Writer’s Vacation

Vacations are time to refresh, recharge and renew ideas especially if it includes getting away from regular schedule and familiar spot.  Open your creative vision to new experiences.

Vacations are great for new perspectives and gathering plethora of material to be used in future (or maybe current) manuscripts.  Add to your repertoire of examples of behavior, snippets of phrases, slang and if you are lucky, add to your list of story ideas.

Certainly, one of my favorite activities is people watching and vacations hand the writer more settings and more characters to observe. What differences can you detect about body language, what terms or slang?  Use you eyes and ears for materials for future or maybe even current stories.

Being in a new area opens opportunities to add to our knowledge of others and add to our sight, smell.  ( See last summer’s blogs about adding smells, sounds, tastes to your writing)

Dining out is perfect.  Study those around you. How do they order? What is their tone of voice. Do they change their minds? What do they do with the menu as they order? Tap it on the counter, wave it as they talk, clean their nails on the menu edges, slide it on the table.  What does that show about that person’s personality?  How do they treat the waiter or waitress? As they wait for their order,  do they look around, immediately go to the phone screen?

If you are close enough, eavesdrop on conversations.  Do others pass the time  bland chit-chat? If you can’t hear, what does the body language show about the tone?

An author is gathering invaluable material for setting up your characters.  If conversation at that table is tense, but the table does want to attract attention, how do they behave? Who is the tensest at that table? How do you know? How is that revealed?

Maybe nearby at another table is a celebration. From the body language as well as “things’ around the table and the dress of those attending, what the group is celebrating? How do they show joy? Anticipation?  Maybe anxiety?  Is there anyone there who doesn’t’ want to be there?  How do you know that? How could you describe a person’s smile?  How does someone laugh?  How could you compare two people laughing at that table?  This is all “workout exercises” for future characters.

If you are with your family on vacation, get them involved.  What does your spouse see or hear around him?  Not only will he likely see things you missed, but also this is giving you “other gender” point of view. (Please feel free to change the gender of any of those in my examples.)  Little kids fidget but are aware of their surroundings. Get your kids involved.   Whom do they notice at another table? What attracts their attention?

Listen to their conversation and file it.  Conversation rhythms differ with age group and gender. Pay attention to children, grandchildren at your table and the tables around you.

If you have a twelve-year old character in a manuscript, look for a twelve year to observe to use as a mode.  Can’t tell if anyone near you is twelve? H-m-m, you need to add to your knowledge. If you can’t tell ages by observing others, look up in parenting books descriptions about each age. THEN go to a mall, a sporting event to watch kids.  Be careful with this. You don’t want to be mistaken for a stalker.—-that would lead to a whole different book….

Vacations are meant for rest and relaxation, but it can also be a fun gathering of material as well.  Have a relaxing, fun and productive vacation!

 

I will be adding my observations as I enjoy my Maine vacation.

 

 

 

Vacation time can be a harvest of new ideas and new views.   Keep your eyes and ears open and see what you can add to your cache of character mannerisms.

 

Stay tuned to next vacation entry.

 

 

 

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Vacations and wonderful bookstores

Vacation time is time to explore—bookstores!   

As we travel, I visit as many independent bookstores as is possible Prior to leaving, I Google independent bookstores along the way .  Each bookstore has a personality and atmosphere.

I like to browse and see how each differs and what books each offers.  What books are highlighted?  How is it physically arranged?   What is the atmosphere –friendly, inviting? Scholarly and enlightening?

Do they have coffee?  Ok, I am a coffee addict.  Sitting with a cup of coffee and watching the clientele and clerks/owners interact is relaxing and stimulating at the same time. ( no, not just because I am getting my caffeine high.)

Of course, one reason for my interest is the connecting element of my WIP series is an independent bookstore, Readers’ Haven Book Shoppe.  The working title for the series is Reader’s Haven Books.

Two of my favorite bookstores I have discovered on vacations are: Bookstacks in in Bucksport, Maine and Cape Atlantic Book Company in Cape May, New Jersey.

My first book, Stranger to Love, was set in Trenton, Maine.  I had an author visit/book signing event at Bookstacks.   The staff is helpful and friendly.  The atmosphere invites you to sit and read or browse and savor their choices.   The best part of the visit was I met Tess Gerritson.  She sat next to me and chatted.  WOW! Oh and yes, they have great coffee.

Cape May, New Jersey is a picturesque shore town with enchanting village of stores, shops and restaurants.  The main promenade, which attracts many, many visitors,  has a wide promenade through the center of the stores.  Cape  Atlantic Book Company is compact upstairs shop along that promenade.  The owner caters and features local authors.  An entire section, in an eye-catching spot, has all the local authors books. Beneath each book is a short blurb. Great to attract attention. If you ask the owner about the author or a book, he has additional quirky info which compels you to look at the books.

I try to buy something in each independent store.   (This assures my friends and families get books for holidays and birthdays.)

What is your favorite bookstore? What attracts you to a bookstore?

 

 

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Women’s Fiction is……

JUST WHAT IS WOMEN’S FICTION?

“The” exclusive, all-encompassing classification of Women’s Fiction has been debated, discussed and defined in a variety of blogs, book clubs, writing classes and writers’ groups.(Once you get started with alliteration, it just flows; I was an English teacher, I love the sound.) Stating that it is fiction about women and by women is minimalistic and misleading. (Sorry, again)

Women’s Fiction does have a strong female protagonist. She may not know she is strong or that strength may be tested, but she is a woman for whom the reader cheers and cares for.

Changes and decision-making are a major aspect of WF. Most follow some sketchy facet of Vogler’s’s character journey. Some event or person takes the protagonist out of her comfort zone, makes her rethink her position, role or path and at the end of the story, she is different. One critical part is the change must occur after SHE makes a decision or decisions, which causes the change in her. No one can direct her to whom she should be, no one can choose her path. That’s one of the elements I like best about WF; the woman is in control of her path.

“Change” is necessity and usually part of the Women’s Fiction definition. “Change” is a constant in a woman’s life. (Irony there) Career changes, marriage, birth of child, loss of a lover, changes in location all create waves to unbalance any one’s ship. It’s usually the women who stabilizes that boat.

Usually romance is part of the story as well. I like romance; I write romance, but I like the place of romance in WF. Love makes everyone’s life easier so I can’t imagine writing a book without a romantic interest. In WF, it doesn’t have to be paramount and the book t doesn’t have to end in marriage or two people riding off in the sunset together. I like that. It makes the ending less predictable; the reader can imagine the “happily ever after.”

For the best part of WF has layers of complications. Besides the protagonist’s journey and the intricacies of a romance, WF also usually has an added plot line some element which gives an added depth. Often WF has an added thread maybe a serious illness such as Alzheimer’s, mental illness or alcoholism.

It’s one of the reasons I like to read WF and write WF. I like character-driven novels (with a little love/romance) and a complication/issue, which makes the reader think long after the last page. As the author, this is fun—what can you add, twist to change the MC’s life so she ends up where she didn’t expect to be—and she finds a new strength, a new look at her world.

In Levels of Truth, Caroline inherits a house from her adoptive mother. This shakes up her world, she thought she was close to Annabelle, her adoptive mother, but she didn’t know her mother owned the house nor that Annabelle visited yearly. Caroline learns she was born in the house, which raises questions? What secrets was Annabelle hiding? What is the connection to the house? And of course, what causes the changes in Caroline’s thinking, what choices does she have to make? And of course, there is a romantic interest……Just imagine.

There is also WF-Book Club fiction. Are your eyeballs rolling? Women’s Fiction with an added issue or topic easily fits into Book Club. Book Club fiction needs controversy, a social issue to foster discussion. If everyone likes the characters and all their actions—there is no discussion. I am a member of two book clubs and moderate another. If everyone thinks the book is great, they would have made the same choices as the main character—then it is a night of wine-drinking, snack-eating and members’ storytelling—not discussing the book. (sometimes nights like that are needed in book clubs.) If a reader questions—how would I have handled that? Would I have done that differently or if the reader has strong opinions of joint custody or care for the homeless, THEN the book club has a rousing discussion.

Romance, Women’s Fiction, Book club fiction have fine lines of separation. If you are unsure where your book fits, check out NJRW (New Jersey Romance Writers) definitions of romance, check out WFWA (Women’s Fiction Writers Association) for good definitions and shades of meaning.   Also, check out Scott Eagan’s Babbles blog for his definitions of romance, WF and romance. Good, clear comparisons of each. I have used his comparisons in my writing classes and a book group.

As I am editing, I am well-aware of needs of a book club. I create discussion questions for each book as I write.  I write Women’s Fiction. I love tracing a women’s journey of self-discovery.

Do you write or read Women’s Fiction? How would you define this genre? Who are your favorite WF authors?

 

Reece Writing

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WIP-Writer in Pursuit…of a dream. AGENT SEARCH

logo only JRBWIP Writer in Pursuit—of a dream: THE AGENT

Part of my pursuit involves finding the right agent. That is a journey all in itself.

So why an agent now? My first two romance novels and my children’s books were published by “small publishing houses” without an agent. I had decided if I were to pursue a writing career, I needed to know more about publishing. Choosing that path assured I had to be more actively involved and I learned a great deal especially from my Lyrical Press editor, Mary Murray.

Now with the series, I want to follow a more traditional route and that requires the skills and expertise of an agent. Yes, writers can do it all—find a publisher, set up marketing goals, but I found with the first two books, I am lacking some skills to be successful and I don’t have the same knowledge as an agent.

Agents who have worked in the publishing industry—either as interns or editors or agents—know better how to present material and to what publishers. Agents have spent time with publishers; have polished skills that I have not. I don’t talk with publishers regularly, I have not fine-honed negotiating skills.

I am looking for a long-term collaborative relationship with an agent. I need an agent’s skills; the agent needs a marketable book.

THE SEARCH: My how-to

Many resources are available about agents. Find the ones you are comfortable with, find helpful and start your lists. I read Publishers Lunch , Book Notes, Poets & Writers as well as New York Times Book Review and RT to check out what’s written, who is writing what and what’s a good read.

WFWA has an agents’ list, RWA has resources, 1000 agents list and Karen Fox has a list. Check out Agent Query and Query Tracker, Publishers’ Marketplace and of course, Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents. Search your resources and find the agents who represent what you write!. This is critical. If they don’t want romance and yours has romantic elements, look for someone else. Compile a list of possibilities.

Janet Reid and I exchanged retorts about Jack Reacher and a few emails followed. I love Janet’s sense of humor and her dedication to writers and publishing.(She spends a lot of hours advising writers who aren’t hers.) If she is that dedicated to so many writers, can you imagine how she is with authors she represents?) Alas, she doesn’t represent WF. Alas, I can’t help her find Jack.

I search multiple sites available for locating agents, and then I read interviews, blogs and articles. What do there authors say about them? Are they mentioned in authors’ dedication/acknowledgements?  What does he/she indicate is ideal client in blogs or interviews? Agent-Author is a give-n-take relationship. In addition to the obvious question, do they represent WF, the next most important question is: Is this someone with whom I could work?

One of my favorite spots is #MSWL. Authors, agents, editors comments in rapid without boundaries. Better feel for the author in blogs and twitter than interviews. An agent who professes, “I love my job, family…” gets my attention faster than answers in a prescribed interview. I have been researching, reading blogs, pursuing Twitter and compiling my lists.

I also attended a webinar on pitches to agents and recognized two methods of finding an agent—the selective or broadcast. Sending out 40-100 queries to me is writing career sabotage. I want an agent who fits my needs and I match his or her interests. It is a professional relationship; I don’t have to be buddies, but I am looking for someone I can work with for years. And the agent is selling me—not just a product, my book. I am not a one book author.

I have tiers of agents. Have I sent out to agents already? Yes. Probably before, I should have. I had two rejections that passed each other in cyber space. I had two letters, which detailed why not. They didn’t want to commit, but they had read the book—or most of it. The comments were helpful. Hence, maybe I should have waited to send out. Lesson learned.

I have taken two “classes” on query, synopsis and first ten pages. I have worked again with my critique partner and am pleased with improvements in letter and especially the dreaded, diabolical one-page synopsis. I have my list of agents–the five I am really interested in working with.

And so it begins. Stay tuned and I will keep you posted on my quest for an agent. Is it scary? Yes. Exciting, yes. Frustrating? That most of all, I am preparing the letters. One will sit in my draft box until the agent returns from vacation.

In the meantime, I am writing book two of the series, Swept Away.

Are you searching for an agent? What are your steps? If you have an agent, what was your journey? If you are an agent, any advice? What are you looking for?

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The death of the bookstore is premature

“A room without a book is like a body without a soul.”  Cicero

My children swear I can “sniff out a bookstore with a 50 mile radius.”  Perusing libraries,bookstores, or the bookshelves in another person’s home are favorite pastime.

Our town is lucky enough to have it’s own book shop to look for a good book, find books on a reading list, sit and chat or just hang out and drink coffee or lemonade. I do all of the above.

Bogart’s Bookstore is the place for members of the community to gather. Bogart’s supports local artists. Every weekend, local musicians set up guitars, sitars, keyboards and serenade browsers.  Amy, the owner, zealously supports local authors with book signings, readings, and prominent displays. She knows her customers’ tastes and often recommends a book or even a music CD. She is a master of helping browsers find “just the right one.”

The children’s section bright primary colors and the placement of beanbag chairs invite a child to nestle in and page through a picture book or sort through a pile of books to find one to buy.

The store is a book exchange. You can bring in used books to exchange for credit to buy used books or new books. The shop carries both.  My husband loves the store. According to him, our house tilts to one side because of all our bookcases overflowing with books.  He is glad to see a bag or a box of books ready to go to Bogart’s.

Keep in mind, I own a Kindle and have thousands stored on it.  I love the Kindle at the beach, on vacation or whenever I have to wait at the store, the doctor’s office the airport.  BUT I also have a stack of books next to my bed to read as well.

Bogart’s Books is wonderful spot in the community. It was the inspiration for my Women’s Fiction single title series.  A community bookstore is the connecting element. In the first book, Levels of Truth, Caroline, enters Reader’s Haven to look for just the “right book.” Her life is soon intertwined with those in that bookstore.

Despite the media hype, the demise of bookstore is not eminent. Bookstores kindle a love of books, nurture a sense of community and support artists. If you are lucky, your town has its own bookstore. Go buy a book.

Where is your favorite place to browse for books?

 

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Gardening and Writing

“The fair weather gardener, who shall do nothing except when the wind and weather are favorable, will never master his craft.”

Gardening takes persistent and patience and a willingness to get your hands and fingers dirty as you dig in to eliminate weeds and encourage plants.  If you only go out on warm days and dabble in the backyard, you won’t produce a plentiful, abundant garden.

The same thought applies to writing as well. If you only write when inspiration hits and wording flows, you won’t master your craft.

Writing takes the same persistence, patience and hard work. Sometimes the writer needs to sit at your desk and fight your way past that blank page.  Some days, you have to spend long stretches editing just as the gardener has to spend hours weeding.

 

 

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Water, water everywhere–I hope!

WATER

Currently, I am reading Blue Mind: The Science That Shows how Being Near In On or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier More Connected and Better At What You Do. Certainly, the subtitle alone would catch my attention. It is not what I usually pick up, but the foreword is written by Celine Cousteau, Jacques Cousteau’s granddaughter.

I do feel better, happier and healthier when I am near water. In my teens, I was fortunate to be part of Mystic Seaport’s Training Program.  I spend one summer, living at Mystic on the Joseph Conrad. The following summer, I was part of the crew which sailed the Brilliant, a 52-foot schooner up and down the coast. I fell in love with the sounds and smells of the ocean.  Water is my inspiration and my serenity.

I moved to New Jersey as an adult and live within a half-hour of the Jersey shore. I kayak rivers, lakes in New Jersey and also rivers and lakes in Maine.  We vacation in Maine and I always find a place on the water for our stay.

Beautiful morning in MaineMy best writing is completed near the water. The idea for my first book, Stranger To Love, was sparked sitting on a bay in Maine. I started writing it while staring at a boulder in Frenchman Bay. The setting of If You Dare, my second novel, was the Jersey shore.Last summer on our trip to Jonesport, Maine, I wrote the beginning for my second book in my WF series, Swept Away.

The background for Swept Away is wrath of Hurricane Sandy both during the hurricane and the devastating aftermath.  Although my family was only slightly affected by the wrath of Sandy, many of my friends’ lives were dramatically altered by that hurricane.  The main character in that book questions the beauty of the ocean and the beaches after she survives the hurricane’s assault. It was a theme expressed repeatedly by friends who lost property, houses and precious belongings after Sandy’s visit.

Rivers, oceans, lakes have two sides: the pastoral, serene as well as the angry, destructive.  I crave time on the water and love the ocean during any season. To add to my obsession, my husband created a video of Sea Isle, New Jersey ocean—just the water and to sounds to provide background when I write (Yes, he is my romantic hero!)

What about you? Are you blessed enough to live near the ocean or another body of water?  How important is living or vacationing near water to you?

IMG_0132 kayak

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I AM A GARDENER–and a writer

I love digging and playing in the dirt. It has always been a way to relax and has provided me with time to mull over my story conflicts and character development.My love for gardening was planted by my father. As a child, I helped sow seeds, pull weeds and bring in the harvest as soon I was old enough to trail after him.

I invested in my own property and the compunction to plant took over. Initially, I didn’t have enough space or sunlight to start a vegetable garden so I planted flowers.Now, we have a corner lot. All of it is edged in flowers. I don’t need a gym membership in the spring—with all the weeding, mulching and digging take care of the cardio and strengthening exercise!

I mutter about the raking and the mulching,IMG_1636  but I love getting everything ready and anticipating the burst of spring color.

Right now it’s easy to be the passionate gardener—my garden are bursting with color. Each day a rose or daisy or   adds another hues to the mix.

spring gardenIn the mornings, I meander around the edges of property to survey the flowers of all the labor (oh come on, they can’t be the “fruits of my labor”—they’re flowers!) Just as my father got the smug, satisfaction of the worth of digging in the earth.  I love it.

That feeling will disappear in a few weeks as I spend my mornings deadheading and weeding not enjoying the smell and colors of the many roses bushes circling the yard.  Then I mutter about too many rose bushes and why do I plant so many flowers…but that is for another blog.

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Home–What image comes to mind?

HOME

My women’s fiction novel, Levels of Truth, begins with the simple word, “Home.” A very emotive word, which often generates images and memories. What picture first enters your mind?

Although I have lived most of my adult life in New Jersey, “home” evokes the image of a white frame house in Brecksville, Ohio—my home from birth to age fifteen.We had acres of property, a woods 2 miles deep behind us, a dairy farm down the street and a small apple orchard in the side yard.

House Yes, I was an Ohio hayseed. I had woods in which to hide, reflect and plot my first book. (One written about horses at age 10) I picked blackberries with my father and helped him seed and harvest an acre garden.Our apple orchard became a refuge—I climbed trees stretched out on a limb accordingly  so I could escape chores and read uninterrupted.

Sunny KingI rode horses, competed in horse shows, was a member of 4-H. Also, I wrote an article for Horse and Show Journal, a tri-state horse newspaper and was hired as a staff writer. Later, the editor discovered I was fifteen.  He became my first writing mentor teaching me about “the hook,” writing deadlines and sentence structure.

The newest National Park, Cuyahoga Valley, is in Brecksville and is also a place where I played.  I want to go back, explore the National Park and kayak the Cuyahoga River (currently it is not open for kayaking, but I can hope.)

Ohio is still part of my heart.

.To our children, “home” brings images of our Vineland house. The house, built in 1862, had “friendly spirits,” a large backyard, a scary attic, a library with a fireplace surrounded by floor to ceiling bookshelves and a huge family kitchen.  All have memories of hide-and-seek, constant renovations and repairs (old house!), large parties, and plenty of space for a big family.

What about you? What comes to mind with the word, “Home?” Does one place still have a piece of your heart? What is home for your main character? How does your character react to “home?”  What clues could you plant to show how your character’s childhood home influenced him or her?

In Levels of Truth, Caroline returns to the house in which she was born.  Her personal journey centers on her definition of home and family

 

 

 

 

 

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Writers Toolbox: Taste

“A writer needs three things: experiences, observation and imagination, any two of which, at times, any one of which, can supply the lack of others.” William Faulkner

OBSERVATION: TASTE    Using taste as a descriptor can be challenging. If your m.c is a chef or a foodie, it is an easy tie-in, but taste adds to the reader’s understanding.

What if your character has never tasted fresh crab? What if the reader has never had crab or lobster and it is a part of the main character’s life.  The author needs to think of fresh waves to let the reader experience that taste.  The taste can apply to buffalo, wasabi or crunchy tarantulas. Maybe these tastes bring back memories to the m.c.

So-o, here’s an easy, fun writing research moment. Go on a tasting adventure with co-operative friends or better yet, your writing group. The possibilities are endless and oh, so savory.  Go to a restaurant and each order something different, share a portion with each person and then think of the best, accurate description.  What could you compare that flavor to? How can you write a description so the flavor drips off the reader’s tongue?

Or take a group to a street fair or county fair and sample the variety of foods available and think of ways to include it in a story.

If you live near a city like Philadelphia, which still has ethnic neighborhoods with shops and small grocery stores, go spend an afternoon walking around.  Philly’s Italian market is overwhelming with smells of garlic, rosemary, olive oil as well as sights and sounds of varied dialects both from Italy and around the world.  Where could you go in your area to get a different flair for meals?

No, you cannot go on a writer’s tasting adventure every week, you would soon be too heavy to fit in your writing chair, but it is inspiring to take a different way to do research. Other sources, you can look into (without the danger of overeating) are magazines.  Read the cigar descriptions in  Cigar Aficionado. You may not want to have your character smoking a cigar, but the authors are very creative in describing a cigar’s smell and taste. You can learn from their style.  Check out food or travel magazines as well especially if you need descriptions of foods from distant places. You can’t always jump on a plane and fly to ??to savor and detail their cuisine.

Watch Andrew Zimmer’s Bizarre Foods. He is descriptive and creative in his descriptions of what bugs taste and feel like as he crunches them down.  His description and details about the cooking and eating of guinea pigs made me run from the room.

Yum, exploring and labeling flavors can be a fun adventure. When can you use it?  A character experiences a new taste, which connects him to the setting.  A flavor triggers a memory which helps define him. Tasting can be very sensual.

Use it to build tension in a scene. Where can you use it to set up the atmosphere or add a taste of background?

Use tastes to add to character development, provide background to a setting, and certainly, to spark a reader’s interest.

Tune in next Wednesday to explore the next sense–touch. Oh-h so exciting! No, it is not just for romance writers.  Stay tuned….

 

 

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