Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Goodbye and thanks, Maeve Binchy

Goodbye, Maeve Binchy. Thank you for all the hours spent lost in your lovely novels.
An undated handout image provided by Christine Green Authors' Agent in London, Irish novelist and playwright Maeve Binchy passed away after a short illness at the age of 72 on 30 July 2012. Photo credit: EPA/Liam White

For nearly 30 years, Maeve Binchy has been my favorite novelist. I loved spending time in the worlds she created. I loved her voice. I loved that she wrote about ordinary people living ordinary lives. I loved the attention she gave to the importance of relationships. I loved the gentle ways her stories unfolded.

I buy books on the craft of writing, and one of my favorites is by Ms. Binchy. It's called The Maeve Binchy Writers' Club. Filled with practical advice, it's also written in her casual, warm style.

Maeve was never one of those unapproachable diva authors who looked down upon the literary world. She was one of us. A writer who wanted to speak to average people. A writer whose books were taken on vacation, to the park, read during a lunch hour at work.

She was not a prolific writer, writing 16 novels, four collections of short stories, a play, and a novella, but her words touched hearts and entertained many. And isn't that what a novelist hopes for?

Do yourself a favor, pick up one--or all--of Maeve Binchy's novels and spend time in her world. You won't regret it.

Which novelist do you admire? Who's your favorite?

For more information on Ms. Binchy and her passing, read this BBC article. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Writer's Block

Consider yourself the luckiest writer in the universe if you’ve never experienced a moment of writer’s block.
Consider yourself fortunate if you've never experienced a moment of where do I go now? Consider yourself blessed if you've never thought, how can I tie up this loose end? Aaargh!
The most important thing to consider when faced with the dreaded writer’s block is to realize that that this is probably not the last time you’ll be stuck. Personally, I think it’s part of the writing life. Everyone gets writer’s block, even if it’s an episode that lasts only 15 minutes.
The cure? Push through.
I’m sorry if you were expecting a more brilliant answer. There are several strategies that you can use to get your creative abilities firing again, and today I will give you five of them.
1. Pray
• Keep yourself spiritually charged. I believe we’re spiritual beings, and we shouldn’t neglect our spiritual health.
2. Keep a writer’s journal.
• A journal may include memories, jokes, story ideas, writing tricks, dreams, and descriptions of people, places or situations.
• A writer’s journal may be as simple as a little notebook you carry in your purse or it could be a word document on your computer.
• Don’t get stressed about when or if you should use a writer’s journal. The idea is for the journal to help you, not make you more stressed.
• If you use an item/idea from your journal in your work, be sure to either delete it or make a note as to when/where it was used.
• Train yourself to be alert for fresh ideas when they occur, and write them down.
3. Visit a bookstore.
• Is there a writer alive who doesn’t get jazzed walking through the aisles of a bookstore?
• Pull out the books that catch your attention. Read the back cover copy. Read the first few lines.
• Think to yourself, “I can do this!”
• Go home and write.
4. Sit down and write 250 crummy words.
• Sometimes just getting started gets you in the groove.
• Don’t worry if the words aren’t pretty. You can always go back and pretty them up.
5. Invest in your health.
• Go for a walk, hop on a treadmill—just get moving. Your imagination won’t work a maximum capacity if your brain is sluggish.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How does a writer decide on an idea?

 As I’ve said before, ideas are in the air. But how do you snatch them up and make them your own?
I believe writers are peculiar people. We tuck bits of memories in our brains and hearts only to pull them out years later and incorporate them into stories.
I visited a girlfriend one day, and she told me about an experience she’d had the week before. Her in-laws were coming to visit, so she made sure her house was sparkling clean. When they were due to arrive, she gave her home a cursory glance, sure that her house was spotless.
And then she saw it. A blob of cream cheese was securely nestled into the fibers of her living room carpet. She ran for the kitchen, grabbed a butter knife and was on her knees scraping cheese out of her carpet when the doorbell ran.
When she told me her story, I saw her irritation and disappointment. It seems that no matter how hard you try to do your best sometimes, there will still be a proverbial blob of cream cheese ruining your perfection.
That story was related to me over 20 years ago, and I never forgot my friend’s frustration. That utter desperation of wanting to be on top of her life and failing despite her best efforts was the germ of an idea, the emotion of it actually, that I used in my first published novel.
All it takes is for an incident, emotion, or an idea to strike a writer’s fancy and then for the writer to ask that greatest of jumping off questions, “what if?”
So the next time something catches your imagination, instead of following the thought to a logical conclusion, ask yourself, “what if?”
That just might be the beginning of an interesting story.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Read some award-winning books!

Looking for some current, award-winning books to read throughout the end of this lovely summer?

The Christy Awards, which honor and promote excellence in Christian fiction were just celebrated this week. I'm happy to share the finalists and winners for 2012. (The winners in each category are last in the  list.)

Contemporary Romance:
My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren
Larkspur Cover by Lisa Wingate
Wolfsbane by Ronie Kendig

Contemporary Series:
Dancing on Glass by Pamela Binnings Ewen
The Touch by Randall Wallace
The Amish Midwife by Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould

Contemporary Standalone:
Dry as Rain by Gina Holms
Words by Ginny Yttrup
Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock

First Novel:
An Eye for Glory by Karl Bacon
Southern Fried Sushi by Jennifer Rogers Spinola
Words by Ginny Yttrup

Forsaking All Others by Allison Pittman
Mine is the Night by Liz Curtis Higgs
Wonderland Creek by Lynn Austin

Historical Romance:
A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander
To Die For by Sandra Byrd
The Maid of Fairbourne Hall by Julie Klassen

Over the Edge by Brandilyn Collins
Pattern of Wounds by Mark Bertrand
The Queen by Steven James

The Chair by James L. Rubart
Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee
Veiled Rose by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Young Adult:
How Huge the Night by Heather Munn and Lydia Munn
The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson
Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How do writers connect with readers?

 Writers, have you ever thought about how to connect with your readers? About how to make them feel as if they know you or your characters?
This morning when I opened my back door to let my dog out I was greeted with happy, carefree birdsong. It was lovely to hear.
As a writer, I try to be as observant as possible about the ordinary things in life because that’s what bonds us most as people.
We all can experience the joy of listening to beautiful birdsong, we can all appreciate the beauty of nodding wildflowers alongside the road, we can all inhale the sweet fragrance of freshly cut grass (and if you’re not allergic, enjoy the aroma).
I was thrilled a few weeks ago when another writer said I was the queen of show, don't tell. (BTW, show, don’t tell is big in writing. It draws the readers into your world through their senses.)
So? Are you listening? Do you see? Can you get a whiff of that fragrant grass?
I love to scrutinize what I see, hear, smell. Earlier this year I stayed at a hotel for a weekend. In the foyer was a large table with a huge floral arrangement, composed of different types of white flowers. It was lovely, and actually looked so perfect it appeared to be silk flowers. But it wasn’t. I walked over and touched the velvet soft petals and inhaled the mix of floral fragrances. It was a wonderful sensory moment.
Who knows, perhaps some day in my writing I’ll be able to use that moment when I paused to appreciate the work someone put into arranging those lovely flowers.
And that, my friend, is one way to connect with your readers: reference common experiences in your writing. Use the ordinary in life as your word palette.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Author Voice, part four

*This is part four in a series. View parts one, two, and three
If you've been following this series, are you understanding author voice a bit more? Author voice is the distinct manner in which a novelist creates sentences and story.
I'd like to share a final author voice, one I've recently discovered.
A single drop of water changes the ocean. A noted colleague of mine once asserted this as we dawdled over lunch at a restaurant near Cape Canaveral. “How can it not?” he demanded. “Some amount of matter is displaced. There’s transference of energy. Nothing is as it was before.” We were young then, certain of our own importance. Convinced that our presence in the world, that our work, was destined to change it. 

From the above sample, is there little doubt that this book is about relationships?
Here are some more tips to developing your author voice:
1. Allow yourself to be lousy—while you’re finding your voice, some of what you write may very well stink. That’s Okay. It’s all part of the process.
2. Write honestly and allow your passion to shine through. When you write from your personal feelings, your voice will be natural. Write as if you were talking to a friend.
3. Care about your subject matter. If you don’t care what you’re writing about, you’ll never discover your true voice.
4. Play games—Select a picture from a magazine, billboard, or advertisement, and write a one-line sentence about what is going on. Or go through old photo albums and write a short story about one of your favorite pictures.
In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Brown and King say, “In order to write with a mature voice, you have to mature first.”
Be passionate with your ideas and put your feelings into your writing. Get emotional, but don’t tell your reader how you feel, show him/her.
What is your opinion? Don’t be afraid to share. Opinions give us our voice.
I encourage you to practice your craft, pursue your voice, and perfect your style. And don’t forget, have fun writing your story!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Author Voice, part three

*This is part three in a series. View parts one and two

I hope you’re enjoying the different samples of author voice we're including in this series. I’ve got a few more distinctive voices to share with you.
There is a lonliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding on, this motion, unlike a ship’s, smooths and contains the rocker. It’s an inside kind—wrapped tight like a skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rocking can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that make the sound of one’s own feet going seem to come from a far-off place.
I think you'll agree that Ms. Morrison definitely has her own distinctive voice. I love to get lost in her beautiful, lyrical style.
Fall came to New York like a Good Samaritan, blanketing the city with a generous wind. Clouds floated tall and wide, majestic like a grown man a good suit. Jean Guerra lent her short hair to the cold, giving the wind a place to leave some goodness. Instead, the air blew past her face a brushed her lips like a kiss from God.
One thing I love about Marilynn Griffith's novels is her use of sensory elements. Her novel Made of Honor had so many delightful references to fragrance that I had to email her one day after I was in a soap and fragrance store in Aspen to tell her that it made me think of her novel.
Here are a few tips on how you can develop your unique voice:
1. Read, read, read—fiction, non-fiction, in your genre, out of your genre.
2. Write, write, write—don’t limit yourself to one particular type or genre of writing. Experiment. Write letters, blogs, dreams, and greeting cards
3. Copy—sit down and copy the voice of an author you admire or whose work is distinctive. You will always put your own spin on the style, incorporating your worldview and your own tone of language.
4. Limit yourself—write only 140-character thoughts. Twitter challenges you to write your thoughts in only 140 characters, you must be able to distill the essence of what you’re communicating. It helps you to boil down your language to the most meaningful idea.
Visit my blog again onThursday for the rest of the list.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Understanding Author Voice, part two

*This is part two in a series. View part one.

Earlier we started discussing author voice, which is the distinct manner in which a novelist creates sentences and story.
In other words, your voice is your exclusive worldview: your beliefs, your fears, your attitudes, your dreams, the way you react to situations.
All of this means that you have to put yourself on your page. This is what is known as developing your voice. Voice isn't merely style. Style would be easy by comparison. Style is watching your use of adjectives and doing a few flashy things with alliteration or simile. Style without voice is flat. Voice is style, plus personal observations, plus passion, plus belief, plus desire. Voice is revealing yourself on the page, and it can be a powerful, frightening experience.
Yesterday we looked at two samples of writing, today there are two more “voices” to listen to:
FLANNERY DESERVES TO KNOW THE TRUTH about her father. One day I'm going to have to tell her. But not tonight. I am worn out.
It's a tiredness of years.
You know how those ladies' magazines pretend women can do it all and still appear fresh as a sweet-smelling daisy by a clear Swiss spring? Wearing cute loafers, tweed miniskirts, and a camel cashmere twinset, they deposit their kids at soccer in sleek silver cars, green vans with television screens, or gargantuan white SUVs. Drive-through windows constitute meal planning. They see the best doctors because they don't mind going across town. Malls and boutiques bark their clothing on glitzy, stylistic posters. They instantly rid themselves of the nasty Flair inserts in the Valu-Pak coupon collections I look forward to each month. And they throw them into a recycling bin they bought from some woodsy, catalog-driven company.
They adroitly embroider their own existence with the silk threads of others' lives as though the fabric of their day-to-day duties was spun of gossamer and not the heavy mail plates that make up mine.
Was I ever like that?
Once upon a time, I suppose.
SILENCE, AS HEAVY AS DOOM, wraps itself around me as two guards lead me into the lower-level judgment hall. When I fold my hands, the chink of my chains disturbs the quiet.
My judge, Flavius Gemellus, senior centurion of the Cohors Secunda halica Civum Romanorum, looks up from the rolls of parchment on his desk, his eyes narrow. I don't blame him for being annoyed. I am not a Roman citizen, so I have no right to a trial. Besides, I have already confessed and am ready to die.
Do you see a big difference between Angela Hunt’s and Lisa Samson’s excerpts? What do you hear that’s very different?
Can you see the difference in style, personal observations, author’s passions and beliefs in these two samples? Can you glimpse into their worldviews through their voice? I think so. Also, both authors wrote in first person, yet Lisa’s is introspective, and Angela’s character is evaluating her surroundings. Both authors have a very distinctive voice.
Be sure to come back next Tuesday. I’ve got some more wonderful samples to examine and some tips on developing your voice.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Author Voice

A lot of time is spent in writing circles discussing author voice. What is it? How do you perfect it?
According to bestselling author Brandilyn Collinsauthor voice is the distinct manner in which a novelist creates sentences and story.
Let’s look at some passages from books by two authors and “listen” to a few different voices and what they say to us.
The Porthkerris Council School stood half-way up the steep hill which climbed from the heart of the little town to the empty moors which lay beyond. It was a solid Victorian edifice, built of granite blocks, and had three entrances, marked Boys, Girls, and Infants, a legacy from the days when segregation of the sexes was mandatory. It was surrounded by a Tarmac playground and a tall wrought-iron fence, and presented a fairly forbidding face to the world. But on this late afternoon in December, it stood fairly ablaze with light, and from its open doors streamed a flood of excited children, laden with boot-bags, book-bags, balloons on strings, and small paper bags filled with sweets. They emerged in small groups, jostling and giggling and uttering shrieks of cheerful abuse at each other, before finally dispersing and setting off for home.
What does this author’s voice say to us? Ms. Pilcher invites us into a fictional setting with rich detail but without lingering on the minutia that might bog down the story. (Confession time, she’s one of my all-time favorite authors.) She seems affectionate in describing this scene and wanting us to see the excited children as they head on home. I imagine that I’m sitting in a toasty kitchen, sipping tea while a dear friend tells me a good story.
Here’s another sample:
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote:
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.
Capote’s description of Holcomb is almost clinical in style. His voice colors his description of the setting, especially when talks about the local accent. He seems to show no special affection for the area, yet he’s invited us to Holcomb to journey with him as he investigates the story behind a family murdered. His is such a different voice than Pilcher’s, don’t you think?
I have good news and bad news for you today.
The good news is that no one, no other writer, speaker, or thinker can steal your voice. Your voice is what publishers will buy. Your voice is the only product readers can’t get anywhere else.
The bad news is that no one can teach you how to create your voice.
But, I have more good news—with practice, you can discover and develop your voice.
Join me again tomorrow when we look at a few more authors’ voices and continue this discussion.
But, tell me—have you found your author voice?
*This is part one of a four-part series on author voice. Check back on Thursday for part two.