Wine with Wendy on Wednesdays

My friend Wendy is a talented artist, an avid reader, and the mother of 5. How does she do it all? Je n’ai aucune idée! (I have no idea!)

The last two times we had a rendez-vous, we met for déjeuner – lunch – on a Wednesday, and we had a glass of white wine. As we caught up on each other’s lives, the subject of our creative endeavors came up.

Art, and writing.

Wendy is full of energy, smart, clever, and fun. She’s been encouraging me and my writing for years. Her objets d’art are lovely and cool. Last Wednesday, as we dined at La Petite Maison, I told her about my latest book – the one I’ve just finished writing, for which I finally decided on a title.

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I told her a little about the story, and although the book has already been edited, revised, edited again, and proofed, she asked if she could read it, pre-publication.

She wanted to be my beta-reader.

Of course, I said yes, and I sent her the PDF later that day. That night, she sent me her initial (very positive) reaction (phew!). She also helped me fine tune the “elevator pitch” or “log line,” and the “blurb” (description).

It was so refreshing to talk to someone who reads constantly (and reads a variety of work) about my next book. Inspired by the fact that our birthdays fall during the next two months, Wendy and I also decided on a new plan: we’ll have lunch at a French restaurant once a month, on a Wednesday, and have a glass of wine with our meal.

Une très bonne idée! et merci, Madame!

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UNDERWATER New Cover Reveal!

After months of anticipation, voici the brand new cover for my suspense novel UNDERWATER, to be rereleased on November 25, 2014!

You can pre-order the novel on Kindle here.

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Thomas & Mercer cover artist Scott Barrie created an updated, powerful, more menacing cover, n’est-ce pas? Merci beaucoup, Scott! And – wait until you see the back cover! Here is the updated description there:

After years of guilt over a long-ago tragedy, Candace Morgan is finally poised for success. The CEO of her own women’s shapewear company, she’s about to launch a new swimsuit line—and make a fortune. When she is guilted into loaning her brother a huge sum of money for real estate, she believes she’s simply fulfilling a family promise. In reality, she’s enabling a devious sociopath…and now, she’s roped into the renovation from hell.

For years, Monty Carawan has envied his sister’s wealth. Spiteful and self-centered, he’s convinced that her success came at the expense of his own future. But when the housing market plunges and Candace attempts to disentangle herself from Monty’s mess, her brother’s malicious streak brings the family tension to a dangerous boiling point.

Kindle, Print and audio versions of the book will be released on November 25, 2014, just in time for Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping season!

Who to hang out with?

If you want to be smart, hang out with smart people.
– Anonymous
 

Okay, it’s probably not that easy. But maybe it helps..and it can’t hurt, I don’t think.

And – it translates into some of my other objectives, when I substitute any of the following words for “smart:”

  • creative
  • productive
  • a writer (or, an author)
  • a French speaker
  • or even, a person with a good sense of humor 

I work alone, but I like to connect with others, especially fun people, and those with whom I have something aspirational in common. (Is it really all about the 5 people you spend the most time with? Perhaps…)

Anyway –

  1. Creativity: People who like to imagine, design, and brainstorm (en français, un remue-méninges). These are fun people, and open to inspiration. They like music, dancing, art, and the challenge of coming up with something out of nothing (like a blank canvas or a blank computer screen).
  2. Productivity: People who work to achieve their goals, who are persistent and who don’t give in to discouragement, writer’s block, procrastination, or the idea that everything will just somehow happen. (Okay, I procrastinate, but I try not to, and always keep in mind how much better I’ll feel when I don’t procrastinate.) *
  3. Writing: Those who write, whether it’s fiction, poetry, songs, or non-fiction. Those whose books are published and those whose aren’t yet. Those who can’t not write. Those who want to have their work read/heard. I’ve learned a ton being around these people about how to write, what makes a good story, and how to make what I’ve written better.
  4. French: I knew my first novel would be set in France, and there was going to be a little bit of France/French in all of them. Donc (therefore), a few years ago, I set out to reattain my (youthful) fluency in the language, and I’ve gone from making un effort to succès.  I’ve been surprised at how many French speakers I’ve met in Atlanta. Hanging out with them is toujours une bonne idée. 
  5. Humor: Okay, this is an easy one. My husband can (still) make me laugh, and so can my dearest friends! Because without humor, life is, well, a life without humor, and that’s impossible.

* Now, to stop procrastinating and get back to writing that pesky WIP (work-in-progress), Book 4!

What Readers Want

What I heard: Jackie K. Cooper’s entertaining interview of authors Karin Slaughter and Chelsea Cain

Where I was: Decatur, Georgia, at the Decatur Book Festival’s presentation “Internal Affairs,” part of its Mystery/Thriller Track, with my friend, author James Huskins

What I learned  heard, but was happy to be reminded of: 

1. Characters need to have secrets

2. Characters need to be damaged in some way

3. Violence and sex* are to be included if they move the story forward

4. Writing dialogue is a good way to get over “Writer’s Block”

5. Short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs create fast pace in action scenes

(Okay, I didn’t hear #5 there; I saw that on Twitter. But this week I read Cop Town by Slaughter and noticed it)

What I did: Listened intently, laughed, clapped, was inspired – then got drenched in a rainstorm walking to my car, but was in such a good mood that I  we laughed some more

What I did next: Downloaded Cop Town, read it (couldn’t put it down), and worked on my next Suspense (Book 4), paying attention to #s 1-5 and focusing on what readers want: 

suspense, surprises, a well crafted plot, good pacing, well developed characters, vivid descriptions, realistic dialogue…

* To my “beau-frère:”  I’m doing my best on this in Book 4!

Writing what you know, and eschewing surplusage

“Use the right word, not its second cousin.”
– Mark Twain

 

Making the right word choice is one of the tenets of my writers’ group. At a recent meeting, we discussed the whether the words basic and ubiquitous mean (basically) the same thing–at least, in the sentence we were considering. So I looked them up in my iPad dictionary app. As you might guess, they don’t. 

But in that context, were they so close that one of them should go? The person whose work it was would decide. At our weekly meetings, we offer feedback, make suggestions, encourage one another, and talk about writerly things. We have a few sayings, too, some stemming from the below Mark Twain quotes:

1. “Write what you know.”
We say this one a lot–it may be ubiquitous. Note that it doesn’t mean, tell a true story (unless you’re writing non-fiction). “What you know” includes the places you’ve been, the emotions you’ve felt, etc.
2. “As to the adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.”
We often say the second part of this (“when in doubt, strike it out”). Also, see above (basic and ubiquitous).
3. “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
See #2.
4. “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
See #2.
5. “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”
(Show, don’t tell.)
6. “One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.”
(I’m guilty of this one, but I’ve gotten a lot better. Haha.)
7. “Write without pay until someone offers pay.”
I mean, what choice do we have, if we want to write?
8. “If the writer doesn’t sweat, the reader will.”
(Work hard.)
9. “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”
(Conflict! And, see #1.)
10. “Eschew surplusage.”
(Don’t be wordy!) I’m working on this one, too. Just to be sure I understood it, I looked both words up, since it looks and sounds a little like “Chew sausage.”
 

And those are the basics.

Words, my friends

Somehow, July came and went – in a word, that was fast!

Independence Day, The World Cup, Bastille Day, the Tour de France, the milestone birthday fête of a friend (a few weeks late)…there was so much going on!

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[VIDEO of fireworks (feu d’artifice) at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, July 14, 2014]

But during juillet, I was chez moi – I wasn’t en vacances. I was working, and I didn’t write a single blog post…

Cependant, I wrote fiction.*

I’m approaching the 10k (words) mark on Book 4, a suspense novel which is not a sequel to UNDERWATER, but which does tie into it…how, I won’t reveal yet.

I’ve also been working with the team at Thomas & Mercer to get UNDERWATER ready for its rerelease in November! It will be available not only in print and on Kindle, but as an audio book too.

While working on both of those projects, I’ve been steeped in words – coming up with them, changing them, cutting them, rewriting them, considering them, looking them up – and even using them when I play Words With Friends on my phone with, well, friends.

As I said to a friend (but not a WWF friend) at the birthday fête, I’ve learned a lot since writing my first novel, MAKE THAT DEUX. Just like anyone – including him, il y a longtemps – in any new job  trade  endeavor  métier  career  occupation  well, job, you don’t know everything when you start. It takes time, and commitment.

De toute façon, while working to revise what I write, I’ve noticed a few things:

1. I tend to use these words too much (and so they get cut a lot):

just 
yet
at least
down
now
right now
okay
huge 
well

 

2. I really try not to use these words:

really
truly
finally
suddenly
and anything -ly (adverbs)
 

3. I try to do the following (with the help of my writers’ group):

minimize -ing words (put in action, instead; i.e. -ed if in past tense)
put action BEFORE dialogue, minimizing tags
insert narrative in dialogue scenes, but don’t overdo
alternate narrative scenes with dialogue-driven scenes
paint pictures with descriptions, and try to be vivid
avoid clichés (should be obvious, but I have to remember it)
minimize the use of italics – only use when necessary
 

For me, it’s fun to work with words…after beaucoup de travail, eventuellement, they turn into BOOKS!

• My 3rd book, ALL THE ABOVE, is creative nonfiction (a true story) and is finished! I’ll be choosing its cover this fall and planning its release for early 2015!

 
 
 
 
 

My turn on “The Writing Process” Blog Tour

This post is part of a blog tour on the writing process. Thanks to Kathryn Gray-White, a fellow Atlanta author for tagging me to take my turn.

I met Kathryn at a combined book signing event that we participated in last month called “Books in the Garden” at Specialty Ornamentals in Watkinsville, Georgia; the other authors were Rona Simmons, Valerie Connors and Linda Hughes. Kathryn was signing her book, ATLANTA’S REAL WOMEN, and we chatted with each other and with readers who came to the event. We finished the day with a one hour appearance at Avid Bookshop in nearby Athens.  Prior to meeting Kathryn, we connected on Linkedin. She is a historian and an assistant professor at Georgia Gwinnett College.

MY WRITING PROCESS….

What am I working on?

I’ve just started writing my fourth book (and third novel), a Suspense/Thriller so far unnamed. Book 4 borrows a few minor characters from my novel of the same genre, Underwater, and it turns one of them into a major character. Underwater is the story of a successful businesswoman whose brother guilts her into funding a luxury home just before the housing market drops, plunging the family into a downward spiral of deceit and violence. Book 4 is about another family in conflict over a house, this time a two million dollar beach home that three siblings will inherit upon the death of their wealthy stepmother.

When her sizable liquid assets are stolen by a crooked investor, the stepmother considers selling the beach home to fund her lifestyle in a luxury retirement community. Two of the siblings suggest that she obtain a reverse mortgage on it instead, to keep it in the family and protect their inheritance. But the middle child is secretly grappling with huge debts and unwilling to downsize or compromise. When an unforeseen event occurs, her income drops drastically and her demands multiply. Soon, her hostility toward the woman who took her mother’s place decades ago turns from anger to hatred. How far will she go to get her way, and to get her hands on the money she believes is rightfully hers?

While writing Book 4, I’m also working with my freelance editor, Laura Ownbey, to revise and prepare my third book for release. A work of creative nonfiction titled All the Above, it chronicles my nineteen-year-old son’s battle with brain cancer.

In addition, I’m working with my editor and team at Thomas & Mercer, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, who recently picked up Underwater for re-release this fall.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My first book, a French Travel/Romance novel titled Make That Deux, is a semi-autobiographical tale based on my year as a junior exchange student in the late 1970s. So many books are set in France, but I could find none quite like mine, which also falls into the new New Adult genre, where the protagonist is in college, not high school like in Young Adult (YA). All the Above is a personal account of my emotional struggle when the unthinkable happened to my son. Underwater and Book 4 are about adult family members caught up in conflicts over money; the stories pose questions about generosity, enabling, guilt, and duty. Tension builds to a boiling point, and then…

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I like to read, and I like to read a variety (the only types of fiction I dislike are Fantasy, Science Fiction, and anything Paranormal). We expose what we value by how we spend our time and our money, and I’m drawn to fiction about families in conflict over the latter, with fragile relationships to complicate matters. I enjoy writing from different characters’ perspectives because I like showing that individuals can have goals, feelings and personalities that clash. It’s interesting to look at how family members can view the same events and issues in vastly different ways, and can have opposing memories, desires and fears – and keep them secret from each other.

How does your writing process work?

My writing process has evolved over time, and I’m constantly open to learning. I write full-time and have a routine, but one in which flexibility is important; you’ll sometimes find me writing during slow weekend afternoons and up at 3 a.m. when an idea won’t go away. Normally, though, I write for four to five hours on weekday mornings, then two or three more in the afternoons.*

I pay close attention to pacing, and I start with notes, a plot outline and characters that I can get my head around. I ask myself what I’m trying to say in the story and figure out how my characters will show it. I massage my notes as I go and decide when to end chapters based on intuition. I keep track of multiple POVs in a separate place and continually ask myself (and answer) who should speak next in the story.

My writers’ critique group, an offshoot of the Atlanta Writers Club, provides feedback and gives me suggestions and encouragement. I learn a lot from listening to others read their work. I shoot for writing 5000 words or more a week. I write, cut, revise, write, cut, revise…etc. Eventually, the book gets written, and then my editor does her thing. Then, I break down her edit and work on revising once again. After a copy/line edit, it’s finished, and I start on my next project!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this entry in The Writing Process Blog Tour.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, follow this blog, or connect with me on Twitter (@MakeThatJulie), and Like me on Facebook (JuliaC.mcdermott).

 

*That’s what I aim for, and what I do, most of the time..Of course, I also take breaks, and get up to do lots of household chores, and exercise!

From Typing to Skyping…

Last summer, I went to a local antiques store with my daughter. She saw an old typewriter for sale and walked over to it.  A piece of paper had been inserted, and she tapped one of the keys.

“It doesn’t work,” she said. I walked over and typed my name on the paper. “You have to hit the keys,” I told her. “You don’t just touch or tap lightly!”

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  I took typing in high school for one quarter, and learned to type at a decent (but not very fast) rate. Mistakes counted against your grade, and I let speed suffer in my effort to avoid typos. In college, I remember having to carefully retype entire papers (before Liquid Paper came out).

Luckily, my French professors didn’t require typewritten papers – with so many accents, it was nearly impossible. So they had us turn in handwritten papers.  A bit less of a hassle…but still.

How things have changed! Liquid Paper was a blessing in my first job at a downtown Dallas bank. Though I wasn’t a secretary, I typed a memo or two…

Liquid_paper

Fast forward to today. Though we still “type” on computer keyboards, things are different now. Communication has evolved. Writing business (and personal) letters is done via email and social media messages. People read books on their phones and tablets. To sum up a recent blog post by writer J.A. Konrath, ebooks are here, and there’s no turning back.

And people visit with each other on Skype.

That’s how I appeared at a Book Club meeting last night that had chosen to read my suspense novel UNDERWATER.* My contact there – far from my home – had invited me to Skype with the group to discuss the book and my writing. I was thrilled to have the opportunity, to meet such a great group of readers, and to answer their questions over a glass of wine.

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Before our scheduled call, I set up my iPad to Skype in my home office and wanted to test it. But now I was the one saying to my daughter, “It doesn’t work!”

I texted her at her North Carolina university, and a few minutes later she had downloaded the app on her laptop. Then she called my Skype name…

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Between “So pick up” and “Just finished and it went great!” (over 3 hours later), she helped me make sure my device was ready and that I was happy with how I looked onscreen.

She’s minoring in French, and sometimes (though rarement), that’s how we communicate.

Merci, ma fille! Tout s’est bien passé!

* If your Book Club chooses UNDERWATER and would like me to appear at your meeting via Skype, please let me know! 

L’anniversaire de my (French) “Charlie Brown” Christmas Tree

I(t) made it.

Since last Christmas, I’ve kept my  Charlie Brown Christmas tree out (in my bedroom) all year. When shopping for gifts at Sur La Table earlier this month, I found the rest of the ornaments it needed, including a Buche de Noel.

This year’s tree:

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To borrow a question from my husband, How many pair of black pants  pair of boots  purses  Eiffel Towers does a person need?

Answer: Beaucoup. For this tree: five, to be exact – though one was a gift from a friend.

Our (real) tree is still up, and it will be for a few more days. It’s nine feet tall and loaded down with ornaments that we’ve collected over the years. Perhaps next year, the ornaments pictured above will go on it – but it’s too early to know that now.

When it comes time to pack up the Christmas decorations, I’m not going to want to store this little tree away in the storage room. So it just might have to stay out for an encore (but not on the dining room table).

Since I like to keep a little bit of Christmas out all year.

Last year’s Tree:

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