Tag Archives: Kelly and Me

Writing a Book Together: Staying on Course

This is the third time I’ve tried to post this blog entry. For some reason yesterday, every blog post got lost.

Today is a simple post. I’m interested in how many pages you’re feeling you can write each day (now that a few days of writing together have passed).

I’ve joined the JanNoWriMo that Bruce Luck set up for an easier month of writing plus I’m supposed to make an accounting of my writing in another WIFYR group. But life has a way of creeping in. In my case, right now, it’s the needs of others. But I’ve heard these excuses, and maybe used one or two:

“I don’t have enough time.” “I’m waiting for the right moment.” “It’s too hard.” “I have to work.” “Some day . . .”

When I was just beginning to write, I worked at an ice cream production plant in Florida. I packed ice cream for hours every single day. There was lots of time to think through writing troubles. But when the urge to write came, there wasn’t time or a place or even the material to do anything. I finally solved this by writing in the 30 second intervals of free time I had when working with another ice cream packer. (Man, I was NOT good at that job. I was so uncoordinated. Come to think of it, I still am).  I wrote entire sections of my stories on ice cream sandwich boxes. Those stories wound up in my first book, Kelly and Me.

My sweet friend Laura Torres taught herself to write in 15 minute increments. She sold millions of her crafts books (see Friendship Bracelets).

So what are your goals? How many words do you plan to write each day? How much do you plan to rewrite? And the better question is this: How do you plan to accomplish that goal?


Filed under Uncategorized

Sexy Sense of Place

“The author must know his countryside, whether real or imaginary, like the back of his hand.” Robert Louis Stevenson

When my first editor, the amazing Mary Cash, bought my first book KELLY AND ME, one of the things she said was, “We need more sense of place.”

“How do I do that?” I asked.

“Read,” she said.

And so I did. I found lots of books that painted worlds for me. But the authors I learned the most from for that writing exercise were Bill and Vera Cleaver. They wrote WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM (Newbery winner). All their books (yes, I read them all) were so beautifully detailed that I fell in love. I’m STILL in love with their writing.

A Few Facts about Sense of Place

  1. If well done, setting can become a character (what one reviewer said about KELLY AND ME).
  2. Not just fantasy novels need world building–ALL books do.
  3. If you feel like the book you’re reading is a desert (when it’s not!), that’s because the author has failed in making the world real and visible. The author is your eye.
  4. When your main character talks about place, remember he will speak only about what he notices. YOU have to make him notice what allows the reader to believe they are there.
  5. Use all five sense when you write. At this moment I can hear the baby and, across the street, a lawn edger going. I can feel the cool air blowing in around my feet from the open window. Outside my window there are two trees, one with leaves the color of an almost-ripe lemon. The smells coming from the bathroom? Let’s just say the wintergreen smelly thing ain’t helping a lot. And then, of course, there are the keys under my fingers. All of this is part of my sense of place–of the world I am in right now.
  6. Don’t use all sense at once, like I did above. After you build a place, it’s your job to remind the reader where they are. And I don’t think it’s a bad idea to do that two or three times a page.
  7. The amazing Tim Wynne-Jones gave a great talk when I was at school at VC, about the emotion sense of place can give a book–how it can forecast doom or help readers feel joy. There’s a name for this, and try as I might, I can’t remember what it is. When I do, I’ll add it.


#32 Rewrite your book opening using sense of place.

#32.5 Do what Mary Cask said: Read for setting. How does the writer do it successfully?



Filed under Editors, Exercises, Setting, Voice, writing process

Take a Deep Breath

So last night I had all these dreams and I was gonna wake up and tell them to you but I can’t remember even one.
I can remember night before last’s and it including two dogs who had no hair but skin that looked like a mummy’s. The dogs were headed toward the car I was in.
Are these my pups made into zombies?
Phht. I still hate ’em.

Oh wait.
Last night.
I was in this way old house that was my neighbor’s. A Southern house from the ’30’s, maybe, and the floors were falling apart and riding up and down and there was a claw foot tub and I remember the halls were super-wide. The best part? I had so much money I was rebuilding her a home and mine, too (on the huge lot next door).
I must be worried about my own home.

Making Time to Write

Long before I was pubbed I lived in Florida and worked at the Borden’s ice cream plant where I got to eat all the ice cream I wanted. Plus drink milk. Chocolate.
By this time in my life (16), I knew I wanted to be a writer.
Being a writer meant a lot to me.
I didn’t know it, but all the reading I did and all the writing I did was training me to be a professional.

I wrote anytime an idea struck, including when I was at work and could only put one word down at a time, on a cardboard ice cream box I kept on a work table beside me, while I sealed boxes of ice cream sandwiches (24 per box, marked for individual sale, probably for Disney or another theme park).

Idea strikes.
Pull out pen.
Write for three seconds.
Fold box tops down
tuck lid in
slap on tape
throw container on conveyor belt
write a few more words
fold box tops down
tuck lid in
slap on tape
throw container on conveyor belt
write a few more words
fold box tops down
tuck lid in

You get the picture.
I wanted it.
I wanted to succeed.

I had no idea then that those stories I worked on in the Borden’s Ice Cream Plant, Orlando, Florida, would wind up in my first novel, Kelly and Me a million years later. While I had a goal to publish, I didn’t believe it was possible. I had no idea how to go about it. I never thought it would happen to me.

So tomorrow–that’s day one of NaNoWriMo.
And here’s the deal for me.
I am going to write the BEST I can during this next month because I want to sell this book when we’re through with the competition.
It’s possible.
I know how I write, I know what a books needs, I’ve been thinking (sort of) of this story for a long time, and I want to succeed.
I also know my weaknesses as a writer, that I think 1000 words is a good day and that I have to triple that, that I’m not exactly sure how this novel will end–or even what the climax will be.
I have some of the answers.
But still lots of problems that I’ll try and decide solutions to today or discover as I write along.

Here’s the second deal for me.
If I can’t do it the first few days, well, I may jump overboard because I don’t want this time wasted.
Still–if I can write short stories on a brown cardboard box, why can’t I do this next month?

The truth is we look for excuses to fail (see above paragraph).
You succeed when you set your mind to something.
When you do it.
And if you love what you do, well, that will help you that much more in your success rates.
Want it bad enough.
Go after it.
2300 words per day.
We’re going together.

So I’m taking a deep breath.

Tomorrow we begin!


Filed under CLW

And So We Continue–Questions to Ask Yourself as You Revise (11-20)

Our revision discussion was interrupted last week with a Note to My Girls Because I Knew There Would be Many Tears of Sadness and There Were. We’ll pick up where we left off the week before. 🙂

11. Is every word moving you toward the end of the novel? My mom used to ask her creative writing students “Would you use so many words if you had to pay a dollar for each one?” It’s a good question. What words can you do without? Do any slow the story down? Do you need all the adjectives? All the adverbs?

12. Is your punctuation right? Yes, this is something that a line editor will help you with, but don’t forget that I just read a book (I mean it! Don’t forget that *I* read a book) where there were tense problems all over the book. So you want to get your novel the best it can be. And whatever you do, do NOT think that this is what an editor is for and send in a manuscript with typos all over the place. Said editor will just dismiss you with a vote of thanks.

13. Can your “ly” words be replaced with stronger verbs? Adverbs mean a weak verb. So think of words (in revision–otherwise you will slow yourself down) that you can use that will replace your adverbs. “He walked slowly” can become “He meandered.” And let me tell you what–I ALWAYS have characters meandering.

14. Do you have a plot? We character driven novelists are always wondering this! Hahaha! “Do I have a plot? Ann Dee, what do you think? Do I have a plot in this one?”  “I don’t know, Carol. I like your characters. Ally? What do you think?” Ally (too kind to say anything negative) avoids eye contact.

15. Can your “was –ing words” be replaced with one word? I was walking becomes I walked. This makes the story more immediate and you lose extra words, and that’s always good because it means  you save a buck.

16. Does the reader feel the main character’s emotion? If you want to connect to your reader you can do so through emotion. Let us feel what the character feels and we will care. That’s the way it goes, mister. Be careful, though, to not tell the reader how the character was feeling. Man, was he scared! And when you show, make sure that you are not using cliched writing. She was so embarrassed her face was as red as a tomato. Be original and your story will be remembered. (If you don’t think so just remember back to that scene from Throw Momma from the Train that Kyra posted on Friday. His guts oozed nice like a melted malted . . . )

17. Are you giving too many points of view? When you change voices or points of view you need to keep each strong and distinct. Each character must sound different. Each must sound real. The more points of view you have to deal with, the more you have to create, keep original and individual. Whenever I write from a boy’s point of view the boy sounds like a girl. Why? I know girls. And I think boys have cooties. So I always have to be very careful when writing the male voice.

18. Are you consistent with your POV character or are you getting into the heads of too many people? Please, I’m begging you. Your main character–unless she can read minds–can only feel her own emotions. She might be able to see a look of sadness on another’s face and interpret it as such, but she doesn’t know how the other person feels. Period.

19. Is there good sense of place? One way to connect with your readers is to make a scene feel real. This happens by writing a strong sense of place. Use all five senses when you are creating place. Some think that only fantasy or dysptopian novels need world building, but the truth is all books should make the reader feel grounded in place. My first letter from editor Mary Cash told me I needed to develop more of a sense of place for KELLY AND ME. I wasn’t sure how to do that and went to other books to see how the authors created their worlds. I loved Bill and Vera Cleaver (WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM) who told beautiful stories where the place was almost a character itself. Place is quite strong in Ally Condie’s novel MATCHED.

20. How is your pacing? A book that moves too fast or too slow will leave the reader feeling gypped, bored or both. Make sure you pace your novel so that you’re not giving too many details (details that don’t move the story forward) and to make sure that you aren’t leaping over important parts of your book.

Remember that everyone has their own way of revising–but if you never complete a manuscript, you’ll never have anything to revise. So get a draft done so you can start the fun part of writing. Well, I think revision is fun. What about the rest of you?

Also, and I mean this, books–well-written and otherwise–can you teach you so much. In fact, books were my first creative writing teachers. So what am I saying? READ! READREADREAD!


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