How deep is your research bench?

I’m in the process of selling my house.

After one open house, my realtor was in the process of shutting off all the lights and locking up when she entered my office library.  A couple of days later, she asked my daughter, “Why does your mom have all those books about poisons, forensics and the criminal stuff on her shelf?”

I knew my daughter did everything she could not to laugh out loud. She calmly told her, “She’s a writer.”

My realtor was probably relieved to know that I wasn’t plotting to kill anyone–not in the non-fiction world anyway. It also might explain why she never accepted my offer to make her a cup of coffee.

The point of my story is twofold.

A novelist or author is like a journalist and like any investigative reporter worth their salt, their main objective is to answer the questions “who, what, when, where and how,” with concrete, factual answers.  As authors, we have a little more flexibility when it comes to telling the story, but we still need to do our homework and research.

1) Although we’re encouraged “to write what you know,” I flip it around a bit and I make sure “that I know about what I’m writing.”

I believe in having a book that covers every subject. Though most of my books are packed away, a few still remain within arms reach. One of my books is about a pediatric nurse, hence the “Code Blue” book. I didn’t have the faintest idea of what went on in the emergency room from a nurse’s perspective. So, I bought a book for research and reference.

2) make sure your research bench is deep, on and off the shelf.  

With my nurse story, I took it a step further and made an appointment to visit a couple of nurses at a nearby hospital in my town. There, I was able to get firsthand, what it was like in the emergency room during a crisis, what triage really meant and how they juggled their personal lives and saving the lives of others.

One of my heroes is a real estate mogul. Thank goodness my daughter is a real estate and mortgage subject matter expert!   I was able to pick her brain on eminent domain and house flipping laws. With my real estate 101 course, I believe my story could withstand scrutiny from the most knowledgeable real estate professional (someone like my realtor, maybe?). 🙂

Ensuring that your research bench is deep both on the shelf and in the real world, will make your stories that more believable.  And don’t be afraid to talk to people.  Ask those burning questions! All they can do is think you’re crazy for asking. But once you explain it’s research for your book, it’s amazing how quickly they offer information.

And maybe they’ll even accept your offer for a cup of coffee.

Advertisements

Jane Austen. Edgar Allan Poe. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Maya Angelou. Ernest Hemingway. To me, they were literary rock stars, who played the written word like Eric Clapton plays his guitar, Billy Joel his piano and Phil Collins the drums.

Each of these authors has influenced what I read, and not surprisingly, what and how I write. They’ve moved and inspired me with their stories, passages and verses.  And each time I “jam” to their work, I learn more about a character or uncover a theme that might have escaped me the first time around.

Probably my first and strongest influence in writing is American writer, commentator, activist, and educator—Nikki Giovanni. Over the years, I’ve swayed to the rhythmic verses of “Ego Tripping,” and felt spiritually and humanly empowered as I read, “Those Who Ride the Night Winds,” a collection of her poems dedicated to “the day trippers and midnight cowboys, … who have shattered the constraints of the status quo to live life as a “marvelous, transitory adventure.”

The author of 27 books, a Grammy nominee, and now a professor of English at Virginia Tech, Ms. Giovanni still moves me. And isn’t it the very nature of a writer’s existence? To move others? To enlighten others?

After all these years, I still want to be like Ms Giovanni–embracing my thoughts and my work without the internal editor or virtual someone looking over my shoulder. I will be forever grateful to Ms. Nikki Giovanni for her masterful command of the written word and her fierce grasp on what makes us think.  She rocks.

Nikki_Giovanni_speaking_at_Emory_University_2008

Who’s your literary rock star?

Write like a rock star …

‘Tis the privilege of friendship …

“Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected.”
― Charles Lamb

I’m fast approaching my 100th blog post (tomorrow, exactly) and despite pictures of the best gang of friends around–the “Little Rascals,” I’m feeling a bit philosophical.

It has been quite a journey since I started this blog three years ago. If I’d been consistent in my blogging, I might have tripled the number of hits, comments and posts. However, I’m not going to think about the would haves, could haves or should haves. Life jumped behind the wheel—as did my mission to finish my first book—and I had to let them drive.

This year, in between writing, I found my way back to my blog, self-expression and to friends, near and far, who matter. Whether we realize it or not, we’re making friends—through our shared interests, thoughts, lives, and our willingness to help others.

I’ve been fortunate to meet artists whose greatest joy is to hold a paintbrush between their fingers. I’ve chatted with photographers who rather hear the sound of their camera’s shutter first, and get laid later. (No joke, they said that!)

I’ve met mothers who love being a mom, but everyday yearn for the opportunity to pick up where they left off with their dance or art lessons. And that desire doesn’t make them a bad mother. If anything, it makes them better, fully faceted individuals.

And with each encounter, I realize that it is oftentimes the people furthest from you, who understand you without reservation.

At times, I feel that way about my writing. Although my family is super supportive, they don’t understand that I can sit in the house all weekend at the computer and be quite content. At times, they shake their heads at the thought that I’d rather revise a chapter or agonize over the correct word usage, than go bowling or go to a show. It’s not that I don’t enjoy doing those things, or get the chance to do them. I do.

But I live a writer’s life.

    A writer’s life consists of more nouns and strong verbs than endless chit-chat over the phone.
    It consists of countless hours of trying to reason with characters who believe they’re in control.
    It consists of destroying the dangling modifiers and adverbs that threaten to weaken our prose.
    It consists of sacrificing all you hold dear, so that your baby—your manuscript—will be so endearing that an editor or agent will want to take it home and keep it. (When that happens, drinks are on me.)

I look back over my blog and I see how far I’ve come not only as a blogger, but as an individual. I’ve opened up and invited others in, and it’s so exhilarating when they accept.

Speaking of accepting …On the my 100th post, a dear friend and new author has accepted my invitation to stop by and chat. Can’t wait!

Thank you for listening to my thoughts, my attempts to be helpful and my nonsense (because I KNOW I have moments of insanity).

“Tis the privilege of friendship …”

Learn it, breathe it, live it: The Writer’s Creed …

This week has been a good one filled with interesting posts and comments. For those of you following, commenting, “liking” or just plain stopping by, I really appreciate it. I’m humbled that you took time out of your hectic schedules to take a look. We all have gifts and I believe a blog is one social medium that helps us share them.

Thanks for allowing me into your world. 🙂

The other day I blogged about creating obstacles for our characters that will result in a satisfying ending, and I wanted to share this post then. However, it would have been outrageously long.

So I’m ending the week (TGIF!) with author Clint Johnson’s  Writer’s Creed,  which states (more or less) that we, as writers, are obligated to give our characters hell, so they might emerge happier and healthier people. Kind of like life!


Here’s Clint Johnson’s hysterical take on the writer’s oath, law and slogan. I have it hanging in my office as a reminder, for inspiration and most definitely a good laugh. Visit Clint’s site for his complete take on why he wrote this version of the writer’s creed and how it is vital in achieving our goal as writers.

Have a great weekend.  See you Monday.

The Writer’s Creed

The Writer’s Oath

On my honor, I will do my best to create havoc on every page and to leave neither peace nor happiness in my wake; To cause problems at every opportunity;  To abuse characters I love, always aspire to the worst, and sleep unburdened at night.

The Writer’s Law

A writer is…

– Duplicitious (Never Trustworthy!): A writer never lets her characters know everything that is going on. The more you can mislead and confuse your characters, the more enjoyment you give your reader.

– Traitorous (Never Loyal!): A writer is always looking for ways to undermine characters and foster betrayal in her stories.

– Hindersome (Never Helpful!): A writer makes trouble; she does not solve problems.

– Curmudgeonly (Never Friendly!): A writer begrudges every moment of happiness and prosperity in her story. Contentment is offensive to her–discontent, ultimately pleasing.

– Rude (Never Courteous!): A writer has no regard for her characters’ egos or positions within society. She finds humiliation ever-desirable.

– Vindictive (Never Kind!): A writer causes trouble because she can, not because it is deserved. Every success of a character is worthy of retribution.

– Mutinous (Never Obedient!): A writer upturns all her characters value and depend upon. She fashions those in her story with the specific intention of capitalizing on their weaknesses.

– Profligate (Never Thrifty!): A writer never holds anything back. She seeks to expend every resource and emotional reserve of her characters, and only constrains the extravagance of her imagination by the furthest reaches of plausibility.

– Licentious (Never Clean!): A writer collects all her characters’ dirty little secrets and yells them out to anyone willing to listen.

– Profane (Never Reverent!): To a writer, none of her characters’ beliefs are sacred; their faith exists to be challenged, and wrong must sometimes be portrayed as right.

Despite common perception, yes, there are admirable characteristics of writers as well (though we make mighty poor Boy Scouts). We must be…

– Brave: Obeying the Writers’ Law can be difficult, uncomfortable, and wearying. Have the courage to be sadistic enough to write good stories.

– Cheerful: Engaging in antisocial, uncivilized behavior–at least in imagination–is the primary obligation of a good storyteller. You can’t avoid it. So don’t feel guilty. Write great stories, don’t apologize or get ulcers, and live cheerfully and well.

The Writer’s Slogan

Cause trouble on every page.

Is life too easy for your characters? Bring on the obstacles …

When writing fiction, particularly romance, we have been taught that readers want a heroine or hero who experience tragedy and then rise back from the depths of hell to claim (or reclaim) their true love. My words, but you get the gist.

Short and sweet, a character must overcome obstacles (and many) if your story is to have a satisfying ending, or for romance writers, the must have happily ever after.

If you’re having trouble doing that, an article, “Throw Obstacles at Your Characters” from Writing World may help you get started. This is one of the best writer’s reference sites around. I keep a binder filled with a plethora of articles on the craft and business of writing that always come in handy.

Case in point.

I’m working on my second book, and for some reasons I didn’t think my heroine, a pediatric nurse and single mother, who is afraid of getting involved with another man after a mentally abusive relationship with the father of her child, didn’t have enough obstacles. So I went back to my trusty binder and reread, “Throw Obstacles at Your Characters.”

So far, the list of obstacles in my wonderful heroine’s life goes like this. While camping with the new love of her life, she falls off a ravine, sprains her ankle and gets bitten by a snake. At some point in the story, when she finally finds true love, she loses it. She chooses not to believe the hero when he tells her that her ex-lover, who has slithered back into her life, isn’t sincere and has ulterior motives for coming back. And if a separation isn’t enough, the ex-lover kidnaps her son (and his) to force her hand into marriage. Nice guy, huh?

Oh, and did I mention that professionally, my heroine comes under suspicion for aiding and abetting a criminal in an illegal prescription drug ring?

Hmmm … I think I need more obstacles.

Perils of a Romance Writer (Okay, a writer. Period)

One of the downsides of writing is the evitable “writer’s block.” Some don’t believe in it. Others will swear it’s a common malady among people with a creative pen. (Or computer)

I tend to sway on the side that it exists and is generally connected to that other known malady-lack of motivation.

For the past few days, I haven’t been motivated to write anything, but my blog. And I guess that’s okay because I’m STILL writing. Lately, this blog has been my saving grace.

Experts say when you can’t get a scene, or a word, or a chapter to flow, (which has been my problem) you should do something else. Take a walk, clean the house. I have a friend (she’s a best-selling author) who makes spaghetti when she gets stuck. (Maybe I should start cooking. On second thought …)

One article in Writer’s Digest, (I love this site) said at the first sign of trouble, retreat. So, I did.

Because of my lack of motivation to write, I’ve started doing other things. And instead of going for a walk, or cleaning the house, I made another video. (Oh, yes I did!)

In one of my post last week, I shared a video that I’d done on my book, “The Heat between Us.” It’s an animated view of a scene made possible by Xtranormal.

Again, I can’t stop singing their praises.

This video is an introduction of the characters in “The Heat Between Us.” Besides reading about their trials and tribulations, I thought it would be a nice idea to hear from them, personally. I hope you like it.

I find that this form of creativity has, in fact, helped me with my writing. I’m back at work on the second book, which is the second of a three-book series. And I’m already thinking about a video or two or three. 🙂