The Matriarch – Part 2

Part 2 of my husband’s short story. You can catch up with Part 1 here.

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The Matriarch – Part 2

 THURSDAY MORNING

Behind her pursed lips, Ursula’s teeth clenched together as she turned the glass cylinder over in her hands.  The elongated grey, many-segmented worm-like creature that floated in the yellowish liquid was not something she recognized, but then she’d only been researching parasites since the unwelcome task of dredging them up from archival storage had fallen on her lap.

The parasite made her skin crawl.  It would be perfect for the special exhibit.  But the glass cylinder was unlabelled.  She’d have to do some digging to find out what it was a specimen of and then get some brain-bleach to make her nightmares go away.  Still, it was exactly the kind of repulsive-but-facinating thing that the Museum Director wanted for the exhibit.

She began shuffling through the faded, crumpled newspapers in the box the glass cylinder had been packed in.  Maybe the specimen label had come loose.

“Miss Thelstein?”  Ursula looked up from the box and cursed under her breath at the sound of the Director’s voice.  “Are you in here?”

“Over here,” she said.

“Right this way.” The Director’s only sounded like that when he was talking to someone important. Like a donor.

Ursula heard two sets of footsteps making their way down along the disorganized aisles of shelves, crates, boxes, and display cases that sat in the sub-basement archives.

As they came around the corner, Ursula nodded in greeting to the salt-and-pepper haired Director, and a russet-haired fellow with the ugliest pair of horn-rimmed glasses ever made and an expression that warned his sense of humor had been surgically removed.  Before she could say anything, the Director’s eyes lit up and a smile curved the left side of his mouth.

“Well, now,” he cooed.  “That’s certainly an interesting specimen!  Looks like something out of a horror movie.  Are there any more like that?”

Ursula blinked at the strange conversation.  “Not that I’ve found yet.  Besides this one, just some tapeworms and African earwigs.  Creepy, yes, but not enough to make a full special exhibit out of.”  Ursula figured besides the real specimens, he’d also want full-color displays illustrating their life-cycles and how they infected their host organisms.  That would go a long way towards making the exhibit complete.  But she didn’t make the suggestion for fear of being put in charge of it.

The stranger spoke.  It sounded to Ursula as though he was having difficulty unclenching his teeth.  “Where did you….find that?”

The Director beamed at him, then back at Ursula, then at the stranger again.  “I’m terribly sorry.  I haven’t made introductions.  “Miss Thelstein, this is….Doctor…Greg Allen.  He’s a…”  The Director hesitated.

“A Veterinary Parasitologist,” said Dr. Allen.  His tone suggested that the words left a nauseating taste in his mouth.

“Yes!” The Director seemed oddly delighted.  “And this is Miss Ursula Thelstein, one of the archivists from our research department and Ad Hoc Display Coordinator for the upcoming Special Exhibit!”

Ursula gave a pained-but-polite smile.  “Ad Hoc” was Latin for “this title comes with neither a promotion nor a raise.”

“And to what do I owe the pleasure of Dr. Allen’s visit?” she asked.

 

THURSDAY NIGHT, PREVIOUS

The boy’s shark-grin instantly turned to a frown.  “There are troublesome elements I need dealt with.”

Greg made a slight tilt of his head toward Baldy.  “Isn’t that what he’s for?”

The boy’s grin returned.  “There are times to use a wrecking ball and times to use a set of lockpicks.  I want them all rounded up before they realize we’re onto them.  That calls for quiet footsteps and quick hands.”

“Quiet footsteps and quick hands?”  Greg pursed his lips.  “It sounds like you want someone in better shape than me.  Some shadowy ninja-type guy.”  He managed to keep a straight face.

“I have plenty of those.” The boy flicked his wrist.

Greg pondered the timing of the limo’s arrival minutes after his tire blew out.  If he was ever able to return to his car, he was positive any trace of a sniper’s bullet would’ve already been long removed.

“Sounds like you’re all set.  Thanks for the lift, and you can drop me off right…”  Greg’s words cut off as a muscular hand suddenly squeezing his larynx.

“You,” scowled the granite-slab voice, “will show respect.”

 

THURSDAY MORNING

Dr. Allen pointed to the odd specimen-without-a-label that the Museum Director was so excited about.  “I’m here for that, actually.  Where did you get that?  Do you know what it is?”

Ursula shrugged.  “A few decades ago, the State University apparently donated a box from their Bio department to the museum.  Looks like it got shelved in the archives and forgotten about before anyone got around to cataloguing it.”

Ursula thought that odd.  She’d had heard that museums in London had an enormous backlog in their archives yet to catalogue and were still finding treasures from ancient Egypt that British archaeologists had brought home with them in the nineteenth century.  But that didn’t make sense here.  It wasn’t that big of a box, and it’s not like this museum had ever been overwhelmed by a sudden influx of inventory that it couldn’t be catalogued in less than a day.

Dr. Allen turned to the Director.  “Thank you.  I’ll take it from here.”

“Are you sure you don’t need my help?”  The Director’s eyes flicked from the specimen, to Dr. Allen, then to Ursula.

“No,” said Dr. Allen more curtly than Ursula expected.  “I’m sure you’re very busy.  I’ll help Miss…Thelstein?…with the…star…of the exhibit.”

Ursula was getting an odd feeling about all this.  All alone in the museum sub-basement with a stranger?

“Oh, I’m certainly not too busy.” The Director smiled.  “I think it would be best if I….”

The Director’s sentence was cut off as Dr. Allen swept behind him and gripped the base of the Director’s neck and struck him with the other hand in the kidneys.

Book Review: Her Viken Mates

Book: Her Viken Mates

Author: Grace Goodwin

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This is not my normal reading fare, as you may have noticed from my other book reviews. I am not entirely sure why I picked it up.

Okay, that’s not true. I do know. It was curiosity, plain and simple. It appeared in my Amazon feed, and while I was intrigued, but didn’t buy it. The book then intruded on my consciousnesses during my drive home, and as I had some digital credit with Amazon, I decided to give in to temptation and see what it was all about.

 

Characters

These are flat, one dimensional characters. Expect no growth because you’re not going to get any.

 

Plot

There was one. Somewhere. But it’s even less important than most other romance novels I’ve read. The plot is as one dimensional as the characters, and I’m actually somewhat surprised how contrived it was. I was shocked how quickly characters believed a heroine from another planet who was there as an interstellar bride. There is no real reason for them to do that. Nor is there a reason that the villain would do what they did or give their hand away as they did. But, you know, plot wasn’t what this book was about.

 

Steamy Scenes

This is why you’re reading the book. The novel opens with steamy scenes, and the steamy bits probably take up at least 50% of the story, maybe more. It does include multiple lovers simultaneously, and I have never read anything like it, though I know this is not uncommon in romance. Just uncommon to me. As far as I can tell, the author handled it well.

 

Writing Style

While the writing was just okay, it was relatively free of grammatical and punctuation errors. It was also properly formatted to the Kindle. When she did a jump in PoV, which she did often, she used a new chapter and labeled the chapter with the person whose eyes you were now seeing through.

 

Themes

Despite the fact that this was really just an excuse for steamy scenes, there were some pretty interesting themes running through a book that was mostly steamy scenes. Issues of trust came up time and again, but more than just trust, it was also about consent. This played throughout the book. I was pleasantly surprised by this. There was never even a hint of rape culture in the book, and while rushed, it did let the heroine explore her sexuality without guilt. Rather, her mates encouraged her to explore it.

 

 

 

Taking Time to Unplug

It’s Sunday night, and the family is getting ready to go back to our work schedule. I’m trying to get dinner ready while sneaking in a few more words, and DH and DD1 are trying to enjoy a game together.

Enter DD2.

She is angry and upset, crying for no apparent reason. We’re all testy with her. She cries harder.

One of our cats has had made a mess, and DH is irritated as he gets the vacuum to clean it up. Terror sparks in DD2’s eyes as she sees the dreaded vacuum. I put my iPad away, gather her up, and carry her to our bedroom.

Her tears instantly dry up as we lay on the bed together and play silly games of counting her toes, getting tickled (we took turns tickling each other), and just laying together with her head on my shoulder.

Her laughter and giggles made my night.

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Or trying to understand and bond with a toddler?

Holding that in my heart, I cuddled with DD1 before work Monday morning. She is getting so big, but she still likes snuggles. For now. We talked a little, but she mostly just wanted to be held.

I’m starting to feel like the whole family is too busy, but not busy with the right things. Time goes by so fast now. I was looking at pictures of DD1 when she was just a few days old. Hard to believe that was almost six years ago. It seems like only last year we were bringing her home and learning what it was really like to have an infant in the house.

I need to slow down. Make connections. Build a relationship with my girls, and strengthen the one I have with DH.

Writing is a part of the equation. I really shouldn’t have been trying to sneak in words. But there’s more to it. I feel like my family has all become too reliant on technology for entertainment. We need to unplug.

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Not this bad. Yet.

Bored? We turn on Netflix or Amazon, and we don’t even have to sit through commercials. Open the iPad or Kindle. Pull out your phone. A lot of this isn’t deeply entertaining, but the companies know how to lure us how. How to grab our attention and keep it. How many times has boredom had me checking my phone for a quick fix rather than getting up and actually doing something meaningful?

I got so consumed with these distractions that I got annoyed with my beautiful and amazing toddler rather than giving her the love and attention she both wants and needs.

A part of me wants to give away all of the electronics, but that’s just not reasonable.

Still, I need to find a way to unplug and disconnect more, help my family unplug more, so that we can really connect. So that we spend more time counting toes and less time staring at screens. I just don’t know how.

 

How about you? Ever tried to unplug? What did you do? How did it work? Ever try to unplug your whole family? What did you do? How did it work?

Burnout According to Science

After feeling rather burned out and then not being able to get myself back on track, I started to wonder if there was any science behind the phenomena of burnout.

There is. Lots of it. Apparently, I’m not alone.

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According to Psychology Today   “The cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when you’re not in control of how you carry out your job, when you’re working toward goals that don’t resonate with you, and when you lack social support. If you don’t tailor your responsibilities to match your true calling, or at least take a break once in a while, you could face a mountain of mental and physical health problems.”

While some of this doesn’t resonate, enough does.

The whole being in control thing is a big deal for us Type A personalities. And I have a lot of control at my day job. It may not be my life’s calling, but I’m good at it. Writing, on the other hand . . .

I have no control over it at all.

Despite the hours I’ve poured into both reading and writing, the classes I’ve taken, and the books I’ve read, I have no control.  I’ve been working on this for the majority of my life, yet I keep walking away from it.

Why?

Because no matter how much work I put into it, I have no control over the results. Self-publishing has changed some of this, but I still have no control over the success or failure of a book.

Then there’s the hard truth about branding and social media presence that goes along with being an author.

I was not on any social media until it was driven home to me that I had to be in order to be an author. I don’t like social media. I avoided it for years for a reason. So the whole line about responsibilities matching your true calling… Maybe I’m meant to be a writer, but I’m most assuredly not meant to be a social media personality.

If you poke around on Psychology today, you’ll come across this article that further explains that burnout is chronic stress that leads to:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

I can honestly say yes to all three of those.

The article also says when you are truly burned out, you can no longer function effectively on a personal or professional level.  So, at least I’m not totally burned out. I mean, I can still function at work at with my family.

Sure, I’m a bit more short-tempered lately, but I can function.

Right, guys? Right?!?

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And let me tell you how much BS there is with two small humans

The article does say burnout doesn’t happen all at once, that it creeps up on us though it does give us some some signs.

I went through the list and noted several below, but it’s hard to parse out what’s just a part of life and what isn’t.

Signs of Burnout

1.Chronic fatigue.  Okay, so what modern American doesn’t this apply to? Especially a working mom with a toddler?

2. Insomnia. Only if you count being woken up repeatedly in the middle of the night by a child suffering from night terrors. Otherwise, I am exhausted at the end of the day and within minutes of my head hitting the pillow, I am usually asleep

3. Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention. I blame Twitter for this.

4. Physical symptoms. They include a list of things to look for, among them headaches, but it’s hard to know the difference between normal migraines and burnout induced ones.

5. Increased illness. Children are walking, talking Petri dishes. The moment I see the sign up at daycare that some new disease is sweeping through the center, I know it’s coming home with me.

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6. Loss of appetite. This is one thing I’d actually take. I’ve been on the other side of this lately with increased appetite.

7. Anxiety. I am a Type A personality. When am I not anxious or worried about something?

8. Depression. Nothing really to say here. While I don’t think I’m experiencing it, it’s too big of a deal to make a snarky observation.

9. Loss of enjoyment. Here we go. This is definitely something I am enduring. I just don’t like writing like I used to. Part of it is definitely feeling the need to do things I really don’t like. Like Facebook. That looms over me, steals writing time, and starts to flavor the entire writing experience.

10. Pessimism. Is there any artist that doesn’t feel this way, especially if they haven’t been “discovered” or published? Might even be worse once you are “discovered” as then I’d constantly worry if I was a fraud or not.

11. Isolation. Introvert here. I like people. Sometimes. In moderation.

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12. Detachment. Hmmm, I have been feeling more detached from my work. Caring less about the characters.

13. Increased irritability. Remember the two kids I love and would do almost anything for? They are very demanding, and I have been losing my temper more lately. Might be burnout or the result of living with a toddler and preschooler.

14. Lack of productivity and poor performance. My word count has definitely been suffering.

As I read through this list, it makes me think what I’m experiencing isn’t such a big deal. Clearly, I’m on the lighter side of burnout.

It’s still real for me, and it’s affecting me.

I need to do more thinking on this. Think more about what’s leading to burnout and what I can control.

Control. That, I believe, may be key.

 

How about you? Any of these describe you? Ever felt burned out before? What did you do to combat it?

Burned Out

I am burned out.

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I have been burning the candle at both ends, and as so many have said before, you can’t do that forever.

I’m a mom, corporate employee, spouse, writer, and person who exercises.

I just can’t be all of it the way I want all the time, and I’m paying the price.

 

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And here I gave up coffee…

I am no longer finding joy in writing.

I’m finding less happiness in blogging.

All of the branding and social media is exhausting. A more extroverted person might not find it so, but that’s not me. Few writers seem to be natural extroverts, though they do exist, and this whole use of personality to connect with readers is starting to seem spurious at best.

So, I unplugged. I took several days off of all social media, and no one missed me. Makes me think social media is a lot less social than its name implies.

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I haven’t exercised in over a week.

Rather than feeling tired and run down, I’m actually feeling better. Maybe the break was needed.

I haven’t written in 5 days. Not even over the weekend. It felt good.

No guilt at sneaking in a few words while the kids were playing or while I was doing housework. No race to the computer once the kids were in bed.

I don’t know what this means for me long term. Perhaps it’s the wake-up call I need to get my priorities straight and realize I can’t do everything I want and need to do.

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I’ve spent the last 2.5 years working on my writing. The last 1.5 years adding a blog and other social branding to the mix. I have yet to publish a book. I don’t even have an agent.

A growing part of me says to self-publish and be done. Put the work I’ve already done out there and walk away. But I can’t do that without feeling disingenuous.

If my self-published work fails, which it most likely will, I won’t know how it could have done if I pushed forward and kept up the branding. If I had a back list. Or if I’d tried, really tried, and succeeded in landing a publisher like Avon that know the Romance market.

I’ve walked away from writing before. Many times before. It demands so much, and there are so many other things in life that need me.

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Is this the doubt-demon making an appearance? Again…

Perhaps I just need a break. A chance to catch my breath. To ignore my muse for a while so she’ll want to come back (she can be fickle like that).

Or maybe I need to take a long break and ease back. I already know I will never be a full time writer. We depend on my corporate America income.

 

Have you ever come to a point where you know something has to give? Where you’re feeling frazzled, burned out, and like you aren’t always present in the moment? What did you do about it? What choices did you make? How did you deal with it?

One Month

I’ve made it through one month of strength training.

Eleven sessions in four weeks. Not quite the three per week that is ideal, but not bad either. It’s a start to rebuilding the bone I lost when I had my little ones.

But now to stick with it.

See, I hate strength training. I don’t like the feel of heavy weights in my hands. I don’t enjoy the feel of a bar across my back or the burn in my legs as I squat. I just don’t.

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I hear “do something you love” all the time. I get that I’m much more likely to stick with an exercise I love.

Sadly, that’s not easy either. See,  I don’t love much exercise. Reading. Yup. Writing. Mostly. You’ll notice neither of those are exactly physical activities.

I loved tennis in my youth. There was something about chasing the little fuzzy ball that kept me entertained. I’d spend hours hitting the ball against a backboard to force my backhand to improve. I even found lighted courts so I could play at night.

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I learned to ignore the bats that came out to eat the bugs the lighted courts drew. I found ways to practice even in the winter. I loved the sport.

But, in my very early twenties, I learned I had a genetically bad back. The twisting motion from tennis was aggravating it, and I had to stop.

So I did.

Was years before I took up walking with my husband. We started small, but soon, we were traipsing around the neighborhood. Everyone knew us as “that couple we see walking”.

We’d literally walk for an hour or two every night after work. We’d talk about our day, hopes, wishes, dreams. Then, we started playing an RPG, and we started talking about characters.

That’s when the walks got really long.

We loved making characters. Seeing what they would do in different scenarios. It was a fabulously creative way to spend the evenings. We both dabbled with our writing, but neither of us had really taken it seriously at that point. After all, I was finishing graduate school while working full time, and after that, we were planning to start a family.

And start a family we did.

Complications in the pregnancy made us give up walking, but eventually, we had an amazing little one.

We just didn’t realize we’d never be able to have a grown-up conversation again. At least not while she was awake.

Once we were able to take walks again, talking about anything that did not directly involve her was impossible. She started talking at 11 months, and hasn’t stopped since.

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We bought and elliptical machine and treadmill and plopped them in front of a 60 inch TV. We thought we could watch a movie or catch up on a few shows while we worked out.

You already know how that went for us. DD1 was not tolerating being left upstairs while one of us went to the basement. Sure, we could’ve ignored her tears, but I get two hours with her a day. Less, if you include that part of that time I’m making dinner.

Gotta say, Sesame Street and My Little Ponies are NOT conducive to a strong workout. Even with an audio book playing, I still can’t concentrate on it with the sound and motion.

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For me, working out consistently for a month is an accomplishment. May not be for most other people. But I’m not them. I’m me. I have to compare me to me. And, I’m giving myself kudos for making it a month.

If I make it another month, I’m rewarding myself with a massage. I may not like exercise, but I can like the rewards that come with it.

 

How about you? Do you love exercise? Hate it? Find it boring? How do you motivate yourself to do it, especially if it’s not one of your favorite things? Any treats you give yourself, or maybe something else?

Consume vs. Create

It’s so much easier for me to consume than to create.

I think we can agree that it’s easier to sit down to a delicious supper than it is to make one. Easier to wear a clean shirt than do laundry. And it’s easier to read a book than to write one.

You’ll note from the number of book reviews lately that I’ve been doing a lot of reading. As a writer, you’d think that would be a good thing. Maybe it is. Or maybe it’s a symptom of a much nastier beast.

The decision to consume someone else’s work rather than make my own. And, I’ve been consuming a bit of it lately. Some of it’s good, some of it’s not, and I have been trying to make a point of figuring out what works in the different novels I’ve been reading. That’s one of the reasons I write the reviews.

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I’d love to say that while I’m reading, I’m also taking time in the same day to edit. But that’s not true. I have a limited amount of non-work, non-kid time. If I’m reading a lot, you can guarantee its cutting into my writing time. Or devouring it altogether.

I could say I’m toying with ideas. That would be true. I have ideas for two more stories percolating. But that’s not what’s consuming my time.

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I could say I’m listening to my muse, studying steamy scenes, or any number of other things. But, they’d be lies. The truth is that I really don’t want to edit my story. The POV edit for a book is brutally hard. Harder than any other edit I’ve done, except the last POV edit. Does it need to be done? Probably. I mean, yes.

And maybe therein lies part of the problem. While my brain knows I need to do the rewrite, my heart is a little bitter. I still read authors who write with the POV I did on this novel, but they’re best-sellers, and I’m not. They get to do it, and I don’t. So does it need to be done? Yes. Do I want to do it? No. And there’s the difficulty.

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If we boil it down, it sounds an awful lot like procrastination dressed up as research. Because of course I have to read books in my chosen genre to become a better writer when I should be editing.

Yup. Procrastination.

Sneaky little sucker. Apparently, the brain can trick you into procrastinating, making you think you’re doing something else.

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But, this rewrite won’t write itself. I’ve already put so much into this book, I can’t leave it as electrons in my machine. The hero is one of my favorites I’ve ever written, and he deserves his story told and his happily-ever-after.

Back to the grindstone. Giving myself a deadline on Crowned Prince (possibly renamed to Dracor’s Chosen) really has helped. Perhaps I should draw a line in the sand and say I’ll have Knight of Valor’s POV rewritten by September 1st. There, I said it.

*gulp* Time to edit. Right after I finish Dracor’s Chosen. Still have until the end of June…

 

How about you? Ever had procrastination hide as something beneficial? Or do you always know when you’re procrastinating? Do you find it easier to consume than create? Maybe you like editing more than I do?

 

8 Things I've Learned About Being a Writer

The one thing about us writers is, well, we write. I’ve been writing on-and-off since I was twelve, but I’ve been known to put it down altogether for long stretches.

Perhaps you’ve even put it aside from time to time, too.

For me, the longest I stopped writing was when we decided to start a family. There was an amazing amount to do to get our lives ready and *so* much to read.

Why don’t babies actually follow what’s in the books?!?  Do you know how many times I showed my infant what the “experts” had written as she continued to never sleep unless she was being held?

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Even with all this preparation, we were totally unprepared for the realities of being parents.

I fell into the routine many new mothers do and spent very little time on myself. If I wasn’t at work, I was with our little one.

After my second daughter was born, I watched a lot of TED talks. They were interesting, and they didn’t mess with my new-mom emotions. This one by Larry Smith , convinced me to start writing again. I literally got an old notebook that afternoon and started jotting down ideas.

I attempted to write that story. I mapped it all out, complete with plot and character outlines, applied bottom to chair, and churned out 50k words in five months.

Then shelved it.

The characters weren’t working. The plot was there but forced, even though I’d diligently followed my outlines.

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Except, you know, when they don’t.

I tried revising it, but my hero would’ve rolled his eyes at me if he could. It wasn’t his story. I’d been so busy sticking to my plot-points and outlines that I hadn’t listened to the characters.

I gave up and started a new novel. I plotted nothing. I let the story unfold as I wrote it. I completed the first 50k draft in three months. It was a rough first draft. Very, very rough. But it worked, and I loved the characters. I wanted to see them get together.

I still remember the climactic ending coming to me as I was driving to work after dropping the kids off at daycare, and I had to pull the car over and write it down before I forgot it. That’s when I knew the story was really working.

I’ve managed to write three more full novels in the year-and-a-half since, in addition to my full-time day-job, blogging, and two small children. Here’s what’s worked for me:

 

  1. Write Every Day – I’d originally thought the more I wrote, the more burned out I’d get. Not true. It’s amazing how creativity inspires more creativity. Writing is a skill, just like anything else. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. Sure, I can still get on a bike and pedal it, but teaching my oldest child to ride a bike made me realize that the elliptical machine does not keep you in shape for bike riding.

 

  1. Carve out Writing Time and Defend It (Even from Yourself) – My spouse has been amazingly supportive of me getting back into writing, and he’s agreed to be the primary parent for an hour each night after the kids are supposed to be in bed (yeah, you other parents out there know that’s a big “supposed to”). But if I spend that hour surfing the net, I’m stealing the time from my writing as surely as my daughter is stealing my patience when she comes out for her third cup of water.

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  1. Keep a Notebook – my mind does amazing things while I’m walking, driving, or when I first get up in the morning. But those thoughts will dissipate like fog in the noon sun the moment I get back inside, the engine turns off, or I swing my legs out of bed. I need a notebook to write these amazing bits of creativity down. My phone works well for this, too.

 

  1. Perfection Is the Enemy – get that rough draft down on paper. If you want to make changes, make a note of it and keep going. You can polish a rough draft. There’s nothing you can do with a blank page. Finish the story. Crappy is still done and gives you a place to start rewriting.

 

  1. Give Yourself a Couple of Months Before You Edit – This is one of the biggest things I learned with my first completed story. I was too close to the characters, the plot, and even the writing itself. I spent a lot of time “editing” that was really just patting myself on the back for what I’d written. When I went back and looked at it two months later, I had a much clearer view of what needed help.

 

  1. Find a Good Beta Reader – a good beta reader is worth their weight in Starbucks. They’ll help you see plot holes, character issues, and other things you’re too invested in your book to see. If you’ve got a good beta reader, of course you’re going to follow their advice even if it means a painful rewrite.

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  1. Read, but Read Critically – Lots of writing advice says you have to read a lot to be a good writer. I think this is over-simplified. Reading is helpful only if you take the time to figure out why one author engages you but another doesn’t. Why do you like a character, hate them, or think they’re too stupid to breathe? Why are you on the edge of your seat reading this thriller but not that one?

 

  1. Take What Works for You and Toss out the Rest. Writing is a creative endeavor. What inspires my muse may drive yours away. Some writers swear by an outline, whereas it brings out my type A personality.

 

 

How about you? Any good writing tips you’d like to share? Anything that’s worked for you? Anything that hasn’t?

 

Common Writing Advice That Doesn't Really Work

Some of the most common advice I’ve heard to a new writer is read more to write better. I’ve heard this a lot lately, and those touting the advice quote none other than J.K. Rowling and Stephen King. So it has to be good advice, right?

I can’t decide if the people telling this to authors are:

  • Telling us what we want to hear. Most writers love to read.
  • Using it as an attempt to sell us more books.
  • Genuinely misunderstand how humans learn.

This is pretty dense, but it’ll tell you that to learn, you need to engage the brain. If you tell the brain what it already knows, learning doesn’t occur.

Think about your morning commute. Ever arrive at work uncertain how, exactly, you got there? Happens to me more than I want to admit.

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Just reading is similar to this. You read the book. You finish the book. You either like it or don’t, and then move on to the next book. Kind of like your morning commute.

What’s missing from the advice of “read more” is the critical element of analyzing what you’re reading. Even if you’re not in a formal book club, you can still ask questions of yourself:

  • Why did you like the book?
  • What didn’t you like about it? Why?
  • Would you read it again? Why or why not?

 

After you have the answers to these questions, dig deeper.

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If you loved the hero, why did you love him? If he was too stupid to live, why did you feel that way? Did you want him to succeed in the end? Why or why not?

How do authors engage your senses to make you feel like you’re riding along with the characters? How do they connect you so you care what happens?

I normally love to read romance novels, and I write them, but lately, I’ve had a bad run of them. Characters I hate, situations I find contrived at best, love stories that are a study in lust. But, they have taught me a lot. And not just because I’ve read them.

I may not even finish a book, but I can learn a lot if I take the time to figure out why I didn’t finish. Were the characters not compelling? Was the situation so contrived that my eyes got stuck when I rolled them?

I want the happily-ever-after ending, but I want the characters to earn it. I’ve learned this about myself, and I try hard to put it into my writing. I also want the love story to be believable. I need the characters to earn that, too.

But learning how to do this takes more than reading. It takes the time, patience, and brain engagement to really analyze what I’m reading. I can learn a lot from the bad as well as the good, but I still have to take the time to think.

 

How about you? Do you find reading improves your writing? Do you stop and think about why you love or hate a book? What makes you love a story? Hate it?

"Saving" the Bad Boy

So, while we know that in the real world that women actually prefer nice guys, lots of fiction has the heroine living happily-ever-after with a bad boy.

While I appreciate Star Wars portraying how that worked out for Princess Leia, in romance writing, we expect the ever-after to stay happy.

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Biggest problem I’ve seen is how does the writer get there.

Most of us can believe that Han has reformed after being frozen in carbonite and putting his life on the line for the Rebellion even after Jabba has been “paid”.

In romance novels, I see heroes as colorful as Han, but rarely do I see the crucible of the story they’re put through strong enough to elicit the change in them required to give the audience their happily-ever-after ending.

And in Romance, if there isn’t a happily-ever-after ending, it isn’t Romance. That’s a key component of the genre.

I won’t name the book, but in a novel I put down recently, the hero was a classist jerk. He was born an earl and had nothing but contempt for the lower classes. Until along comes the heroine who is a girl from the streets. She might be a viscount’s long-lost daughter, which of course she is because this is fiction, but the hero doesn’t know that.

Somehow he overcomes his classist jerkiness because he’s in lust with the heroine.

Ad yes, lust, because they’ve known each other all of three days and he’s been unpleasant most of it because he’s “put out” having to host her.

Um, yeah, not buying it. When I opened the book, I was willing to suspend disbelief. I’m willing to believe this girl is the missing viscount’s daughter. I’m even willing to believe that the earl can be shown the error of his ways.

But I need a lot more than he wants to bed the heroine for that change to be believable.

I see this same issue over and over again in Regency fiction. The number of reformed rakes is amazing. Yet, few authors give me a really good reason why that rake reformed. The love of a good woman just isn’t enough.

According to my grandmother, a tiger doesn’t change his stripes, and if someone shows you their true colors, don’t try to repaint them. Must run in the family.

But she’s onto something here.

rake

Can people change? Yes!

Do they change often or easily? No!

So, if you want me to believe that your rake has reformed, he needs to go through something that causes the reformation. Perhaps he has a brush with his own mortality, or something significant happens that shows him what a hollow life he’s leading. Maybe falling in love does this to him, but there has to be some depth there.

If he’s in love with the heroine because she’s attractive? Sounds to me like he’s still a rake.
How about you? What do you need to believe a real or fictional person has changed?