Monday, August 24, 2015

Writer's Retreat Complete

I just got back from my first writers' retreat in lovely Gilmanton, NH. I had two full days of writing up in the peaceful farm country of NH with the ladies' from my writing group in a historic country home.

Going into this, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd set myself up for this wonderful, productive weekend, drinking wine, typing out page after page, and then settling down for dinner with more wine and a rousing discussion of our progress followed by a heated game of cards. It sounds perfect, right? But you never know if that's what will really happen. However in this case, it did. I got thirty-five pages written and learned a new card game.

The house, for starters, was lovely. Although built in 1790, it was purchased by the owner's grandmother in 1930, and I swear to you, nothing has changed since then apart from the necessities like plumbing and wifi. It still featured the ornate wallpapers of the art deco age and the beds with mattresses atop rusty, metal springs. It was like staying in a museum, and we were pretty sure the house was coated in lead paint, which is fine, since none of us like to eat paint chips.

As proof of its age, at that far door in the foyer, there are penciled in lines marking different children's heights with the name and the year. They went on both sides of the molding and onto the closet door.
There were also shelves of musty old books, including some first editions.

The house was large enough to accommodate more than the five of us, and we all were able to claim our own writing nook. I started in the gazebo here.
But to combat the sun, I had to keep my laptop screen on bright, which drained the battery pretty quickly. I moved inside for a while, and after lunch, decided to explore the barn. And that was where I found my place.
From there I had absolute quiet, a nice summer breeze and a view of the woods. After poking around a bit more, I also found it had its own "bathroom," an indoor outhouse. Betcha haven't seen one of these in a while...if ever. And in case you're wondering, yes I used it just to say that I have peed in an outhouse.
In my previous post, I mentioned the creepy dollhouse upstairs and its creepy little doll residents.
They were there, of course, as horrifying as promised, and they had a friend.

For some unholy reason, one of my friends actually wanted to sleep in this room, even after we had a discussion about how scary doll horror movies are. A terrible idea to talk about right before bed, by the way, when you are with a group of people known for vivid imaginations. 

As expected, sometime in the night, she heard scurrying, and as much as she hated doing it, she used the flashlight on her phone to check the dolls, making sure they were snug in their tiny beds. Another writer didn't even mess around. She slept the entire night with the light on. 

But apart from the few moments of terror, creaking walls, and the highway traffic rolling by at night, we really had a fun and productive time. We're already planning our next retreat, and if you have the urge to stay in an old, historic house to get the creative juices flowing, here's the listing. Bill was an awesome host.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Writers' Retreat

You guys, I am so excited! I'm planning my first writers' retreat. I've got a house rented. I've got fellow writers coming, and I have an entire weekend booked for writing.

Below is a picture of the house. The owner is also a writer, and (not that this influenced my decision) but Robert Frost stayed there once too. However, I mostly chose this house because it was large enough for everyone to have their own bed, it was affordable, it's absolutely adorable, and it is literally in the middle of nowhere--so we won't be distracted.

Can't you just see yourself sipping lemonade in that gazebo, the inspiration pouring from your fingers?

But it was this photo that really sold me.

Something about it says Middle Grade Horror, like I can see this dollhouse front and center in an R.L. Stine novel, where the dolls are possessed by the former residents of the old farmhouse. *shudder* I love it!

I'll be sure to use some of my writing time to update my blog when we're there next month, to let you know if I hear any tiny dolls creeping through the house or ghostly whisperings from the attic. And if this retreat goes well, I might make it an annual thing.

But what about you? Have you ever gone on a writers' retreat by yourself, with friends, or a hosted one? What did you like and not like about it? I would love the advice as I am in the process of working out a schedule. I'm trying to keep it structured without turning it into a writing concentration camp.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Before and After

Before writing a draft.

After writing a draft.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

People are Selfish

It was writing advice I got at a conference once. People are selfish. It's true. Even the most seemingly selfless people are receiving a personal reward for their selfless deeds. People donate money for a tax break, or to make-up for some bad karma, or because they like the feeling they get when they help people less fortunate. No one does something for nothing, which is something you need to fulfill in your characters if you want to keep them out of the "Mary Sue" trap.

Motivation is what makes a story. Let's look at Hunger Games. There are a multitude of reasons why Katniss could volunteer to compete. She could have been a thrill-seeker, or could have volunteered so she could get into the Capitol and enact her own plot for revenge, or she could have been in it for the money. I doubt any of these reasons would make us like Katniss the way we do, but even volunteering for her sister is because of her personal wants. She can't sit back and watch her sister die. She would rather sacrifice herself than lose another beloved family member.

From there on out, the reasons for her actions are very clear. She wants to ensure her survival so she can go back to her sister. Even partnering with Rue serves a purpose to Katniss. She needs help to destroy the others' food supplies, and Rue reminds her of her little sister, Prim. She offers Katniss comfort in an unfamiliar place.

The major plot of the novel isn't getting revenge against the Capitol. It's Katniss struggling with her own wants. She wants to survive, to get back to her family. But she doesn't want to sacrifice all of her morals to do it. Two selfish wants butting heads gives us the drama that made this a best-seller.

In your own writing, stop at pivotal points and ask yourself, "Why is my character doing this?" If the answer is that you're forcing him to do it, or you need him to do it for the sake of the plot, you have to do much, much better than that. Even with your secondary characters. Why does Peeta join forces with the Ones and Twos? Because he wants to protect Katniss. Because he loves her.

Need help? Try writing a scene from one of your secondary character's point of view? How different would the Hunger Games be if Peeta had told the story? Or Prim? Or Gale?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cyborgs, Androids and Robots, oh my!

Sometimes I forget how much of a sci-fi nerd I am until I start talking to other people about my writing projects. My latest features a cyborg. I was explaining this to a group of writers, and one of them asked, "So it's part human?"

I looked at her like she'd just asked me if I had two eyes. 

Of course a cyborg is part human. That's what a cyborg is! But at that point I realized not everyone is as nerdy as I am, and also, general media uses these terms interchangeably and often, incorrectly, so here are the very basic breakdowns.

Cyborg: a being that is both manufactured and organic.  One of my favorite examples...Darth Vader. He is a cyborg. Part man. Part machine. Technically, so is an old guy with a pacemaker. Think about that for a second.

Android: an android is a completely mechanical being made to look and act like a human. Because I am such a dork, and I use Star Wars repeatedly for my examples, think C-3PO. 

Robot: a completely mechanical entity that may or may not look human. Ie, an android is a robot, but a robot is not always an android. For my last Star Wars example, our little R2D2 is a robot, but not an android, so calling it a droid is technically incorrect assuming that's short for android. (But we'll forgive George Lucas for his genius.)

So to recap with pictures...

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bad Habits

I apologize for the radio silence. I haven't had much to say because I've actually been fulfilling my resolutions. Yes, I am as surprised as anyone, and also not surprised. I'm good at buckling down and getting things done. My problem is getting started. But once I am started, I'm able to keep up the momentum. I've lost 7 pounds AND I'm 50,000 words into the rewrite of the %&*$*@#! manuscript that isn't as ^&*(!@*#! as it was in the first version. I'm actually coming up with some decent stuff.

I'm sure when I get into the editing phase, I'll have lots of fun stuff to post about editing because I usually pull those posts from my own, horrible mistakes. But just going through a few pages I noticed one blatant error that keeps coming up.


It's everywhere. In places where a comma should never be. Where there shouldn't even be a pause. My little ring finger just keeps tap-tap-tapping away at it so my manuscript looks like it has a million little tails. And I can't seem to make myself stop. In my editing phase, I'll go through and delete a hundred of them, and in the second pass, a hundred more. I know when and where commas should be, but when I'm pumping out words, I seem to forget. 

That's my worst habit, and I don't see stopping any time soon. 

But what's yours? Are you a comma-fiend like me or do you have some other twisted addiction?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Brand New Year

At the start of every year I always say, "This is going to be the year I sell a book." Except this year, I'm not saying it. Sadly, I've found the journey to publication is not something I can plan, (which upsets me more than you can imagine because I plan EVERYTHING.) But perhaps this is a good exercise in learning some things are not in my control. It will happen when it happens. Maybe not this year, not the next year...hopefully some time before I die. My writing goal for this year instead is to finish the %&^(*#&! book I've been working on since April (I had to put it on hold to do some edits), and write another thriller brainstormed by my new agent. Those are things I CAN control.

There is something else I can weight. Sort of. I haven't been doing a very good job of it in the past couple of years unless you consider seeing how fat I can get and still cram into my jeans a method of "control." But I've reached the point where there is more hanging out of my jeans than actually going in.

I used my two weeks off for the holidays to eat and drink as much as possible, a last "hurrah," so-to-speak. The goal was to become so sick and disgusted with myself that I would actually  eat better and exercise in the New Year. It appears to be working. I ate a celery stick yesterday (and enjoyed it) and got up before sunrise to go to the gym today.

I know. I know. Everyone is all motivated in January and then by February they're in sweatpants, shoving their face full of Cheetos while they watch a Biggest Loser marathon. I'm not saying I won't be that person, but I'm trying to stay positive. I managed to lose 40 pounds the year of my wedding. (That I put back on with a steady diet of junk food and beer.) But now, I'm older and more concerned with my health and energy. I'm hoping it will stick. My goal is to be back in my sexy, black, backless bathing suit by summer. Wish me luck!

So that's my plan, what's yours?