Monday Musings: The Virtual Office Tour or Don’t Make Me Clean My Dining Room Table for Nothing

Good morning! It’s Monday and that means it’s time for Monday Musings. Last week Chris Allen-Riley, Kirsti Jones, Lynn Doezema, and I looked at places we’d most like to live. This week, we look at the place we do live…and take you on a virtual tour of our office.

Ta-da!

Dining Room Table

Yup, that’s it. I use the term office lightly. This is my dining room table (decluttered especially for these photos). The farmette is cute and friendly but the layout is a bit funky. I have a long skinny living room and two huge bedrooms upstairs. Plenty of room for an office but there isn’t one included anywhere. We tried to make the teeny bedroom on the ground floor into a study of sorts, but it got converted to a guest bedroom. The last time I spent any time in there I got a bad case of cabin fever and tore up the linoleum to see if there was hardwood underneath. There was…but unfortunately DH was not impressed. However, I digress…back to my office.

This is what it looks like set up for writing…Table with writing stuff

Oh yeah! Computer, coffee cup, wireless mouse (because I detest the little finger pad do-dad), my purple binder which contains whatever I’m editing currently, and my blue clipboard which is preloaded with pen and paper for the car.

Now then…say I’m feeling like something a little more cozy…ta-da!

Office chair

It’s the office easy chair. All I need is my lap desk (shown) and my foot stool, and I can sink into this corner for some work. The old library card catalog on the floor to the left serves as Virus researchmy end table to hold my coffee cup and the research book for my next YA.

So…there you have it. Would I like to have a real office? Maybe someday. At the very least, I’d like to have a little desk space to call my own. Scatter some papers around, put up my Lego mini-figures (the werewolf, Tow Mater, Lego motorcycle dude with goggles and dynamite), maybe even hang something on the wall.

But it’s all good. This layout has worked for me so far!

How about you? What does your workspace look like?

Monday Musings: Literary versus Genre

Good Monday Morning! Chris Allen-Riley, Kirsti Jones, Lynn Doezema, and I are back to our weekly mini blog-hop. Today, we visit the topic of literary versus genre fiction. Be sure to stop in to see at all our blogs to see our various thoughts on the topic.

Back when I first started writing, I had to ask a more experienced writer what all the fuss was about literary versus genre writing. It all seemed so shrouded in mystery—so us versus them. To paraphrase and to simplify… Literary works were the ones that won awards. Genre works made money. Literary works explored the human condition. Genre works put the human on a roller-coaster ride of a plot and let him go.

Eventually, I came up with my own litmus test for whether a work was literary fiction or genre. Here it is (be prepared to be blown away!): I pick up a book at the bookstore. If it’s something deep, dark and depressing—watching a loved one die a long slow death or a convoluted ethical dilemma—in short, something I don’t feel up to reading because it’s too much like real life, it’s literary fiction. If it sounds sweet, funny or implausible—in short, something I would read to be entertained—it’s probably genre fiction.

Maybe that sounds flip, but it’s not a bad test.  Dire Wolf by Tess Grant

The literary-genre divide has been going on for years. My first books were absolutely genre—YA novels about a teen werewolf hunter. Definitely not the stuff of the Newbery Award.

Then I started writing my adult mystery, Second Chances. See it here on the What I Write page. The main character is a difficult and complex woman named Jo Birch—a deeply vulnerable soul wrapped in a mouthy and hard exterior who is scarred by every case she works. As they reviewed chapters, my critique group kept asking me, “Why is she like that?” “What’s her response to that?”

When I finished Jo’s story and turned it over to beta readers, comments were something 2011_08220127like this, “This is more about Jo than the mystery.” “I just wanted to find out what happened to this girl.” Another reader was more blunt. She said, “This is literary suspense.”

Imagine my surprise! I–Proud Genre Girl–had written a literary novel. Okay, deep down I had my suspicions, but still having it confirmed came as a bit of a shock.

What did this teach me? Perhaps the divide between genre and literary is not so much a gap as a continuum, and the two aren’t nearly as far apart as we sometimes make them out to be. What do you think?

Visit Chris, Lynn, and Kirsti for their thoughts.

AWOL….but interviewed!

So…I’ve been seriously absent from blogging lately. This is the result of a lot of factors…no internet service on the farmette–rural living has advantages and disadvantages; life changes–change is good, right?; and manuscript doldrums–curse you, writer’s block! It’s possible the writer’s block came courtesy of the life changes—hmmm.

Anyway, I’m hoping to pick up the blogging torch again on a more regular basis. And what better time to start than now? Today the energetic and organized Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz interviews me on her blog, One Writer’s Journey. Stop on by and say hello!

As enticement, I’ll be giving away an electronic copy of the first book in the Kitty Irish Trilogy, Trajectories. So if you–or a friend–haven’t had a chance to meet Kitty yet, stop by for a chance to win.

See you there! (And hopefully here more often in the future :) )

What’s in a Name? A Guest Post by Amy Durham

Today, we’re spending time with Amy Durham–parent, writer of young adult fiction, and music teacher. Amy DurhamAmy’s new YA, Once Again, recently hit the shelves, and she blogs at amy-durham.blogspot.com. Take it away, Amy…

What’s in a name? Well…a lot. When I was a young girl, names were a kind of hobby for me. I’d spend long hours thinking about what I’d name my children, experimenting with different first and middle names to see how they sounded together, and…yes, I’ll admit it…even adding the last name of a boy I secretly liked. In my day job as a middle school teacher, I’ve discovered that many girls do the same thing. I think it’s because even as kids, we realize that names are important, names give us identity beyond just what people call us or what we sign on a check. Names help define us. I’ve never known any parent who just randomly chose a name for their baby. Parents spend lots of time talking about names in their quest to assign the perfect name to the child they’ve created.

A similar process happens when I name the characters in my books. There’s thought and consideration…nothing at all like drawing a name out of the hat. The first thing I consider is the personality of the most important character in the story. Is there a name that embodies and illustrates the personality I intend to create for the character? Sometimes, the name jumps right into my mind. Other times, I must go on a search. The search is never the same. Sometimes I have a beginning consonant in mind, and I’ll look up names that start with that letter. Other times, I visit one of the many baby-naming sites on the web and search for names with a particular meaning. Other times, I mentally flip through the names of characters on TV shows that I like to watch. Once I’ve nailed down the name of the main character, which is the toughest (and most critical, in my opinion), I move on to the other characters. This many times proves easier, because there are names that naturally “go” together, and since I already have the main character names, I find it easier to assign names to other characters.

For me, it’s a combination of embodying the characters’ personalities, fitting the vibe of the story, and just generally “sounding good.” Some of my characters names? Layla and Lucas…Phoebe and Todd…Jessie and Will…Zoe and Adrian. For each set of characters, I looked for names that would not only be identifiers, but would weave themselves into the DNA of the character!

* * *

Once Again

The phenomenon of reincarnation simmers beneath the surface of Sky Cove, Maine, where teenagers Layla Bradford and Lucas Ellis experience frightening visions of their past lives – and discover that the evil that killed them in their previous existence is alive and well -  and coming for them again. Can they find the truth in time to stop the same tragedy from unfolding once again?

Lucas and Layla’s story is now available in eBook format at:

Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Once-Again-Sky-Cove-ebook/dp/B0071NTTV0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1328998797&sr=8-1)

B&N (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/once-again-amy-durham/1108428186)

Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/126513)

Print version will be available from Amazon soon.

Seeing with a Writer’s Eyes

Last night was our small town’s Christmas Walk. It’s an absolutely lovely event. The week before all the elementary school students hand-make ornaments and hang them on the big tree by City Hall. All the businesses set up beautiful window displays and lights and bake cookies (lots and lots of cookies :)).

On the big night, the streets are closed down and horse-drawn wagons and carriages line up. The high school jazz band plays, then at 6 p.m. the big pine is lit. The wagons start pulling loads of people from one end of town to the other, and people wander from store to store, munching on treats and buying Christmas presents or just visiting. One of the local farmers roasts chestnuts at curbside, passing them out to passersby. A group of carolers wanders past singing. If you want to take your kids to see Santa, he’s over at the bank.

It’s wonderful. My family and I look forward to it for weeks. But that’s the mom in me. The writer in me wonders what it would take to make it even more storybook.

Maybe I’d leave it the same and opt for a bittersweet homecoming or a lovely romance.

Maybe I’d put a dead body in an alley that disrupts all the festivities. Or how about a shady business deal cooked up in the back room and hidden in the glow of Christmas lights?

What if the cookies at the local business don’t just have sprinkles…they’re dusted with arsenic?

Does the Ghost of Christmas Past swoop in? Or is it a spy seeking one last safe house?

What if the hourglass for sale in the home furnishings store actually shoots you to another dimension when the last grain of sand trickles out?

People ask me where I get my ideas. I get them from things I see every day. Sometimes it just takes looking at the familiar with a new set of eyes.

What do you think? How would you rewrite the Christmas Walk?

How Writing Killed My Reading

(This is similar to video killing the radio star but different—have I dated myself yet?)

I am and always have been a reader. I was a lot more insatiable as a teenager, when I could lie on the couch and read the afternoon away. Now, surrounded by kids, critters, and a farmette that needs upkeep (oh, is it time to pick up eggs? is that some salsa that needs to be canned?), I don’t have nearly as much uninterrupted time to read. In fact, I do most of my reading listening while driving. I spend a fair amount of time on the road and find audio books are my best chance to squeeze in the latest on my TBR pile.

I used to sink deep into the story, falling into the world the author created, amazed at all the twists and turns. Then I started writing. Now, I find my reading is an exercise in craft refinement. How did she pull off that plot twist? What words did he use to create that feeling?

Here’s the biggie. It derails my surprise at most books I read. I used to think those small details were just that…small details. At the end of the book, when those things came back to be a major plot device, I was always surprised. Not anymore. Now as soon as I hear about the innocuous piece of paper on the street, I know it will come back. The casual piece of information tossed out by a major character will be a turning point later on.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy books anymore—I do. It’s just at a different level, a more critical thoughtful level. I don’t sink nearly as far because every book I read is a chance to improve my craft.

Let’s hear how your writing has changed your reading.

A cleaver or a scalpel?

The very first YA I wrote was a real labor of love. When I finished it, I couldn’t imagine how to revise it. I felt every word was perfect. Sure I would revise it a little with every rejection…with a scalpel. I would shape a sentence here and there, teasing an adjective out from the bone and carefully dissecting it before dropping it back into the whole. Then after a couple particularly hard-hitting rejections (the rejections weren’t so bad–my skin was particularly thin that week!), I tossed that YA under the bed and wrote something new. A mystery for an older audience.

There was just one problem. It sucked.

Some of it was decent enough, but the majority of it was a mishmash. I strapped on the surgical gown to start revisions. Only this time instead of a scalpel, I brought a cleaver. I hacked, rewrote, hacked some more. I cut so much my file of deletions was two-thirds the size of the actual manuscript. I thought I was leaving a trail of carnage behind but what emerged was a real story. It had a certain sharp-edged beauty to it (what wouldn’t when shaped with a cleaver?) and a symmetry all its own.

I learned a lot about revisions that time around. Let go of the scalpel, wade in, and wield that cleaver. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

From the Depths of the Sequential Vortex

Outdoor humorist, Patrick F. McManus, coined the phrase the sequential vortex—the great trap of one thing leading to another, slowing sucking away any chance of accomplishment. I continually am in danger of being pulled into the depths—it’s tugging at my ankles even now. No, wait, that’s our new puppy. Let me get back to the vortex. Here’s an example (raise your hand when you see yourself).

I get up determined to write. I will write today. But first I have to get groceries. I must do only this one thing, and I will be ready to write. So I grab my list and I’m off. No, wait. My hubby’s check just hit the account, and I need to do a little online banking. An hour later, I’m ready to go. Half an hour later (a downfall of living in the boonies), I’m at the store. While there, I realize not only do we need groceries but the little pop-up pool needs chlorine and a filter. I throw the supplies in the cart. I check my watch. I’m doing pretty well. Only two hours at the store. I pull into the driveway a half hour later and get ready to unload. But I realize that if I go straight to the house, I will need to let the puppy out of her crate and then all bets are off. So, it’s best to do the filter and chlorine while I’m out here. I get everything set up, but when I step into the shed to plug in said filter, I hear the chickens clucking and realize they need their afternoon feed. I’m off to the pole barn to get grain for both batches of chickens. While I’m at it, I’ll go ahead and scrub their watering cans and get them fresh water. As I’m delivering the water, I realize the horse is in need of a little extra TLC and I stop off to hang out for a minute. Good thing the cold groceries are in a cooler. I check the horse’s tank. Might as well scrub and refill that while I’m at it. But it’s okay, because I only have to put the groceries away and I can write…I think you know by now how this story ends—six hours later with very little writing.

To the jaded, this may look like procrastination. To the vortex purist, this may look like so much flotsam clouding the water. The true vortex they say revolves only around the accomplishment of one thing (i.e. a desire to paint the wall means new drywall and molding first). But it’s my vortex and I’ll swirl if I want to. Come on in, the water’s fine.