Tuesday Tips: Butt in Chair

Well, it’s my turn for Tuesday Tips, which means I get to share some tips for writing.

For those of you believe in the BIC (butt in chair) technique, raise your hand if you’ve sat in your chair for hours without advancing your story. (My hand is stretching toward the sky, by the way.)

If you’re like me, it happens about once a week, so here’s what I’ve learned: Once I’ve tried writing for at least an hour without producing much of anything (mostly writing and rewriting the same passage), I give myself permission to walk away. At first, when I started doing this, I felt guilty. I needed my BIC if I was ever going to finish this novel! But what I discovered is, I’m a lot less frustrated about writing if I don’t force myself to sit there when I’m clearly producing crap.

So…next time you get angry at yourself for not being a better writer—next time you feel bitter or frustrated about what you’re producing (or not producing)—do yourself a favor and walk away. If you’re anything like me, you’ll come back the next day fresher, more excited, and ultimately more productive.

Themed Thursday: Pantser or Plotter? Which kind of writer are you?

For those who may not know what I’m talking about here, a plotter is a writer who outlines. A pantser is a writer who flies by the seat of their pants.

Faran Fagen

Faran: I’m a little of both, outliner and panster. I plan ahead when it comes to key points (inciting event, binding point, turning point, etc.). But when it comes to writing each chapter, I easily get lost in each scene and I think that adds to the excitement and suspense of the story. Because of this spontaneity, I often have to go over each chapter when I’m finished to make sure there are no inconsistencies (sports stats, details out of order, etc.). One thing I find really helpful is to make a list of major plot points and powerful moments I know I want to include in each chapter. That way, I make sure to include those but also give myself the freedom to add in new exciting scenes as well.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: Pantser or plotter? Well, I’d like to think that, for once, I would get an easy question for Thursday, but noooooo! Truth is, I’ve done both. All my novels, I’ve insanely plotted, but for my last one, I just went with an idea and how I wanted it to end, and went with it. It was fun and freeing, but I still had the basis of the plot in my mind. I do like both methods and don’t say one is better than the other, but I will say, if you are a pantser, you better, at least, have a very good idea of how the plot should go, or you risk muddying everything up. So, my answer is both!

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: I was a pantser, and I got pretty lucky that things seemed to fall into place where they were supposed to plot-wise. I have taken to outlining some of the story, but right now the re-write I’m in the middle of, in spite of the outline, is taking its own twists and turns.  What can you do? Go with it!

Melody Maysonet

Melody: I am definitely a planner, but you know what they say: “The best-laid plans of mice and men…” My plans often go awry, so I end up writing completely different, very detailed outlines for the same book.

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: The answer to the age-old writing question, Do I outline or do I write by the seat of my pants? It’s not that simple. I sort of do a hybrid approach. I write a synopsis, blurb, and sketch out key scenes. Then I fill in the blanks as I write. Except when I write without a plan, whatsoever, just a vague feeling propelling me along. Like the one I’m working on now. Which I’m totally pants-ing. Sooo that makes me a poutliner, I guess.

Themed Thursday: Our recommended beach reads

Melody Maysonet

Melody: I just finished The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies. This isn’t a book I’d normally pick up to read (the synopsis made it seem like a historical romance), but a dear friend of mine recommended it, so I gave it a try. I didn’t want to put it down!

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: My beach read is: A Gentleman in Moscow by A. Towles. This book unfolds shortly after the Russian Revolution in a period of violent upheaval. A striking count named Alexander Rostov has been summoned and accused of writing a counter-revolutionary poem. His trial offers an indication of the count’s casual resistance to the spirit of the times. Asked to state his occupation, he answers, “It is not the business of a gentleman to have occupations.” Friends in high places keep him from being shot on the spot. He’s declared a “Former Person” and sentenced to life imprisonment in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol. The novel has more time for tea than high adventure, but it makes you appreciate what you’ve got, and those with which you can share it.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: To me, any book that I’m reading is a good beach read. I love reading by the pool or beach. Fresh air and seeing the water in the background puts you in another place, mentally. But, since we’re picking one, and I have a feeling that this will be on more than one person’s list, I’ll say Jaws. Jaws is a fun read, and what better place to read it than the beach? You’ll be peeking into the ocean every other paragraph and then be too scared to even go in! What’s more fun than that?

Faran Fagen

Faran: When I worked full-time at night in the Palm Beach Post sports department, I used to bike to Palm Beach almost every day (I didn’t report to work til 4 p.m.) Often, if I wasn’t making another lame attempt at surfing, I would take the latest Sports Illustrated magazine and read while I listened to the waves. A writer’s magazine, SI was full of colorful features, detailed profiles, and witty commentary. Some beautiful memories of reading those articles in the sand.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: A beach read for me needs to be a Janet Evanovich novel. Her Stephanie Plum series–funny mishaps of an ill-suited bounty hunter with a scintillating love triangle. Team Ranger.

Wrap-It-Up Wednesday: True Confession

Well, it’s my turn for Wrap-It-Up Wednesday, but I have a confession to make. I didn’t go to critique group this week, and not only that, I didn’t have have a real excuse other than, “I’m not in a good head space right now,” which was totally true. But it’s not like me to flake out on my obligations. (And since when is going to the Tuesdays an obligation? It’s not!)

So now I’m sitting here trying to figure out what made me not want to go to critique group this week. It’s not my writing. My book is progressing well. I think it’s because—even though I’m normally a very positive person—I’ve been feeling a little depressed, not in the clinical sense, but in the sense that, I turn 48 in a few days and today I spotted two gray hairs and I’ve been dealing with a lot of sickness and death lately.

So maybe it’s okay that I allow myself to miss a week of critique group. Or maybe I should have sucked it up and gone. Regardless, I think it’s important to realize that we all have days when we don’t feel like getting out of bed, and it’s okay. The trick (for me) is not to wallow in it for too long. I know this feeling will pass and I know in a few days I’ll be back to my positive self, plugging away on my book and feeling excited about meeting with the Tuesdays.

Fun Friday: The Joy of Writing

It’s been a long time since I felt this good about my writing. I’ve been working on my next book for going on three years, and only recently, in this, the third major rewrite, do I finally feel like the story is coming together. Plot pieces are falling into place. Character motivations are clear. Subtleties are coming out, and emotion is running high. As I type each scene, my fingers are deft on the keyboard. The words flow (mostly), and I find myself immersed in the world I’ve created.

I wish writing could always feel this good.

But it doesn’t—at least for me it doesn’t—not until I put in the hard work of writing and plotting and rewriting and re-plotting until finally, the story I want to tell emerges. I thought when I started this book that I knew what that story was, but I was wrong, and even though the story didn’t feel right when I was writing it, I still had to go through that process. I had to write crap in order to find out what the story was.

Unfortunately, this seems to be my M.O. With my first book, A Work of Art, I went through this same process. Outlining extensively, thinking I knew what the story was, only to totally re-outline and rewrite the entire book—not once, but twice. The third total rewrite ended up being the story I wanted to tell.

I’m following the same pattern with my work in progress.

I wish I were one of those writers who’s full of ideas. Maybe I am, but the ideas are lying dormant and I have to dig them out. Actually, as I write this, I realize that must be the case. Am I okay with that? I guess I have to be. Because even though I spent years painfully extracting words from my brain (knowing most of the time that they sucked), this feeling I have now—this feeling of the words flowing from my head to the page—that makes it all worth it.

E-reader or Book? What’s Your Preference?

Faran Fagen

Faran: I just love to sit in a comfortable chair and flip through the pages of a book. I love the smell of a book, the feel of the pages on my fingers, and the authentic look of the cover. Nothing’s better than rain patting the roof, a comfy chair, a cup of coffee in one hand, and a good book in the other. Not having to worry about charging the thing or other technical glitches is also a plus.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: My current favorite method is audiobooks. I download them from Broward County Library on Overdrive and listen in the car. I was in Dania for a workshop yesterday. It took me an hour to get home, but I didn’t mind. I had a great book! I also will read from an e reader on occasion, but normally, if I’m reading, it’s an actual book.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: I started reading ebooks when I ran out of space on my bookshelves. Now I’m hooked. I usually read while I’m eating or drinking coffee, and with an ebook, you can just prop up the device (in my case, i use the Kindle app on my iPad) to easily turn the pages. I also read in bed at night–which means I can turn off all the lights and still see my book. That’s not to say I don’t love the feel and smell and look of paper books. I do! And I’ll still buy my favorite books in hard copy so I can display them on my shelf.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: I am definitely a book person. I don’t even own an e-reader. I love the texture of the cover in my hands, the smell of the pages, and the available reference should I want to revisit the book for a discussion. I keep most of my books in case I want to reread them, reference a writing technique, or share them with others. Some of my books have been passed down from my parents and grandparents who loved to read. I hope to pass along those favorites to my children and grandchildren.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: You’d think there’d finally be an easy question for our Themed Thursdays, but as always, it’s never that simple. There are times when I prefer reading via electronic device, but to me, there’s nothing better than holding a new book and flipping through the pages. It’s a thrill to open a book and get that feeling that an electronic device just can’t match.

Themed Thursday: What We’re Reading Now

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: I’m working through the 2017-2018 Florida Teens Read list. I just started The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. From the title, I expected a fantasy novel, and there is a fantasy aspect to it. However it’s really about growing up in the Bible Belt and coming to terms with his parents’ sins and whether or not that will define his life.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: I’m reading Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie. Two strangers meet and form a band. One of them has a magical guitar. Their struggles with the rise and fall of the band reflect Native American life. I’m reading it to learn more about the writing technique of magical realism.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: My sister recommened The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, and I’m absolutely loving it! (Thanks, Eva!) This book is smart, funny, sweet, heart-breaking, and optimistic all at the same. This is a must-read for anyone who loves books and literature (the main character is a bookstore owner) and for anyone who enjoys stories about redemption. If you liked A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, or The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, you’ll love this book.

Faran Fagen

Faran: At this moment, I’m actually reading a tiny book called You Know You’re a Writer When… by Adair Lara. It’s full of little snippets any writer would appreciate, like seeing the keyboard through tears, and viewing our friends as characters in our latest novel. My favorite quip so far: “Your heartbeat quickens whenever you enter a bookstore.”

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: I thought for sure this would be an easy one, but the problem is, I read several books at once. But, since we have to pick only one, I’m going to go with Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. It’s part of Nathan Hale’s, Hazardous Tales series, which covers different historical periods in comic form. This particular one, is about World War I, which was a fascinating time, for all that the results that the outcome led to.

 

Stacie: Right now I’m reading Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor. It’s a collection of short stories and I’m loving it. Laini Taylor’s book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone was one of my favorites so I thought I’d give this collection a try.

I’m not sorry I did. It’s gorgeous, other-worldly. Wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

Themed Thursday: What’s your favorite John Hughes film?

Faran: I’ve probably seen The Breakfast Club the most times, but I have to give it to a John Hughes movie you may not know, Some Kind of Wonderful. I just love the purity of this movie. And it’s got one of the best ending lines of all time. Eric Stoltz gives his girlfriend expensive diamond earrings and says, “You look good wearing my future.” Gets me every time.

Cathy: This took awhile. How to choose between The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or Sixteen Candles? Ultimately, I have to choose the one I find most clever–Ferris Bueller. The way he breaks the third wall and talks right to us–loved that. I think all of the films were Illinois based, but lots of Chicago landmarks are shown, which warms this midwestern girl’s heart.

JoanneFerris Beuller’s Day Off is my favorite John Hughes movie. It’s a quirky comedy about a teenager skipping school that was like a joyride for all teens and twenty-somethings in the 1980s. My favorite scene was when the principle, Mr. Rooney, thinks he’s talking to Ferris on the telephone. He’s fed up with Ferris’s antics and says, “You can smooch my big white butt.” The secretary comes in frantic and says Ferris is on the other line.

Melody: My favorite John Hughes film has to be Planes, Trains and Automobiles, starring Steve Martin and John Candy. It’s one of the few movies I’ve seen where I laugh out loud every time I see it. It’s also a bit of a tear jerker, thanks to John Candy’s incredible performance.

Jonathan: John Hughes has written a lot of movies that I like, but I think we’re supposed to keep this to the movies that he directed. So, if that’s the case, it’s a tough one. I like most of them, but I’m going to go with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I watch it every holiday season. It has the perfect mix of laugh-out-loud humor and sentimentality, which gets me every time I watch it. Can’t wait to see it again this year!

Stacie: It’s impossible to pick just one John Hughes movie as my favorite. So many wonderful movies. But if I have to pick just one, I’m going to say Sixteen Candles. It was sweet, funny, and very real. I loved everything about it, including Jake with the red Porsche. 

 

Melody’s Top 5 WWII Nonfiction Books

Anyone who knows me knows that I love reading about World War II, both fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes nonfiction gets a bad rap as “boring” or “too technical,” but I discovered a slew of excellent nonfiction WW II books that read more like novels than historical accounts—sometimes because they are personal accounts, but also because the authors are excellent researchers and writers. Because I love the genre so much, and because I’m such a huge fan of World War II books, I thought I’d list my Top 5 nonfiction World War II books.

1. Flags of Our Fathers (James Bradley)

About the men in the famous flag-raising on Iwo Jima. As testament to its power, this book was made into a movie, directed by Clint Eastwood. This isn’t just one of my favorite WWII books. It’s one of my favorite books, period. I’ve read it several times and am looking forward to reading it again.

2. Ghost Soldiers (Hampton Sides)

Plugged as “the epic account of World War II’s greatest rescue mission,” this book tells the amazing story of how U.S. troops slipped behind enemy lines to rescue the last survivors of the Bataan Death March. This is one of the most powerful and disturbing books I’ve ever read—and the fact that it’s true makes it all the more potent.

 

3. Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)

Uplifting and powerful, Unbroken tells one man’s incredible story of survival after becoming a castaway and being captured by the Japanese. This book was also made into a movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, and it’s probably the most uplifting book I’ve ever read.

4. With the Old Breed (E.B. Sledge)

Incredibly disturbing, parts of Sledge’s story were used in the HBO miniseries The Pacific, in which Sledge is one of the main characters. There is one scene in particular (about digging a trench) that has stayed with me for years.

5. Helmet for My Pillow (Robert Leckie)

Leckie tells his story as a marine fighting in the Pacific. There is absolutely no romancing of war or heroism here. Leckie’s story is brutal. Like Sledge’s story (see above), Leckie’s account was used in HBO’s The Pacific, and Leckie (called “Lucky”) is one of the series’ main characters.

Themed Thursday: The First Books We Wrote

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: The first book I wrote was a children’s book about a fish that got lost. I did not pursue a publisher for it. I wrote it in the early 1990s, when my children were small and I read to them daily. I was also taking classes at Broward College at the time and took a class from Joyce Sweeney. Here’s what she wrote when she read it.

I’m still working on plotting, haha! That was my first introduction to working with Joyce. Many years later when I started writing a novel I contacted her just as she was getting together a new critique group that came to be known as The Tuesdays.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: As a child, I started writing several books, but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I finished my first novel. It was called The Inseparables and it was kind of a rip-off of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. By the time I finished high school, I had turned that standalone book into a trilogy. I know they’re bad, but, man, they were great fun to write. I haven’t felt that unfettered in my writing since.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: In seventh grade a classmate and I started writing a book in a spiral notebook we passed back and forth. It was really about this new boy in eighth grade we were both crushing on. I think the main story was all about getting a kiss from him. Oh, if the nuns had found that notebook!

Faran Fagen

Faran: When I was a freshman in high school, we read Dante´s Inferno. Our teacher, Mrs. Vincent, assigned us a project to create our own Dante´s Inferno. I wrote my own book with each canto-chapter about a baseball player I either liked or disliked. Like the book, the toils in my project got progressively more intense for the player. The final canto was about Paul O´ Neill of the Reds, known for his aggressive and sometimes dirty tactics.