Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ally's Winner

Carolin, who posted eloquently in the comments section of the Pink Heart blog about a number of things in her 'well' that have inspired her creativity, is the winner of Antonides' Forbidden Wife.

Mitch and Micah thought that she could have included Golden Retrievers among her inspiration, but they loved the idea of her twenty-year engagement (go read the post!), so they forgave her the lack of Goldens.

I found all the comments really interesting -- and a little scary, as in Michelle Styles's recollection of the drunken Icelander who tried to abscond with her son. Yes, that would make a book opening, Michelle. But I wouldn't want to relive it all the time! At least confining it between the covers makes it manageable.

Ditto Kate Hardy's tale about her baby daughter's illness. It's interesting that we use romance fictioin to 'escape' the difficulties of life quite often. But at the same time we also use it to exorcise the grittier moments of our own lives.

I'm glad to know that Sid and Kate found Melody's quilts inspiring. And I will see about making Sid my version of his very own personal quilt (a dead tree in winter quilt, eh, Sid?) for his sleeping comfort.

I would love to hear more about the bits and pieces of your lives that have inspired you to do something creative. So don't stop here. Keep sharing, please.

Maybe next time we can talk about 'inciting incidents." Or is that a double positive? Things that inspire that initial, "I think I'd like to write a book about that" (or poem or short story or knot garden or quilt) moment.

Who wants to go first? Well, Michelle already did with her drunken Icelander. But who else has a good inciting incident?

Micah and Mitch are tussling over the treats. They want another contest. Hmmm.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Strategic Friends

I have a post over on the Pink Heart Society blog today called What's in Your Well? which I hope you will check out.

It's about using one's life -- and one's friends' lives and experiences -- in books.

Another way of approaching this is to talk about "where do you get your ideas?" But that sounds as if the ideas just happen to writers, that we just sit there hopefully waiting for an idea to come along and whack us upside the head.

But in fact, I've always found the process much more active on my part than that.

The initial idea might appear with little more than passive awareness. But, believe me, books don't happen that way.

I find it way more common to have a small idea that starts a book, sometimes no more than a single line -- and nothing at all to support it. And generally nothing appears without my having to go look for it.

And where do I look?

In the well of my own (and my friends' and acquaintances') experiences. The emotional bits are usually mine. It doesn't take a lot of expertise to mine one's own emotions.

But it's a bit harder to have as many experiences as my characters need. I've never flown a plane, ridden a bronc, made a quilt, dyed someone's hair purple, directed a film, sailed to Greece, tried a legal case, built an 11 ton sand castle, been a time-traveling cowboy a princess, or a cross-eyed librarian.

No, wait. I have been the last.

But ordinarily I run out of my own experiences pretty quickly. So thank heavens for my kids, my friends and the wonderful people I've met while writing books.

These strategic people complement my experiences with different -- but useful -- experiences of their own.

As I mentioned on the Pink Heart piece, my friend Melody Crust is a spectacular fiber artist. What she does with cloth and color and bits of sparkly stuff must be seen to be believed. Go take a look -- enjoy yourself. I always do when I go to her website for inspiration, which is exactly what I did when I was writing about Ally Maruyama in Antonides' Forbidden Wife.

Peggy Nicholson and Antoinette Stockenberg have sailed me out of more situations than I have any right to expect. I have turned to them virtually every time I've sent a character to sea -- with the exception of Jack Neillands in Imagine, whose bout with seasickness I was perfectly able to write from my own experience, thank you very much.

Jack himself owes a lot to the man who was the hero on the covers of more than half a dozen of my books. My initial inspiration was the sight of him looking dark and brooding in long-sleeve dress shirt ad.

"That's him," I said. "I want him to be Owain O'Neill on the cover of Dream Chasers." Imagine my amazement when I got him.

It even provided me with the 'small' idea for a book: What if, as happened in real life, the man in question said, "She asked for me specifically? I'd like to meet that woman."

He did. I wrote Imagine, picking his brain to make Jack real. Twenty years later, I still pick his brain regularly. About life in the fast lane. Big city living. Deep sea fishing. Greek endearments. There's apparently no end to his expertise. Everyone needs a guy like that.

But he didn't know bull riding. Fortunately Brett Leffew did. He was such a great help on the 'going down the road' part of The Eight Second Wedding that I thought he'd be an even bigger one for the background of the hero who taught bull riding in The Cowboy and the Kid. I was right.

Others have stepped up and allowed me to pick their brains and mine their experiences as well. The Prof's cousin Barbara has guided all three of my lawyer protagonists through legal shoals and has kept them from being disbarred in the process -- though she tells me that with Christo it was a near thing!

A stuntman friend-of-a-friend designed a movie stunt for me. An orthopedic surgeon talked me through an operation, an athletic trainer rehabbed my baseball pitcher's injured arm. Another spent a long time talking to me about my soccer goalie's spinal stenosis. A fireman briefed me on oil rig fires. And the late great Tony Hillerman actually took the time -- twice -- to discuss Navajo culture and heritage with me.

The little ideas keep coming. And the well keeps refilling every time I need it to. I dip into it and find the bits I need -- and the means to meet the people who can teach me what I need to know.

Writing is a wonderful thing -- and not nearly as solitary as it sometimes seems. It has enriched my life immeasurably.

So thank you to all those who have helped me with your experiences, your advice, your input, your stories to help make mine come to life.

Tell me what the best bits you've used from your own well of experience and you'll be entered in the drawing for a copy of Antonides' Forbidden Wife -- to celebrate Melody's inspirational talent.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Why I Don't Have My Revisions Finished, II

The real reasons I haven't got my revisions finished:


Enough said?

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why I Don't Have My Revisions Finished

The silence you've seen (heard?) from my end is because I have been devoted to working on my revisions since I got back from the west.

Well, I also got a cold and that slowed things down a bit. As did the multitude of electrical storms that had me turning the computer off and on more than I would have liked.

But I've been working -- and I need to go on record as saying that if anyone ever says to you, an editor for example, that if you just changed one thing in the beginning bit -- have the hero say yes instead of no -- that won't be much trouble, it's just one word, right? Don't believe them!

Yes, it's just one word. But the ramifications are, um, vast. Basically it changes everything that happens to some degree for the rest of the book. Which means not only writing about what happens once he says, "yes," but also what happens after he's done what he's agreed to do.

Because, believe me, baby, things are not the same.

I knew that. I knew it when I started. And I wouldn't have agreed to do it if I hadn't seen that there was some wisdom in doing it that way. It's a different angle on the same story, but a stronger angle, perhaps. And that's all to the good.

But it's taking time to do right.

And of course I couldn't get to it because I was busy. And I would post some of the real Extremely Important Reasons I was busy here, but Blogger isn't uploading pix tonight.

So I'll do it tomorrow. I hope.

Meanwhile I'm heading back to the book.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Long Live The Cat!

Those of you who have read my blog for any length of time know that occasionally I write about books that I find inspiring. Usually they have to do with writing.

One of those is Save The Cat, Blake Snyder's wonderful insightful book on the schematics of good story-telling.

It's aimed at screenwriters. It's a perfect primer for anyone who wants to know how to tell a good story.

Last summer -- just over a year ago -- the Romance Writers of America were privileged to have Blake speak at their national conference in San Francisco. Over the past few years, since Save The Cat became a hit, he spoke at a variety of conferences and workshops in many places all over the world, bringing wisdom, humor and enthusiasm with him. He was brimming with life and simply humming with great ideas.

So it was a sad shock to learn that Blake passed away yesterday morning.

His death is a loss to not only his family and friends, but to all of us who write books or screenplays or tell and share stories. We have lost a mentor, an enthusiast, a companion on the journey. And we will all mourn that loss.

At the same time those of us who have read his books and/or heard him speak or shared email correspondence with him, know that we have been given the gift of his insights, his wisdom, his sense of humor and his encouragement. His generosity even more than his insights should inspire us all.

I've written 63 books. Only in the last one could I have begun to tell you what the theme was because I paid attention to Blake's schematics when I was writing it.

I didn't write it differently than I wrote the others, but I understood it differently. I knew 'why' I did certain things now. And I knew when something wasn't going right how to rethink things and realize what was missing or where the story had gone off the wrong way. I knew how to bring it back. It's a better book because of Blake's book, because of his insights into story structure.

I was eagerly awaiting his book on writing romance. I hope he left notes somewhere and that someone can put them together into a book. I'd love to read them. I want to learn from them. 63 books hasn't begun to teach me everything. Blake taught me a lot.

May those of us who have learned from him continue to share his wisdom and his enthusiasm and his generosity with each other and with the world. May we also follow in his footsteps and share our own insights and help each other.

No one will ever quite fill his shoes, though. We whose lives he touched through his books, his work and his generous willingness to share and encourage others have indeed been blessed.

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