Fiction Writing

Book-in-a-Week… in Two Months

I shouldn’t be blogging right now – I should be working on my story. However, I figured, I’ve given myself a goal and, as I’m known to do, wanted to put it out here for all to see. It’s a way of holding myself accountable when life gets in the way… or when I LET life get in the way.

So here’s the goal – finish my work-in-progress by June. Why? Because June is when I will be attending my first Romance Writers of America’s National Conference (more about that in a future post). I want to have something to pitch to the agents and editors who will be there eagerly seeking new stories.

So… according to my math, I have to write about 1-1/2 chapters per week from now until then. That’s not so bad (unless you’re a slow writer like me).  It’s only six pages per day, single space, and I know I can do it. I’ve reviewed my Book-in-a-Week workshop notes and and am ready to go.

I’ll see you here at the end of this week with an update.

Onward!  

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Query and Synopsis complete – and I’m still sane.

Of course, the ‘sane’ part is up for debate, but I’m happy to say there was minimal blood-loss as I completed my new query and synopsis.

The synopsis scared me even more than the query. I knew my characters so intimately that I couldn’t imagine breaking their stories down to the simplest terms – as required for a synopsis. What about all the ‘other stuff’ they endured throughout their story…?

However, with the help of a phenomenally efficient list of questions, I was able to zero in on what truly mattered and tell my story in under three double-spaced pages. THREE. Double-spaced. That is an amazing feat for me since the shortest synopsis I’ve ever written was four pages, single-spaced.

How did I do it? With help from a lot of people and places but especially from a brilliant article by Gina Ardito: The Top Ten Questions for a Successful Synopsis.

If you’re struggling with your synopsis, read Gina’s article. You’ll be amazed. I was.

And now I wait. I’ve submitted my baby to three more agents/publishers and, since responses can take months, I’m off on a new adventure. Plotting another story. As I mentioned in an earlier post – Creating the Mood – I’ve chosen a gorgeous new journal, a seductive soundtrack and a sultry frangrance. As for inspiration, I am in no way lacking.

Onward.

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The Query – or Taking a Story Down to it’s Core

So, you know what comes after edits and revisions of a manuscript? Edits and revisions of the synopsis and query.

Whether Plotter or Pantser

I’ve been told, several times, that the synopsis should be written before the story. If you can do that, I highly suggest it. However, since I’m not a plotter, but a pantser, writing the synopsis ahead of time would be like plotting the abduction of my muse. The fun part of writing, the creative part – for me at least – is in the discovery. When I start to write, I have an idea of where I’m going. Blips of scenes flicker in my mind, in flip-book form. From there, I develop the meat of the story.

Months later, when the story is complete – and polished – I try to write a two-paragraph query and both a short and long synopsis but find myself overwhelmed by all of the intricate plot twists, emotional discoveries and settings. The query and the synopsis are supposed to ‘tell’ (not “show”) your story in a compelling yet succinct way. A way that clearly showcases your voice and your story’s tone. You can think of the query and synopsis as relaying an event to a friend. You’d hit the high points, string out the suspense of it, keep them interested without bogging them down with details. That’s what you want in your query and in your synopsis. You want to hook an agent or editor with the high points, showing them the entire work without showing them the ENTIRE work.

What’s your story about?

It seems like such a simple question to answer. And no doubt you can. But can you do it in twenty seconds or less? I couldn’t. I found even my own eyes glazed over when I tried to tell my story.

We must be creative artists when we write the story but marketing pros when we sell it. It’s hard to switch hats like that.

I approached my first – hundred or so – attempts at this backwards. I had just finished revisions and figured I’d never know the story better and so writing the 1-page query and short-ish  (2-3 page synopsis) should be easy. Or should I say, ‘easier’?

For the Synopsis and Query – Tell Don’t Show

I started at the beginning and wrote. Soon, I was caught in the story’s rhythm. Writing the query and synopsis in glorious detail, only to remember that wasn’t the place for it. My poor muse slumped. She’d been giddy. Guiding me through, reminding me of ‘moments’ so compelling, to me, that they just had to be included in this selling tool.

I resorted to bribery and promised my muse a new story. I tossed a thought out there and she ran off with it, trying to figure out how to work that idea into 300 pages of colorful language and gripping scenes.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

I also did the dishes, the laundry, the vacuuming and grocery shopping. And then I sat down to write. My goal? One sentence. From the “Snowflake Method” to “Pitch University“, I’ve always heard about breaking the story down to one sentence. I could not imagine how to do it then found help in the form of examples from Nathan Bransford‘s fantastic site.

Using his examples as a guide, I went through several drafts of my ‘one-line’ pitch until, finally, hours later, I had it. If you can break your story down to it’s raw form – which, for me ,turned out to be the idea that prompted the story in the first place – you can find your one-sentence pitch. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not easy. Maybe, though, it’ll get easier with time and practice.

Meanwhile, that one sentence grew into one paragraph. That paragraph being the way I’d tell friends and strangers about my story. Just enough detail to cover the main plot and leave them wanting more.  From there, came two-paragraphs, with more emotion, more mood and a touch more detail. Those paragraphs are for the query.

It took hours to write those lines. You’d think after hours of work you’d have more to show than that, yes? But if it took months, maybe a year or more, to write the story, shouldn’t it take a decent amount of time to market it properly? I rushed through my original query, thinking I just had to give a basic idea of what my story was about. Now, I realize it’s not simply what it’s about, but specifically and succinctly what happens, why and what’s at stake for your characters.

I’ll repeat – it wasn’t easy. I’m sure I’ll be banging my head on the keyboard next go-round. But now that I’ve invested the time the query needs and deserves, the process finally makes sense.

What’s next now that the query is finished? The synopsis. Let the head-banging begin. 🙂

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QUEEN and Live Aid

Freddie Mercury - Live Aid - Is This The World We CreatedThose who know me know I am an avid QUEEN fan – more specifically, I’m a Freddie Mercury fan. Now, what kind of fan would I be if I let today pass without acknowledging what just might have been Queen’s (and Freddie’s) finest moment? Yes, that would be their performance at Live Aid.

Twenty-five years ago today, Queen took the stage as one of many acts to help stave off famine in Africa. To this day, discussions about Live Aid include some reference to the quality of Queen’s performance. I, as a fan, can’t help but do the same. Their set was tight, high-energy and packed with some of their greatest songs. Freddie’s enthusiasm and connection to the crowd was undeniable and his voice, spot on. He wooed the audience and easily managed to have everyone clapping in unique rhythm to Radio Ga-Ga as if they were all there to see Queen and only Queen.

Perhaps they hadn’t arrived as Queen fans, per se, but certainly they left feeling that way.

And so, for your viewing pleasure, I bring you QUEEN at LIVE AID –

My thanks to Astrolux777 for posting this for all of us to enjoy.

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World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day

On July 13th, 1985, the music world made history with a multi-continental concert aired live on televisions around the world. Famous and beloved musicians from that time entertained us with hours of music in the hope of bringing us together for one vital cause – to end starvation in Ethiopia. A valiant cause, a cause we still need to tend to today.

The musicians were at the top of their game that day and the world was enthralled. The concert, LIVE AID, is still discussed with admiration and nostalgia. Of all the amazing talent on stage that day, one band’s performance has been called “bloody brilliant”, “a one-off”, “the greatest live show of all time”. That band is Queen, with Freddie Mercury’s high energy and enthusiasm leading the way.

Announced to a huge live audience of not-only Queen fans, the band took the stage, with Freddie prancing directly front and center to soak in the adulation. His high-energy performance was amusing, entertaining and inspiring. His wide vocal range, playfulness, and timeless hit songs showed the world just what this man was made of, how deep his drive was and how versatile he could be.

It’s hard to look at his performance from that day and realize the man was dying.

Infected with HIV at a time when HIV and AIDS had not yet revealed their horrible secrets, Freddie Mercury started to wither away. A super-charged musical genius with the determination to go on, recorded songs until just weeks before his death. Between takes, he’d down shots of vodka to dull the unbearable pain. He’d have to rest several times during one song. And soon, at home, this man who energetically covered every inch of stage during every live performance had to be carried up a flight of stairs so he could rest in bed.

On November 23rd, 1991, Freddie announced to the world that rumors were correct. He had AIDS. The next day, well after having made a decision to stop taking medication that merely kept him alive but did not help ease the pain or subdue the devastating disease ravaging his body, Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related pneumonia.

Seventeen years later, this dreadful disease is still destroying lives. The lives of the famous, the lives of the everyday folk, men, women, and children from all nations, of all religions, of all races are being infected and dying.

Yes. We’ve made advances. But the disease is still active. The disease is still being spread. The disease is still strong enough to fight off all attempts to kill it.

Today is World AIDS Day. A day for the world to join together and face the fact this disease is not going away on it’s own. It’s up to us to raise awareness. It’s up to us to show tolerance. It’s up to us to educate those who are still confused as to how this disease is spread.

In 1985, the year of Live Aid, the very first HIV antibody test became available. Since then, we’ve been able to extend the lives of those living with HIV. Medicine has been able to keep ‘full-blown AIDS’ at bay for many. But, in 1991, the year Freddie Mercury died, 10 million people worldwide were living with HIV. Today, despite all efforts to educate and eradicate, an estimated 33 million people now are living with the disease.

It’s time to stop the madness. It’s time to practice safe-sex. It’s time to talk to your kids. It’s time to get real and face this epidemic head-on.

It’s time to learn more.

Facing AIDS - World AIDS day 2008

It’s time to raise our voices, silence this disease and be proud of the world we created.

Days 1&2 Colorado

We only have a short time here in Colorado. My entire family lives out here and so it gives us the perfect excuse to pack up and head west. We’ve spent much of the last two days just catching up and planning this weekend. But we’ve also strolled through town to soak up the scenery. 

It’s beautiful here, open space and mountains so high and majestic they give a sense of strength and permanence. There’s a slower pace to the day here. I’m not sure why that is, but it seems people here actually make a conscious effort to slow down and enjoy their time. 

Many of the people take off early on Friday so they can make the most of their weekend. Traffic starts around 3. But you know what? Compared to traffic in New York, the traffic here is like a sneeze. A slight aside and then back to normal. I could get used to this. 

Wherever you look is a breathtaking view. My parents’ house is surrounded on three sides by mountains. Late in the afternoon, a pair of horses and a pair of cows come down from one of the mountains and graze practically in my parents’ backyard. In the wee hours of the morning, elk and deer stroll the gardens. Yes, they damage plants and leave… unwanted ‘gifts’ in unexpected places, but they’re magnificent animals and I’d rather that type of visitor than a raccoon taking over my attic crawl space. :-/

Before I leave here I WILL get a photo of some of these animals. I MUST. If I don’t see them before I leave, I will… just have to come back again. 🙂

Meanwhile, here is the everyday view my parents have from their lovely new home out here in the west – 

And, I have to say, the view from my own little abode in NY is quite different – neighbor’s laundry on the line, phone and electrical wires, etc. – there is nothing quite so unique as what we saw when we left our hotel…

Hello from Colorado!

We took a flight out of NYC yesterday evening around 8 – arriving at the airport by 5. With three different sitters caring for the kitties, we decided to pop out here to visit my family.

We were supposed to land last night at 10 but arrived at 11. Not too bad except we didn’t get to the hotel until after midnight Colorado time and so didn’t sleep until 1 – which was actually 3:00am New York time. 

We’re a little bleary-eyed this morning – ya think? -but with enough coffee and sunshine, we’ll be just fine. 

I’m not sure what sights we’ll be seeing but, as I’m sure you know, I will be posting photos. So stick around and I’ll share this short but sweet adventure with y’all. 🙂

Piano in the Park

I find traveling through the boroughs en route to Manhattan to be a test of endurance. 

There’s always traffic, obviously since we’re a big city, so I avoid weekday travel into the city as much as possible. However, when that weekday is a holiday, well, then it’s a wonderful time to be there. For me, one of the little perks of being in the city, is discovering yards and gardens even smaller than my own. Much smaller…

Urban Garden

Some of the other perks are the general sights and sounds.

 

The chatter, the horns, the emergency sirens. It’s all part of the landscape. As are towering skyscrapers – skyscrappers so high they dwarf the trees.

Despite all this wonder and majesty, I normally find the city overwhelming. But yesterday, Labor Day, was quiet in comparison to the regular everyday hustle. And so, we enjoyed a blissful lunch in Bryant Park while the magnificent Frank Owen entertained us with his imcomparable piano playing.

  

Piano in the Park, as it is called, features top New York Pianists playing music from Scott Joplin (my absolute favorite), Eubie Blake, the Gershwins and more. 
Every weekday from noon until 1:45, anyone can sit under the umbrellas or trees and soak up the toe-tapping music and city atmosphere. That is precisely what we did yesterday and loved every minute of it.
  

Of course… this IS New York, and a tiny scuffle or run-in with the law is neither unexpected nor disruptive.

You see, despite the police presence, which grew slighty and steadily until this gentleman vacated the premises as requested, the show indeed went on.

In fact, it went on so wonderfully that during Frank’s phenomenal piano playing, a hand-written note was passed among the audience. The note stated that yesterday was Frank’s birthday and so, when he stood to thank us all for coming, we should all stand and sing, Happy Birthday. Say what you want about New Yorkers, but we are a pretty cool bunch, each of us poker-faced after reading the note and nonchalantly strolling to the next person with it in hand. And every one of us standing at the end and joining in to wish this accomplished musician a wonderfully happy birthday.

He said we made his day. I must correct him. He made ours. 

(Please excuse the camera shake – I took this video with a tiny digital camera)

Back to “no-school”

I have to say it, while I disliked school as a kid, I did love the unique scent the end of summer brought. I called it the ‘smell of school’ and I liked it. It meant a change was coming and change excited me… to a certain degree.

Now that the air has that ‘smell of school’ again, I’m happy the change we’ll be experiencing will be unique. Yes, we’ll be starting ‘school’ but as homeschoolers, ours is more like ‘no-school’. We can pack the books and pencils, hop on our bikes and sit under a tree in the park to study. We can head to a museum to study art, science or natural history. We can sleep late, stop when we’re tired, then pick up again later on. The beauty of homeschooling – for us, as I know it’s not for everyone – is that children are constantly learning. Feeding their inquisitive minds is fun – and can certainly be a challenge. One thing that I love the most is that I learn as Daughter learns. I’m either reminded of things I’ve forgotten or I’m awakened to something new. What a thrill to learn together and to share the excitement of new concepts or understandings.

I’m very fortunate to be able to homeschool my daughter. It’s not just a wonderful experience for her, but a wonderful one for all of us as a family. There are some days when I think I’ve accomplished very little in my life, and I feel terribly low. Like right now with my writing, which has been on the back burner all summer. But then I realize how much we actually do – together – and know when Daughter grows up, she’ll take wonderful memories and moments along with her. Memories and moments I helped create for her not just as her mom but as her teacher and fellow student. She’ll be a life-learner, interested in why and how things are going on around her, not just that they are. The thought makes me smile as I plan another outing for tomorrow. Music and culture are the themes of the day.

Labor day morning at Bryant Park, NYC where pianist, Frank Owens, will be sharing the phenomenal music of Scott Joplin, the Gershwin’s, Eubie Blake and more while we sit under the trees and listen. And then Labor Day afternoon at the Botanical Gardens where we’ll learn about the culture of the Lanape Indians – a Native Nation vital to our area’s history.  

I look at possible events and can’t help circle them thinking, “Wow! This should be exciting!” And after all, isn’t that what childhood – indeed life – should be about?

“Good Morning Muffins”

The morning air suddenly has that nip in it again, as it does every year around this time. It’s the nippy hint of the new school year, the wonderfully fragrant NY apple picking season and preparation for pumpkin pies, trick or treating and holiday shopping, decorating and baking.

It’s when this happens, when the season begins to change from summer to fall, that I start making a different type of breakfast treat – hearty morning muffins. This recipe comes from Land-O-Lakes’ Treasury of Country Heritage Meals and Menus, and I love it. This is the first time I’ve made it with my muffin top pan .

I have to say, it’s WELL worth the price of the pans. The flavors of these muffins are condensed, it makes the outside crisp and the inside just soft enough to make you hum with the taste and texture sensation.

Enjoy!

Good Morning Muffins

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup butter softened

1 (8-ounce) carton dairy sour cream (instead of sour cream, I use a favorite fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and add all the fruit, too)

2 eggs

1 cup (2 medium) shredded carrots

1/2 cup flaked coconut

1/2 cup raisins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In large mixing bowl combine sugar and butter. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed – 1 to 2 minutes. Add sour cream (or yogurt) and eggs. Continue beating, scraping bowl often, until well mixed. By hand, stir in carrots, coconut and raisins.

In medium bowl stir together flour, baking soda and cinnamon.  Add flour mixture to sour cream/yogurt mixture, stir until just moistened. Spoon into greased muffin pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes (15 – 20 minutes if using muffin top pan) or until lightly browned.

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