Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thank you Anne Lamott and E.L. Doctorow for Validating My Driving in the Fog

            My dialogues come in spurts. My characters marinate in my mind until I can actually have them move about in my novels. And my plots just seem to evolve, twist and change until I’m left with something tangible. The whole process is gut-wrenching, time consuming and frustrating. But somehow I’ve managed to publish four mystery-suspense novels, garner an award for one of them, and still maintain some degree of sanity. But I’m doing it all wrong, aren’t I?
            I mean, for years, I’ve always thought that good writers begin with a solid outline and a crystal clear vision for their plot, character development, and dialogue. They know the climax the minute they pen the title of their work. And everything else flows smoothly. Then why wasn’t this the case for me?
            My novels evolved like my grandmother’s cooking. No real recipe – just some ingredients and a general sense of how to blend them. She never tortured herself over the lack of a step by step plan. So why did I?  Maybe it was all those years of having to write formal outlines for my English teachers. None of my novels had formal outlines. They had post-its. Post-its that hung on the computer, next to the computer, on the desk, and anywhere in the vicinity of the desk.  
            I vowed that when I started my fifth novel ( which, by the way, is somewhere between crappy first draft and third round editing ) I would do it differently. I would pre-plan it. Do it right. And then, a miracle happened. I bought Anne Lamott’s instructional guide to writing – Bird by Bird.  I wasn’t even sure who Anne Lamott was, but I remembered reading an article of hers in some magazine while I had to wait for hours in the urgent care because I was convinced I was having a stroke. (Ha! Turned out to be Bell’s Palsy and disappeared in a week). Anyway, her name appeared on my nephew’s school reading list under “Best Guides for Writing.” It was right next to The Elements of Style, so I figured it was in pretty good company and couldn’t possibly be as boring.
            Well, that book gave me all the validation I needed to keep writing in small spurts and not panic because I couldn’t “see the big picture.”  And as it turns out, she’s not the only one who agrees that writing is a nail-biting, self-doubting experience that pushes writers to the edge. She quotes E.L. Doctorow ( Ragtime ), and this is one quote I’ll treasure.
            “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.”
            Thank you, Anne. Now I’ll only worry if snow or dust covers my headlights.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Does Every Time Traveler Need a TARDIS?

I never gave it much thought until one of my editors said that the only purpose that the parents of my protagonists Ryn and Aeden (Light Riders and the Morenci Mine Murder) serve is to transport the kids from one place to another so that the siblings can find a way to time travel. Yep, these nameless adults (so far, anyway) have a lot in common with Doctor Who’s time machine, the “TARDIS.” 

Just like the original Doctor (yeah, I’m that old) having no control over where the machine will take him, Ryn and Aeden have little control over their parents’ actions. So far, they’ve wound up in Waddell, Arizona and Paris, France. (second book in the series to be released this fall).
Every good time traveler needs transport. But the major difference is that Doctor Who relied on the TARDIS to enter the time-space continuum. Ryn and Aeden found their own way through Snell’s Law of Refraction, they just needed a starting point, and that’s where the parents come in. 

My editor was right. The parents are merely a vehicle to “get the kids where they are going.” But Doctor Who fans will tell you, that as the series continued, the Doctor got more proficient with the “TARDIS.” This won’t be the case for Ryn and Aeden. They’ll go places, all right. But only at the whim of their parents. From that point, they’ll be on their own and who knows where time will take them.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Literary Awards - The Olympics for Writers

Okay, so maybe it’s not the 2012 Olympics, but for writers, the quest for the gold is always out there – dangling its shiny image in front of us. Literary awards can boost an author’s fame or at least get him or her recognized to some extent. The categories seem endless and the contests appear everywhere, but at what price?
Some are outright scams while others are indeed genuine, such as the legitimate state authors’ associations and venues such as Writer’s Digest. The scams are usually media promotions designed to fatten the coffers of the promoters. One surefire way to check is to visit the website “Preditors and Editors” at
But even with legitimate contests, is the prize worth the entry cost? Writer’s Digest charges as much as $150 for entries, coming in on the high side. Other contests have entry fees that range from $20 – $75, depending upon the genre. Usually, the costs are lower for shorter, un-published works.
But let’s face it, a gold seal on the cover of a book does indeed attract readers. I’ve watched this phenomenon myself at book signings and festivals. For an author, it’s like getting the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” It reassures readers that the book has merit. And of course, promoting that meritorious book on an author’s website is invaluable.
I held my breath when I entered my first novel, The Face Out of Time, in the 2011 AZ Authors Literary Contest and was ecstatic when it took an award. Of course, I wasn’t paying any $150 for an entry fee, but still, that whole process of having someone judge your writing can be nerve-wracking.
So, here I am again, biting my lip and awaiting the results for the two 2012 contests that I decided to enter. It’s a long wait – decisions will be announced in October and November. If it’s good news, I’ll blast it all over my website and social media. And if not, well…I’ll quietly keep my mouth shut, work even harder to perfect my craft, and hopefully do better the next go-round. After all, isn’t that what Olympians do?   

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Watch Out - The Shelf Life For Your Vocabulary May Have Expired

Watch Out – The Shelf Life For Your Vocabulary May Have Expired

I’m convinced the kids in my neighborhood think I’ve slipped into senility. Why? Because I keep pestering them to tell me the words for everyday objects. I write young adult mystery-suspense novels; but apparently my vocabulary hasn’t budged from the Stone Age. So, I need to tap into every available resource in order to stay current.
 It all started when one of my editors said, “Ann, no one uses the word pocketbook anymore. It’s outdated.” I immediately stepped outside, holding the very object in my hand as I walked over to a girl on her way to school.
“Excuse me,” I said, “but what do you call this?”
She looked at me as if I had just landed on this planet.
“It’s a bag. A handbag.”
“That’s what you call it? A bag? Nothing else?”
“Well, maybe. If it had a special brand, like Gucci or something. But yours is, well…uh, just mostly material.”
“OK, thanks.”
Then I went back into the house. But it didn’t stop there. Apparently, all sorts of words that I use are outdated. Obsolete. Like blouse. I asked my neighbor’s 14 year daughter for that one.
“You mean a top?”
“That’s what this is, a top?”
“Or a shirt, I suppose.”
“What about a blouse? Would you call it a blouse?”
“A what? I don’t know that word.”
“Thanks, never mind.”
The list is infinite. And it gets worse when it comes to expressions. Apparently, the top two are:
“What the hell?” and “Oh my God!”
Feel free to use them but forget the following. They’re as dated as beehive hairdos and saddle shoes.
“Pitch a fit”
“Have a hissy fit”
“Oh my gosh.”
“Have a canary.”
“Groovy” is definitely out, but somehow, “cool” manages to survive.
Honestly, it’s tough keeping up. My mother never bothered. She referred to undergarments as “bloomers” and suitcases as “valises,” but she wasn’t writing novels for teens.
But vocabulary works both ways. Just the other day I was talking with a teacher friend of mine who said that she had to translate something out of a Nancy Drew book for a student.
“Is the student learning English?” I said.
“No, but the poor girl didn’t understand a word of the sentence.”
“What was the sentence?”
“Nancy caught the heel of her pump on the running board of the roadster.”
I smiled. The shelf life for Nancy’s vocabulary just expired. But shouldn’t something be timeless?