Playing to win

“I remember my dad asking me one time, and it’s something that has always stuck with me: ‘Why not you, Russ?’ You know, why not me? Why not me in the Super Bowl? So in speaking to our football team earlier in the year, I said, ‘Why not us? Why can’t we be there?'”
 
– 2014 Super Bowl Champion QB Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks
 

Football has been over for weeks, and college basketball – March Madness – ends tonight. The Tar Heels didn’t make it past the Third Round, but after a phenomenal regular season victory against rival Duke in UNC’s Dean Dome, it almost didn’t matter…especially since Duke was eliminated in the Second Round.

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UNC students in downtown Chapel Hill, celebrating the victory over Duke on February 20, 2014

[Other than wanting UNC to beat them in basketball, I’m fine with Duke; the book I’ve been writing for almost a year now is partially set in Durham.]

Over the last several months (the coldest October through March in over a century, I read), I’ve been busy writing it, and I hope to finish it soon. The hardest part was the middle, which I was working on during the NFL playoffs (and while Atlanta got zapped with at least three bouts of freezing temperatures and/or snow and ice).

Lately though, I’ve been on kind of a writing roll, and I’m nearing the end. But it won’t be done then; working with my editor (and doing revisions) is next. There’s a lot more to do, too, the most fun of which will be to select a cover. Meanwhile, I’ve got the conflicts and characters identified for Book 4 (a suspense novel) and I can’t wait to get started on it.

So – what does any of that have to do with football, or with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson?

In a word: inspiration.

Autrefois, I didn’t like or even understand football. Now, I miss it a ton, and I can’t wait to watch the Falcons play this fall. I watched this year’s Super Bowl, enjoyed the game – and was inspired by the story (and words) of the Seattle quarterback.

Here’s someone who’s worked hard, who might have been considered an underdog, but who didn’t take No for an answer. I’m taking a cue from his words. Why not me?

Why not write fiction (and creative non-fiction)? Why not work full time on my books? Why not be committed to learn, and keep trying to improve my writing? Why not produce the best stories I can, and tell others about them?

Why not go for it?

“Why not you, Russ?”

 

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…

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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! 

Keeping it simple

One of my family’s favorite sayings* is just one word, and it comes from the movie We Are Marshall: 

“Simplify!”

Unlike the movie It’s Complicated,** simplify is not just a sentence, but a verb (and often, a solution). When we repeat that line, it’s obligatoire to speak slowly and adopt a southern accent. And when I worked on the final edit of my latest novel, UNDERWATER, I tried to simplify: I cut some (unnecessary) backstory, clarified the timeline, and streamlined the plot.

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But – très important – I also added some depth.

It wasn’t a simple process. It took a lot of reflection, and some trial and error. It’s part of the work of a work-in-progress that can be difficult, for me. But it’s worth it – ça vaut la peine. 

So, under the surface, there were some currents of struggle. For a few days, I resisted diving into the edit. Just like when I go to the pool, I had to test the water – with my toes. I fixed the easy stuff first, then broke my editor’s feedback down into managable tasks. I stayed in the shallow end of the pool for a few days. Then I started swimming, and soon – happily, and mercifully – I got into a rhythm.

[That rhythm thing must be what football players experience when they drive down the field – when they’re “in the zone.”]

Since publication, I’ve gotten some good reviews (Yay!) and many compliments from readers. I’ve also answered many questions, trying not to reveal too much. Lots of people have told me that the ending took them by surprise, and that the story was not a predictable one. Some have asked how I came to know about some of the specifics and story details, and write about them. Others have been intrigued by the novel’s theme, and how I developed the plot.

Was it a simple process? Mais non. But when I was treading water in the writing, when I was sinking into the mind of the villain, and when I plunged into the final edit, I remembered one thing above all:

Simplify!

* Here are some other family sayings taken from movie lines (guess which):
1. “I’ve made my decision. Pull the plug!”
2. “Who ya gonna call?”
3. “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
4. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
 
** We also like the “It’s Not Complicated” commercials, with those adorable first graders answering simple questions…

Part Deux: 2 Literally-Asked Questions, and More

Here’s a few more of the questions asked at the Book Launch Party for my novel UNDERWATER, and the answers (and announcements) I wish that I’d should have given (and made):

En premier (first):

The novel is dedicated to my mother, Sally, who was a guest at the party. She knew how nervous I was speaking in front of the large group, and fortunately, she reminded me to announce the book’s dedication to her. I did, but here’s what else I should have said…

I dedicated the book to her because she’s been so supportive of my writing. Years ago, when I mentioned my idea of writing a book, I told her that I was thinking about writing a novel based on my year in France.

“Do it!” she said. “It’s not too late!” When MAKE THAT DEUX was published, no one was more proud of me than she was – and no one’s asked me more about the details of  UNDERWATER, and when it would be released! Thanks, Mom.

En second:

Several people named in the book’s Acknowledgments were in attendance at the party. But who (besides other authors) reads the Acknowledgments page?* So I wished I had recognized them, and explained how much they helped. From pacing and plot to the smallest story details, their input was invaluable!

Enfin (finally), les questions:

Where did you draw your inspiration from for this story?

I drew on some of my own life experiences when writing the story.

My husband and I were “underwater” on our first house in the late 1980s, before being underwater was cool. We moved across the country for a new job in the midst of a declining real estate market, a side effect of the Savings & Loan crisis. We had no choice but to (seriously) downsize and do our best – and to start all over again. No one came to our rescue, and one thing we learned was that it’s much easier to upsize than to downsize. Much easier.

But we did it. We lived not just within our means, but way below them, for several years. In short, we did “Dave Ramsey” before Dave Ramsey was cool.

More than a decade later, after building a new home in the Midwest, we left the area, again for a new job. We sold our house at a loss. Downsizing followed, but we recovered more quickly this time.

When I began writing UNDERWATER, I knew the premise, the protagonist, the villain, the storyline…and I knew the feelings of despair, desperation and stress connected with a house underwater.

I thought that I could write about those feelings through the eyes of fictional characters, and about the havoc that the situation wreaks in all of their lives.

What books have you read recently, and what do you like to read?

I read a range of fiction and some non-fiction, including biographies. I like everything from suspense to coming-of-age stories and romance. I also like historical fiction and classics. And I usually like anything set in France, which includes presque tout – almost everything – by Peter Mayle.

Earlier this year, I read Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and his book written for authors, On Writing (a bonus was an appendix of good books to read). Another great book I read was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

For the answers to some other questions about UNDERWATER, such as how I selected the title and characters’ names, see FAQ – UNDERWATER. 

* Take a look at my Acknowledgments page (it’s short!) to find out more.

Keeping a secret – sort of

At the book launch party for my latest novel, UNDERWATER, I read a short scene, then answered guests’ questions.

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I was prepared for a Q & A, though (for some reason) not exactly expecting it. I enjoyed answering questions about my inspiration for the book and talking about my writing life, and, perhaps for that reason, my glossophobia (fear of public speaking) temporarily disappeared. But to one question, I gave a cryptic, sort of secretive response.

That question was, “What are you working on right now?”

I had already told my writers’ group and several other friends, but that night, I hesitated to answer. I wanted to tell them, yet I didn’t. My next book will be quite different from the either of the first two, and I didn’t want to talk about why. I didn’t want to detract from excitement about UNDERWATER and any other questions about it. And to date, I’ve only written about 14,000 words of the draft for “Book 3.”

I wanted to keep the details a (semi-)secret.

So I responded by identifying the genre (creative non-fiction), stating that it’s a true story, and saying, “And that’s all I’m going to say.”

Here’s the cliché that I should have added: “Because truth really is stranger than fiction.”

I hoped that, by not giving a direct answer, I would evoke some curiosity about Book 3 – but no more questions about it, at this early stage in my writing. That may be because I feel so connected to it right now, so involved in it and so hopeful about it. It’s kind of like a new baby that’s on the way. But I’m sure that later, once it’s finished, or at least getting close, you won’t be able to keep me from talking about it.

But I reflected later that some guests at the party – who have known me for some time – might have wondered what kind of a “true story” I would be telling. Something dark, resembling (fictional) events in my Suspense novel UNDERWATER? Something “strange” that I’ve never told anyone about, that I now feel compelled to reveal? Or something that would surprise my friends and even make them doubt its veracity?

So – here are a few hints, for those of you who don’t know:*

It’s not about something dark, strange or surprising. It is about something uncommon – very uncommon. The events themselves are unusual, but because they are also so important and so inspiring, I hope to tell the story in a way that engages you, makes you feel it, and even makes you live it.

And that’s what I’m working on.

(More to come…)

*And if you do know, please keep my secret, for now.

Becoming a GREAT villain

ENCORE!

Jill Edmondson, author of the Sasha Jackson Mysteries, invited me to write a guest post again on her BLOG  of today, August 28, 2013! Thanks, Jill! 

“The best villains are the ones who aren’t 100% bad.”

Read this post to find out about how the VILLAIN in my new novel UNDERWATER became GREAT!

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Cover Reveal: UNDERWATER

 Look for UNDERWATER in just a few more days!
 
“…a woman haunted by a wrong turn in her past…believes she’s fulfilled a promise she made decades ago.
 

..the tension rises to a boiling point…rough seas threaten their young family…and her own demons rise to the surface. 

Dive into a page-turning suspense novel that asks questions about generosity, greed, shame, and sorrow as a family struggles and sinks deep underwater…”

 

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A preview of the cover! Devinez (guess) the rest…

The cover for my new suspense novel has been chosen. Here’s a petit morsel of it:

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The composition of this cover is simple in some ways, and complicated in others. The triangle effect, the size of the lettering and the font selection are important. So are the couleurs..

A few hints about the book (and cover):

– There’s a bit of français in this novel, but not near as much as in MAKE THAT DEUX. 

– The title of the book has more than one meaning, and so do several chapter titles…

– The shades of color on the cover were difficult to decide

– One of the chapters in this book is entitled “Revelation” – I will reveal the title and full cover shortly!

Another petit morceau:

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Make that a Page-turner! (and cut it out)

While writing my upcoming Suspense novel, this is what I kept in mind: Make the reader want to turn that page. Make them want to know what happens next. Keep them wondering, and guessing.

You’d think that, in action scenes at least, that would mean get to the point, and move it along. Cut to the chase.

Well…yes and no.

Sometimes it does mean that – but not just in action scenes. In dialogue scenes and descriptions, my primary and continual goal was to move the plot forward, and to leave out anything that didn’t. Sometimes things moved quickly. But in some places, the idea was to move things along steadily – or somewhere between steadily and quickly.

Advance readers told me that – Yay! – this novel* IS a page-turner! But in working with my editor, I realized that one of the many things I needed to accomplish in revisions was to cut out unnecessary content.

Oops!

Basically, to cut to the chase. So, I (painfully) cut some things: if it wasn’t intriguing and/or necessary, it  had to go.

[On the other hand, I had to (also painfully) add some scenes, tweak others and make several changes, which I did. But it was only painful at first; once I decided to get going, I dove in and kept on swimming.**]

Having spent time last week with lots of people who seem to encourage cutting to the chase when telling stories, it seemed appropriate that that was one of the things I was doing during my final revision to the book, whenever I had the time to work on it.

A different kind of “cut to the chase”:

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What to do with what I had so carefully written, that now had to be removed? When I talked to my editor, she suggested that I save them and use them in upcoming blogposts, to show what might have been, kind of like “deleted scenes” in movies.

Perhaps. If it makes you wonder, and guess.

* The (one-word) title of which will be revealed in an upcoming post
** This (necessary) paragraph provides two clues to the aforesaid title; your guesses are welcome
 

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