I Say It’s Both

There’s this online place I visit, sometimes once a day, sometimes more – which is likely too much for my own writing good.  This online place is agent Janet Reid‘s blog.  I found her several years ago when I “entered” my serious writing stage.  Sometime back in 2011, I think.  She recently was awarded a very nice spot as one of the top 101 blogs for writers by Writers Digest.  Her blog is simply one of the best places for writers of all levels to visit.  Many of you out here already know this, but for those who don’t, or haven’t stumbled across her site yet, I say that because 1)she’s a top notch literary agent, 2)she tells it like it is, 3)with humor 4)and a dash of snark, and 5)she’s an overall industry expert.  (As to #5, this is my opinion and I know many others who feel the same way.)

Anyway, recently on one of her posts, folks started commenting, and like we tend to do, off topic it went.  We try to be good, and stay relatively in the same stratosphere of what she was posting about, but sometimes…meh, not so much.  That particular day there was a comment by one of the writers who said he “writes from the hip.”

I never did jump into the fray on this, because the Shark (a.k.a. Janet Reid) who also created Query Shark for anything and everything you ever wanted to know about writing a query, stepped in to remind everyone to stay on topic, keep individual comments to 3 or less, and no more than 100 words.  Often, too often, we get very wordy out there.

So here is where I wanted to add my two cents to that post’s off topic comments.  Like everything else with writing, there really is no right way, and no wrong way.  We each find OUR way and if it works for us, great.   First, because there are some who are now reading my posts who may not know a couple terms I’m going to use, I’ll briefly explain them.

Plotter – one who writes an outline, or synopsis of their book, beginning to end.  Plotters might carefully construct their story chapter by chapter, with the primary scenes/action and even a bit of dialogue or setting in each.  Or some might write a synopsis, knowing essentially what happens at the 50,000 foot level, from beginning to end.  The synopsis could be anywhere from 4-10 pages.

Pantster – likely self-explanatory, but for clarity, this is a writer who writes “by the seat of their pants.”  They don’t know from point A to point B what is going to happen.  They figure it out as they go along.  They sit and they write, feeling their way through as to what fits, or not.

Now that I’ve set all this up, what I wanted to say in the discussion/comments the other day is…I think we really do both.  In other words, it’s a mish-mash using both styles or techniques.  For instance, when I wrote DIXIE DUPREE, I said I used the pantster style.  I did it with book two as well.  BUT.  Although I didn’t have my beginning, middle, ending nailed down in either, I did plot them to a degree, along the way.  In other words, I had to stop writing and plan/figure out where the story needed to go.  I would decide, okay, Chapter X and Y needs to have this happen, and then I would write.

My latest WIP, THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET is plotted.  I wrote a synopsis for it, which is about 4 to 5 pages detailing major events, and (yay!) I’ve stuck to it for the entire book.  But here’s the thing, despite the synopsis, there is a massive amount of writing and work to turn those 4-5 pages into a full blown story.  I know what I want to happen, but there is all that missing detail.

I was talking about the sandwich method of feedback on JR’s blog in another post, and in some ways, working with an outline brings to mind a sandwich method too.  You’ve got the bread, but nothing in between.  You still need meat, cheese, and whatever else in order to have a sandwich.  Otherwise, all you have is…two slices of bread. Even with my handy dandy synopsis, I knew nothing about how I wanted my main character to get out of a predicament, or how she would meet various characters.  Hey, some of those characters who showed up weren’t even in the outline.  Hmmm, that seems a bit pantster’ish to  me.

Writing a book is blending a bit of both pantster and plotter techniques, at least that’s my take on it. 

What’s yours?


WINNERS! We Have Winners!


One of this morning’s winners, Ginger Martin, a friend of mine from my Nortel days, has graciously declined her ARC – which means I can give it to the next person who provided the right answer within the earliest time frame.

Her reasoning?  Well, she was one of my earliest readers, and said she’s already had a sneak peek.  By early I mean, she read it when it had the “fatal flaw” (that was likely in 2010) and then again, when it became a little closer to what it is today, and that version was probably in 2011.

Therefore, AJ Blythe – you’ve won the copy!  Email me at your address so I can send it on to you!


The hints and the expanded picture seemed to do it!

These were the hints:

  1. You hear them on hot summer evenings.
  2. They have wings.

And a bit more enlarged photo:

Secret Pic 2 for ARC of DIXIE DUPREE

This is the prize THREE lucky folks get:


Three have correctly identify what is pictured below!  Two via this blog in the comments and one on Twitter!

Here is the actual “thing” in it’s full glory:


YES!  It is a cicada!  I took this picture last summer.  Tell me that is not the most unusual looking “face” on it’s back?  Striking – and I suppose it’s there to scare off predators.  Poor things…they’re eaten by EVERYTHING.  Squirrels even.  Gross.

Here are the WINNERS!

Ginger Martincommented here on blog at 7:40 a.m.

  1. Sarah Meral – commented via Twitter using #DIXIEDUPREE at 9:10 a.m.
  2. Jennifer Dixon – commented here on blog at 9:14 a.m
  3. AJ Blythe – commented here on blog at 9:37 a.m.

Some of you JUST missed by a few minutes!

Winners, please email me at with your mailing address and I will send you a signed ARC!

I hope you all had fun!  I sure did – especially laughing at some of your crazy answers!


In the last post I talked about including food in stories I write, and at some point during the writing of that post, I actually stopped to run outside to snap some pictures of a sunset.   I’ve got hundreds of pictures of sunsets.  I can’t seem to stop taking them because I see something different in each one.

I don’t have the best camera on earth, and many times when I want to try and really convey just how incredible the setting sun looked at 5:25 p.m., there’s just no way.  I zoom out, focus, zoom in, and if you’ve done this yourself, you know it’s an ever changing view – by the seconds.  What you saw, for instance at that 5:25 p.m. point, is completely different by 5:25:30.  You better figure out the composition quick because it’ll be gone (snap!) just like that.

Sunrises, sunsets, the moon, a particular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the cotton fields around here in the town I live in, a freshly turned field, a pasture, all of it captures my eye, and when it does, I like to figure out a different way to write about what I’ve seen.

The other day I was outside waiting on Little Dog to do his business, and I was… well, looking up.  It was sunset again, and I saw traces of a few wispy clouds through some tree branches.  I thought, “…like pink ribbons laced through the tree branches.”  Yep, you bet I used that phrase in the current WIP.  When/if something comes along like that, hey, I’ll take it until I think of something better.

It really takes practice to figure out fresh ways to write descriptions of what my characters see around them.  Sometimes this is the hardest part of writing for me.  I will eventually get something down I’m happy with, but it typically takes several passes.  There are times I just have to walk away and think about what is it I want to say.  What I’m striving for is enabling a reader to see a scene in their head – just like looking at a picture.  I want it to be richly atmospheric, loaded with images filled with color.

Here’s what I caught the other day:



I’m somewhat limited by where I live, i.e. this was taken off my back porch facing where the sun sets each day.  There are power lines, TREES I can’t avoid, and rooftops I try to eliminate.  Despite the obstacles, the pictures still show how colorful this sunset was, so intense I almost forgot I was holding the camera in my hand.

What I like to do after I’ve caught a moment in a photo is study what I have, and like I mentioned above, figure out a fresh way to describe it, as if the character is looking at the same thing I saw.  Even if I can’t get a picture exactly right with a camera, I have to get it right in my story scene.

When I think about it, writing is a lot like trying to get that elusive perfect shot.


Char-Grill Heaven

There’s something about writing and including food in a story.  Maybe it’s a way to set your reader down in a scene, or to offer a sense of place.  No matter, food is a component I use a lot in the stories I write.  And of course, since I write Southern Fiction, I talk about southern food, but, I have another influence too.  Mom’s from Maine, so I was exposed to her dishes which have a French heritage.  Dishes like croton, (or, corton, or creton, I’ve seen it spelled different ways) and tourtiere.  Both of these foods are mentioned right along with grits, hushpuppies, and collards in my debut, THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE (Kensington, Nov 2016).

Back during my childhood there was this burger place my father took us to frequently – Char-Grill.

I found a couple pictures of the one we used to go to on Hillsborough Street, just a short distance from the Bell Tower of North Carolina State University (go Pack!) and the downtown Raleigh area where local city politicians and students alike are still slapped silly with the smell of grilled beef and the hot grease from the fries being…well, fried.

Char Grill

This building dates back to 1959, and is the original and first Char-Grill.  They take orders the same as back then, write it on a piece of paper and flip through a slot where it finds it way to the short order cook in the back.  By the way, I heard it’s the SAME grill from 1959.   I loved eating here.  I love that it’s a place that still exists from my childhood.

See that smoke coming up from the roof?  You think Burger King hamburgers smell good when you pass that restaurant?  You ought to smell these…

Nick Solares from a site called Serious Eats, offered up this great review.  What was cool was he had a pic (like mine above) only with a different car and a guy on the bench eating his meal.

What I remember..these are the best hamburgers I’d ever eaten.  I’m sure a little of that had to do with the ferocious appetites my brother and I had back then, after riding our bikes, climbing trees, and running around after each other from morning till dusk.  That kind of hunger deserves a steamy hot hamburger wrapped in white paper, with mustard, chili and slaw leaking through.  The first bite followed by the crunch of salty fries, and then all of that washed down with a cold Pepsi that always managed to make my eyes water.

I think we only begin to appreciate the simple things after we get older and worry they could disappear.  Like how on a hot summer evening, my family would pile into the station wagon to go out for supper.  How we’d wind our way up Avent Ferry Road, then down Western Boulevard, take a little jaunt across Pullen Road and then onto Hillsborough Street.  Mom and Dad in the front, pointing out little things to each other, while my brother and I sat in the back, our elbows resting on the back of the front seat.  We’d be so hungry, our bellies gnawed our backbones, and our mouths watered as we waited for the smell of those hamburgers to arrive via our open windows  – usually within a half mile of the place.


Raleigh, NC Char Grill

Char grill milkshake

Char Grill Chocolate Shake

Dad would park and say, “Okay.  What’s everybody want?”

We always got the same things, so he didn’t really need to ask, but he would.  Then he’d come back and we’d sit there in the parking lot with a bunch of other cars and wait for our number to be called.  When that happened, he’d get the bag of food and pass it all out.  For the next few minutes there was only the sound of paper crackling and the pungent smell of food.

Seriously.  What would I call this today? 




Much Ado About Nothing?


With all the controversy swirling around I can’t say I want to read this any more than I did when I pre-ordered it weeks ago.  I mean, I’ve always wanted to read another book by Harper Lee, and so, from the initial “discovery” of the manuscript to this copy held in my hands, I’m happy.  Right now, anyway.  If I am perhaps more anxious to hurry up and read, it’s only so I can form my own opinion, particularly now that I know I’ll read about a different Atticus Finch.  From what I understand, he won’t be the upstanding man portrayed in MOCKINGBIRD.  He’s stood on the pedestal of justice we built for him with righteousness and one could imagine even, conviction.  What a huge burden he’s carried all these fifty some years, what with living under false pretenses.  I guess that’s the issue.  I don’t really know other than what I’ve seen on TV or read in the paper.

But, with all that aside, the truth is, this IS the book Harper Lee originally wrote, the book that became TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  MOCKINGBIRD is the result of an editor reading the GO SET A WATCHMAN (GSAW) manuscript and perhaps, with her editing pen tapping on her desk, she picked up the phone and called Ms. Lee and said, “I think the story needs to start earlier.  By twenty or thirty years.  Maybe a story about a young girl who reveres her father, and even more so after he shows her the true meaning right and wrong, patience and the complexities of living in a Jim Crow South.”

The editor did right by Harper Lee.  She gave her the advice any writer would want – the ability to look at a manuscript and see the story that was needed for that point in time.

You know what I’m most fascinated by?  That index card I saw, the one with the typed notes about GSAW and the fifty or so page increments brought in to the publisher, those notes that stated something like, “brought in by author” with the date, etc.  What an artifact!  The index card was shown on CBS morning news the day of the book’s release and I was SO hoping someone would flip that thing over so I could pause my TV and read the rest of what it said.

That is, in my opinion, a real piece of history, something that shouldn’t be lost.  They should have made bookmarks out of it and provided one to all us readers who’ve bought the book!

Anyway, I’m currently reading COMING OF AGE IN MISSISSIPPI by Ann Moody which is another eye opener, and I’m only about halfway done.  Whenever I get into GSAW and finish, I’ll be sure to throw in my two cents worth here.  After all, I’ve only read MOCKINGBIRD about five times now, the last time when the 50th Anniversary edition came out and I bought it, remembering it as one of my favorite all time reads as a child, not to mention the movie with Gregory Peck.

I hope I’m not disappointed by WATCHMAN.  I plan to steer clear of reading too much more about all of it beforehand.  In some small way, I’m a bit stupefied by the “shock” of the press over the so called “plot twist” about Atticus’ true nature.  At this point in time it sounds a lot like the typical path taken by a writer who worked with an editor to produce the best book she possibly could.  Newsflash, this still happens today – except we don’t drop into a publisher, we email our work.  The rest is the same.

We write.

Editors help us produce a better book.

And excuse the pun, but, end of story, right?

Doesn’t that make all this really much ado about nothing?


Updates…, and On Writing With Sentimentality

In the last post “What If,” I described a crazy scam perpetrated by someone who sounded as if he’d previously worked in law enforcement.  I’m happy to say that, although he hasn’t been caught, the local sheriff’s department has made headway.  I’ve been given a weekly update and told it will be a lengthy investigation and that they’ve involved another agency.  Harnett County Sheriff’s office doesn’t take lightly the impersonation of law enforcement officers, much less using a judge’s name (there is a Judge Faircloth in Harnett County).  This crazy operation – which still makes no sense to anyone – will hopefully end up with an arrest.

In addition, and unbelievably, we’ve had a visitor here by the name of Type B influenza, which decided my husband looked like a good candidate for a nice long stay.  I thought flu season was over.  Evidently not.  On May 4th, what was a strange pesky cough quickly disintegrated overnight into a high fever, and it all went downhill from there.  At this point, he’s sick of being sick.

He’s on the mend, but he’s still not “right.”

Then there’s the whole thing about flu shots.  I’ve been told if you get the shot, and end up with the flu, it won’t be as severe.  Someone told me they got one, and they were laid up just as long as my husband.  I was told the serum for this year’s batch was only 2% effective against the strains out there.  I had Guillain-Barré syndrome back in 1993.  I’m not supposed to get them, although as one gets older I think you have to sort of mitigate one risk against the other.  Since GBS is triggered by a virus, it’s “advised” not to get flu shots, yet I’ve read arguments on both sides, and still I’m not sure what’s the answer.


I subscribe to two writing magazines, Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers.  Interestingly, in an old issue of P&W, (old because I’m a year behind in reading these magazines) I ran across an article that was called “The Sentimentalist,” by Nate Pritts.  He writes that lately he’s seen an increasing number of instances in the literary community regarding the issue of sentimentality in creative work.  He questions this latest critiquing expression and wonders if it’s being used to, “excoriate a person or creative work,” and if so, how does one respond to it, if used against their own work?

The article moves on to explore how this view of being “sentimental,” came about.  How was it decided at some juncture this work or that work is sentimental, and therefore not worthy of publication?  A group of essays by Joy Katz, called “A Symposium on Sentiment” was presented in 2010 in a panel discussion at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs where she offered this explanation.  “Modernism…cooled the heart of poetry, confessionalism warmed it up; and poststructuralism threw a bucket of ice water on it.”

Pritts went on to say that sentimentality is seen as a weakness.  “A tired Oscar Wilde quote which calls the sentimentalist, ‘one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion, without having payed for it.’  Or Chekhov’s dictum, ‘If you wish to move your reader, write more coldly.’

Pritts continues on to say there is an underground movement however, in which poets and writers are resisting, or maybe the better word is insisting, that writing with sentimentality isn’t such a bad thing.  What’s wrong with being tagged as a writer “excessively prone to feeling,” as Webster’s defines the word?

More exploration by Pritts reveals a dissection of the differences between sentiment and sentimental.  Sentiment is based on experiences by individuals, those life events which create the feelings, as in nostalgia.  He explains critics use sentimentality to charge certain writing with “unwarranted sentiment, passages of unmoored or unjustified feeling.”

The article has so many interesting facets about the topic and about the fundamental job of a writer to not write as if overcome by emotion, “literally undone by feelings that seem baseless or without any clear origin that readers can trace and feel likewise moved by.”

From my own view, I don’t think a writer has done their work if a character falls apart without first showing that character for who they are, why they are the way they are, i.e., seeing their world through their eyes.  Otherwise, it’s like attending a funeral of someone you don’t know, or like the old movies where melodrama was usually on full display.

Damsel In Distress, courtesy Wingeye.

Damsel In Distress, courtesy Wingeye

How can you tell if you’ve fallen into the “sentimentality” trap?  I think one particular sentence Pritts wrote nailed it perfectly.

He said, “No matter how close we are to something, how invested we are in the subject matter, we have to find some way to retain distance.  The challenge we face as writers is to say something more like ‘Look at this thing that happened; let me show you why it’s terrible.  Or beautiful.  Or disappointing.  Or transcendent.'”

It seems to be back to that old adage, show, not tell, doesn’t it?

Self-Imposed Writing Challenge

Just for the fun of it, I recently took an online typing test to see just how fast I could get my fingers to work.  I’ve never done this before and I’ve never cared about the “official” number because it doesn’t really matter to anyone.  And by that I mean, the only typing I’m doing is on my latest project and no one’s screaming for it.

I found out I type about 65 words per minute and removing errors, that might be adjusted to 60 or 61.  I believe I can go faster – as if that matters – but, at the moment I’m using a rather old laptop with a space key that notoriously sticks.  I’d say in fairness to my brain and fingers, that’s what’s called a handicap like they might give out in bowling or golf.  Anyway, my curiosity regarding this was triggered by a blog I follow called Writers In The Storm.  They have a group of writers who regularly contribute, as well as guest bloggers.  A guest blogger recently put out a post about how to take advantage of writing fast and even came up with a formula for how many words one could do in an hour if you knew your wpm.

Huh.  Okay, so, if I settled for 60 wpm x 60 that would be 3,600 words in an HOUR.  Are they insane???  That’s WAY higher than my usual goal of 1,000 words per DAY.  That sounded completely unreasonable until she went on to say you could work in fifteen minute increments.  Oh.  Okay, maybe I can see doing it that way.  Hey, I’m all for trying something new for motivation.  And if I only stuck with it for fifteen minutes, that’s 900 words – better than what I’ve done most days lately.  She pointed out it’s also helpful to have notes and an understanding of what’s going to happen in the story before you begin.

In reality, this isn’t any different than NANOWRIMO which some of you might still be recovering from.  There are a couple of differences.  1) You are accountable to no one but yourself, and 2) the goal of NANOWRIMO is 55,000 by the end of the month.  Like I’ve said before, I’ve never participated in it, but that’s about 1800 words per day.  Not within a half hour.  I find this concept of fast writing intriguing because I know if I get into my story, sometimes my fingers can’t keep up with my brain.

Plus, I’ve experienced a positive result once before by doing something similar.  This was back in 2012 when my first book was on submission, and I needed a distraction.  We always hear about beginning new projects to take our mind off of worry, and the submission process was all so new to me then, I was trying not to act like a psycho every time the phone rang, or an email dinged into my inbox.  For my own sake, I needed to write another book, partly to subdue crazy me, and partly to validate I could actually do it again.

I remember beginning in early April.  By August, I was done.  A completed story around 86,000 words in hand.  This included editing.  By my math, that’s not very fast – no where near this level of “fast writing,” in the WITS post, and not even close to NANOWRIMO, but in my mind, it was still a blistering pace because it took me 18 months to finish the last project.

My main point is, I wrote it  “fast,” i.e., a consistent 1,000 wpd, with more some days, and less on others, but some number of words on page – EVERY DAY.  Was it any good, you ask?  Well, I sent it off to Caroline Upcher, the editor I used at the time, and two weeks later I got an email back.  I opened the review letter enclosed and my eyes immediately caught the word “wonderful.”  And, it got even better.  (some of you have who’ve been reading my blog for a while have heard this story before)  Turns out she was reconnecting with contacts in the publishing world in the U.K., and sent the ms to an agency there to read with the hope of maybe working out a translatlantic sale if a U.S. publisher picked it up.  The agent, Amanda Preston, of LBA, read it, and contacted her and said, ” I absolutely love it.”

That sounds pretty exciting, right?  And it was – at the time.  Very.  However.  I decided not to go on submission for a variety of reasons that are really neither here nor there in this moment, although I do dwell on what might have happened if I’d done that.  What this post is about is I do love setting goals.  Yapping away about it here means I’m about to buckle down and get serious.  Back in 2004 and again in 2006 I ran a marathon.  One of the first things I did when I made up my mind to run in them was to state it as a fact, “I’m going to run a marathon this year.”   Stating goals for all to hear is more likely to make it happen than keeping it to yourself.

And your eyes reading this is stating my goal.  I will plant butt in chair and achieve 1,000 wpd for the next ninety days. 

One way or the other.

*cracks knuckles, glares at keyboard.*

Have you set a self-imposed writing challenge lately?

What The Heck Is This?

When I finished my last project I realized I was in a bit of a dilemma.  Based on what I’d read, it wasn’t an unusual spot to be in.  My dilemma was, what genre did my book fit in?  I hadn’t written a mystery because a reader would know certain things up front my MC didn’t.  My MC wasn’t trying to solve the crime, she was simply trying to find out what happened to her parents.  It wasn’t a thriller because although I did try to make things suspenseful for her, I didn’t have her hanging by a fingernail out of a plane door, nor did I have her standing on the ledge of some mountain about two thousand feet up with a knife wielding maniac taking swipes at her torso.  I didn’t have my bad guy constantly thwarting every attempt she made to figure things out.

I simply wrote it (ha! simply wrote = eighteen months of hair pulling and angst), tried to make it good, typed THE END and then I admit, I sat back and wondered, what the heck is this? 

Was it so out of line, so off the mark of anything marketable it was doomed from the get go?  I’ve tried not to worry about that.  Then, one day, without me trying to figure it out, I was practically handed my answer on a silver platter because I honestly can’t tell you how I land on the sites that answer my questions.  I traverse the internet the way a monkey traverses treetop canopies.  I cavort here and there without paying attention to what I’m linking to, flip flopping around like a spider on a web.  (no pun intended.  Well, okay, there is, because it’s a pretty good one if you’ve ever seen a spider spinning a web)   Hither thither I go, reading this and that.

I somehow found myself on the Algonquin Redux site and landed on a list that clearly stated the difference between a mystery and a thriller.  Here’s the short of it:

MYSTERY                                                                  THRILLER
A puzzle                                                                       A nightmare
Curiosity motivates                                                   Victim story (at top)
Protagonist has skills                                                Protagonist must learn skills
Thinking is paramount                                             Feeling is paramount
Action is offstage                                                        Action is onstage
Small circle of acquaintances                                  Thrust into larger world
Clues                                                                             Surprises/twists
Red herrings                                                                Cycles of mistrust
Information withheld from audience                     Information given to audience
Audience a step behind                                             Audience a step ahead
Mostly single Point of View                                      Up to four Points of View
Whodunnit?                                                                 What will happen?
Suspects                                                                        Betrayers
Ending intellectually satisfying                               Ending emotionally satisfying
Closure a requirement                                               Can end ambiguously
Series expected                                                            Often stand-alone
Usually 300 pages                                                       Can be longer

Here’s the link if you want to read the article in it’s entirety.  It’s actually pretty short.  This was all fine and good but it still didn’t quite nail the way I handled my story, or maybe I should say the way my characters handled the story.  Therefore, I still didn’t have a clue.  But, lucky me, I subscribe to various blogs and am never at a loss for something to read.  And just over a week ago I found my answer here.  Hallelujah, what I wrote actually fits nicely into this!  Crime fiction!  Whoop!

On what constitutes crime fiction:

“I would say that crime fiction is less about the whodunit than about the protagonist’s dilemma in a criminal milieu. The protagonist may not have all the information—so there is a mystery in that he is trying to find something out—but the story is really about how he solves his problems, which are often as much about his lifestyle as about the particular crime that spurs the plot. For instance, in Ray Bank’s brilliant Saturday’s Child, Cal Innes is forced by a local mob boss to find a former employee and the money he stole, but in many ways the story is about Cal trying to find a place for himself and form an adult life within a socioeconomic stratum that offers very few options.”

—Stacia Decker (Donald Maass Literary Agency)

This was such a relief because “crime fiction” isn’t listed very often.  If you do a search on it you can find some resources, but mostly you get thriller, suspense and mystery and often all of these are lumped together.  When I was trying to buy books so I could read “in the genre” I was writing, suspense was the one I searched under.  And oftentimes I ended up giving up because I just couldn’t seem to pinpoint a similar story.  (Saturday’s Child above would have been good to know about, for example)

Now I know.  A day late and a dollar short maybe, but my book fits somewhere!  Clearly!

Have you ever written a book, only to have no idea what the heck it is?

Practice Makes Perfect?

How many times have you heard, “practice makes perfect?”

Recently an article written by a teacher who taught an MFA creative writing program caused a lot of backlash.  Chuck Wendig’s blog post alerted me to the uproar otherwise I would have never heard of the controversy.  If you haven’t read Chuck’s post or the teacher’s, both are worth the few minutes of time.  The teacher’s opinion is just his opinion, of course.  I’m not planning to drag us all into the weeds all over again about it, at least I hope I don’t.  Chuck did a great job (when does he not?) at articulating his views, and as usual I found myself nodding many times while reading his thoughts.

The debate about inherent talent versus anyone can do it if they work hard enough, is interesting, another hot button topic if I ever saw one.  For the most part, I think some people do have an extra advantage.  Call it talent, or “natural aptitude,” as one commenter on Chuck’s blog pointed out.  If not for that, wouldn’t we live in a world where all of us would be able to do just about anything, become pro football players, elite runners, play any instrument, become physicists, write Pulitzer Prize winning books, etc., if we set our minds to it and practiced or studied like hell?  Personally, I don’t think so.

Our bodies, our brains are not all equally alike.  When I was reading about gene/DNA coding, a fact sheet states “There are small variations between every individual in their genetic information that makes each of us unique.

I think all of us are aware of that, and it’s not really the main point.  Writing, painting, sculpturing or whatever art form chosen, the trite saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” couldn’t be more true.  And what about “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  The argument was about who decides who is talented.  It’s simply that whole subjective thing – all over again.

After I read Chuck’s blog, and then read the teacher’s article too, I sort of shrugged and thought, “well, I just don’t know what to think about that, and I’m not sure I care.”  Maybe I should care.  It’s about the writing community, after all.  It’s about all of us hopefuls out here, MFA’s or not, who work so damn hard to finagle and wrangle and wring words into stunning, captivating, sentences that might thrill, excite, and grab someone, anyone’s attention and make them turn pages, again and again.

Think about Betsy Lerner’s book, THE FOREST FOR THE TREES, where she breaks down into six specific writer personalities or identities. (I think it’s six but, I’m too lazy to walk upstairs and verify, so oops if it’s seven.  Or eight)  And what’s one of them called?  “The Natural.”  When I first read her book years ago, that’s the one I wanted to be.  The one who bubbled to the top of the pile with a natural born, uncanny talent for prose, the one who’d taken years for editors to find, the one they would whisper about around the water coolers (do they still even have those?)  “did you read her…,?  did you hear about…,?  Her name is…”

Huh.  Yeah.  Well.  Rrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeep! That there’s the sound of a needle dragging across vinyl.  If you’re too young to get it, oh well.  Let’s say I’m still “practicing,” shall we?

It’s obvious though, Betsy believes some out there have that awesome, wonderful, “natural ability.”

And then, about three weeks ago I watched the movie WHIPLASH.  Have you seen it?  Watch it because let me tell you what, my heart rate stayed elevated the entire movie.  Talk about perseverance.  Talk about not quitting.  Talk about PRACTICE MAKING PERFECT.  That movie holds all the lessons we receive from the writing communities we dwell in about “never give up, never stop believing it won’t happen, never stop writing, you can’t win if you don’t play,” and on and on.  But, it still brought me full circle back to the question; was the MC as good a drummer as he was because of talent or was it because of all the practice?  I think it was both.

That made me start thinking about the article that fired everyone up, and what if the MFA teacher had a point?  Maybe he was sort of like the jerk of a teacher in this film, who recognized talent, and was simply on the lookout for it.  Maybe he was just calling it how he saw it, but back to the rub, who was he to dictate a writer as talented or not?  Subjective, subjective, subjective.  And around and around we go.

What if I don’t have talent, or natural aptitude for writing?  Is it going to do any good to keep at it?  Is it possible to raise myself above mediocrity, and who will decide when I have?  Will I actually get better and better or will I eventually come to a point where no matter what, this is as good as it gets?

What if we’re really being lied to when told, “practice makes perfect?”


Courtesy Inside The Writer


A Story Worth Telling

Blank.  Vacant.  Meaningless.

Those three words describe the current situation with my latest WIP.  This will be the fourth book I’ve written – if I ever get it done.  I felt like this with the last one too, and I did finish it, so yay, consolation there, right?  Meh, sort of.

What’s different is, I’ve run up against a new problem I’ve not encountered before; what is the story?  What am I writing about? I haven’t the faintest idea.  I still love the setting.  I still love the working title.  I just can’t seem to get my act together, and it’s starting to get a little worrisome.

Here’s what I want.  I want to be buried so deep I can’t see anything else but where the storyline is going next.  I want to drift around the house with that perpetual little wrinkle between my eyebrows, as I worry over a particular plot point.  I want my fingers to strike the keyboard fast as they can and still not be able to keep up.  I want to STOP pecking out a few words only to delete them.  I want to stop feeling like the ideas are all a waste of time.  I want to stop thinking I have nothing left.

I’ve sat on quite a few ideas, for days, weeks even.  I started to write, only to trash all within a day or two – usually as soon as I go back and re-read what I have the next day.  Two months ago, I was ten thousand words in on one lame idea, and it just didn’t feel right.  I think what I mean is, I wasn’t excited.  What actually went through my  head was, “God, this is a stupid story.”  If I’m not excited, how could anyone else feel that way?

Since then, I’ve play around with several other beginnings, only to get about two to three thousand words in, and I’m like, “nah.”  I’ve had so many false starts at this point, my folder for the new project has racked up discarded bits and pieces of this and that, just like the donated clothing bin over on Highway 421 with its overflowing trash bags of shoes, sweaters, pants,and coats.  I think I even saw someone’s red negligee fluttering in the wind.  In typical fashion, I think, ah, there’s a story there.  And the brain cells dry up.

I’ve questioned if I’ve pigeon holed myself by choosing this particular place to write about.  I don’t think so.  It’s a swampy area, and the perfect place for something suspenseful to happen.  But what?

Part of my relentless doubt about my new story’s beginning is because recently, I was blown away by a random encounter with an opening line of a story that grabbed me, and held on.  In my mind, it’s one of the best I’ve ever read.

“The boy was on fire.”

This is how THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY by Shaun Hutchinson begins.  The book is not in a genre I would typically read, (LGBT YA), but I found myself absorbed instantly in the story.  Much like the last post, the writing once again only underscored the point that if the story is good enough, if it pulls a reader in and keeps them intrigued, it’s a story worth writing, a story worth telling.  It has heart.  It has tension filled moments.  It has a MC I want to get to know better.  I want to know how he ended up where he was, and what might happen to him.

If I didn’t know it before, I know it now.  This is why I’m still searching.  It’s why I haven’t yet found what I want to write about because until I’ve got something that snags at my heart strings the way the beginning of this story did, it does no good to start and stop.  If I have any confidence at all, it’s in the fact I recognize this and know it’s all part of the process.

It will happen – eventually.

Bottom line, I really just want a story worth telling, don’t you?

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