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.

The Best Writing Advice We Ever Received

Faran Fagen

Faran: I’ve been fortunate to receive so much good writing advice from friends and mentors over the years. However, one tip that sticks out comes from one of my author idols, Chris Crutcher, who I met at a writing conference. He told me not to reveal my entire hand at the start of each scene and always leave my reader wanting more. I find when I follow that mantra, it often leads to a strong chapter.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: Years ago, I had been trying to write the novel that would eventually become A Work of Art but I couldn’t seem to make much progress. I started going to writing workshops, which were invaluable, and I learned a lot. But the best piece of advice came from writing coach/editor Jamie Morris, who suggested I carve out a time to write and stick with it. It sounds like a no brainer, but I needed someone to call me out on my laziness. Once I started treating writing like a job, it only took a few years for A Work of Art to see publication.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: I’ve heard this from more than one place, but you need to let the book sit for awhile once you think it’s finished. In a few weeks, when you go back with fresh eyes, you will be able to see what else needs to change.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: My best writing advice has come from Joyce Sweeney in a variety of forms. I took a class from Joyce about a year ago on scene and structure. I learned more from that class than any other workshop, or book. The best gem was that the climax may be the realization of someone’s motive, but it must have a physical dimension to it to increase its power.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: The best writing advice I ever got is one many people have already stated, but it’s true. You need to keep going and not give up. It’s easy to be discouraged, but you have to keep trying. Just press on and work on your craft to get better. Not everyone goes at the same pace. You go at yours and don’t get down

Wednesday Wrap-UP

www.tuesdaywriters.com

Know what’s good for this writer’s soul? Going to critique group, reading pages, hearing my words out loud, and getting feedback.

I don’t know how long it’s been – husband out of town so I missed group and then there was that whole hurricane anticipation, experience, and aftermath.

As for my novel? That story is going all over the place. And that maybe is a good thing. Secondary characters are fleshing out complicating the story…but in a good way. I hope.

Melody’s story is going well…well, not for the main character. She’s headed for the low point, but Melody’s hitting all the right spots on the clock.

www.tuesdaywriters.com

Jonathan’s story took an unexpected twist, which if you know Jonathan, he totally planned it. (It’s the sequel to Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, so you need to read it now so you’re ready for this one!)

Even with only half of the group present, it was wonderful to be back!

How are your critique groups going?

Key to first chapters: Just a taste

Tuesday Tips

by Faran Fagen

They say first impressions are everything.

Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but in writing, it is.

I’m revising, and decided to change the setting of the first chapter – again.

This time, though, I’m bringing in the heavy artillery before I run the bases.

In the past week since my critique mates gave me some keen insight, I’ve sorted through notes and handouts from conferences and classes. Some of my favorites mentors and coaches.

Most notably, the information on first chapters and beginnings. And now, in the spirit of Tuesday Tips, I share the highlights with you:

What scene can best dramatize the main character’s ordinary world, showing a lack that can only be corrected by the inciting event?

This comes from a class with my longtime mentor Joyce Sweeney. This one sentence sums up the importance of painting a picture of the character’s ordinary would, coupled with his or her pressing problem that will engage the reader. And the importance to illustrate these elements early on.

Some other quick tips from Joyce: the main job of the first scene is to make readers want to keep reading, should be lively action and allow for reader to bond with main character.

However, one single tip that sticks out comes from another one of my author idols, Chris Crutcher, who I met at a writing conference.
He told me not to reveal my entire hand at the start of the book and always leave my reader wanting more.
I find when I follow that mantra, it often leads to a strong chapter.

“Your character either needs to want something desperately or to avoid something desperately. She/he must then overcome increasingly difficult obstacles that stand in his/her way in order to reach this goal.” – author Donna Gephart.

From agent/editor Lorin Oberweger: Character agency is paramount at the start of a novel. What makes your character act? What is your character in pursuit of? How is the character describing the setting with their attitude?

Author and writing teacher Marjetta Geerling taught me in a class to create a sense of urgency in the first scene, but never make the stakes too high because you need to be able to raise the stakes as the book goes on.

Author and fellow Tuesday Stacie Ramey gave me some invaluable advice last week – don’t use too many internals in the first chapter because the reader doesn’t know your character well enough yet to care about their deep thoughts.

In researching openings, I reread part of “The Magic Words” by editor Cheryl Klein, who edited some of the Harry Potter Books. She suggests that the author should offer hints, little details, and shafts of light to illuminate the characters and world that you’re about to journey into. And help the reader get anchored within that world.

I was reading a former post by Tuesday buddy Jonathan Rosen, and he talked about the success of his debut book stemming from his decision to make his book as funny as possible (if you ever read Jonathan’s new book, Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, you know humor is his strength).
I decided that I was going to write the most powerful, telling sports action scenes, since agents have told me that’s my strength.

Buy my favorite one-liner about beginnings has to come from Klein. At the end of her chapter on book beginnings, she says:
“Write your first chapter like you’re performing a strip tease, not going to a nude beach.”

Interview with Deb Sharp, Author of the Mace Bauer Series

Florida author Deb Sharp is like the main character in her “Mace Bauer Mysteries,’’ Deborah Sharp’s family roots were set in Florida long before Disney or Miami Vice. As a native and former reporter for USA Today, she knows the spots not found on maps: Molasses Junction. Muse, and now, Himmarshee, her own tiny slice of “Authentic Florida.’’

To create Himmarshee, Deborah borrowed from the present-day ranching town of Okeechobee, and from the south Florida of her family’s past.

Not far from Ft. Lauderdale, her dad used to walk to town, leading the family cow. A generation later, Deborah rode her horse over the same citrus- and ranch-dotted terrain. Now, it’s all interstates and strip malls.

The difference between Mace’s hometown and hers: Deborah will never let Himmarshee be spoiled by sprawl.

Q. You’ve written a number of hilarious mystery novels in your Mace Bauer series. How did you come up with the concept for your novels?

I wasn’t a fiction writer. I was a journalist, but I always wanted to write a mystery. I saw so many sad stories as a journalist I wanted to write a funny mystery. I saw a full page ad of a woman in a turquoise convertible in the Miami Herald. I started to think about the type of character who might be riding around in a turquoise convertible and what could happen. That woman is MAMA and I decided to write a story about where she goes in the convertible. From there I figured she would be from an obscure part of Florida and that she would have three girls. The book started with MAMA discovering a body in the trunk of the convertible. That started the whole series.

 

 

 

Q. You spent a number of years as a reporter for USA Today. Was the transition to novel writing a challenge for you?

It was a lot harder than I thought. I figured I’d been a professional writer for twenty-five years, how hard could it be? Journalism teaches you to leave out what the people you interview are thinking or feeling. I had to learn to put emotion in my fiction. It actually took me a couple of years to get it right. I took a lot of workshops, went to Sleuthfest conferences and joined a critique group. All of those things helped to become a fiction writer.

Q. Do you consider writing an art, or a craft, or a mixture?

Some people are artists when they write. I always thought of it more of a craft. For me it was a profession with the journalism. I felt like saying “I’m an artist” didn’t describe the kind of writing I did, so to me it was more of a craft. There can be artistic feelings that go into writing, but I believe it’s a craft. People have a talent for observation or expression, but to put it all together is something that you have to develop. You can’t just sit down and paint a masterpiece. You have to cultivate your talents and work at them.

Q. You’re really good at marketing. What do you feel are the most important aspects of marketing?

I got a lot of reviews from newspapers in the beginning. The platform has changed since then. Physical newsprint has scaled back and social media has increased. I think something that a lot of people overlook is just being a nice person. Helping out and volunteering gets the word out that you’re willing to give back and that opens people up to you. A lot of people think they need to work to build their brand. I think you can build your brand by being kind to other writers even though it’s old fashioned and low tech. I’ve always felt more comfortable helping someone else rather than pushing ME-ME-ME on social media.

Q. You are good at asking questions on social media that draw many responses from your fans. How do you go about it?

I think it’s because I’m curious. I’m interested what other people think, and I guess it’s easy for me to formulate questions because I did it with the journalism.

Q. What are you reading now?

HaHa! The mystery writers out there might be disappointed that I’m reading chick lit at the moment. I like Jennifer Weiner and I just got something by Sofie Kinsella. I do have a new Michael Connelly novel that I picked up, but I’m enjoying the chick lit right now. I don’t know that I’ll ever do anything in that genre, but it’s light and it’s fun for me at this point.

Q. As you know, we are a critique group. Do you participate in one?

I’m not in a critique group at the moment. I am a huge advocate of critique groups. I was in the Thursday night critique group run by Joyce Sweeney. What was beneficial to me, was hearing from other writers who didn’t have a journalism background. They could pinpoint exactly where I needed to punch things up on emotion or description, things I was scant on from my previous training. In a critique group I think a person should find something nice to say, not be a slash and burn type person. A good critiquer can tell you what’s wrong in a manner that helps you learn and that is so beneficial.

I laugh and say I’m the Goldilocks of critique groups. The first one I went to was too hard, the people were mean. They said they didn’t like my writing, but they really didn’t care for the genre. The next one was too soft. They liked to sit around and drink wine rather than critiquing. Not that drinking wine is bad, but I wanted feedback. Then I found the Thursday group and it was just right. I don’t think I’d be where I am if it weren’t for the Thursday critique group helping me. I am a big fan of critique groups.

You can find out more about MAMA and her antics at DebraSharp.com

 

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.

Themed Thursday: Something We’ve Always Wanted to Try…

Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? We’d love to hear from you.

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: I’ve always said I’d like to try skydiving, but honestly, I KNOW I’d chicken out and not jump. I mean, who would jump out of a perfectly good airplane? For no good reason. I do think I’d like to zipline and or parasail. Both of them seem so majestic and, despite the serious height thing, tame enough for me to do.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: Glass blowing. Years ago I almost took a class in Lake Worth. It was a pretty extensive class, but at the time all I could think was…so I learn how to do this, then am I going to have to put a molten glass furnace in my house? That didn’t seem practical. This question got me thinking, though. I found a place in Hollywood, FL that has classes. Maybe I should make a Christmas ornament. I’d get the experience and a nice addition to my tree.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: Gosh, there are a lot of things I’ve always wanted to try. Parachuting from an airplane, taking a photography class, trying out a gluen-free diet. But if I had to pick one thing, I think I’d like to try writing the first draft of a novel in just a few months. The only problem is… I don’t think my inner editor will let me.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: I have so much admiration for painters. I love landscapes and seascapes and abstract art. I have wanted to try oil painting, but, like writing, it’s a matter of learning the craft, and writing is keeping my hands full.

YA Wednesday? Is this a Thing?

Ok. So I know that this is Wed which means it’s Wrap it up Wed, right? Weeeeell, the thing is after Hurricane Irma shook up my entire state….Ohhhh Florida….

I decided I was going to shake things up a little here on the blog….

Yup. There is no controlling me. Instead of wrapping up what went down in critique group yesterday, I’m going to talk about the YA books I’m excited about reading…I know. I KNOW! It’s insanity. It’s too much. It’s going to happen, so you may as well take a seat.

The thing is, Reading was my first boyfriend. And I still get giddy thinking about spending time with him.  So I’m going to let you all know what’s on my TBR pile. Right this minute. Then maybe, you can show me yours after I’ve shown you mine! Fun, right?

 

So this book has been on my radar for a long time! I love Cyn Balog’s work. She’s a Sourcebooks sibling (we both have books published at the same house) Have you read her book Unnatural Deeds yet? If not, why not? It is so so so good. This one is her newest. It releases Nov 1st. Here’s the blurb:

This must-read for lovers of Stephen King’s The Shining will leave readers breathless as Seda and her family find themselves at the mercy of a murderer in an isolated and snowbound hotel. Get ready for what Kirkus calls “A bloody, wonderfully creepy scare ride.”

OMG! The Shining for teens? So there! Add this to your list. We can read it together and compare notes. Kay? Kay.

My secret author crush right now is Anna-Marie McLemore. Weight of Feathers was her debut and I could not get how incredible and lush the writing was. And talk about all the feels! This one releases October 3. Already pre-ordered!

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

 

Finally, there’s this book I’ve been meaning to read since it came out last spring.

Here’s the log-line:

Every story needs a hero. 
Every story needs a villain. 
Every story needs a secret. 

Interesting, yes? That’s the intrigue of Wink Poppy Midnight. 

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

So that’s it. My picks for this week.

What are you guys excited about reading?

Using Isolation for your Novel Characters

Waiting out Hurricane Irma with no power, and no phone service got me thinking about isolation. Humans are inherently social creatures. We seek the company of others. I was fortunate to have my husband with me so there was plenty of conversation, but also time to contemplate. We as humans need conversation, we want to be included in groups, whether it’s a sports team or a religious group or even a fabulous critique group. I thought about the long term effects of isolation to a person and how it could affect one’s character.

Psychologists say that socialization is critical for the mental health of children and seniors. There are two types of isolation: social and physical. Social isolation occurs when someone feels they don’t fit in. Bullying is a prime example as is the archaic practice of shunning. Physical isolation occurs if someone is tangibly prevented from interacting with others like in a kidnapping. People can both mentally and physically isolate themselves from intense fear like a survivalist who lives in the woods.

Social isolation has been used as a tool in many thrillers. Children who are bullied can become serial killers as in The Wilderness of Ruin, a true crime novel about Jesse Pomeroy, a boy who at the age of fourteen became a serial killer.  Adults can be bullied at work, leading someone to ‘go postal’. The Shunning by B. Lewis is a story about a bride shunned by the Amish.

Think about how isolation would affect you. If you suddenly ended up alone in a desperate situation would you shrivel up and cry or organize your thoughts to figure out a necessary strategy? Would you become increasingly depressed until you couldn’t function, or would you be so anxious you’d have a heart attack?

 

Studying how isolation affects human nature can be useful in plotting or as backstory for one of your characters. The effects of isolation can enhance your characters actions and motivations. Use isolation to increase tension, and heighten suspense to keep your readers turning the pages as fast as a hurricane.

Hurricane Evacuation and New York Books!

Hello Tuesdays!

OMG, it’s been forever since I’ve posted! Actually, it’s been forever since any of The Tuesdays posted. You see, for those of you who don’t know, The Tuesdays all live in Florida, and we had this little thing called Hurricane Irma. You may have heard of it? I think the news might’ve mentioned it a couple of times.

But, anyway, this thing was forecast to be a MONSTER! And we Floridians were kind of busy with hurricane prep and then dealing with the aftermath! There was also the question of whether to stay and hunker down or flee elsewhere. I kind of wanted to stay and hunker, but my family wanted to flee. So, we compromised and did what they wanted. But, as far as fleeing goes, we picked a great spot to go to . . . New York!

Now, I’m originally from New York. A Brooklyn kid, to be exact. So, I love going back and visiting. Still have a ton of family and friends there, so this became somewhat of an evacuation vacation. I got together with a few friends, and what was really fun this trip, was being able to meet some new ones, who until this getaway, I’d only known virtually. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s amazing how through social media, you can feel like you know someone for real, and that’s how it felt for me. But, this trip it was really great to finally meet personally.

 

While I was there, I started getting nostalgic for all the stories I used to read as a kid, which featured New York. New York is such a vibrant place, that the city almost becomes another character in the story. So, I decided to make a small list of some of my favorite books which take place in NY.

And away we go!

  1. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg

You CAN’T have a New York book list without this one! I used to love this book as a kid. Just the thought of staying overnight in a museum was thrilling. I wanted to be those kids! There’s a fun mystery to boot, but really, the appeal was staying in that museum overnight.

  1. The Night at the Museum, by Milan Trenc

This is the picture book which inspired the movies. A night guard at the Museum of Natural history, has to deal with the exhibits coming to life. Spending overnight in a museum? Are you sensing a theme in books which I like?

  1. Under the Egg, by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

This is a fun mystery about a girl who discovers famous paintings which belonged to her late grandfather, and she worries that, since he used to be a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he might’ve stolen them.

  1. Stuart Little, by E.B. White

Always enjoyed this book about a mouse in a family of humans, who gets to have adventures in NY. Really sweet story.

  1. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh

Another classic, which Harriet keeps notes about all her classmates, but then loses her notebook. Unfortunately for her, her friends find it and read the things she’s written about them. She has to fix things, before her life falls apart.

Of course, there are many, many more, as well as some great new books featuring New York City, which are coming out all the time. Be on the lookout for them!