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Friday, June 17, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: My Sister!

Today I am thankful for Pat, my sister, whose birthday this is.

One of my dearest friends since birth, Patricia is also a faithful reader (every book I've ever written, in addition to the ones I've published), a confidant and companion. I love her dearly and can't thank her enough.

One writing project for the coming year is my first historical novel. Set in Renaissance Florence, this book is requiring a great deal of research, both in the books and on the ground.

Yes, I know: Studying in Florence is a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. Let me tell you what a great siser I have: She has volunteered to go with me! Yes, really.

Early next spring, Pat and I will go aloft in a big silver bird only to land in Firenze. There I will run my legs off for nearly three weeks, learning all I can about Renaissance art and architecture and the life of Lorenzo de Medici.

And my sister will be right there with me. Do I have a great sis or what? ;-D Happy birthday, Patricia!

Do you have someone who acts as the wind beneath your wings? I invite you to share your story.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Getting the Teen Voice Right

One of my challenges in my current work-in-progress A CHRISTMAS RECIPE is the voice of 16-year-old Emily. I didn't want her to sound like the adults in the book.

In the scene below, Emily is fussing because her great-grandmother's sudden hospitalization may keep her parents from attending her high school choir's winter concert. Then the phone rings. Tell me if you think I'm doing Em justice.


Mom opened the door. “What is it, Em?”

“There’s a phone call for Dad. It sounds important.”

Mom turned back into the office, a worried look on her face. There was some murmuring and then she asked me, “Do you know who it is?”

I shook my head.

From inside the office, I heard Dad say, “I’ll take it.”

I went back into the kitchen to hang up the phone, but just before I put it down, I put the receiver to my ear, just to be sure Dad had answered before I hung it up, and that’s when I heard him say, “Oh no. When?”

I felt my heart jolt, just as if I’d stubbed it on something, but I couldn’t stop listening. “Just a few minutes ago,” the voice on the other end answered. “Would you or your family like to see her before we call the funeral home?”

Funeral home. My hands shook as I dropped the phone and I heard an awful noise. It took me a second to realize I was the one making it, and in that moment, it occurred to me that there were worse things than having my family miss my concert.

I had never known anyone who died before.

Does Emily's voice work for you? Share your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One Way to Build a Novel

Today's "best of the web" will take you to the blog of one writer whose plotting I admire greatly.

I've heard writers approach different ways to plot a book. I conceive the basic idea for the story first (is it a romance? a mystery?) and then the characters become real to me and tell me what they are going to do. (I know. I've already done a blog on how crazy writers are.)

One NYT best selling author says she walks her characters up to a crisis and then lists 20+ different ways she could get them out. She then eliminates anything she has seen done before.

Since Monday's blog referred to Jim Butcher's novels from The Dresden Files, today I'll refer you to Jim's blog from April 2008 where he shows you his pattern for plotting one of his complex supernatural battles.

Don't worry if none of these styles work for you. Find one that does. The key isn't how you write the novel; it's what you have when it's finished. Enjoy the journey.

Do you have a particular plotting idea that works for you? Share it?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tamales - Yum!

Like my mother before me, I'm a native Arizonan. Dad grew up in New Mexico. Both of them learned all about chili and la comida autentica at early ages and I learned it at my mother's knee.

Tonight a friend served us real, homemade beef tamales. She had made a few small tweaks in the traditional recipe for health's sake (no five pounds of lard here, please!), but the taste was muy autentica and absolutely marvelous.

When it comes to Mexican cooking, there is nothing like the real thing -- red chilis and all. Yum indeed!

What's even better, Dolly (the friend) taught us how to make them. Maybe one of these days I'll get brave enough to try them myself. If you're near enough to smell the goodness from my kitchen, tune your nose to the tamale channel and you'll know when to drop by.

Do you have a favorite ethnic cuisine that fuels your creative juices? Share it with us?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

When authors do speaking engagements, one of the most frequent questions is “Where do you get your ideas?” For most writers, the problem is not getting the ideas, but narrowing them down to decide which we will choose as our focus.

So where do those ideas generate? The simple answer is to say “life.” Let’s look at examples.

My husband and my youngest son are both fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, so I’ve been reading them, too. As I was wading through the blood and gore of yet another brawl with supernatural monsters, I thought, “How would this book be written differently for a primarily female audience?”

Suddenly Maggie popped into my head, telling me about her encounters with the paranormal. The book that followed will, I hope, be the first in the Maggie Rising Case Files. And no, Maggie is not a female Harry Dresden. Although I think of her as a living, breathing person, she has only my memories, experiences and imagination to work with, making her a very different character from the one Jim Butcher has written.

Example Two started last October when my husband and I fulfilled a lifelong dream with a trip to the Mediterranean. We started in Florence where the Renaissance began and flourished. Our guide led us through various sites, including the church of Orsanmichele where a grain market was turned into a place of worship – although that didn’t stop the flow of grain.

I was thinking of how it would have been to pop into the church for a peck of barley during services and suddenly I could see Lucia in her simple clothing, entering the church to buy grain. As I study and learn more of that period, she is becoming real to me too and will one day be the focus of an historical novel.

Ideas come from news stories, from reading other fiction, from neighbors and friends who tell incredible tales that take root and grow in a writer’s mind, from everyday life and how we live it. The trick isn’t getting those thoughts; it’s deciding which of the many are worth investing with our time, energy and love.

p>Have you had a character or plot come to you in an unusual way? Write and share your story.