THE BIG WHY
First off, stop asking yourself why. The best piece of advice I’ve ever received, first heard from David Morrell at the Oklahoma Writers Federation conference in Oklahoma City.
Believe me, you’ll never find the reason or make sense as to why the stories in your head are in your head. I’ve wasted too much time pondering that question. The ideas come from so many parts of you: your childhood memories, those kids that made fun of you, the people you know who made an impact good or bad, the places you’ve lived, your life today. It’s all there in your stories.
When I added fiction writing to my job related and freelance work about 15 years ago, I had envisioned becoming a romance writer. My goals were to sign with an agent and attend the Romance Writers of America conference every year. I’m a huge fan of romances, and most of my author friends write romance. It stands to reason that I’d be cranking those stories out on a regular basis.
The stories in my head were not romance.
The characters that interrupted my dreams were young people, most often from the past. More specifically in the old West. I remember being fascinated with history, the Oregon Trail, and the old West from an early age, but I never imagined I’d be crafting novels set in that time period.
WWA is the West
I attended the Western Writers of America convention in Lubbock, Texas several years ago. This is a diverse group, with songwriters, poets, historians, museum archivists, writers of nonfiction and fiction, editors, agents, musicians, and newbies and veteran authors.
As a first-time attendee and new member, I didn’t expect to make many connections. I listened to a panel of New York City authors share facts about The Alamo that I’d never heard before. Songwriters and talented musicians shared their gift of music every night in the Roundup Room. A panel on writing about the Comanche Nation included great-grandsons of the great chief Quanah Parker! I met the lady who would become my editor, and now she is my co-author.
Here’s what I learned during this amazing week: these people don’t worry about the WHY.
They endlessly research the subjects they love. They write about the people and the places that burn a hole in their gut. A writer writes. So now I’m writing a book about chuckwagons and a new Christian fiction series set on a Texas ranch. Neither are romance novels, but I stopped questioning the why years ago.
FIND YOUR PEEPS
Whatever you feel driven to write, I encourage you to seek out like-minded people. Join a writer’s group, read your work aloud and listen to the input. Attend a conference, preferably relating to your genre. Introduce yourself and ask someone, “what do you write?” More than likely they will return the question.
Feed your knowledge about this business. Attend workshops or take online classes about characterization, writing a killer query letter, publishing your book on IngramSpark – these are all goals you can achieve.
Stop questioning the why.
“What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?” HENRY JAMES
As David Morrell reminds us in his book LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING, plot and character are intimately related. Every character that comes on scene has interaction with your main character and will establish a relationship with that main character. Your protagonist will interact with each of those minor characters in some way, and their actions and dialogue move the plot along. Is that relationship from the past or a new one? (Be sure to add Morrell’s book to your writing reference library.)
According to E. M. Forster, main characters are multidimensional. They surprise us, they are complex, and they are difficult to describe succinctly. They are defined by who they are.
The iceberg theory is a style of writing coined by American writer Ernest Hemingway. “The dignity of the movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above the water”. Same is true for characters and their stories. What is obvious to the reader implies a much larger truth and depth. That is why the majority of your character profile will never appear in your story, but you know your characters intimately. As one workshop instructor explained, the writer should know what is in the main character’s closet.
What does your character want, and what obstacles can you throw in their way to prevent them from achieving that goal?
Most Memorable Books 2015
New York Times Bestselling author Jodi Thomas tells her students to set aside time to write every day, and that reading works by other writers is just as important. Just as we can recognize the musical strains of jazz or bluegrass or hip hop, so too must writers be able to recognize and learn from reading brilliant prose.
Here are a few of my most memorable reads of the past year:
RANSOM CANYON by Jodi Thomas. (Harlequin) Not because she’s a local Amarillo author and a friend, but because she’s done it again with this new series set in the heart of Texas. The cast of characters in the world of West Texas ranching makes for good entertainment.
WHITE STALLION OF LIPIZZA by Marguerite Henry. (Aladdin) Engaging story about a boy’s dream to work with the world famous Lipizzaner horses. Many of Marguerite Henry’s books have been reissued for today’s readers. It is my deepest inspiration to be able to write with as much emotion and clarity as Ms. Henry. At first glance they seem like simple stories, but as writers we can appreciate the complexities of her talent.
FIRST BLOOD by David Morrell. (Hachette Book Group) In 1982 Rambo hit the big screen. I have to admit that I was over my crush by Movie #3, but now my boys are huge fans. I heard the “father of Rambo” speak at a writers conference and he signed two copies of FIRST BLOOD for my boys. They were so thrilled with his autograph, they refused to loan me a book to read and I had to settle for an eBook version. The writing blew me away. It’s a vivid, often times violent tale, with a great lesson in how to write suspense. I’m forever more a huge fan of Mr. Morrell.
GIRL ON A WIRE by Gwenda Bond. (Skyscape) Unique twist on the age old Romeo and Juliet scenario set in the fascinating grit of a traveling circus. The tight wire scenes are fantastic writing.
WILD RAN THE RIVERS by James Crownover. (Five Star Publishing) Told in the unique style from the point of view of a young women and her young brother, their story pulls you in from the beginning. The imagery of the old west proves a well-researched historical story. I love books that make we want to learn more about the time period and place. The scenes involving the New Madrid earthquakes (1811-1812) are edge of your seat storytelling. Well-deserved winner of two prestigious SPUR awards from the Western Writers of America for best historical and best first novel.
SAILING WITH IMPUNITY by Mary E. Trimble. (nonfiction, Shelter Graphics) Sailing the Pacific is something I can’t foresee doing in my life-time, so this book is the next best thing. If you’ve ever dreamed about sailing the high seas, you will love this book. Learn about the prefect sail boat, the preparation, maritime regulations. Experience the isolation, details of daily living, the islands, and the people. An unforgettable read.
ALL FALL DOWN by Ally Carter. (Scholastic) If you’ve ever wondered about the young adult genre, start with this one. Set in Embassy Row the main character is the grand-daughter of a powerful ambassador. Filled with a teenaged world-view of complications and angst, there’s also a mystery to be solved.
GEORGE WASHINGTON SECRET SIX by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. (Penguin Group) Another standout nonfiction book for me about “the spy ring that saved the American Revolution”. The book flap indicates that this story is based on extensive research and there’s no doubt. It inspired me to keep writing on my story idea set in pre-revolutionary times and made me realize how much more research I need to do.
TEXAS MAIL ORDER BRIDE by Linda Broday (Bachelors of Battle Creek Series). (Sourcebooks) Also from an Amarillo author and friend, this is a new series about cowboys, the old west, and sweet romance. What more could you possibly want in a story?
We’d love to know about some of your standout reads in the past year.
Thanks for following WordsmithSix!
The Writing Process
By Natalie bright
If you enjoy reading about other author’s writing process like I do, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong way. I think the main goal that will set you apart from other writers is to actually get to THE END.
Here are examples of two totally different methods that have worked for me.
Option 1: Chasing Rabbit Trails
When you look at the pasture behind my house, you can see several well-worn trails used by cotton tales and jack-rabbits. They criss-cross, head in every direction going on as far as you can see or ending at a fence or under a tree. Here’s a true confession; I find it extremely difficult to stay with one project.
With two teen boys (a senior and 8th grader) and day job demands, I’ve decided to follow the advice of Natalie Goldberg in WRITING DOWN THE BONES: go with the thing that’s burning a hole in your heart. Come to that story with fire in your gut. From novels to nonfiction magazine articles to short stories, I just write. I’ve learned to never question the idea muse and to write whenever I get the chance.
Take for example a picture book manuscript I just finished. The idea hit me as I was climbing into my husband’s pick-up truck on our way to lunch. We were talking about the kids fighting. He was explaining to me that it’s nothing unusual for brothers. As an only child, I can’t relate to how mean siblings can be to each other. I got a visual image of a picture book, as clear as if I held it in my hand. I made notes right then and there, and worked on it over the next two months. Then sent it off to my agent, who had a few suggestions. Took several more weeks to work on edits, and now it’s out in the world. Fingers crossed that it finds a home.
This process may seem crazy to some, but I am able to get things done.
Option 2: Emersion into Fictional World
The middle grade manuscript I recently finished involved a total emersion into the world of Comanche, a Plains Indian tribe that once walked the ground that is now our cattle ranch. The book began as a story about a mule skinner’s son set in the old west, but when I typed THE END it felt incomplete. Something was missing. One Saturday morning, after two hours of digging in the dirt, I found a perfectly shaped arrowhead point which reminded me that the last person who had touched that piece of flint had been a Native American. The burning in my gut turned into a Comanche brave. I had to bring Wolf’s point of view to that story.
A secondary character became a main character, and I started over with research. If words refused to come, research turned into long walks staring at a Texas sunset trying to figure out what in the heck a Comanche teenager might be thinking in 1854. This was the most difficult and most fun book I’ve ever written. Hopefully it will find a home as well.
Don’t Question the WHY!
Take the advice of David Morrell, father of Rambo and an amazing speaker; don’t question the why. He really motivated me to keep writing; no matter the rejection, no matter the crazy ideas that pop into my head, no matter that my story may never be seen by the world.
Let’s be fearless, dear writers! Follow that fire in your gut and discover where it leads. You might be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Please share your writing process. How do you stay on task until THE END?
Twitter in the New Year
By Natalie Bright
Take a look at this list of names:
McDonalds TX Panhandle
Can you tell me what this group has in common?
Give up yet?
All of these people, or place as in the McDonalds, are on Twitter and they followed me back. This is a big deal because they all have way more followers than I do. In all of these cases, I do buy their books, follow their blogs, and repost their tweets, except for McDonalds to which my teenager contributes. I believe that’s how social media works.
It’s not too late to make New Year’s Resolutions is it? I’ve decided to make an effort to be more friendly on Social Media. There’s really no reason to be snooty on Twitter. In my mind, we should all repost and retweet, and more importantly, follow back the people who follows us.
How do you determine who to follow back and who to skip over?
There are local people I know personally who did not follow me back on Twitter. If that’s you, out you go. I’ve had to unfollow a lot of you, so that I can follow back the people who are following me. It just good manners.
In 2015, I promise to be kinder, friendlier, and retweet all things bookish.
You can find Natalie on Twitter @natNKB.
Top Sixteen OWFI 2014
By Natalie Bright
Oklahoma Writer’s Federation held their annual conference this past weekend in Oklahoma City. This group always offers a diverse slate of speakers representing multiple genres and topics plus agents and editors. For more information www.owfi.org. Hope to see you in 2015!
- You can pursue regional and niche markets that the big traditional publishers ignore. JERRY SIMMONS, retired, V.P. of sales, Time Warner Book Group.
- A Fairy Tale Sampler by ELOISA JAMES, free to every OWFI attendee!
- Authors are damaged people. It’s not normal what we do. DAVID MORRELL, bestselling author, creator of Rambo.
- We don’t believe in sleep at OWFI. Be sure to attend a buzz session after the banquet. CHIRSTINE JARMOLA, 2014 OWFI President.
- Become a student of the market place. SIMMONS.
- Embrace the reasons we are doing this crazy thing. MORRELL.
- Write blogs to showcase your voice and practice your writing. HEATHER DAVIS, popular MiniVan Momma blogger and author.
- Writing has to be a real job in your head. CHRISTINE TAYLOR-BUTLER, best-selling children’s author.
- Every person has a dominate emotion. Probably it’s something that is so painful and so shameful you don’t acknowledge it. Admit it and write it. MORRELL.
- Schedule your time to write as if it’s a doctor’s appointment or part of your day job. TAYLOR-BUTLER.
- Don’t blog unless you really want to. If you’re not genuine, people will know. DAVIS.
- Don’t get your work critiqued until you know clearly what you are writing. Opinions will get you off track. TAYLOR-BUTLER.
- Keep an idea folder for newspaper or magazine clippings, articles, even junk mail—anything that sparks an idea. DARLEEN BAILEY BEARD.
- In real life, we do not address one another by our names. Don’t use them in the dialogue of your fiction. MORRELL.
- If you are serious about writing as a career, you must write two pages per day. No excuses! TAYLOR-BUTLER.
- The future will include newer, faster forms of delivery, easier forms for payment, and content will become shorter. eBooks aren’t going away. SIMMONS.