Naming Things – Characters, Towns, and Files

I suck at naming things.

Okay, maybe not everything. I think we found the perfect name for our son. However, my husband, who I think is a genius at naming things was heavily involved.

One thing you might not know about Stacie is that she hates it when you decide to change a character’s name mid-book. So of course, The Tuesday try not to do that. I have done it though. C’mon, we’re all trying to find the next Katniss, right? In my current WIP my main character has been named Ana, Abra, and Fia. In the current rewrite, I’m thinking of changing it – AGAIN. (Please don’t kill me, Stacie.)

I have resorted to name generators. Google them. They’ve got fantasy name generators or ones where you can pick the nationality of your character. It can be helpful or a time suck.

There are some great old books like this one:www.tuesdaywriters.com Nicknames and Sobriquets of US Cities, States, and Countries. Sobriquet? Fancy work for nickname! (Try and use that in a sentence this week, and let me know what happens!) Published in 1979, this book gives nicknames of cities all around the US. Delray, where is where I live, is also known as, Florida’s Dissimilar Resort, The City in Florida with a Difference, The Island of Distinctive Resort Life, and the Luxurious City of Traditional Simplicity. Or how about this book? www.tuesdaywriters.comHandbook of Pseudonyms and Personal Nicknames published in 1982. Here’s an example: Lippert, Thomas Ray (1950?-) American Kidnapper – The Love Kidnapper. Just looking through these books can give a lot of story ideas.

Now for the real reason for this post. I rewrote the plot for my current WIP, shared it at critique group over a month ago, and now I can’t find it on my computer. What you need to know is that I work in Google Docs. Everything is automatically saved. However, Google lets your start a new document and saves it for you without requiring a name. You know what? That doesn’t really matter though, because I wouldn’t have named it something as easy as Plot – Flying Blind. Nope. I’d name it something like – trying out a new plot – or – amped up test.

This is where the genius of my husband comes in. Every time we are working together on the computer, he doesn’t move forward without saving the document and placing the document in the correct folder. I’m thinking, can we just hurry up? But he’s going to name it in such a way that he will be able to find it in less than three clicks. Why hasn’t this ability rubbed off on me yet? If we are working on a publisher document, he saves each version along the way: bookmark001, bookmark002, etc. (Sigh.) Maybe someday I’ll get it. Until then, I’ll be here searching through my Google Drive. Ugh.

Fun Friday: Looking for Your Next Good Book?

I’m an avid reader, finishing about a book a week, so for this week’s Fun Friday, I thought I’d share three of my favorite reads from the past few months. And, hey, if you read any of them (or have already read them), let me know what you think!

  1. The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey. Set in the same post-apocalyptic world as The Girl with All the Gifts, this prequel centers around a team of scientists and military personnel (plus a very clever boy with autism) who set out to find a cure for the monster plague that’s infected their world. Unlike The Girl with All the Gifts, the main character in this book isn’t the title character. Instead, it’s the scientist who most believes in the boy’s genius. It was her who convinced the authorities that the boy with the odd personality should be part of their mission–and now he has to prove himself, because no one else on the team wants him along.

 

  1. The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson. True crime at its finest, Larson is a master storyteller, interweaving the true stories of Daniel Hudson Burnham, the brilliant architect of the 1893 World’s Fair, and Henry H. Holmes, a psychopath masquerading as a charismatic doctor who built a “World’s Fair Hotel” that he then used to trap and murder dozens of people. This is one of those true stories that’s definitely stranger than fiction.

 

  1. This is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel. An overworked but happy couple decide to keep it secret that their youngest child is transgender (born a boy but presenting as a girl). They’re doing this, not because they’re ashamed of their daughter, but because they’re afraid of how other people might treat her. And of course the secret comes out. Beautifully written with equal doses of humor and heartbreak, this is a story that will stay with me for a long time.

Do you have a favorite book you’d like me to read? I’m up for the challenge!

Changing my approach at the plate

Freestyle Friday

By Faran Fagen

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.”
One of my favorite and least favorite quotes (it’s from Captain Picard in a Star Trek episode)
Favorite because it’s true, and least favorite because I usually think of it when I follow the right road but still end up at a dead end.
I think we’ve all been there. Adhered to  the cooking instructions and the cake isn’t fluffy enough. Taken the prescribed medicine and laid low and still sick.
In baseball, when I hit a slump, I change my approach at home plate. Hands higher, knees bent lower. Throw in a leg kick? Sure, try that. Eventually, something clicks and swing gets smooth again.
So this school year (I’m a teacher so my writing tends to cycle through each school year), I’m trying a different approach. And it’s already paying dividends.
I’ve made two major changes to my writing that have sent a current through a revision that stemmed from input I got from editors and agents in 2017.
One comes indirectly from Tuesday colleague Jonathan Rosen, who told me (and stated in several interviews) that the biggest thing he did right before he got published was to sit down and write the funniest book he possibly could. In all his rejections, agents and editors always loved his humor, so he decided to focus on that.
That got me thinking, that I’ve had a similar experience with agents in regards to my baseball scenes and my action scenes.
So I’ve pledged to make sure that each scene is full of action and thrills, whether or not it’s on the baseball diamond.
The other adjustment I made comes from a speech I heard from award-winning author Richard Peck at a conference (miss him). He said that above all else, your aim as a writer is for your words and message to permeate a high school library and find that one student who desperately needs your book to survive.
So I’ve mixed the baseball/action thrills with this teen in need at the forefront as I piece together the heart of the story.
I’ve recently revised the strongest beginning of Strike Zone, and submitted it to a contest.
Whether I win or not, the cool thing about this writing gig is that it forces you to think. About what people find interesting and what young people truly need to feel accepted and understood.
So I guess in that respect, writing’s shaped me into a better person, just like I’ve molded my characters. So maybe I haven’t lost after all.

What do you read when you travel?

I flew to Winnipeg, Canada last week to visit my parents for Canadian Thanksgiving. There are no direct flights to Winnipeg from South Florida, so getting there is always an all-day affair. I’m a book-in-hand kind of person. I always make sure that I have a new novel or two so that I have at least twenty hours of reading.

Looking around at fellow passengers, I noticed that many of them were on their cell phones in the airport, but pulled out books once they got on the plane. As many of the books came from the airport vendor, I wondered what is the most popular read during air travel?

While killing time in the airport, I did a brief survey of

airport vendors for the dates of my travel. I found that David Baldacci, last year’s Sleuthfest key note speaker’s new novel, The Last Mile, was most popular at the Winnipeg airport. Dan Brown’s Origin was a favorite at Ft. Lauderdale Airport, and Liane Moriarty’s Truly, Madly, Deeply was the bestseller in Toronto.

 

 

 

Some of the passengers I talked to want a short read they could finish in one flight, but most wanted something that would last throughout their entire time away from home. I noticed an equal number of e-readers also, but a book in the hand always gets more attention from me. What will your new read be the next time you travel?

Free Write Friday when I’ve been anything but Free

It’s been a while since I spoke with you, Tuesday readers, and I’m so sorry about that. Truly.

I know I’m supposed to check in with my Thursday themes even on the weeks I don’t have a big post. Like this one. And I haven’t been keeping to my word with those. It’s not right or fair, but there it is. I’ve been a Themed Thursday slacker! And you deserve my participation on those days. You do. But the thing is, I have had so much going on.

 

I know it sounds like an excuse, but let me lay it on you. And then you judge. And if by the end of this you’re still annoyed, I’ll accept that. I will. But hear me out first.

Last May I started a low residency MFA program. Spalding University to be exact. Pretty cool, right? And I guess I sort of didn’t realize how much time it would take. Each semester, at the very least I have to read 8-10 books and write critical essays on them. I have to put together five packets of creative writing including new work and revised pages. In preparation for next semester I had to read a play (a really cool one) and write an essay on that one. I also have to read 2 more books, 3 short stories, and view a film and take notes on it. Oh, and prepare pages for workshop, and prepare commentary on the pages other people send. It’s a lot. All wonderful things, but still a tremendous amount of work. Have I convinced you of that?

So I’m doing that in addition to working my day job. Sounds exhausting, right? Well, I’m not done….

I also just finished my revisions and copy edits for my upcoming book, The Secrets We Bury. Now I’m working on the proofs. Would you Tuesdays like a little sneak preview of the cover? I think you deserve that. Here goes….

 

Ahhhh….let’s take a moment to simply enjoy this new little beauty!!!

In addition to all of the usually stuff, like writing and critiquing and working and all, I’m also putting together some writing workshops. This Sunday I’ll be giving a Bootcamp with Joyce Sweeney. Which is totally cool since I’ve been her student for years and now I get to teach with her! If you are a SCBWI member, this workshop is free. Info here: https://florida.scbwi.org/2017-boot-camps/

I’m also doing another shorter workshop all by myself on October 21st!

And these workshops don’t write themselves! If only they did.

Finally, I am currently participating in the Young Adult Scavenger Hunt from now until Oct 8th. Prizes galore and lots of fun to be had by hunters and hunted alike. Check it out. I’m on #TeamBlue!  http://www.yash.rocks/

So I hope I’ve convinced you that I’m not simply lollygagging around. I am busy, busy, busy! But I pledge to try really hard to come back into the mix again. Because I’ve missed you, Tuesday Readers. Take me back?

Hide-and-Go Seek With My Muse

My muse likes to hide from me. Sometimes she jumps out and surprises me, but most of the time she makes me chase her. 

It’s hard to pin down what inspires me to write—what makes my muse grace me with her presence—but in thinking about it for this blog, I remembered a chance encounter I had when I was eight years old.

I was sitting in a laundromat while my mom and I waited for our clothes to wash. I’d brought along my spiral notebook and I was furiously writing the next chapter in my Adventures of Stacy book. There was a lady next to me. Blue housecoat, chubby cheeks, big afro. She asked me what I was writing.

I remember how proud I was to tell her I was writing a book. She asked me to read some of it to her, which stroked my ego even more, and she seemed genuinely amazed at my eight-year-old skill. She kept asking questions about the story—questions I was more than happy to answer—and then she asked me something I’ll never forget. She asked if I would teach her to write her name.

Before that moment, it had never occurred to me that an adult might not know how to read or write, but this lady made me realize that being uneducated wasn’t necessarily a choice, that given a chance, most people want to improve themselves. But first they had to be given a chance.

All these years later, I can’t remember if her name was Sandra or Sandy, but I do remember how appreciative she was for my help. For the first time in my life, I had something worth giving back.

Is it any surprise that I became a teacher before I became a writer? And that I taught adults, not children? And that I also became a tutor for adult literacy and disadvantaged adults? It’s amazing how many of my life choices stemmed from that one encounter.

So when people ask what inspires me to write, I think of that lady in the laundromat who had the guts to ask an eight-year-old girl to teach her how to write her name. It’s people like that who inspire me to write. Real people with real problems. Flawed people who want to do better. All they need is a chance, and it’s my job as a writer to create flawed characters and then give them a story they can journey through to reach their goals. Whether or not they succeed on that journey is up to my muse, which, thankfully, comes out to visit me about once a week.

Find Your Way Friday

When my husband asks me what I’m going to do on any particular day my response is, “I’m going to write.” As a general rule, I write every day except Tuesday because that’s when our critique group meets.

I recently spent an entire two weeks not writing.

And I wasn’t on vacation.

I mean, I usually write on vacation.

Even if you don’t live in Florida, I think the entire nation was tuned in to the fact that a huge hurricane was heading west in the Atlantic. After seeing what Harvey did to Texas, the nation was already in distress. The anticipation was enough of an energy suck, and then when you add the hours you have to spend preparing your home with the time spent waiting for the storm to decide where it was really going, it’s easy to understand why you weren’t writing.  If you didn’t have electricity, writing and sweating was not a pleasant task. Then there was a bombing in London, an earthquake in Mexico, and another hurricane.

The amount of suffering is overwhelming.

I have learned though, that it’s writing that makes me happy. So I’ve got to get some writing in everyday. Except Tuesday.

So I’m back to setting the timer. Forcing myself to write for even as little as ten minutes. I even had the entire plot of a new novel pop into my brain. The words are in me.

I’ve got to get them on the page. Even if it’s just one word at a time.

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.

Teens pit Harry Potter vs. Mockingjay at library workshop

Friday Freestyle By Faran Fagen

Identifying with the main character.
Resourcefulness.
Persistence.
Kindness.
These were some of the character traits listed by teens as part of a writing exercise at Thursday’s summer workshop at the Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
The exercises began with the group of teens listing a character trait from their favorite fairy tale.
Then, to keep them on their toes, writers Jonathan Rosen and Faran Fagen had the teens do a short story with a twist: rewrite the fairy tale with a main character as the opposite gender.
What resulted was a male Cinderella called Cinder, a merman Ariel and a female Beast from Beauty and the Beast.
The teen series concluded with Jonathan and Faran. Four other pairs of authors and aspiring writers gave workshops through June and July in the second annual series at the library.
On Thursday, teens also read their impromptu work on several writing exercises from Jonathan.
An alphabet game had the teens pair up and write a scene, solely in dialogue, with each sentence beginning with a letter of the alphabet in succession (A-Z).
Teens munched on cookies, candy and soda. Laughter filled the room as the kids struggled with some of the difficult letters like Q.
The workshop culminated in a contest. The group was split in half, and together picked a main character to praise.
After 10 minutes, a spokesman had to prove to the judges which main character was more compelling.
It was Hermione Granger versus Katniss Everdeen. Both spokespeople used several examples from their novels, and pointed out details (Katniss’s loyalty to her sister Prim for instance) that proved the likability of the characters.
In the end, it was a tie, and both groups got prizes.
A question and answer session concluded the final workshop.
One teen asked Jonathan how long it took him to write “Night of the Cuddle Bunnies”, his debut novel which releases in August.
He responded about seven months, but added that it was his fourth time writing a book.
We ended with a discussion about the process of writing, and encouraged the group to write as much as they can. And enjoy it from start to finish.

A closing panel takes place next Thursday to wrap up the successful series.

Where do you go to get ideas for a novel?

Some people I know have ten plots for novels buried in the back of their brain waiting to be hatched. I have a couple of ideas of in the wings, but they’re floating around without any concrete development. Truth is that a magnificent fully formed book doesn’t just pop into your head. Where do ideas for novels come from?

The news is always full of bizarre stories that make me wonder about the lives of the characters portrayed in the incidents that end up being broadcast. Take the latest news about O.J. Simpson. With all of the things that have occurred in his lifetime, I could find myself mentally working in a character arc. Mystery Writers are always keeping an eye out for a juicy crime story or headline to flesh out and expand into a good book.

Experience can often lead to ideas for a novel. An epic failure or huge success can be fodder for your next work in progress. Many people start by journaling and expand on the components from there. Or you can eavesdrop on a conversation in the park and expound on someone else’s experiences. People watching in the park can give you some great ideas for characters too.

Reading can lead to ideas of what you might want to write. Perhaps you want to expand on a theory someone else proposed, or you feel they got it wrong and you want to tell the story a different way. Reading across many genres can attune you to new ideas.

Google whatever your heart desires, and see what comes up. Strange accounts, love stories, happy tales and bizarre capers are all waiting to be expanded. You can plot them out inserting your wonderful hero and dastardly villain while at the gym or driving your car.

Whatever your method, writing is a process. Even the most extreme plotters end up changing things as they go along. So pick a nugget of something you’ve heard or seen and get started on your next tale.