Jude Deveraux’s books and would pick up anything written by her, even anthologies featuring one of the Montgomery clan or a Taggert. I’d read all the novellas in the anthology but rarely would reading a story by another author lead me to buy one of her books. Fast forward to now. It seems like there are so many anthologies available right now. If you go online to your favorite book retailer, chances are there will be an anthology in your suggested reading list box. Right now, on my Kindle, I am reading-yes, you guessed it-an anthology. And my paperback? Drum roll, please. An anthology. With all these recent anthologies, I asked myself some questions, and what better place to share three of them than my blog?

Why novellas? The most obvious place to start is the most obvious question. Why am I reading two anthologies comprised of novellas? One answer that jumps out at me actually has four components: Kath, MJ, Cupcake, and Chunk. When I’m on the go, I can read novellas in a hurry. I’m also not as likely to stay up to two in the morning with short stories. (My WH might send some of the authors a thank you note for that). Too often I find myself reading a Sarah MacLean or Jodi Thomas novel, and I can’t put it down. With short stories, I haven’t really had that problem. I’m usually done with one in a relatively small amount of time and can easily wait until the next day to start the next offering.

But another reason isn’t so obvious. They are everywhere right now. So many authors offer a novella free on online book retailers in the hopes of enticing the reader to buy more in their series. It’s easy to download several free stories, and then look for something short to read in the car rider lane.

Am I enjoying them as much as a full-length novel? This was a harder question to answer. Some of the stories blow me away. I was literally on the treadmill at the gym crying as I read His Beloved Bride. (Thank you, Ruth Logan Herne. BTW, if you haven’t read this inspirational author, she’s an author worth reading.) While part of the reason revolved around events in my personal life, Ms. Herne knows how to pack an emotional punch whether in a novella or a full-length book. A while back, I was reading my Kindle while waiting for Kath’s concert recital doors to open. I was laughing my head off at a novella in an anthology. So at times, yes, I am enjoying them.

But the problem is I often like three out of the four offerings. I’ve discussed in my blog before that I’m not the type of person who can put down a book without finishing it. And when it’s a short story, even more so. There’s not a lot of time invested in individual stories, so what if it’s bound to get better? I don’t want to miss the good part. But so often lately, there is always one story in the collection that I’m not enjoying. Enough to start thinking about whether novellas are worth my time. But then I think about the times they have made me laugh or cry, and I usually go ahead and download another novella.

Do I buy any other books as a result of reading a new (to me) author in an anthology? As a writer, I would love the answer to be yes. But as a reader, the answer is (with my head hung low) usually not. The problem is I usually read an anthology because I love one of the contributing authors’ works. I don’t usually pick up an anthology out of the blue. Right now, I have very particular reasons to be reading these two anthologies. One I acquired at RWA2015 in New York City. I love Jodi Thomas’ books. Ask Me Why has a Harmony short story. Free book plus Harmony? I’m there. The other book I downloaded for free with my Amazon Prime membership because I’m going to write my next book in that genre. This book actually led me to write this blog because I loved the first two stories but was only so-so about the third.

Now there was a time last year when reading the prequel novella did confirm to me that a book I wanted to read by that author was going to be worth my time (and I was absolutely right-I’ve loved all three of the Milford series so far. If you haven’t checked out Piper Huguley’s Home to Milford College novella and books, they are wonderful, and the novella is free.)

With the glut of novellas right now, I will probably switch it up and read full-length books for a while. But I applaud those authors who dare to try something new, and team with other authors to try to expand their fan base. And when I read a short story that makes me laugh or cry, it’s like any other book-it goes on my keeper shelf.

What about you? Do you read anthologies? What if you don’t like one of the stories in the anthology? Do you skip it and move on to the next? What was the last anthology you read and would you recommend it? Let me know.