Seven things …

Source: morgueFile photos
Source: morgueFile photos

My fellow Sister in Crime, Sheyna Galyan, tagged me on Facebook the other day to talk about “seven things about my writing habits.”  It was a fun exercise and since I don’t have any of my craptacular pictures to share with you, I thought I’d repost this here:

Seven things about my writing habits:

1) I have to play music while I’m writing. In fact, I tend to build playlists for my books as I go along. Music is essential to my character building process, it also helps me set the scene.

2) I like to edit my stories by printing off my draft and using a pen to mark the hell out of it. I don’t have a problem creating a story on my computer, but when it comes to edits – I think better when I’m dealing with hard copy.

3) I have a terrible habit of abandoning projects in favor of “greener” pastures. So, right now, I have three fairly fleshed out stories that I’ve been working on over the past ten years or so. As you can imagine, this causes lots of problems when I come back to the projects that I’ve shelved. So, anymore I work on one thing at a time.

4) The current story that I’m working on (I call it “After Life” or “AL” for short) is the first book that I started writing in my adult life and I will be so happy to get it done. Every time I’ve set it up on a shelf, it’s the story that keeps bugging me to be written.

5) When I first think up a story, I just the story go where it will take me. But the older that I get (and the less time I have), I’ve found that I creating an outline of my story helps immensely. It helps to keep me on track and it helps when I have to switch my focus from working on fiction to other tasks.

6) Although I feel like I’ve been writing stories my entire life, I’m really awkward about admitting that I’m a writer. Which is weird, because it’s what I do in my professional life, but I’ve always worried that folks would think I’m delusional if I told them that I write novels in my spare time. Then I realized that they probably already think that, so that’s a hurdle I no longer worry about. 🙂

7) I’ve been writing since I was a kid, I’ve been a professional writer for over 15 years, but I’ve only been treating the novel as a “career” for the past three years and I’m constantly amazed at how much I learn every year that I write. I just sincerely hope that my next book won’t take so effing long to finish.

Process, Random

Novel Playlists

When I was a kid, my brother and I would regularly climb up on the bench seat of my parents’ stone fireplace and entertain the masses (eh-herm, my parents and maybe the dog) with our performance of Kenny Rogers / Dottie West songs. Another early musical memory that I have is cranking up my parents’ 8-track player and blasting Eddie Rabbit’s “I Love a Rainy Night” and then go hide under the couch. Because – you know, after the second or third time that this happened, I’m sure that my parents had no clue who the perpetrator was.

OK – so I’ve established that I was a goofy kid. The other thing? While I didn’t turn out to be a virtuoso musician, music is something that’s really important in my life and to my creative presence as a writer.

In September, Sisters in Crime had an interesting group of questions for its blog hop and since I’m apparently immune to deadlines – I figured I’d respond to one of the blog prompts: Do you listen to music while writing?

Oh absolutely, I listen to music while I’m writing. I currently have over 130 hours of music saved up in Windows Media Player and if I’m working on my day job or if I’m writing fiction, there is always music playing. I also have a little mp3 player that has a mix of music on it – that’s for airplane rides, gym trips, and writing evenings at Panera Bread when I’m not feeling the easy listening that pipes through their speakers or I want to tune out the noise that’s around me.

What’s on your playlist?

Before I delve into my personal playlists that I’ve constructed from my Works in Progress (WIPs), there’s one author who really does playlists well: Deborah Harkness. In fact, when I met her at a book signing – I stuttered my thanks for introducing me to the music of Florence + the Machine. “Of course!” she replied.

Ms. Harkness is the author of the “All Souls Trilogy” that chronicles the journey of Diana Bishop, a thoroughly American witch, and Matthew Clairmont, a mysterious and prestigious biochemist who also happens to be a vampire.

Harkness’s playlists are stunning and chronicle her inspiration for her individual characters, as well as the books themselves. As someone who is an avid reader and as someone who really loves music, Deb Harkness’s Spotify playlists are a little piece of heaven. (Find Ms. Harkness here on Spotify.)

Two of my WIPs have their own playlists. The music therein serves a couple of purposes – one is to evoke a certain feeling in me while I write. It’s not unheard of for me to play a certain song over and over again while I’m writing a certain scene or trying to get into a character’s head. The other purpose is to mentally transport myself to a certain time and place that inspired me in the first place. My novel “Afterlife” is set in 2002-03. No, I’m not going through and finding the “NOW” CD compilations from that time, but I remember what CDs I was obsessed with when I was 25 years old. Listening to Moby’s “Play” album transports me back to the tiny house that I rented when I was a broke journalist. U2’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” had been out for a couple years at that point, but I had just discovered that album – the song “In A Little While” in particular.

There is a tricky father-daughter relationship that weaves its way through my story. One day I was scrolling through my mp3 player and came across Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son.” That was like a visceral punch to the gut. The anguish in Stevens’ voice helps me understand some of my characters’ misunderstandings. Pearl Jam’s “Man of the Hour” also helps.

So yes – music is a constant of days and of my work.

What about the rest of you? Anyone else out there who builds playlists for their writing lives?

Book Review, Process

Book Review – The Virgin’s Guide to Writing Your First Romance Novel

The first time that I ever encountered Elda Minger’s books was at the CashWise Grocery Store in Willmar, Minnesota.  I worked an evening shift that went from 1 to 10 p.m., and frequently went there to unwind.  I’d usually have a couple things that I needed to purchase, but more often than not I was more interested in reading the magazines and checking out book covers.

And that is where I found Elda Minger’s books *mumblemumblemumblemumble.”

Oh wait.  This is the part of my blog where I hesitantly acknowledge that I’ve read (and enjoyed) Harlequin romance novels.  So – back in the early aughts, I bought Elda Minger’s “Night Rhythms” at CashWise and although many of the other Harlequin’s I’ve picked up over the years have been donated or discarded, I like Minger’s book.  And I may have a major in English and my shelves may be filled with books from T.S. Eliot, Stephan King, Elia Kazan, etc., but dammit – a decent romance novel makes for great brain candy.  Especially when I can slam something like a Harlequin down in less than an afternoon.

Anyway – I was taking a long walk with my hooligans the other day and a story idea came to me – it was like a wonderful gift that kept me noodling on the possibilities of story lines, situations, and characters until I got home.  Unlike the other stories that I have burbling in my gray area, there’s nothing paranormal or mysterious about this plot – in fact, it’s kind of a simple, human story.  And you know what?  It could turn itself into a decent little romantic tale.

And since I have a hard time finishing any of my projects and because I wanted to approach this story idea like I was crafting a romance, I decided to do some Googling.  And I came across Elda Minger’s “The Virgin’s Guide to Writing Your First Romance Novel” and I downloaded a copy for my Kindle.

As I mentally composed this blog post, I found myself noodling as to why I enjoyed Minger’s “how-to” so much.  To be honest – I’m not a novice or a virgin (heh) when it comes to writing.  I’ve been writing for more than 20 years, nearly 15 of those years have been spent as a professional/paid writer (and to be honest – being able to write that is just a thrill to me).

So why did I like Minger’s book?  First and foremost – Minger has a great conversational voice.  Her book is structured in a Q&A format of the most commonly asked questions she’s fielded in her writing / teaching career.  And it really feels like having a conversation with a mentor rather than reading a tome that regurgitates the “best of” Strunk and White.  Also – her advice is spot on, whether you’re new to the craft or looking for a couple ideas to refresh your existing skills (more where I am at when I read books like Minger’s).

And finally – one of the most interesting parts of Minger’s book that I encountered in the “writing about sex” section was a very brief, but FASCINATING history that encompassed historical romances and debunked some of the common notions that people might have about romance novels.

Minger’s book was $5 well spent.  I’d recommend it to novice and intermediate writers.


Writing / Doing – Despite an avalanche of work, I’ve had some painfully slow but pretty satisfying edits lately on AL.  I also mentioned the other story idea that came to me last week while walking.  I’ve taken some preliminary notes on that story and intend to go back and try to craft an outline in the near future.

I also have another story that I’ve worked on for the past few years.  And it seems like when things are going well with AL, this one wants to barge in and be all front and center.  (It’s kind of like watching my eldest son snatch a toy away from my youngest.  Or how my youngest child is finding his voice and crows just to drown his older brother out.)  In situations like these, I just take notes.  I have notebooks and folders (sometimes entire containers) devoted to my separate stories.  I want to get my first draft of AL edited before I start cheating on her to work on something else.

Reading – Other than Minger, I have a couple other books (well, several) downloaded on my Kindle to read sometime very soon.  The two books that are at the front of my queue are “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak and “Make Art, Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Finding Your Creative Career” by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens.