Monday, June 28, 2010

Close To Finishing A First Draft

I'm three-and-a-half chapters from finishing my first draft of DEATHBLOW. I'm excited about the writing I am doing now. I'm heading for the climax and my foreshadowing is coming to roost. It seems to me that it's good stuff. No cynical smiles, please; I've finally gotten to the point where I can recognize pure dreck in my writing, and I can recognize pretty good stuff. It's the in-between that still needs work. I wish there was a "Find" function in my software that could ferret out my dread habit of overwriting.

At any rate, I am excited about once finished, going back to the beginning and making sure the novel starts as excitingly as I think it ends.

Oddly enough, the goodly number of near misses I had querying NICE GIRLS DON'T BITE, give me hope for this novel, which is better writing. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rewriting & Seminars

Yet another agent has asked me for more pages of NICE GIRLS DON'T BITE. My query letter continues to get requests for additional pages, but nothing ever goes farther. I suspended my work on DEATHBLOW and reviewed Nice Girls. I found I could tweak a word here and there, but basically it is the best book I could write at that time, and it will have to stand. If I were to take my main premise and write the book all over again, it might be different, but much would remain the same. It is a campy humorous cozy, period. Perhaps if I am ever well-published otherwise, an agent will find it more attractive.

I've been thinking about all the seminars many of my writer friends go to. While I don't deny that I have much to learn yet, I shy away from seminars. I don't want to spend my time doing writing exercises about subjects in which I have no interest, listen to comments on the thing I wrote without interest, and listen to others read the thing they wrote on a subject for which I have no interest. I would much rather spend my time writing my novel and find people to make comments on it. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Monday, June 21, 2010

Writing After A Tornado

A tornado went through our yard Thursday night. It came out of nowhere. The weather guessers were saying it would just be a good strong rain storm in our area. It dropped 15 of our trees, took out 400 feet of six-foot stockade fence, damaged the pool liner, played havoc with shingles and gutters, but with the exception of a couple minor issues, completely left the house alone. It was very loud, but lasted only 12 seconds. All of that I can cope with. As a writer trying to concentrate, however, I am terminally fatigued by the four-day noise of chain saws, cranes, wood chippers, and stump diggers. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Monday, June 14, 2010

Finding The Word & The Niche

Technology has made it much easier for writers. I use the "Find" function on my word processing program very often. Today I was writing, and had someone's eyes twitch as he thought of a lie. Twitch I said to myself. It sounded familiar. I was in chapter 45; had I written of people twitching all over the place? Was my police procedural full of twitches? Guilty twitches? Geriatric twitches? Smoker's twitches? Compulsive twitches? Yikes. But, knowledge was at hand. I asked "Find" to locate all the twitches in the manuscript and made sure the word was not overused.

Today I also, for what reason I know not, began to wonder if I was writing what I should be writing. I had finished a campy paranormal cozy, had written half of a horror/haunting novel, and had a charming one paragraph treatment of a lady who found a fairy in her garden. And here I was, writing a police procedural. Did I know what I was doing? Had I found my niche yet? Was I wasting my time killing people when I should be writing about little winged creatures? Should I make a stab at a mainstream novel? I decided the issue by asking myself what I liked most to read. Well... John Sandford, P.J. Tracy... Also, most mainstream novels put me to sleep. So I'm keeping on with this current book, DEATHBLOW, and never mind these niche fantods.

It did give inspiration for the next Minnesota Writers' Alliance newsletter, though. The newsletter focused on finding one's niche, deciding what to write. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Starting A Writers Network

Back in August of 2009, a writer friend and I got to talking about the lack of connection among writers in Southeastern Minnesota. We decided to start something. The Loft in Minneapolis was held up as a role model by my friend. We needed to wait three weeks while my friend cleared a conflict from her schedule. Then she had another conflict, and another. February of 2010 we were still waiting for this Renaissance woman to clear her schedule, so I lit out on my own, forming Minnesota Writers' Alliance, a nonprofit corporation whose main purpose is to network all writers in SE MN. We started by advertising for writers to identify themselves, then started a monthly newsletter, then started an Editing Network of people wanting to exchange their writing for comments. Our next gambit is to set up a play reading event. So far things have gone well. We have about 100 contacts in the 11 counties. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Making It Real

I just had another "breakthrough!" My breakthroughs are small and mostly realizations, and I have a new one about once a week, but still they're valuable to me. I go leaping and enthusing to The Man I Married to tell him all about it, and often it's such a trivial (or obvious) realization that he has to work at keeping a fascinated look on his face and say, "That's good!" when I pause for breath. However, knowing all that, I'm still excited, trivial or not. I was reviewing a paragraph I had just written, and it was clunky. I had rewritten it many times, and it was still clunky. It just wasn't "real." It was "writerish." I mentally smacked myself across the chops several times, and said to myself, "Okay, doofus. Forget about what you've got written. Pretend you're telling a gossipy anecdote and give us the sense of what you're saying. Out loud. Just the way you'd gab to a friend." And so I did. I fell over in amazement, then clawed my way back to the keyboard and got it written down. The sense was there and the paragraph was "real." The office cats will be hearing a lot of out loud gab from now on. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Agent Responses

I'm still catching up with my tale of growing as a writer. This incident happened in April.)
This week I have had 3 agents ask to see more pages of NICE GIRLS DON'T BITE. I'm getting to be a tricksy old dog, though. The agent I heard back from this morning, asking for the first 50 pages, was quoted in a recent interview as saying she was open to mysteries, but no vampire books, please, because they had been done to death. So.... do I have nerve or what? This is the first paragraph of the query letter I sent her: "Dear Ms Smith; If the reading public sees one more book about vampires, they're going to barf. Unless, of course, its a campy cozy and the vampires are batty middle-aged antiques dealers in Minnesota who refuse to play the game. Cheerful bumblers, these ladies may be undead, but they're going to be nice about it." Well, it worked. Let's see what she thinks of those first 50 pages. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Improving Both Novels

I just went back and kicked 550 words out of DEATHTRAP'S Chapter 6. From 1,779 to 1,228 words. Actually, once I got into the mind set that I was removing ugly fat, it wasn't too much of a wrench. And the final product reads MUCH better. What I did was go through the chapter and highlight the few pieces of information that absolutely had to be conveyed to the reader at that point in time. Then I went back to see what could easily go without changing the inclusion of that information. Often, I found whole chunks that could just be deleted, or that could be replaced with a short phrase. In the end the novel is probably going to run to 85,000 words.

A reward for NICE GIRLS DON'T BITE being in the running in the second phase of the Amazon Breakout Novel contest is that the 3 readers make brief comments. My comments are very interesting. Most of them have to do with the fact that the judges are looking for mainstream novels and don't have much respect for plot-driven genre efforts. However, beside that issue, they still said that my pacing was slow and my writing was still "writerish." So.... work for the future. I am always happy to get critical comments; they point the way to improvement. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Amazon Breakout Novel Cut

On the day of the announcement for the second cut of the Amazon/Penguin Breakout Novel, I was all set. My novel NICE GIRLS DON'T BITE had made it through the first cut, when they narrowed entries from 5,000 to 1,000. Now we were waiting for the cut that would narrow 1,000 down to 250. To honor this day I bought a new frozen pizza that looks to die for. It has a thin, thin crispy crackly crust, no tomato sauce, lots and lots of white garlic cheese, and spinach! True, the spinach is applied to the cream-colored cheese base in what you might call splorts, and looks mostly like pigeon poop, but I'm not going to let that deter me. If I make the cut, it will be a celebration pizza. If I don't, it will be a consolation pizza. On the home culinary front, it's a win-win situation. Alas, come the announcement, I had not made the cut. Consolation pizza. P. S. This was the first time I had tried this type of pizza. It wasn't all that good. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chapter Time Sequence

I never realized until now that being a mystery novelist can sometimes mean re-arranging time. I recently spent four hours trying to figure out a proper arrangement for my chapters. You remember in algebra when we had those story questions--Train A leaves Station A at 6:40 heading east on Track A traveling 40 mph and Train B leaves Station B at 10:00 heading west on a parallel Track B, traveling 60 mph. If the stations are 83 miles apart, at what time will the trains cross paths? My book is like that. I've got two groups of people whose actions start five weeks ahead of the first murder, but I cannot reveal their existence until after the third murder happens. So some of the chapters leap backwards in time. Then, when the trains finally cross paths, I have to speed the time up for the two groups that started early, so their actions now parallel the cops/murders. Got that? Neither did I. I thought I had it figured out three times, but each time when I finished re-arranging chapters I would see the flaw in my reasoning. I thought I had solved some of my problems by moving one of my groups into "real" time, but after sleeping on it, I concluded that my reasons for having their thread start way back were good reasons, so I'm going to change that. This explanation doesn't seem to make sense, but I think it will in the novel. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Friday, June 4, 2010

The "Cop Chat" Rut

I find that in writing my police procedural, it is so easy to stick in quite a bit of "cop chat" that serves no real purpose. I like doing it because I think I'm such a great one for coming up with fascinating and humorous remarks that my cops bounce off each other. But actually, it's a wannabe's device for making the book longer with stuff that is probably going to bore the reader to tears. My office floor is littered with the ghosts of really charming cop chat chapters that I have wept to delete. I'm trying to do better. What I do is take myself in hand and ask what new and substantive information is included in all that cop chat. Then I find a more action-filled way of presenting that small amount of necessary information, and delete the rest. I certainly hope the muses will someday reward me with publication in return for kicking out the boring cop chat. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Thursday, June 3, 2010

When to Use First Names

I'm presently dealing in my police procedural with when to use first names and when to use last names. In some published works I have found it to be confusing when the author jumps back and forth between first and last name, especially in non-dialogue passages. (Huh? Who's that?) I finally made myself a sort of formula. I use the first names of my police characters only when someone they know well addresses them directly. Otherwise, all police are called by their last names without any honorific. Non police people (suspects, witnesses, etc.) always get an honorific when addressed directly, but just the last name without an honorific when spoken of outside their presence. The novel contains a group of homeless people who identify themselves to each other only by first name, and so they are called by their first names in every situation. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

When To Ask For Comments

I have heard many discussions regarding when to let your work out for comment. Not too soon, people say, because a first draft is, well, a first draft. You don't want to be stuck saying, "Yeah, I know I have to fix that," "Yes, I intend to flesh that out," "Yes, I do intend to clean up the punctuation later," "Yeah, I know I need to look up the right model number for that gun," and things like that. And meanwhile this reader is concluding that I'm a no-talent doofus with a lot of defensive excuses. Nevertheless, I do want someone to point out, "Why was Anthony killed in Chapter 3, but helping with the investigation in Chapter 7?" long before I've done 28 rewrites! I finally settled down to a double standard. It doesn't bother me to let serious writers see my work after just a little rewriting, because I know they know the difference between an early draft and a polished piece. But I probably wouldn't let hobby writers comment on my work until it had 53 rewrites. Thanks for reading. Joan Sween

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Do Colors Have Character?

I'm reading something written by another author I know who is also writing a police procedural. When offering him comments, I ask about his habit of giving subjective qualities to colors. He speaks of eyes being a "rich hazel" color, for instance. I can see light hazel, dark hazel, speckled hazel, hazel with a dark rim, but how can the color hazel be "rich?" I assume he means a medium brown with yellow in the coloration. He speaks of a carpet being "lush green." Again, I see green as light, dark, blue-green, mottled, whatever, but not "lush." If a piece of slime were the exact same shade of green, would it also be "lush?" I think not. I think the carpet is lush, its color is green. His room also has "lush avocado" drapes. My old refrigerator was avocado green; was it also "lush?" This is such a minor point, and the reader still understands what the author means, but I wonder if it isn't the beginning of a slippery slope. If we do that little descriptive side-step with colors, what shortcuts in our writing will come next? Thanks for reading. Joan Sween