Thursday, October 27, 2011

Here lies NICE

(and other epitaphs from the Graveyard of Overused Words)

Last week I taught writing workshops to 4th graders. One classroom had a terrific bulletin board display titled "The Graveyard of Overused Words." The board was covered with cut-out tombstones with epitaphs like
Here lies NICE, cold as ice.

Around the sides of the stones were synonyms that could be used instead. Samples of other epitaphs:

REALLY is buried here, along with his brother VERY.

This is the grave of COOL, who died a fool.

The teacher told me that her students were allowed to use these words only once per writing assignment. This got me thinking of words I tended to overuse and epitaphs I'd add.

Here lies IT.
We don't need you. Git.

Do you have a favorite (or anti-favorite) overused word? Add an epitaph for your word under comments below.

Peace, (Serenity, Tranquility),

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Case of the Broodies

Agatha Christie stated in her autobiography that she'd get a "broody" feeling when she was between books, or when her writing wasn't going well.

The last month, I've had a serious case of the broodies. I was working on the last 3 chapters of DOUBLE CROSS, the second novel in my Twins mystery series. As I was tying up loose ends, I discovered a few loopholes.

Writing a book is like building a house. You need a good structure and you need a floor plan that flows. The rest is cosmetics and can be changed once the first draft is complete. But if you're putting on the roof and realize walls need to be moved around or eliminated, it's easier (for me, anyway) to go back, make decisions on plot changes and implement them right away.

What brings on the broodies is losing momentum. Momentum is what keeps a story's energy level high. Most writers handing out advice will tell you to keep writing no matter what. Save rewrites until your first draft is complete. Absolutely sound advice, yet for me, it only works for cosmetic changes. Easy enough, once the house is built, to adjust the paint color, or even move non-load-bearing walls. Structural repairs are different. I can't keep working on a building in danger of collapse.

Going back to fix problems is part of the craft. Sometimes it's a pain, but more often it's a good challenge, even fun. You see a better way to tell the story, and that's always satisfying.

The good news is, the loopholes are gone and yesterday I finished the first draft. I celebrated by turning off the PC, making a big pot of soup and watching a Ghost Whisperer marathon on TV. Now I'm ready for rewrites.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's in A Dream?

In my new mystery series, beginning with the novel TWO-FACED, I created twin protagonists: two young sisters who both go into the same field--psychology. My main sleuth, Gen Ziegler, is a personality psychologist who does criminal profiles (making it easier for her to become involved in murders). Her identical twin Sara, to satisfy my own interest in the subject, specializes in dream psych.

My fascination with the world of dreams was renewed last January 6th. That's when I woke out of one of the most pleasant dreams I've ever had to realize I was being wheeled out of an operating room after having my thyroid ousted. The nurses were yelling at me that all had gone well. I mentally cursed them for bringing me back to the world of medical discomfort.

By the next morning, after being allowed to resume my slumbers, then having viewed three or four more episodes of sleep sitcoms, I realized that I hadn't remembered a dream in years. Given certain symptoms before the operation--lack of focus, inability to concentrate for very long--it was likely I hadn't had adequate REM sleep in quite a while.

Since then, I've returned to a more or less normal-for-me writing schedule. And I've experienced REM sleep almost nightly, even in double or triple features--sometimes scary, sometimes off-the-wall, sometimes downright comic. The other night I dreamt about the setting of a twins novel I'm writing (working title, DOUBLE CROSS). When I woke up, I realized I was singing a song about the Spanish.

I don't speak Spanish. Nor do I have any plans to turn the book into a musical. But it sure was funny at 3 in the morning.

Sweet dreams,

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Book Industry Could Learn a Thing or Two in Collingswood

I was at the Collingswood Book Festival this past weekend and I noticed that the attendees bought less books than in the past. At first glance, you'd think this was due to the bad economy. Yet, they seemed to be buying plenty of ice cream and pizza. This trend does not bode well for America's wars on obesity and illiteracy. (Okay, I admit, I too bought ice cream. You can't be that close to the Pop Shop in Collingswood and NOT get ice cream.)

The other years I've manned a booth at this festival, people would stop by and talk about books or ask about writing. Even kids did this, which made the long day of fighting Philly traffic, schlepping books and worrying about the weather worth the trip.

This year, only a handful of folks struck up a conversation. Most tried to walk by as far from the booth as possible, without making eye contact. Of the few that slowed down to read my poster, if I said "hello" or "Do you like mystery books?", I often earned an anguished "Please don't speak to me" look in return. Other reactions included a wrinkled nose expression of disgust, as if I'd offered to put live slugs on the slice of pizza in their hands. One woman went off into a long-winded tirade about how she hadn't brought cash and none of the vendors would take her MAC card. (Most of the booths were occupied by authors or authors' organizations.)

However, I gave out more business cards than in past years. Some said they'd look up my books in the library, which is fine by me. If I did my job right, after reading one novel, those people will seek out another. But also, the next morning I saw that my digital sales had spiked. I'm thinking that this is the trend most worth noting.

I'll end this with a description of one customer who walked up to my table wheeling a small cloth rucksack behind her. The sack was stuffed to the ripping point with books. She patiently listened to my elevator series synopsis, then said she'd run out of money. I'd heard this as a rebuff from other potential readers, so I wasn't surprised when she walked away. But fifteen minutes later, she was back to buy a novel--she'd gone home to drop off her load and grab more cash. She said she was going away for 3 days (days!) and was afraid of running out of things to read.

In the book world, this is like meeting a living saint. God bless those readers, every one.



Member, Delaware Valley Mystery Authors