Monday, September 24, 2012

The Carriage House Notebook

When we lived in Connecticut I had a good friend who bought a derelict Victorian carriage house in Greenwich. A carriage house is, or was, basically, the garage of the manor house. A carriage house is where the carriages lived. In this case, the manor house, a monstrous mansion had become a retirement home, and the surrounding acreage had been subdivided into tract housing sometime in the fifties, leaving my friend’s carriage house sharing the lawn with the retirement home.

My friend’s house was a lovely brick and Tudor building without electricity and outdated plumbing. Over the years I watched my friend turn a mess into a beautiful home. And from watching, I learned a lot, like where to buy fabric, how to refinish cabinetry, how to reupholster furniture, but I think the most important thing I learned about was the notebook.

My friend had a notebook and each room in the house had a section in the notebook where she had fabric swatches, paint samples, and most importantly, a picture of what she wanted the room to ultimately look like. I spent a lot of time at antique stores and estate sales with my friend and the most impressive thing about her was even if she found something that she loved, if it didn’t fit or go or work in a particular room or space, she passed it up…even if she loved it.

I think that this theory can be widely applied in all areas of my life. In my writing: if I have a story and I know where the story is going, even if I have a great idea, even if I have a witty, clever bit of dialogue, or even if it’s a sky-rocketing kiss—if it doesn’t belong, fit or work in my story, it has to go. I don’t have room or time for tangents. I can’t slow the story down for detours.

I struggle to apply this same principle to how I spend my days. If know what I’m trying to achieve, if I really have a picture in my mind of what needs to be done, even if something looks enjoyable or delicious, if it distracts me from my goals then that’s exactly what it is—a distraction—and how much time I waste trying to make it fit, work or belong is ultimately up to me.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Claudine's New Blog

I love Claudine. She can walk into my house, stand there for all of two  minutes and tell me exactly what it needs to look fabulous. And one of the really amazing things about Claudine is she gets me, which makes me think that she gets just about everybody, because I'm not that easy to get. Or maybe I'm just a lot simpler and less complicated than I think. But I'm unimportant. What matters is Claudine makes me feel like she not only understands what I like and what I don't, but that she approves and respects  my  own somewhat untrained and skewed sense of design. And since she does that for me, I bet she does that for everyone else, too.

Claudine already has a fabulous design blog
And now she has a new blog where she'll share craft know-how.

I'm so excited, I had to share, too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More On Solid Story Bones

I'm speaking tonight at the Altisma Chapel on how to write a story in thirty minutes.
Seven p.m.
29441 Altisima
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688 
Here's a bite of what I'm going to say.

Another crucial story element is setting. Your story should take place somewhere near and dear to your heart. You should be able to write with some confidence about the weather, the humidity or the hot dry wind, the local birds, the native trees and plants and most importantly—the kind of people who live there. Have you had this experience, you’re reading a book set in Capistrano and your couple is at the mission and you find yourself wondering—where are the pigeons? Or, you’re reading a book set in Washington and your hero is wading through the swamp, in mid-summer, toward evening and you find yourself thinking about mosquitoes, but the author doesn’t mention them. Why is this bad? Because all good story telling should suck in the reader and clunky story telling will take us out of the story. Setting should also set the mood.

Good description paints not only a picture of what is happening around the character, but also what is happening internally to the character. Here’s an example from my novel The Rhyme’s Library.

 The lights flickered a warning. Wind storms and power outages were common in tiny Rose Arbor. Flickering candle light, a roaring fire and a good book were only enjoyable at home. But she wasn’t going home. Gathering up her things, she debated her plan. Confront Drake or wait out the storm in front of a fire with a Mary Stewart novel? Fight sluggish traffic, wind and rain for the hour drive to Bellingham or cuddle under a quilt and read? Her resolve wavering, she locked the heavy wooden doors and headed for the light switch. Knocking. Someone at the door or the wind? Looking over her shoulder she watched the door knob rattle. It took a moment to unlock the heavy wooden doors. The storm’s cold wet wind flew in the library, and Blair looked in confusion at the pitching trees and driving rain. Gray skies cracked with lightning. She was about to go back inside when she saw a huddled figure at the side of the porch.

 The storm heightens and accentuates Blair’s indecision and confusion. You can also use setting to create a disparity. Say for example your hero has just experienced a tragic loss while he’s at a circus. He’s surrounded by laughing children, clowns, couples holding hands—his mood, in contrast to the pleasure and happiness around him, emphasizes his loneliness and pain. Here’s an example of this from my novel Stealing Mercy.

  New York City’s night noises seeped through the wall chinks and window: the jingle of horse harnesses, the stomping of hooves, the mournful howl of a dog, but one noise, a noise that didn't belong, jarred Mercy awake. A creak on the stairs that led to her apartment. The third from the top, five steps past Mr. Bidwell’s door. Only those wishing to reach her home crossed that step. She never entertained visitors in the tiny attic; she wasn’t expecting company.

 Mercy is in her quiet apartment. Everything is peaceful—except for the one out of place sound. A mood is set and tension is created all without dialogue.

 Which brings me to another important element of story telling. Voice. The best advice I ever heard about voice is this—imagine that you are telling a story to your best friend. Write your story as simply and beautifully as you would tell it to someone who knows you well. If your best friend is William Falkner, go ahead a wax poetic, but if not, tell your story in your own words and lingo. This is a common trap. Here’s the opening paragraph of my friend Terry Black’s short story, Eating Crow.

  Micawber's first thought when he saw the humans was, Great! Another food source. They were always dropping things, forgetting things, leaving food unattended — practically an invitation for Micawber to swoop in and help himself. That was a high priority, especially now, with his mate almost ready to lay her eggs, depending on him for food and protection. He perched on his roost, cooing softly to Whitethroat, and watched for his chance. 

And here’s the opening paragraph of The Rhyme’s Library:

  Blair brought her finger down on a random word. Brobdingnagian—she wrote the word and definition on the chalkboard above the circulation desk and came up with her own sample sentence. Drake Isling is a brobdingnagian twit. And because she gave each of her library patrons a chocolate for every sample sentence they gave, she took one for herself, even though Brobdingnagian was technically tomorrow’s word. Today’s word was tenebrous: dark; gloomy. Tenebrous describes the weather and my mood, she thought and then realized that she deserved a chocolate for her second sample sentence. My thighs will be brobdingnagian if I don’t stop eating these chocolates. Another sentence—another chocolate.

 Terry and I write differently, because we’re very different people. I’m in a critique group with Melanie Jacobson and Brittany Larsen. I love and appreciate what they do for my stories, but they are both ten years younger occasionally they complain that my characters talk too old for their age. And they are probably right so every once in a while I’ll follow their suggestions and make a word change. Well, a friend who has known me for many years read my book. After telling me that she loved it, she said, but every so often there would be this one word that just didn’t sound like you. Not all of my readers will know me as well as my friend, but this is definitely something to think about and consider. As much as I love my critique partners and admire their work, I don’t want to sound like them. Or Terry. Or William Falkner. I want to write my stories, in my voice.

 And you should want that, too.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Comments on Hailey's Comments

I've been struggling with this first chapter. Which shouldn't be too surprising since I wrote this book five years ago. I like to think I've improved since then. Hailey has been to my critique group, has been tossed around in my writer's group and now I'd like to put it up here. If you have any comments, I'd love to hear them.

Emma Clements writes an advice column, but when she stumbles upon a secret that may have led to murder, she has no comment. Hailey’s Comments, a mysterious romance, was a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Contest

Some are wise. Some are otherwise.

Chapter one
              “A lemon that’s been squeezed too many times ends up in the compost pile,” I said into the phone as I stood in the produce section, debating between ruby red grapefruit and tangelos. I looked up and recognized Savannah Everett’s father standing beside a cart filled with vegetables.
            I cleared my throat and studied the citrus, as if I hadn’t seen him, as if I could possibly find navel oranges and limes more interesting than him. “I have to go, Auntie,” I mumbled into the phone and dropped it into my purse. That’s the problem with lies. They bleed. And they can make a big mess, even when you think they’re contained.
            “Good morning, Miss Emma,” he said, standing inches away from the potatoes and onions. Grocery carts say so much about a person. Just like nothing screams immaturity as loudly as Captain Crunch, the brand of yogurt in a cart can reveal the health of a dietary track.
            “Good morning, Mr. Everett,” I returned. I snuck a quick glance into his cart, but it couldn’t tell me what I really wanted to know. I knew he wasn’t a vegetarian and that he ate a lot of ready-made meals, but what I really wanted to know wasn’t at all obvious. Hiding my flushed face, I scooped up a bag of grapefruit and hurried away, knowing that I really wanted a red onion and that I would never be able to eat all of the grapefruit before the last one spoiled. Living alone is like that—it’s a race, pitting appetite against ripening produce.
            Maybe my answer that day would have been different if I had been standing in another aisle. Maybe if I had been looking at cleansers instead of citrus I would have come up with something lauding the benefits of bleach. Maybe if I hadn’t bumped into Mr. Everett I could have had onions on my hamburgers. But it doesn’t matter; once the lie spilled I was doomed to slip in it like a splash of orange juice. Sure, it could be mopped up, but if it wasn’t done right, the stickiness would stay, attracting dust, dirt and lint.
            Not that I was attracted to Mr. Everett.
            I love dogs, but I believe that they should have their own space. An art studio is not a dog space. It may be fine if the studio is private and the dog is your own, but there really isn’t any reason to bring a cocker spaniel to work. Especially if you work with children and your cocker doesn’t enjoy children. It’s okay for your cocker to dislike children. But it’s not okay to surround your kid-hating cocker with fifteen children armed with backpacks full of snacks and loaded paint brushes.
            Actually, they didn’t have paint brushes. They had pencils. Which, it turns out, can be just as dangerous.
            The clock struck four. I shot O-Toole, Martie’s cocker, a behave or die look, smoothed down my smock, picked up a marker and headed for the board at the head of the class. Table top easels perched on the scarred and paint splattered tables. Tall windows let in winter’s dying sunlight. The children stood on the cement floor behind their easels, pencils in hand, waiting for me.
            I greeted the students, gave them my attention, and tried to shut out Savannah’s father standing at the back of the room. His deep laugh rumbled and rattled my insides. He stood in a knot of mothers, a tall, out of place male, like a regal goose in a gaggle of hens. The women twittered and he replied in a deep low hum. I willed them away. It was time for the class to start and I didn’t want an audience. Why were they still here? Several of the women wore tennis skirts. Didn’t they have a match to set? I didn’t really mind that some of the parents chose to stay during the after school program, but Martie called them helicopter parents. She didn’t Mr. Everett, because she never had an argument with a handsome man. But since that same man overheard my lie and prevented my onion purchase, I minded him. A lot.
            “Today we’re going to draw our very own super heroes,” I told the class as I passed out comic books. “Let your imagination go wild. If you were a super hero, what powers would you have?” After giving the class instructions, I turned them loose on their easels and wandered around the room, watching them work.
            O’Toole lounged on his bed in the corner, his head resting on his paws. Mr. Everett and a few of his harem remained in the back, but I kept one eye on the kids and another on the door. Martie should have returned before the class started.
            “Who’s that?” Travis, a ten year old in cargo pants and a robot sweat shirt, curled his lip at Savannah’s drawing of a winged creature sailing over a city skyline, flying perilously close to a spiky sun.
            Savannah rolled her eyes at Jessie who answered for her friend. “That just happens to be Letriciana, Goddess of Reincarnation.” The two girls stood side by side as if linked by an invisible chain. They wore identical jeans with the word Juicy written on their pockets and Bumble Bee shoes with matching, glittery beads threaded onto their laces.
            “Carnation?” Travis, lived in Woodinville, a city neighboring the town of Carnation. “There isn’t a Goddess of Carnation!” Travis’ straw hair pointed at the ceiling, a line of freckles crossed both cheeks.
            “Re-in-carnation,” Savannah said, adding a cloud to her sky.
            Travis also added a cloud to his sky. Whenever he moved his arms the robot’s ears wiggled. “Can she fly, or is that thing on her back a jet-pack.”
            Savannah set her pencil down to give Travis a hard, I-don’t-believe-you-could-so-stupid stare. “Goddesses don’t need jet-packs.”  She flipped her blond hair over her shoulder before she picked up her pencil. “Those are wings.” Considering her work, she drew a lightning streak through the cloud.
            “If you think she can be a super hero, she can’t,” Travis said as he drew his own lightning streak. “Only men can be super heroes.”
            “That’s not what Hailey Clements says,” Jessie piped in.
My throat tightened and my heart picked up its pace, as it always did whenever anyone mentioned my aunt. I feared anything, my blush, my eyes, the way I shoved my hands into my pockets would reveal my lie. My eyes caught Savannah’s father’s. I wanted to take my paint brush and paint a frown over his knowing grin.
Jessie, despite her pants, was a royal, loyal reader—a Haileyism for devoted fans. There were, naturally, readers who were neither royal nor loyal, but Aunt Hailey hadn’t given them a name, because she refused to acknowledge their existence.
“Hailey Clements says that everyone can and should be the hero of their own life,” Jessie continued. Her dangly earrings jiggled when she nodded her headed. She didn’t dress the conservative part of a royal loyal, but I knew Aunt Hailey would love Jessie. Aunt Hailey relished and encouraged blind devotion.
            Savannah nodded and drew a dog on the street below the flying super-Goddess of Reincarnation.
            Robot ears wiggled at me as Travis also drew a dog. A cloud, a lightning streak and a dog all floated in the white space of Travis’ page.
            In the coming weeks I’d pull the easels into a circle, a model would take the center of the mush-pot, and they’d all practice on the given object, but we weren’t there yet. We were free form drawing and Travis was having a hard time finding his own hero.
I could relate.
             My eyes slipped back to Savannah’s dad chatting with Mrs. Schumann, a woman I’d never seen in anything other than tennis whites. I’d never seen her sweaty, so it was hard to say if she played before or after Travis’ art class. I’d never seen her racquet, but I’d seen the panties under her tennis skirts a hundred times. Maybe Savannah’s dad was trying to up the score.
            Savannah set down her pencil again and glared at Travis. “Stop it!” 
            Travis added a puff of fur on his dog’s tail so that it resembled a dandelion. “Stop what?”  Travis asked, his freckles turning upward.
            “You’re copying me.”  Savannah stamped her Bumblebee shoe and the beads jingled.
            Savannah was right. He was copying her, but before I could separate them, I noticed that O’Toole had left his bed to rummage in an unattended backpack. My heart picked up speed, remembering O’Toole’s last experience with a student’s half eaten candy bar. The dog had a nose for chocolate.
            And unfortunately, I could relate to that as well.
            But I couldn’t stomach the thought of another barf scene. Especially not in front of the students. Or the parents.
            I snapped my fingers at O’Toole but he ignored me. “Jeanine, your bag,” I called to a pale and timid girl who watched in horror as O’Toole rutted in her backpack.
            Travis’ lips twisted into a grin. “Yeah, right. As if I wanted to draw the Queen of Carnation.”
            “Could someone please get the dog,” I called from across the room.
            “I think it’s really unprofessional that Miss Martie brings that creature to class,” Mrs. Wagner said, looking up from her novel but not budging from her chair.
            “It’s her school,” Mrs.  Langley replied with a shrug, her amused eyes on O’Toole licking clean a Snicker’s candy wrapper.
            “Not for long,” Mrs. Devon said.
            “Really? I hadn’t heard that,” Mrs. Langley replied.
            I hadn’t heard that either, but Ididn’t have time to wonder about right then as O’Toole gagged. I grabbed the cocker by the collar and hauled him out the back door.
            “Hey, what’s up?” Martie asked as she climbed from her Jeep.
            “Chocolate,” I muttered.
            “Aw, the downfall of so many of us,” Martie said, taking a grip on O’Toole’s collar.
            I rolled my eyes at her and hurried back into the class, silently agreeing with Mrs. Langley assessment of professionalism and creatures.
            I returned to class in time to watch Travis make a city skyline. His buildings stood a little straighter than Savannah’s. He drew in strong, fast, even lines. “Hailey Clements is an old poop,” Travis said.
            I knew Auntie wasn’t a poop. If Auntie were a bodily function, she’d be a reoccurring twitch, not a poop.
            Travis smiled as he compared his picture to Savannah’s and liked what he saw. “And I’m sick of listening you talk about her,” he said.
            Me too.
            “That’s very nice, Travis,” I said, coming behind him and trying to discreetly angle his easel so that he couldn’t see/copy Savannah’s work. “Where would you imagine the sun?”
            Travis flashed a smile at Savannah and drew a circle in the in the corner of the page.
            Savanna stamped both feet and the beads on her feet jingled, reminding me of a parade pony. “Can’t you see he’s totally copying me?”  Savannah wailed.
            A small hush fell and I felt the stares of the students and parents resting on my back. When Savannah stamped her foot again, the jingling bells seemed much louder.
            “That’s where my sun is!” Savannah bordered on tears. 
            “Isn’t the sun in the sky the same for everyone?” Travis said, feigning wisdom beyond his years. He stepped away from his easel, considered his masterpiece and smiled. His freckles turned upward. I wondered which he most enjoyed, his art, the attention, or teasing Savannah.
            Before I could separate them, Savannah ripped Travis’ picture off his easel and put it next to hers for comparison. “See?”  Her voice quivered indignantly.
            The parents in the back of the room stopped talking. Her father stopped laughing. “He’s drawn everything just like me,” Savannah complained.
            Travis assumed bull-charging stance, his hair seemed, if possible, to stand a little straighter. “Have not!”  He lunged for his picture.
            Savannah lifted the easel and pictures over her head. If someone didn’t do something Savannah would bean Travis, or Travis would tackle Savannah. Through the open door I heard the familiar sound of O’Toole vomiting.
            Travis knocked me into Savannah. The three of us fell, taking two easels down. My elbow crashed against a desk. One handed, I caught myself. Travis toppled on top of me. I fell and lost my glasses, but I could still see a blurry robot just inches from my nose. My elbow stung and my eyes swam in dizzy pain.
            For the first time ever, I thought that maybe Aunt Hailey was right. Maybe I should quit my job at the academy.
            “Hailey Clements says there is never a need for violence,” Jessie said, a voice of reason not far above us.
            Travis clambered off of me. A strong hand pulled on my arm and set me on my feet, but I still couldn’t see.
            “But Hailey Clements doesn’t know about Letriciana, Goddess of Reincarnation.” Mr. Everett slid my glasses onto my nose and sight returned. I glanced around at the parents surrounding me. No longer hovering over their children, they had shifted their maternal instincts to me. Their expressions varied from horror, to worry to amusement. Well, only one looked amused and I knew just from the way his touch sent prickling up my arm that the instincts we shared were more animal than maternal.
            I felt parents and students watching me as I brushed off my pants and blinked away sudden tears of pain and embarrassment. I waited for Mr. Everett to scold his daughter or for Travis’ mom to demand an apology, but all I heard was O’Toole’s continuous retching.  
            “She knows about everything,” Jessie said. She put down her pencil, and gathered up her jacket. She refused to make eye-contact with Savannah’s father. Aunt Hailey would love her jutting little chin, love her righteous indignation.
            Savannah’s father snorted and flashed his dimples at me. “No one knows everything,” he said to Jessie’s back. “Except for maybe the Queen of Reincarnation.”  A Haileyism came to mind. Those people who think they know everything are especially annoying to those of us who do. I wasn’t in the mood for Haileyisms.
            The bell struck five. Class officially ended. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Mothers and students gathered up folios, returned pencils, put on jackets, and called good-bye. I waved to them as they disappeared out the door.
            But Savannah, Jesse and Mr. Everett stayed behind. Mr. Everett considered Jessie’s portrait of a beaked looking woman wearing horned rimmed glasses. “Is that your hero?”
            I turned away, before Jessie could give the answer I didn’t want to hear. “Hailey Clements is your hero?” Savannah’s father asked.
            I willed myself to walk away. I collected pencils, determined not to listen.
             “She’s my super hero,” Jessie said primly. “She saves people, and that’s what super heroes do, they save people.”  Jessie shrugged into her jacket.
            I put the pencils into the tin can pencil holders. Savannah’s father put his hand on Jessie’s shoulder. “She doesn’t save anyone. She’s just a nice elderly woman.” He cut a glance at me. “Some even say that she doesn’t write the column and that it’s really written by a team of therapists.”
            “That’s not true!” My own voice surprised me, I hadn’t meant to speak. I concentrated on the pencils and forced my voice to sound calm, matter of fact, and emotionally detached. “Why would she need a team of therapists? She’s the sage of sticky social situations. She doesn’t pretend to replace MDs or psychologists.”
            “Ah, but what is she pretending then?”
            “She doesn’t pretend at all.” Which wasn’t exactly true. “She’s syndicated in the US, Canada, Mexico as well as Bangkok.” That was true. I stood tall, tugged my smock into place and then, embarrassed, fussed over the art supplies. The other students had left. “And when all of the newspapers are collapsing, she’s one of the few columnists that have successfully transitioned onto the internet. Her blog is the--”
            “Do you think Hailey Clements is pretend?” Savannah interrupted by spiel.
            I took deep breath, mortified I’d gotten so carried away. Farts and braggarts are equally popular, I reminded myself.
            “Of course not,” I told Savannah. “She’s a sweet woman who is trying…to make the world a better place.” I snapped an easel shut and pinched a finger. Stung, I put my wounded finger in my mouth.
            “You think she’s a do-gooder?” Mr. Everett asked.
            “Yes, very successful and charitable.”
            He leaned against the table and crossed his legs at the ankles, looking ready to engage in conversation. Not looking ready to leave, as one should when class has been dismissed.
            “What does that mean?” I asked.
            “You don’t think she writes her column for the money…or for fame?”
            Auntie Hailey, still beautiful and scrupulous, relished her role as the world’s answer to everything. TV talk shows, fundraiser luncheons, news interviews, Auntie Hailey loved the camera and spot light. I, on the other hand, valued anonymity. “Maybe all that fame is more difficult to live with than it might seem. Maybe it’s hard to be the world’s know it all.”
            He snorted.
            I carried the supplies to the closet and shut the door. “Seriously. I bet she finds it hard to have a normal life, a balanced life, a life where random strangers don’t know her face, or ask her advice. Maybe she can’t hire a plumber, reserve a plane ticket, or get a mammogram without someone recognizing her.” Not everyone sought her advice, of course, but whenever I went anywhere with my aunt in public, I found the hushed whispers and long stares unbearable. My aunt was once getting a pap-smear, her feet in stirrups, bottom to the edge, when a troubled nurse-practitioner unburdened herself. Aunt Hailey laughed when she told me, but I’d decided long before that to keep some of my life private. I put my finger back in my mouth because it hurt, but also because I need to stop talking.
            “I understand,” he said, grinning as he made a guess. “I’d feel the same if my grandmother handed out platitudes and clichés.”
            I pushed back my hair and turned to face him. “She’s not a cliché. It’s not a bad thing to offer advice without being overburdened with information.”
            He sat a little straighter and then laughed long and hard. “You’re good! You sound just like her! You know I overheard you that day in the grocery store. I read Hailey’s Comments that day. And the next. That lemon line, the one I overheard you give, it didn’t come out until today.” He motioned toward his briefcase. “In fact I brought it in today to ask you about it.”
            I put my hands on my hips and slipped into my Miss Emma no nonsense art instructor voice. “I really can’t comment on that.”
            He laughed. “I get it. Hailey’s Comments—no comment.”
            I gave him a weak smile. “You overheard me talking about lemons while standing in the produce section. Maybe it sounded like something Hailey would say, but I’m sure you just…” I faltered a moment, but then regrouped and gathered my wits. “I’m sure you either heard wrong or it was just a coincidence.” More lies. Sticky lies.
            “What were you talking about?”
            “Lemons obviously.”
            “Lemons aren’t that interesting.”
            I shrugged. “So I’m boring.”
            He considered me and I squirmed beneath his gaze. “No, I don’t think so.”
            “Well, this conversation is boring.”
            “Yes, look at Savannah.” His daughter stood in front of the dry erase board, drawing flying goddesses. “I’m sure she wants to go home…as do I.”
            He cocked his head, but didn’t budge from the art table. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bore you.” The winter sun, dying behind the windows, back lit his blond hair. “Or offend you.”
            “Offense can’t be given if not received.” The words popped out. I was spouting platitudes and clichés.
            I wondered if I’d enjoy his laughter more if I didn’t feel it was directed at me.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Congrats to Darlene!

She's the lucky winner of the Clean Reads blog hop!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Starting Over

New post on my weight loss blog.

Blog hop continues for one more day (see below)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Last First Day of School

It’s been many years since I put my oldest son on the school bus on the corner of Leo Street in Darien, Connecticut. Bethany, Nathan and I waved him goodbye and played in the fallen leaves on our way to our house. No one but me felt the tug of a chapter ending as my oldest and bravest forged his way into an academic career that would include elementary, middle, and high school, the university and law school. It’s been many more years since my parents dropped me off at the dorm in Utah and made their way back to the only home I had ever known, a place that I would never really ever call home again and even more years since I splashed through the Washington puddles, carrying a school bag, a sack lunch and the heavy weight of home work and my parent’s expectations.

I live in California where the trees are always green and sometimes in their confusion, mistake winter for spring and blossom when the rest of the northern hemisphere is barren. My baby girls, my twins, started their senior year a few days ago, and once again, just like that long ago Connecticut morning, I’m feeling the ache of a closing door. A door that once closed will never, ever reopen. Crisp autumn air, the smell of burning leaves, a world dewy wet and shadowed with an ever present rain cloud—all missing. As are the children in their brand new shoes.

My daughters buy their own clothes in stores where even the music makes me feel old. They might need my car keys, a check for choir, a permission slip for a field trip, but they don’t need me. Not really. I tell myself that this is good. This is how it’s meant to be. If not for the pseudo independence now, next year when I leave them at the dorm and drive back to the only home they have ever known, a place that they may never really ever call home again, it will be too hard.

And it’s already hard. Because although the crisp autumn air, the smell of burning leaves, a world dewy wet and shadowed with an ever present rain cloud are all missing, as are the children in their brand new shoes, I’m still here, wondering how I ever came to this place and how will I ever be happy in a place without them.

I tell myself that finally after so many football games, swim meets, choir and band concerts and high school dramas, I can focus on my writing. In my quiet and tidy house I can create characters whose problems I can solve in witty and clever ways. I can vanquish villains and slay monsters. But inside, I’m hurting because it doesn’t matter if I have writer’s block or if I fill page after page with run on sentences and misplaced modifiers, the horrible truth is I’m going to turn the page on a chapter I don’t want to end. I can visit Connecticut and Utah, I can even go to my childhood home in Washington where my dad still lives. There will be falling leaves and mud-puddles but the children that racked the leaves and splashed in the puddles are gone.

I miss them already.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Welcome to my squeaky clean blog hop. Thanks for visiting! Today I’m offering three prizes:
 A signed copy of my novel A GHOST OF A SECOND CHANCE
 This book bag
 A $25. Amazon gift card.
 To enter you need to do three things:
 Follow my blog
(the links are on the right sidebar)

 And just for dropping by I’m offering a buy one get one free coupon good for any of my novels. All you have to do is e-mail me at kristyswords at yahoo dot com, tell me which novel you bought and which one you would like to read and I’ll send you the Smashwords coupon code.

Thanks again for dropping by. I hope you get a chance to visit my blogging friends and see what prizes they are offering.

<!-- start LinkyTools script -->
<script src="" type="text/javascript"></script>
<!-- end LinkyTools script -->

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Story Scenes and Citrus Sections

In my last post I compared character arc to an orange. Today I’ll do the same thing to story structure. Like an orange, a story is made of separate and distinct parts. We call these sections scenes. Each scene, like every novel, needs a character with a goal. There are many scenes within the classic three act story. 

I was taught, and I still believe it to be true, that in a healthy relationship emotional intimacy is closely tied to physical intimacy. If things happen in a civilized manner, physical intimacy progresses hand in hand with emotional intimacy. Interesting, but what does emotional and physical intimacy have to do with writing a book? Well, this synchronization is also important with character development and story structure--the  character arc needs be in sync with the plot's momentum. This is crucial to remember when writing a romance, but it’s important to keep in mind when writing any story. I’ll use my novel The Rhyme’s Library, a mystery, as an example.

Act 1
In the opening scene, Blair's brooding about her bad boyfriend is interrupted by a child who needs help  rescuing a kitten.
Recap: scene 1
We’re introduced to Blair. We empathize with her because we’ve all had a bad boyfriend (or two) and who wouldn't like someone who helps children and small animals?
Scene 2
Blair goes to the basement in search of a box to hold kitten on the drive home and finds her crazy aunt Charlotte’s dead body. This is the inciting incident—or the part of the story that disrupts Blair’s everyday world. This the point of no return.
Scene 3
When Blair realizes that she’s not alone in the library and that the other person in the library maybe responsible for her aunt’s death, she runs. In her hurry she bumps into our hero, Alec Rawlings. This is called the meet-cute—which is not a term for attractive hamburger or a juicy steak. The Urban Dictionary describes the meet-cute as the scenario in which two individuals are brought together in some unlikely, zany, destined-to-fall-in-love-and-be-together-forever sort of way (the more unusual, the better)

Is that the end of Act 1? No. We still need to meet all the other players, the potential murderers, the police, the friends of the library, members of the band and bad boyfriend, Drake. Recap, of Act 1. In Act 1 we introduce Blair, her everyday world and the inciting incident that disrupts her world. Act 1 ends when Blair is pushed off the cliff and she realizes these things:
1.      The police are not going to investigate Charlotte’s death.
2.      Her own sanity and safety are in danger.
3.      Drake is married. (Because, remember, this is just not a novel about discovering who killed Aunt Charlotte, it’s also a story about Blair discovering who she is and what she needs in a healthy relationship.)

Blair comes face to face with Drake’s new wife in the scene immediately following her dive off the cliff, because the character arc and story momentum are hand in hand, just like emotional and physical intimacy.

The first part of Act 2 is sometimes called the wandering phase. This is where Blair needs to do all she can to discover who killed Aunt Charlotte and why. She cleans out the basement, searches for clues, interviews her aunt’s agent, old friends, and suspicious characters. She is learning everything and anything about Aunt Charlotte and possible motives for the murder. Simultaneously, she is also learning about herself.

The second half of Act 2 happens when Blair has learned everything she needs to know. She realizes she’s strong enough and smart enough to catch the killer. . This is her “ha-ha moment." She also confronts Drake and because she’s suspicious of Alec, she gets rid of him as well. (Because, remember, this is not just a story about Aunt Charlotte's murder.) Blair formulates and executes a plan and works beautifully, but the blackmailer is not the killer. This is called the false victory. Watch for it. It happens in almost every action film.

Blair resumes her normal, but of course, there is no peace when murders run loose, and soon Blair meets the killer. Because this is a mystery, there is the final reveal when the killer spills all the secrets and the inevitable black moment, when everything is lost and Blair is looking down the barrel of a gun. Only she can save herself.

Act 3, the dénouement, or final resolution, is where order is restored to Blair’s world. It’s not so different from before, but the murderer has been captured, Blair is stronger, wiser and bad boyfriend free, and because this story has a healthy dose of romance, Blair's story ends with a kiss.

As all good stories should.