Barrett answers 4 questions on working process

Posted by: Barrett on Aug 4 2014, 6:38 pm in , , , , ,

I’m delighted and honored that the irrepressible Jody—one of the bright new stars in the Bedazzled TOTS Brigade—chose me. (Look for her new book, Empath soon)

 

On with the questions.

1. WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

At the moment, I am working on revisions to book 3 of the Damaged series, Dispatched With Cause. After books 1 and 2, Damaged in Service and Defying Gravity, I needed a mental-health break and worked on a brand-new romance, Balefire.

The Damaged series was started in 2009. At the time, the story manifested so quickly, I could hardly keep up let alone worry about grammar or punctuation. That was a painful mistake that I am still correcting.

After some wonderful editorial coaching on my earlier works, I needed to make some signification changes to the third book in the series. In addition to cosmetic changes, I wanted to amp up the tension since this is the third book of four, it needs to produce a major turning point.

Now that I have pushed Zeke and Anne to another new challenge, I will begin work on revising book four.

 

2.   HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN THE SAME GENRE?

I guess I would say that the major difference is the story arc, which is deliberately written over a span of four books.  I envisioned the story like a television drama. It would be an end to season with a cliffhanger, then resume with the next season. Evidently, that’s not how commercial fiction is written. Who knew?

If you read the series, you’ll know that cliff-hanger was not a popular option for many of the lesfic community. They wanted HEA – happily ever after, as well as all the loose ends tied neatly.

I radically changed the story in book 2, but needed to keep the storyline intact. (Note: writing “by committee” is not the wisest direction.)

I consider this series romantic intrigue. However, that wouldn’t describe each individual book. Yet there are strong elements of both romance/love and intrigue in all.

 

3.   WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

 

Like many others, I write the kinds of books I want to read. And in fact, it’s one of the things that make it difficult for me to read them critically. Almost every time I start to don my editing cap, I get caught up in my characters lives and don’t see the minutia. It makes me lousy editor. But…a good reader!

Recently I had this discussion with a friend and told her that I enjoy writing romance because I want to learn to be a better writer. I want to learn the craft by reading and writing stories that resonate with so many people.

When I’m ready, I have at least three books in my head that will be much closer to literary fiction. In the meantime, there are at least three or four manuscripts already written that I want to revise and submit.

And besides, I can’t NOT write.

 

4.   HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?

Glad they saved this one until last.

I would best be described as an imaginative, unrepentant, undisciplined, procrastinating Panster (someone who writes from the proverbial Seat of her pants). This is the polar opposite of a plotter (someone who lays out a foundation with a plan, notes, and or an outline.) I attended a conference with a very successful plotter who brought her outline in the form of an excel spread sheet 12 feet long!

At that moment I feared that I just didn’t have the fortitude to become a writer. But, at some point, I realized my strong suit was story-telling. I come from a long line of Gaelic story tellers.

Most of the stories I’ve created initially character driven, so I begin by creating the individuals around whom the story will grow. For the purpose of this blog I’ll use Balefire is an example.

I scoured several name lists to find Kirin Foster and Silke Dyson. I made up birthdays and did horoscopes on each woman, including their compatibility.  I threw them into an actual situation based on a true story to see what would happen. I knew I wanted a Romance that was fairly uncomplicated. (Insert snickering)

I transported each woman to the airport. Coincidently, both left from the Milwaukee airport, where their paths did not cross. During this process, I found out who the secondary characters were. I also learned some of the back story.

Each scene unfolded moment-by-moment depending on whose point of view I was writing from. If it was Silke’s point of view, everything was painted with a level of anxiety, resignation, and her visual disability.

When I was with Kirin, I became a type A impatient, irritated, and disconnected frequent traveler.

Voila! The scene is set and I just need to navigate my two characters through it. The rest comes from my own history of traveling the same route, from the same airports, with the same conditions. The only thing I needed to change was the point of view. Then add to the mix a circus-trunk full of imagination.

One scene begets the next scene. For me, it’s linear and organic. I don’t create scenes independently and try to fit them into the story. On rare occasions, when I have been asked to move the scene or event to another part of the story, it’s been incredibly difficult, because each piece of the story is built on the information provided by previous blocks.

I have tried outlining a new story first, and I’m stopped at the gate. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I can use the structure to evaluate AFTER the story-line is written.

The downside of the linear approach is breaking the scenes and chapters into manageable pieces, while still keeping the reader turning the pages. I like to take breaks 😉

The upside? I love to makeup stories and then “Spackle” them with ambiance and emotion. It’s been fifteen years since I started writing the Epic Medical Mystery with 22 characters and 6 subplots, all from a singular omniscient narrator.

Thanks for stopping by!   I’d be interested if anyone has questions, please share.

 

 

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Writing is a craft

Posted by: faaiken on May 18 2013, 6:07 pm in ,

The Craft of Writing
(Second post of The Business of Writing Series)
By F. A. Aiken

When asked during a televised interview “What is writing?” Shea Barkley answered “Writing is perfecting the craft.” I liked that answer. Writing is a craft. In the middle ages and the Renaissance, people learned their trade and craft through craft guilds. Someone wanting to enter the professional first must find a master craftsman willing to train him in the techniques of the profession by becoming the Master’s Apprentice. Here, the young person will be trained in the techniques of the craft, given instruction and opportunities to hone his skills and learn the rules of the trade or craft. After years of gaining and honing this knowledge, the apprentice becomes a journeyman, also called a fellow craft (fellow of the craft), being able to perform the trade without supervision. After years of work, he would submit his masterpiece to the guild and hopefully be accepted as a master of the craft, thereby being able to take on apprentices to train in the art of the craft. As the work of the master craftsman continue to gain fame, his peers would bestow upon the master the title of grandmaster.

At each stage of his tenure in the craft, the individual continues to increase his or her knowledge through learning how to apply the rules and knowledge gained to produce products of value through hard work and constant practice. At each stage, the rules are different and are necessary to increase the quality of the work. As an entered apprentice, the writer needs to learn about proper manuscript style, fundamentals of copy rights, proper use of grammar, the structure of the story, how to plot, etc. Once the writer masters these basics and advances to be a journeyman or fellow of the craft (fellow craft), the writer is taught more advanced material, such as the rules of revision, marketing techniques and other business fundamentals required of a person making money from the trade. Once the writer has increased his or her knowledge and skill levels through practice, some of the earlier rules no longer apply as they have become internalized into the writers being and are done automatically in the writing process. So the secret to advancement within the craft is practice, practice, practice. A couple of decades ago, Volkswagen featured an advertising campaign using a German work that translated into English as “continuous, never ending improvement”. And this is what the writer must strive to do with his writing. How can a writer improve? Through practice! So what is the definition of practice for a writer? Sitting at the keyboard, butt glued to the chair, fingers pounding on the keys forming words letter by letter into recognizable sentences that tell a story, minute by minute until the session is over. Each story, each scene, each sentence is practice. Learning for a writer is a lifelong endeavor with the single goal of never ending improvement in his story telling techniques. The writer is a lifelong learner. Remember, Writing is a Business and the writer’s desire is to succeed in this business by mastering the craft of writing. In the words of Dean Wesley Smith, the writer only needs to focus on the next sentence.

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TAMING THE DEMON and the Real Life Intersection…

Posted by: Doranna Durgin on May 8 2013, 4:00 am in , , ,

c.taming.demon.SM

TAMING THE DEMON wasn’t actually supposed to be set in various fictional parts of Albuquerque, New Mexico, at all.  At the time I wrote the proposal, I lived in Flagstaff (which I loved), and I set the book down in the valley–hot, hot Phoenix, Arizona.  Okay, I set it during winter in Phoenix, because summer in Phoenix is so hot I don’t even want to live it vicariously while writing it.

That’s the thing about the writing.  If my characters are dealing with something in the book, in some distant way, I’m dealing with it, too.  Not in the details, but in the essence.  So if they’re in Phoenix in the summer, then I’m annoyed by the heat.  If Devin James is in a battle of wills with a demon blade, then I’m stirring up my own feelings to siphon them into the book.  I won’t say it doesn’t get intense!

But that means it goes both ways–that when things happen in real life, they can (if appropriate) have an impact on the book.  And between the time I conceived and sold this book and the time I wrote it, I moved.  Not so far as distance is measured in the Southwest, and a just couple thousand feet lower (and hotter) than I’d been in Flagstaff, which…as I said…I loved.  (Then we moved again, out through the canyon and climbing up into the Sandia foothills, but that’s another story…).

Even from one high desert home to another, only five hours away…central New Mexico had an entirely different culture, entirely different geology and anthropological and historical origins.  Still, the rich potential of exploring the area in fiction merely percolated in my hindbrain for the first months of settling in.  For one thing, never mind the chaos of the unpacking–I was in the middle of writing a different book!  But then came the day when preparing to write TAMING THE DEMON and exploring my new home overlapped.  I rode my horse out along the local acequia (the generations-old canal system running through the Rio Grande valley) and discovered, tucked away in the middle of nowhere, a rather grand old southwestern home.

This, I realized, is where Devin and Natalie will come to know each other.

And so I suddenly had new purpose to my wanderings, and to studying the area.  I found a way to honor my new home while exploring Devin and Natalie’s story, and an excuse to look at each new facet of it with an inquisitive eye.  I learned about history, the uniquely flavored city quadrants, and the wide variety of microclimates and habitats–things I might not have discovered, while in my mourning for the move away from the San Francisco Peaks that seemed so magical to me.  But talk about magical–there in the Albuquerque valley, there were sandhill cranes!  Oh my golly, they migrated right over the house!  And flock of nighthawks–the first I’ve ever seen!  The bosque area along the Rio Grande is such a unique blend of fragile desert and water habitat, I quickly grew to love it–even if it was all a little too surrounded by urbanity for my hermit’s taste.

But this area is a place that Natalie and Devin each love, in their own unique experiences of it–in their survival in it–and it turned out to be a perfect place for them to fall in love, too.  Seeing it through their eyes gave me a chance not only to understand them better, but it allowed me to appreciate the new things in my life.  What could be better than that?

TAMING THE DEMON

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Holiday Time is Movie Time

Posted by: Kari Bovee on Dec 23 2012, 2:00 am in , , , ,

It’s Christmas and Holiday time yet once again! It’s time for parties, goodies, friends and much merrymaking. It’s also the time of year when the newest movies hit the silver screen. 

I haven’t had too much time to visit the theater, but I did get to see Anna Karenina and Lincoln. While Anna Karenina had me tilting my head in wonderment at the theatrical interpretation of Tolstoy’s novel, Lincoln had me laughing, crying, mad and happy, all at the same time. Exactly what a good movie is supposed to do.  In my opinion, what makes a movie spectacular is not only the cinematography, editing and acting, but mostly THE WRITING. A good movie inspires me to learn more about my craft and become a better writer. I am going to share with you five of the movies that have made me want to write the next best-selling novel (with movie rights!)

#5 The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) starring Leonardo di Caprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne and Gerard Depardieu.

Aside from the awesomeness of the cast, this version is huge due to its being a conglomeration of Alexandre Dumas’ D’Artangnan Romances and The Vicomte de Bragelonne, the 1929 film version starring Douglas Fairbanks, and the 1939 film version directed by James Whale.

Although the movie diverges a bit from historical accuracy, it is still a riveting story about the militaristic and cruel King Louis XIV and his sweet-tempered twin brother Phillip.  When they are born, the twins’ father sends Phillip away to save France from dynastic warfare. For 21 years, he has been hidden from the world and must wear an iron mask to protect his identity. When Louis comes to power, retired and aging muskateers, Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan devise a plan to replace the despotic Louis with the more benevolent Phillip. Porthos  is entirely fed up with aging and is constantly thinking of ways to end his sorry life, but never acts upon it.  Aramis has become a devout Jesuit who masterminds the switch of the Princes. Athos a devoted father, whose son Raoul, a besotted soldier, has become caught up in a love triangle with the beautiful Christine and none other than Louis himself, must avenge the murder of said son by Louis. And D’Artangnan, ever steady and loyal to his beloved friends, lover, and King, is in great conflict with the overthrow plot and the ensuing threat to his friends.

This mish-mash of literary and film versions does not offer any great or awe-inspiring social commentary or profound message, but it doesn’t lack in action, love, valor and great story telling. 

#4 The Man Who Would Be King (1975) directed by John Huston, starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer.

Again, another fabulous cast. This movie was based upon a novella written by Rudyard Kipling in 1888. The story is about Danny Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, rouge non-commission British officers of the Indian Army who decide to resign from the army and set off for Kafiristan (somewhere in Afghanistan) – a land where no white man has set foot since Alexander the Great. They are certain that if they can only get there, their dreams of Kingship, wealth, women and an easy life will be obtained.

They fight blizzards, avalanches and numerous bandits along the way. In one of their battles, Danny is struck by an arrow and is miraculously unharmed. The arrow sticks into a bandolier hidden beneath his jacket. The people of Kafiristan decide that Danny must be a god. He and Peachy go along with the ruse in hopes of fulfilling their dreams. But, as the old adage goes, “beware what you wish for.” The rest of the story depicts the pitfalls of power, greed and Illusions of Grandeur.

When I was in college I attempted to write an adaption of this story for the stage, but as you can imagine, it was a bit more than I could handle!

#3  It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) directed by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed.

What Christmas season would not be complete without an annual viewing of this American masterpiece? It was nominated for five Oscars and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made. It was based on a story called “The Greatest Gift” written by Phillip Van Doren Stern in 1939 and privately published by the author in 1945. I wonder why? Could he not sell it? If so, those publishing houses made a big mistake! Self-pubbed authors, there’s hope yet for the big block-buster!

 If you haven’t seen it, which I cannot imagine that anyone has NOT seen this film, but there might be some,- it’s about George Bailey, a man in a small town who has constantly given up his dreams for the sake of others. When he learns that all of his efforts have culminated in bankruptcy, George is ready to end it all. His dramatic suicide attempt of jumping from an ice covered bridge into frigid waters is thwarted by an angel named Clarence who has come from Heaven in the hopes of obtaining his wings. Clarence shows George what life in the community would be like without him and his sacrifices. Of course that life is bleak and heart -breaking, and George is finally convinced that the world is a better place with him in it.

Clarence is successful in saving George, thus obtaining his wings, and George returns to his life with renewed happiness and appreciation. This is a story about focusing on what you have, not what you want. A good lesson for everyone.

Clarence:  Strange isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”  “Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends. P.S. Thanks for the wings!”

#2 To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) starring (dreamy) Gregory Peck, Robert Duvall and Mary Badham (as Scout)

This American favorite was made from Harper Lee’s novel, published in 1960. The novel was an instant success and won the Pulitzer Prize. In 2003 the American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century. Who could argue? Wouldn’t you want Atticus Finch as your  lawyer, neighbor, husband or dad? Peck’s stoic portrayal of the controversial home-town hero is moving beyond words.

The story was based upon Lee’s observations of her family and neighbors during an event that happened in her small town when she was ten years old. It is a gothic story with the primary themes involving racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. It also addresses issues of class warfare, courage and gender roles of the deep South. From the view point of Scout, Atticus’s six year old daughter, the story unfolds about a black man who is accused of raping a white woman.  Atticus, a lawyer and man of honor, integrity, and strong convictions, agrees to defend him which causes mayhem in the small, fictional Alabama town.

Scout and her brother Jem also learn a life’s lesson in their dealings with the reclusive Boo Radley, a neighbor, who terrifies them and fascinates them at the same time. He is never seen outside but often leaves small tokens and gifts for the children in a nearby tree. Fueled by their imaginations, Boo, in their minds, is someone horrible and evil, but they soon learn that he is immensely brave and kind. This subplot of misconception, misunderstanding and prejudice dovetails beautifully with the main plot.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. . . you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch

#1 Dead Poet’s Society (1989) directed by Peter Weir, starring Robin Williams.

The screen play was written by Tom Schulman based on his life at the Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Dead Poet’s won the Best Screenplay Academy Award in 1989. I had the great pleasure of once meeting Mr. Schulman at a Santa Barbara Screen Writers meeting. I don’t think he remembers the occasion quite as well as I do!

The movie is about English teacher John Keating who returns to his alma mater, the conservative and aristocratic Welton Academy in Vermont, 1959.  It is Keating’s ambition to inspire his students through is teaching of poetry in unconventional ways. His methods include, having his students call him “O Captain my Captain,” referencing the poetry of Walt Whitman. He also regularly takes them out of the classroom and meanders throughout the school instilling in them the idea of Carpe Diem, or living life to the fullest. “Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” He shocks and astonishes his students when he has them rip out the introduction of one of their books he thinks ridiculous, and has them stand on their desks to “see the world in a different way.”

This movie is an English Major’s dream. It’s full of references to the beloved classics we all studied and lost sleep over in preparation for numerous essays and discussions. It’s also aesthetically pleasing with a particularly surreal scene shot in slow motion of the boys escaping at night through the dense forest to start their own version of Keating’s former literary club, The Dead Poet’s Society.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” John Keating

 

And with that wonderful sentiment, I wish you all Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and many visits to the magical world of movie-land!

               

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What Do You Need In A Work Space?

Posted by: Kari Bovee on Sep 30 2012, 5:00 am in , , ,

What do you need in a work space to feel comfortable and get those creative juices flowing? Natural light? A comfy chair? Things neatly organized and in their place? These are some of the things that are essential to me. It took me awhile to figure out just what it was I needed.  My first office was set up in my daughter’s room after she left home. It wasn’t as bright as I liked and it was still . . . Jessica’s room. I suppose it will always be her room – not my office. I tried a sunnier spot in the house – the living room where a beautiful antique desk resides. While I loved the spaciousness of the desk, and the flood of sunshine streaming through the french doors,  there were always distractions:

The dogs outside the glass door, their happy faces begging, “come play with us!”

The refrigerator right around the corner.

The food pantry next to it. (It’s amazing how those two beckon when I’m trying to write!)

The TV.

I finally settled on “The Zen Room.” This was once a patio off the master bedroom that was converted (poorly) into a hot tub room before we moved in. We tossed the ancient hot tub, put up dry wall, and added beautiful windows. When we first renovated the house, this room would be the “exercise room” complete with Yoga mats, a treadmill and plenty of UV light. However . . . the room never got used. I started taking Yoga classes at a nearby gym. I ride horses and play tennis and relish the fact that these activities keep me outside. And really, who wants to use a treadmill? Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for folks that do – I just don’t have that kind of attention span!

So – the Zen Room became my office. I purchased a swanky glass and metal desk and a nice cushy chair. Don’t underestimate the importance of a comfortable chair! I used to write while sitting on a straight backed wooden kitchen chair. Why do we do things like that to ourselves? No wonder I could only sit there for 30 minutes at a time while my poor back screamed in protest. I also have a sweet little armchair for reading and relaxation. Unfortunately, the cats have taken possession. As you can see, Louise (of Thelma and Louise) is comfortably napping on a manuscript cushioned by a pillow.                                                                                         

 

The ribbons and trophies you see are not writing awards. (Alas!) They are horse showing awards. While they once resided in a plastic storage container, I decided to hang the most important ones along the long wall of my office. I wanted to be surrounded by my accomplishments. As most of you know, the writing business is rife with criticism and rejection. While we are supposed to take it like a champ, rise above it and work even harder, sometimes it sucks. A lot of times it sucks. Every once in a while we need to be reminded of our successes – even if they have nothing to do with our masochistic yet preferred craft.

I can happily say I love spending time in my work space. It’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter, but with an oscillating fan and a space heater, those problems are remedied. The cats think it’s their room, but luckily they are willing to share. Whether I am staring into space in an attempt to come up with ideas for new stories or diligently at work on a story in progress, my work space is conducive to creativity and long hours in the comfy chair.

What do you need in a work space? Please share your thoughts!

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