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Art, Music, and Emotion

As a stoic, unsentimental Scandinavian, it takes a LOT to make me cry in real life , but when I’m listening to music? Or experiencing some kind of art combined with music? OMG, someone pass the Kleenex.

Music alone reliably opens my emotional floodgates, but combining great music with another type of art can tip the experience to transcendent.  Today, I’d like to talk about art that makes us cry.

Apologies in advance for what will certainly be a video-heavy post. I hope you’ll be able to come back to this post when you have a little time, experience some of the art that tugs at MY heartstrings, and also share your own.

Dance

I’m a long-time viewer of So You Think You Can Dance, the competitive reality show that’s given so many dancers an opportunity to strut their stuff to the world. After the season is over, many of the Top 20 dancers deservedly make the leap from amateur to professional, but I find myself most emotionally impacted by the auditions – no, not the emotionally manipulative “up close and personal” sob stories, which I fast-forward past – but the performances themselves… just an as-yet-unknown dancer, interpreting a song through movement, in their own little world, before any famous choreographer gets their hot little hands on them.

The musicality of these two SYTYCD auditions literally brings me to tears.

After her audition, Melanie Moore , the eventual Season 8 winner, not only received a standing ovation from her fellow competitors, but was told by one of the judges that Zeus himself would invite her to dance on Mt. Olympus.

Moore is dancing to “The Meadow” by Alexandre Desplat, from the Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack.

Below, director/producer/choreographer and SYTYCD guest judge Adam Shankman gets a little verklempt watching Billy Bell’s audition. Adam wasn’t alone. (I’m a sympathetic crier, so this audition was a double-whammy.)

Billy is dancing to “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. Unfortunately Bell sustained an injury partway through the season and had to leave the competition.

TV

In my opinion, the last scene of the Six Feet Under series finale is the one of the most perfect pieces of television ever aired. In six sublime, fast-forwarded, largely dialogue-free minutes, we learn what the future holds for every member of the extended Fisher family as the youngest daughter, Claire, drives cross-country to start her first grown-up job. Given the Fishers run a funeral home, could the series really have ended any other way? Set to Sia’s “Breathe Me,” this scene and this song are forever entwined in my mind, combining to create a piece of art that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

FAIR WARNING: Some readers may find the montage’s subject matter – death – disturbing.

Music

Every morning when I sit down to write, I choose an artist, song, album, or playlist that I think will transport me to the emotional head space of the character whose POV I’m writing from that day. (Music is that reliable a tool for me; there are some pieces that make my eyes sting every time I hear them.) Here are Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, joined by Jason Bonham on drums, performing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors, with an arrangement I feel rivals the  original.

The chorus coming in at about 4:10? Talk about transcendent.

Books

You wouldn’t expect that reading a rocker’s memoir would provoke much of an emotional reaction, but Duran Duran bass player John Taylor’s 2012 memoir, In the Pleasure Groove, accomplished this rare feat. When Taylor described how his bandmate Simon LeBon sang “Save a Prayer” at John’s father’s funeral? Fellow Ruby Sister and Duran Duran superfan Vanessa B. and I both bawled like babies.

And finally, from my own work. In my 2009 GH finalist/2011 debut novel TASTE ME, I killed off a secondary character that some readers thought was developed strongly enough to get her own book – and yeah, it hurt.

In this excerpt, a siren choir sings Annika Fontaine home:

A burst of wind buffeted the small group as they assembled on the edge of the rugged cliff. Lukas instinctively leaned in to shelter Scarlett with his larger body. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his father doing the same thing for Claudette as she stood in her family’s ancestral worship area like a poised ivory statue, her face locked in a rictus of control. In this thin, milky light, her hair looked more gray than red, and her mourning-white trench coat whipped around her legs. She cradled a fuchsia suede bag about the size and weight of a sack of sugar in both arms.

Her daughter’s ashes.

As opposed to her mother, Scarlett blazed with defiant color. She’d made no attempt to harness her hair, and it billowed behind her like a red sheet on a clothesline. Her calf-length wool coat was bright turquoise, her pink boots glowed, and her face was blotchy with tears.

Grief and sadness poured out of her like blood from a wound. Lukas clenched his jaw and held on to her hand as the siren choir gathered around them in a loose semicircle.

“Let us sing our sister home,” the Celebrant intoned. She turned her substantial body to the pounding sea and extended her arms to the sky and waves, singing the first haunting notes.

He thought he was prepared. He really did. But when the other women joined in… Jesus. Dissonant harmonies shrilled up and down his backbone, and he grasped Scarlett’s waist more tightly—whether to support her or to be supported, he didn’t really know. Scarlett was as much moaning as singing, her incomparable voice rising above the others as she extended her arms to the sea and tipped her head up to the sky. The collective mourning energy swirled above them like a whirlwind as the sirens sang the Fontaine family lineage, imploring the wind and the waves to accompany the brave siren Annika to her final resting place. Annika, daughter of Claudette, daughter of Signe, daughter of Siobhan, daughter of Siann, of Sorcha, of Catraoine. Of Sinead, Maire, Ceile, and Fiona. On and on, back through the generations, the sirens recited the names the unbroken Fontaine matrilineal line back to Canola, Goddess of the Harp.

It was now up to Scarlett to ensure continuity of the Fontaine line.

On and on the singing went, the sirens acknowledging sisters lost to history, sisters who’d protected their families and ensured their species’ survival by luring marauders’ ships into the cliffs with no weapon but their voices. Lukas surreptitiously popped an antacid and tried to distract himself by focusing on the waves pounding against the cliffs, the swooping gulls, the fall sumac blazing between the rocks, where the paparazzi crouched like fucking jackals. Something, anything, to distract himself from the taste of Scarlett’s saltwater mourning mixing with her mandarin essence.

How his seed boiled at the thought of fathering Scarlett’s child.

Finally, the plaintive song came to a close, and the Celebrant stepped back, gesturing to the churning water.

“I … can’t do this,” Scarlett whispered brokenly, the first words she’d spoken to him in nearly a week.

Lukas bracketed her chilly face in his warm hands, trying to pour whatever strength he could into her. “You can.”

She clutched his wrists with her hands for a long moment, her eyes locked on to his. Finally, she stepped away from the shelter of his body and joined her mother at the edge of the cliff. And as the other sirens chanted, “All that was…all that is…all that shall be,” they reached into the bag with their bare hands, casting Annika’s ashes to the wild, wild sea.

Oh yeah. That still makes me cry.

Is there a type or piece of art that makes you cry? Happy tears, sad tears, bittersweet tears? Feel like sharing?  

-tammy 

 

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100px

TEMPT ME, Book Three of Tamara Hogan’s award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, has been nominated for a 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and for a 2014 Booksellers Best Award.

Buy yours at:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace

 

 

SELLING 101- Blurbs

Your book is written, polished and edited. Now comes the moment when you need to hook an agent, editor or buyers on your book in a few short lines.  After spending months writing your story, you might be knocking your head against the wall trying to decide how to condense everything wonderful about your work into what, approximately one-hundred words.

You’re not alone.

Writing blurbs commands a different mindset. Instead of adding layers we need to get out the filet knife and cut away all the fat and end up with the juiciest part of our stories, because that is what the readers really want know about. Those juicy tidbits are what makes them buy your book. But how do you whittle down to the wonderful stuff? I’ll share my process.

I write romance, so I begin with a one-line story premise and then the GMC of both my heroine and hero—or as I like to refer this portion, my characters’ mini-bios.

Here is how I began to write my blurb for my new release PERFECT HEARTS which is the second book in my Perfect Love series.

Fourteen years ago, two geeky teens became best friends and their romance was sabotaged by the town’s diva sending them on different paths. 

Carrie returns to Black Moose, Vermont to emerge from the shadows of her parents’ stardom and find a normal life, love, and family, but the ratio of female versus eligible bachelors (under the age of thirty-five) is like 50 to 1.

Luke McQuire is a man with two things on his mind: building his electrical business and evading the town diva, Olive Ann, who has made it known to all the women on the mountain that he is her future husband.

After I’ve that step is completed, then comes the slicing and dicing to make the blurb entertaining, because fiction books are entertainment. And we have to add back in our voices. So the next step is to add that hook—that wonderful first line that will draw the reader in and make them want to read more.

Back to PERFECT HEARTS:

Block-buster movies picture it. Platinum records are composed based on it. Stories and poems are written because of it. Every breathing soul searches for it, including Carrie Shultz. Good grief, her livelihood depends on love.

 

But like all first lines they need to be tweaked and reworked and sometimes scrubbed. So we work some more. And we tweak our characters mini-bios again, adding in interesting story details and hooks.

Blockbuster movies show it, platinum records praise it, great literature lauds it…every living soul searches for it. Good grief, Carrie Twines’ livelihood depends on it. Everyone in Black Moose, Vermont seems to be in love or in hot pursuit of it. Their bliss only reminds Carrie of what she lost as a teen when two geeky best friends became first loves—until heartache sent them on different paths.

Carrie returns to Black Moose, Vermont to emerge from the shadows of her parents’ stardom and find a normal life, love, and family, but the odds are stacked against her. However, her luck is about to change. As she contemplates the merits of becoming a spinster, a game of chance brings her back to the man she’d walked away from years ago.

Luke McQuire is a man with two things on his mind: building his electrical business and evading the town diva, Olive Ann. But when Carrie shows up again like a lucky penny, he’s got more to think about—including why she left him in the first place.

And again, we cut, we add and we polish until the finish blurb seems perfect.

Blockbuster Movies show it, Platinum Records praise it, great literature lauds it…every living soul searches for it. Good grief, Carrie Twines’ livelihood depends on it. Everyone in Black Moose, Vermont seems to be in love or in hot pursuit of it. Their bliss only reminds Carrie of what she lost as a teen when two geeky best friends became first loves—until heartache sent them on different paths.

Carrie returns to Black Moose to emerge from the shadows of her parents’ stardom and find a normal life, love and family, but the odds are stacked against her. However, her luck is about to change. As she contemplates the merits of spinsterhood, a game of chance brings her back to the man she’d walked away from years ago. He’s even more kind and sexy than he was fourteen years ago, but can she trust him with her heart again? Luke McQuire is a man with two things on his mind: building his electrical business and evading the town diva, Olive Ann. But when Carrie shows up again like a lucky penny, he’s got more to think about—including why she left him in the first place. He’s a damn good electrician, but can he make sparks fly with the one woman he wants—the one woman who was able to resist him?

 

And from that polished back cover blurb I can pull a shorter blurb to be used in other advertising venues.

Blockbuster movies, platinum records, and great literature laud it. Every living soul searches for it. Carrie Twines’ livelihood depends on it. In Black Moose, Vermont, everyone seems to be in love. Their bliss reminds Carrie of what she lost as a teen when heartache sent first loves on different paths. However, a game of chance brings back the man she’d walked away from years ago. Luke’s even more kind and sexy than he was fourteen years ago, but can she trust him with her heart again?

 

I want to thank my Ruby-sisters Anne Marie Becker and Rita Henuber and my editor Pat Thomas for their help in brainstorming and tweaking with the final blurb. Sometimes we’re so close to our work we can’t see its best features, so it’s always a good idea to have a fresh set of eyes reviewing it.

That is my process for writing blurbs. Sisters and readers do you approach blurbs differently?   

Plotting with your Characters

I don’t know about you, but I find plotting to be the most difficult thing about writing fiction.

But now that I write for a living, I’m required to submit a synopsis and/or detailed outline to my publisher well before I ever start a book.  And since my publisher pays me to do this, I have a huge incentive to pre-plot my books.

This being the case, I’ve developed a strategy for coming up with initial plot ideas.  I won’t say this is pain free, it’s not.  But it works for me.  And maybe it will work for you.  Here’s what I do.

I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about my hero and heroine.  I don’t find this painful at all.  Usually my hero is handsome and hot.  He has a wound.  He has a troubled backstory.  Same thing with my heroine.  Since I’m a writer, which is synonymous with voyeur, thinking about my characters’ inner and outer lives is no sweat whatsoever.  Once I’ve gotten to know them I will try to answer two key questions about them:

1)      What does my hero/heroine want more than anything?

2)      What does my hero/heroine need to learn in order to fall in love?

The answer to question 1 is where the external plot line lives.  The answer to this question has to be something other than ‘My heroine want to fall in love.’  Here are some examples of acceptable answers: My heroine wants a family.  She wants a business.  She wants to land that client or that job.  She wants to run away from the bad guys or her parents or her family.

The answer to question 2 is where the love story lives.  Here are some examples of acceptable answers:  The heroine needs to learn how to trust.  She needs to stop trying to control everything.  She needs to learn the power of positive thinking.  She needs to see herself as beautiful.

If I can figure out a link between questions one and two that’s terrific.  But often I can’t.  Also, if I can put the hero and heroine in conflict with these questions that’s a plus, too.  But often I can’t do that either.  And really it’s not necessary at this point.  Just knowing what they want and what they need to learn is the most important part.

Once I have these goals and needs nailed, I take out several pieces of paper and I let my characters brainstorm around three important questions:

1)      I ask both hero and heroine to list out at least ten things that could happen that would make it harder for him/her to reach the story goal, or make the story goal more important than ever.

2)      I ask both hero and heroine to list out at least five things that could happen that would make his/her story goal mean more to the community at large, such as friends, family, community, co-workers, neighbors, the guys at the bar.

3)      I ask both hero and heroine to list out one or two things that could happen that would make his/her story goal so important or difficult that it becomes a life and death situation.

After I’ve gotten these lists I ask my both hero and heroine which of these events or situations would give them an opportunity to practice whatever it is that they need to learn in order to find love.  This inevitably makes my list even bigger and more detailed.

When I’m done with this exercise I’ll have a long list of potential scenes that might not be enough for a full book, but is almost certainly enough for a few turning points, which I will try to assemble into my recipe for a seven paragraph synopsis.

So now comes the fun part.  Today I thought it would be fun to brainstorm a plot using this technique.  Here’s what you need to know about my hero and heroine.  (By the way, this is not a book I’m writing or planning to write, I made up these characters on the fly for this exercise only.)

Hero:  1) Rick wants to quit his job as a CPA and open an Italian restaurant.  He’s the quintessential foodie who yearns to cook for a living, but is afraid to express this to his friends and family.  2) Rick needs to learn not to always play it safe.  He’s spent his life doing the “expected” thing.

Heroine:  1) Suzy wants to lose 50 pounds.  She has always been a big girl and she’s convinced that her “real life” will start once she drops the weight.  2) Suzy needs to learn that real life is right now and you don’t want to miss a minute of it waiting around.

Okay now it’s your turn.  Post comments telling me how Rick and Suzy’s goals are going to be a) difficult to achieve or become even more important to achieve b) become important to their friends, family, and community in either a positive or negative way, c) become an issue of life and death importance.  And don’t worry if the obvious things get listed very quickly.  The really interesting (and funny or emotional) stuff usually doesn’t come out until you’ve jotted down all the obvious (and clichéd) possibilities.

And to add a little spice one lucky commenter will win a copy of Inn at Last Chance, my newest release in the Last Chance series of contemporary, small southern town romances.

Clueless-The Rule of Six

For those of you who know me, you know that I spend most of my life in the state known as clueless.  For example I’m mystified by the need for daylight savings time and pantyhose and signs that say, “hand dipped ice cream” because what else are you going to dip it with?  But I digress…I’m here to talk about writing.

Warning: This is not for you psycho plotters who have charts and character interviews and drawings of your character’s hometown taped up on the wall.  This is for we clueless who sit down to a blank page and try to figure out what’s next….yep, I’m talking about us pantsters.

Don’t confuse the lack of plotting for a lack of vision.  Just because pantsters sit down to a blank page doesn’t mean we don’t know where the story is going.  We know how the story ends, its just all those scenes after chapter one and before ‘the end’ that aren’t clear.

So down to brass tacks…

What happens when you’re clueless where the story goes from here? You can see the finish line but you’ve lost your way and don’t quite know how to make it to the end.

Try the Rule of Six.

There are six different solutions to every problem.

When you’re stuck, go back to the last decision the hero or heroine made and try the rule of six.  For example, your heroine walks in on your hero kissing another woman.  You heroine can:

1)   Slap him and storm out.

2)   Laugh it off because she knows and trusts him and the woman he’s with is a hatchet-faced slut-bunny.

3)   Slap the hatchet-faced slut-bunny and drag her out by her hair.

4)   Not acknowledge that she saw the kiss, sell everything she owns, move to Italy, and stalk George Clooney.

5)   Walk in and demand to know what’s going on.

6)   Walk away, seethe about the kiss and throw it in the hero’s face for the rest of his life.

While some of these choices are stupid and there are only two viable options, the Rule of Six gets your creative juices flowing.  And it’s A LOT of fun.

Try it…I dare you.

TIME GONE WRONG

There are many reasons a writer’s work is considered weak. A faulty time line is among them.

The statement below was made by a reader on a book discussion
list to which I belong:(Disclaimer: The locations in this passage have been changed to
protect the author.)

“After Paris it all began to fall apart for me.  A lot of skipping around—unexplained time
periods went by that didn’t make sense. He was in Puerto Rico, running for his
life. Then he was beaten in New York. In the next scene, the heroine was upset
because he was gone for months, but the timeline did not support her feelings.”
Did you hear her frustration with the author’s work?

Have you read a story which made you stop and wonder either
how much time had gone by or how did a claimed span go by so fast?

I’ve read stories where the time lines were totally off. I remember one book in particular while the clock stuck midnight on New
Year’s Eve the heroine wondered how she would provide for her unborn child. She thought this while stroking her flat stomach. She’d taken a pregnancy test earlier in the day, because of one missed period.

Pages later, it was spring and she gave birth to a full-term health baby boy. Spring stopped me. The seasonal
identifiers didn’t fit the timeline of a normal pregnancy. The story, which had
drawn me in, lost me right there. The author hadn’t done her job.

I’ve also read stories where the author didn’t use any time
descriptor words or phases such as the next day, or later that morning, or
years passed before, which can leave the reader feeling lost.

Here’s an example:
Jonathan’s jaw tightened before he turned and slammed the door. (End of
Chapter. Next chapter begins.) Jonathan didn’t know what to expect when he
opened the door.  The whole house was barren. Everything he’d owned was gone.

As the reader, do you know how much time has gone by? No.
Jonathan could’ve closed the door and reopened it in peek-a-boo fashion for all
we know, which if he did, this story would have paranormal or
psychological-thriller elements. But if our hero had been gone for days, weeks
or months, we would see an emotional conflict.

How do you ensure a proper time flow for your story?

Map it out. Draw a line on piece of paper. Write the important events that happen to your characters
along the line and then chart in seasonal bits and pieces. If your hero is
going to be gone for six months and he leaves in July, when he returns in
January the weather, food, etc. should reflect the month’s setting.

Also, remember to ground your readers by using time related
phases.

Example: There was no more to say. Jonathan’s jaw tightened.
He stalked out and slammed the door behind him. The next morning when he
returned home the entire house was empty. His life had disappeared overnight.

See the difference?

Time lines are especially important when writing a series. Not all events can happen in the season or the same year. The more books you add to a series the more confused you, the author, can become. Imagine how lost your readers would feel in your world.

Has a weak time line stopped you from finishing a book? Do you have an example to share?

How to Write in the Snow: Finding Productivity on Snow Days

How do you write in the snow? Bundle up and wrap your computer in plastic.

I am almost to the point of doing just that in order to get in my words for the day. You see – I have three kids and I live where we rarely have snow and ice. So a few inches without sand trucks and plows paralyzes my town, and we’ve just had four inches with more coming down.Snow!

The first snow day is a blast! Kids jump around like the dog chasing its tail, just for the sheer joy of seeing those fat, white flakes. Dreams of snowmen, sledding and hot coco even make my heart race. I drag out the gear, realize none of it fits anymore, and use my still exuberant mind to rig up alternatives to keep my kids somewhat warm and dry. They head out and I cup my warm mug of chai latte with a smile. Yay! A snow day!

Five minutes later, the 7yo stomps in crying because 13yo brother threw snow in her face and it’s running down her neck. I de-ice her, yell a warning to my son and send her back out into the pristine white. I sit down to write with the soft flakes falling outside my window. Ah… peace.

Fifteen-year-old daughter runs downstairs. “Five girls are coming over in half an hour to watch a movie. Don’t worry they’ll bring their own food.” She smiles like that solves everything. I nod and turn back to the computer to type my second word of the day.

Thirteen-year-old son runs in, tracking clumps of snow through the foyer. “Can Nathan come over?” He has somehow heard about the girls coming and needs to make certain life is fair.

Seven-year-old daughter runs in needing a carrot, coal (who has coal?) and licorice for a smile (my licorice is with my coal).  I improvise with a small bell pepper, broken candy cane, and two black Legos I found in the couch last night. She runs back out, and I sit down to write. I re-read the first two words of the day and type two more.

The girls show up in a babble of teen talk and laughter. I pop corn and make hot coco, because somehow a Super Mom cape sprouted from my shoulders. I warm my chai latte, re-read my four words and finish the sentence. The 7yo runs in covered with snow. I help her change, throw wet clothes in the dryer and make her some hot coco (dang Super Mom cape). She calls a friend and suddenly I count ten kids in my house.

I check e-mail, make it half-way through a response, and jump up to referee a squabble between my 7yo and 13yo. I step in a melting puddle of slush and must change socks, sending me upstairs. I realize my laundry has become a ten-foot high mountain of wet clothes and towels. I start laundry and return to my WIP, no my e-mail, oh shoot, I have to write a blog post for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood site!

“Mom! Can you bring me an apple juice so I can make a snow cone outside?” yells the 7yo as she and her friend shrug back into their still wet snow pants. I zip them both up, but tell my daughter to find her own apple juice. After all, I have a blog post to write now! I sit down and type the first sentence.

15yo – “Mom, how do I work the popcorn machine? We need more.”  “Can we make brownies?”

13yo – “Mom, can Nathan spend the night?” “Do we have anymore gloves? I lost one.”

7yo – “Mom, I can’t open the apple juice!” “Mom? Just making sure you’re still there.”

“Will this snow day ever end?!” 43yo mom who’s Super Mom cape is now limp and tattered by 12:35 PM.

A roar of glee rises from the family room. “It’s snowing again! And they’ve already called off school tomorrow!”

Sigh…another snow day.

With the winter of 2014 creating lots of snow days, those parents working at home need to figure out creative ways to get their work done. Here are a few tips for writers I’ve learned over this snow week.

  1. Write early or late. By evening, my mind is mush, so if I must write while the kiddos are sleeping, it better be early in the morning. If the schools are closed, still get up at the normal time and get in your word counts before everyone rises.
  2. Lock the Super Mom cape in your closet. If you must provide goodies, when you hear the snow prediction stock up on snacks that can be pulled from a bag. Freezer items, which can be thrown in the oven, work too.
  3. Hide! This works well if you have a lap top. I have learned to write up in my room with the door closed. The walk in closet works too if your kids are good at hide and seek.
  4. Join a writing sprint. The focused 30 minute time intervals help keep your butt in the seat, so when that Super Mom cape escapes and tries to get you in the kitchen baking brownies, you’re strapped to the chair instead. Tell yourself that once you meet your word count goal, you can fly in and be the best mom ever.
  5. Put on a movie. Now this only works if you have kids who will watch a movie and kids who can agree on a movie. But it’s worth a try. Then you employ Tip #3.
  6. If you just can’t settle down for very long to write, do other “writer” things that don’t require the concentration of creating witty dialogue and flowing narrative. I have been taking pictures for future book trailers (my first one can be seen at SIREN’S SONG Book Trailer). So when the snow came falling, I took the camera and went snapping.
    Rebirth pic??

    Rebirth pic??

    You can also update your web site, tweet, and Facebook in quick bursts of productivity. Even editing can be done between interruptions easier than writing fresh words.

  7. Don’t beat yourself up. Snow days are hard on productivity. When our routines are turned inside out, it is just really hard to get things done. Do the best you can and definitely take some time out to have hot coco with your little ones. They grow up fast, too fast. One day, snow days will be calm and productive, and I bet you will miss the days when they were not.

Kids2

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are your tips for keeping up your word count during snow days?

Guest Author Kristina McMorris: Writing Dual Timelines

TPWK_CoverI realized from the beginning writing dual timelines was going to be a challenge; I’d never before attempted to interweave past and present storylines into a single novel. Yet due to the nature of what would ultimately become my latest release, The Pieces We Keep—in which a boy’s dreams are mysteriously linked to family secrets from WWIII decided it was definitely worth a try. Among my greatest concerns, however, was that one storyline would outshine the other.

When I myself have read novels with dual timelines, frequently I’ve had to fight the urge to skim the present-day chapters to return to the historical ones. Granted, in large part this is likely due to my personal passion for tales of the past. But I also find that high stakes involving life and death are naturally inherent in most historical settings—from revolutions and world wars to times of slavery and civil rights—and can therefore easily dominate when placed directly beside current-day conflicts of familial or romantic relationships.

To overcome this obstacle, I tried to imagine which scenarios would be as devastating to me, or my character, as the harrows of wartime. My answer, as a mother, came without pause: losing my child in a tragic death, or perhaps in a battle for custody. Obviously there are many other situations that can ratchet up tension and maintain a high level of suspense, no matter the era in which they’re set.

Another challenge I encountered came from my choice to alternate the two timelines with every chapter. I am personally a huge fan of short chapters, finding it nearly impossible as a reader to put down a book when the end of the chapter is “just a few pages away,” but I realized it would be important to find a way to prevent jarring the reader. Also, since links between the two storylines in The Pieces We Keep are fed out gradually, I wanted to suggest a connection early on, without (hopefully) giving too much away.

Pieces-boardcroppedTo address both issues, and in hopes of creating a feeling of fluidity, I opted to start every chapter with a sentence that in some way echoes the last sentence of the preceding chapter. For example, one chapter would end with: “He left no proof of existence—save for the missive in her hand.” While the next chapter would begin: “A half hour later Audra sat alone on a stranger’s couch, the slip of an address still in her grip.”

Finally, another goal of mine was to immediately ground the reader in whichever era they were reading, never wanting them to feel “lost.” Date and location stamps were an obvious choice, but with more than 70 chapters in my novel, I felt these would be cumbersome and redundant (and perhaps even make the book 50 pages longer, ha). Fortunately, my publisher allowed me to use two different fonts, one for each chapter/time period. As a result, this required me to merely state the dates and locations at the start of the first two chapters. I’ve also seen this done in other novels to great effect when clarifying changes in points-of-view.

Needless to say, the tactics I’ve mentioned might not work for every book featuring dual timelines, but perhaps they’ll at least serve as options to consider while you’re brainstorming ideas for your own interwoven story!

McMorris-headshot

Thank you, Kristina, for this intriguing glance at your process.

For those who want more information, Kristina will be stopping by periodically to answer your questions, and in true Ruby fashion, will be drawing the name of one lucky commenter (Shipping costs limit this to US residents only) who will receive a signed, trade-paperback copy of The Pieces We KeepOf course, you can find all of her books at various retail outlets including Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Kristina McMorris is a critically acclaimed author published by Kensington Books, Penguin, and HarperCollins UK. Her works of fiction have garnered more than twenty national literary awards and appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her novels include Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and most recently The Pieces We Keep. Prior to her writing career, Kristina worked as a host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40″ by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on her next novel. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com

 

 

 

Ruby Release: 2 for 1 – Liz Talley and Kim Law

Ah…2014. Welcome! It’s a lovely year already, isn’t it? And I don’t say that simply because both Liz and I had a book come out yesterday. Though we did. And we both did little happy release day jigs. I suspect mine was more entertaining, though, because I did mine in my pajamas ;) Because yeah, that’s the way I roll on New Year’s Day. Or maybe that only happened because I was doing revisions all day. Way to start the year off right, huh? (Insert sarcastic eye roll here.)  

So anywho…since I was neck deep in a pile of mess I’m not sure I can write myself out of, I asked Liz to start us off for our release day celebration. We’re going to play a game. But first, Liz will talk just a bit about voice (because that feeds into the game). And then we’ll give examples from our latest books and you all will play “Guess the Author.” And of course we’ll finish up with blurbs and pretty new covers. Because we do have pretty new covers. The kind that make people do little release day jigs. :D

So Liz, please tell us about voice…

Happy Holidays from The Story Masters!

In early November, I gave myself an early holiday gift: a four-day writing workshop with The Story Masters!

I mean, COME ON. Look at this instructor lineup! And within a 50 mile drive of where I live?! I was SO there.

Though I highly recommend everyone experience this awesome workshop for themselves – the next scheduled session is Feb. 5-8, 2014, in Atlanta! -  (CORRECTION: 2015! Thanks, Anne Marie!) I thought I’d provide an early gift to our readers by passing along some of the tips and exercises I took away from each instructor.

Present1From Christopher Vogler, author of “The Writer’s Journey”:

While taking us through an in-depth explanation of The Hero’s Journey, Vogler advised the following:

TIP:   As you write, preserve your awareness of your “spark”: “Why did I feel compelled to write this story again?”

TIP:   Remember cause and effect. Each scene should cause the next. The next scene has to be written for a reason.

TIP:   If you have to choose, it’s better for language to be clear than be poetic.

EXERCISE:   Distill your story down to one word. (Romance writers, “love” is too easy. Dig deeper.) This word is probably your primary theme.

From James Scott Bell, author of “Plot & Structure” and “Conflict & Suspense”:  Present2

On Day Two, Bell used Vogler’s Hero’s Journey material as a jumping off point to provide us with more information about – as you might guess! – plot, structure, conflict and suspense.

EXERCISE:   Getting to know your characters:

<CHARACTER NAME> is a/an <ADJECTIVE><NOUN> who has to <WHAT><BECAUSE>

Example: Scarlett O’Hara is a southern belle who has to fight to save her home during the Civil War because if she loses her home, she’ll be dependent upon others for her existence, and never a woman of strength or substance.

EXERCISE:   What would cause your character to throw a chair through a window?

EXERCISE:   Describe your character’s best and worst days.

EXERCISE:   Your character has been unjustly imprisoned. What childhood memory do they escape to in order to comfort themselves?

EXERCISE:   Have your villain explain to a jury why they’re right. (This exercise forces you as the writer to get in their head and on their side.)

EXERCISE:   What happened to your villain at age 16 to explain why he or she is the way they are today?

Present3From Donald Maass, author of “Writing the Breakout Novel” and “Writing 21st Century Fiction”:

Ooh, the collective shudder that went through the room when people walked in on Day Three and noticed there was no projector or PowerPoint presentation! Maass promised we’d write a lot, and dive deep and sometimes uncomfortably while doing so. Maass more than held up his end of the bargain, starting the day off with some provocative words about writing goals. Paraphrasing:

Goals can get in our way. When you feel all caught up in deadlines, word count, page count, and meeting agent/editor/reader expectations, STOP. Ask yourself, why do I do this? What am I trying to say? What matters in the end is not that you made your daily word count, but that you told a compelling story. THAT’S the goal. Remember?

So, when you sit down to write, ask yourself: what do I want my readers to feel today? Dial into the emotional experience you want to convey.

TIP:   Access your own emotional life to make your characters’ emotional lives more vivid. Mine those emotions and assign them to your protagonist.

EXERCISE:   Name an emotion (such as fear.) Remember a time when you experienced that emotion – vividly. What happened, and when? (Time of day, setting, etc.) Choose one specific physical detail. What was it about the scenario that made you feel most <EMOTION>? What did you feel that you didn’t expect to feel? (free write 5 minutes)

EXERCISE:   How can I wreck my hero’s journey so badly that I have to revise or rewrite? (Imagine the gasps of horror when Maass said this!) According to Maass, daring to do this can result in stronger, more surprising, more dramatic stories – which he, as an agent, would dearly love to see.

EXERCISE:   Give yourself an additional 30 pages on top of your current manuscript length. What else could happen if you extended the story’s timeline? Might it be more interesting than what you currently have?

DAY FOUR BONUS! We spent a full day analyzing To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter by chapter! With clips from the movie. Absolutely AWESOME.

In closing: So much of the Story Masters workshop focused on deep character knowledge and conveying  emotional authenticity. All three instructors urged us to mine our own lives for material. Talk about writing what we know! ;-)

I hope you find some of these tips and writing prompts as revelatory as I did. This class was definitely the gift that will keep on giving, for years to come!

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_200pxDo any of these tips or exercises resonate with you? Will any be helpful as you explore your own work?

Everyone brave enough to give one of these exercises a try here on the blog will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of my Oct. 2013 paranormal romance, TEMPT ME, in their choice of available formats. 

Best of luck – and best of writing! 

 

TEMPT ME:  Print | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | iBooks  | ARe | Smashwords | Createspace
 Gift box images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

 

It is Better to Have Loved and Lost…

So I’ve had this love affair with grammar ever since I can remember. In school, I relished writing research papers and making sure the punctuation and sentence structure were just right. I cherished being able to tell the difference between an adjective and an adverb. I loved the way sentence diagrams looked laid out on the page. How orderly my little world seemed. Everything had its place. I made good grades, because I always tried to follow the rules. If I wasn’t sure of something, I could go to my trusty little grammar book and look it up.

Then I started writing for fun. I wrote manuscripts, entered contests, and picked up six critique partners along the way. And almost overnight, my world became a messy place. Why? Because the rules that once governed my writing, no longer applied—at least not as rigidly as they once did. So I’m here to mourn the loss of seven of my favorite rules:sad punctuation

  1. The semicolon. Oh how I loved this little punctuation mark. Joining two independent clauses was once so easy. Just slip a semicolon between them and voila! The first manuscript I wrote was riddled with semicolons…well, maybe not riddled, but it certainly had more than its fair share.
  2. The word that. When I was in school, I learned that an indirect quotation was always set off by this particular word. He said that I needed to finish my homework by tomorrow. I entered my first writing contest years ago and was in for a shock. Almost every instance of the word that had a strike mark through it. I couldn’t believe it. I went to several online groups and vented my outrage. And I found out the judge was right. When writing fiction, the word that causes a reader to slow down rather than glide over the prose. So I waved goodbye to my much used friend.
  3. Never start a sentence with a conjunction. Okay, I admit I’ve embraced the breaking of this particular rule a little too well. My CPs often have to rein me in when it comes to starting sentences with ands, buts, or ors. I love them. To me, starting a sentence with a conjunction makes for a smooth passage from one thought to another. But (hee hee, see what I did there?) they really should be used in moderation.
  4. The colon. I actually still use this punctuation mark, and my editor leaves them in! I think the colon has now taken the place of my beloved semicolon, since I can get away with sneaking them in from time to time.
  5. The lowly comma. <big sigh> How many of you remember the thousand and one rules for comma usage? I can remember looking these up in my grammar book to make sure I put that comma in just the right spot. I loved the comma desperately (notice the forbidden use of the adverb in this sentence). But now? I’m a comma minimalist. No more debates about the serial comma. No more making sure each comma placement is just so. I want my readers to be able to drift through my story without putting them through an obstacle course of punctuation marks. Except when the tone changes or I’m writing romantic suspense. Then I use commas to make the writing a little more jagged or to make the reader push harder to get through certain passages. I still love how this little mark can change the tone and flavor of sentences. I just don’t follow all the rules anymore.
  6. Sentence fragments. Yep. I’m now guilty of throwing a single word onto the written page, plunking a period after it, and calling it done. I can remember when that would have earned me a big red circle and an I.S. notation (incomplete sentence). This is another one that should be used in moderation (and I tend to sprinkle them a bit too liberally). When used correctly, the sentence fragment can make a big impact on your story.
  7. A paragraph must have at least three sentences. Maybe this rule isn’t in effect any longer (yes, I’m that old), but when I was in school, this rule was a biggie. I often sat in my seat grabbing at any random sentence and sticking it into my paper just so I could call a paragraph a paragraph. Oh how my little world has changed. There are times in my books when I have a paragraph that consists of a single word. There’s always a flicker of guilt when I hit that enter key afterwards, but I somehow manage to live with the shame.

So that’s my list. How about you? Are there any grammar rules you’ve left behind and wished you hadn’t? Or do you find ways to have your cake and eat it too? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think breaking the rules should be an excuse for sloppy writing. As the old saying goes…you have to know the rules before you can break them. I admit I do miss the days when everything was cut and dried. I still tend to be a rule follower in real life, which creates a dilemma for me when I write. But <insert evil laugh at conjunction usage> I now tend to just shrug and move on to my next sentence fragment.

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The Latest Comments

  • Anne Marie Becker: Thanks for the summary, Vivi. I like the changes and may consider entering again this year. After...
  • Stephanie Scott: I retweeted a ton from Sarah’s workshop. Her, and her blogs, insight is so valuable.
  • Stephanie Scott: Additionally, I saw on the RWA site that the newly proposed YA definition was accepted, which adds a...
  • Jacqueline Floyd: Good information, Vivi! All good changes. It will never be perfect, and there will always be...
  • Stephanie Scott: I think dropping high/low is a good idea. I’ve done enough contests now where I’ve seen...

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