Kay: Back to School at the Writers’ Police Academy

“Pistol Pencil” by Liam Wolf, 2014. dribbble.com/neopeaks

I got derailed on my WIP this past week—a project turned up that needed my undivided attention, but until that happened, I’d been going great guns on my story. I was closing in on the finish, I know what needs to happen, I’m getting it down on paper. So that’s been great after that long period a while back when I’d write 500 words every day and delete 1,000. Those were dark times.

I want to finish this one soon; I have a third book planned in a trilogy and I’m ready to move on altogether, away from these characters, even though I haven’t finished book two and book three is barely in the planning stages. Until those three books are done, I’d decided that I’d take no more classes, attend no more conferences except RWA, and sign up for no more workshops. It’s not that I know everything, it’s that I don’t need another class to finish a book. I know what I have to do, and that’s sit down and write the dang thing. I have a couple of other books that have been patiently waiting to be written, all of which are a lot different than this current trilogy and include real FBI stuff, guns, and drama.

So you’ll understand my dilemma when I ran across the Writers’ Police Academy. It looks like fun. You get to drive fast! And shoot! And learn about forensics! And it looks like other fun stuff. And it’s in my home state, so I could visit people while I’m there. It’s filling up fast—they’re already booking into the overflow hotel. What do you think? Should I go?

Want to come with?

 

Kay: Maps Tell You More Than Where You’re Going

A medieval depiction of the Ecumene (1482, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver), constructed after the coordinates in Ptolemy’s Geography and using his second map projection.

I recently had to take a trip out of state to an unfamiliar area. I’m a recent convert to the delights of GPS, so I traveled without fear or fore planning. I just got in that rental car and drove.

I got to my destination safely and without confusion, but I was also a little disconcerted. I hadn’t used a map, so I hadn’t known even the direction in which I headed, since a downpour obscured the sun. If it hadn’t been for the road signs, I wouldn’t have known if I was driving north or south.

I thought of a blog post by Barbara O’Neal that I’d read recently. She describes how novelists draw maps of their fictional worlds so they know what everything looks like and how everything and everyone is placed. I’ve done that myself. I once used graph paper to draw in scale the room where my characters were going to have a shootout. If they stood this far apart, what were the odds that the villain’s gun would shoot straight at that range? I moved the furniture around to give my hero more cover (would it work if the doorway was a little more to the left?), and I drew lines in different colors to show how everyone moved in the course of the scene.

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Kay: What Does Your Book Smell Like?

Extracting the smell of an 18th century Bible in the Spangled Bedroom at Knole House. National Trust/James Dobson

I’ve just returned from a trip to my home state, where I engaged in a lot of high-powered thrift store shopping, my cousin’s favorite sporting activity. I don’t buy very much on these excursions, because whatever I purchase has to be either shipped or schlepped back to California, a transaction that depresses the carefree, low-risk joy of the acquisition.

But I’m always in the market for reading material, so when I’m in a thrift shop, I check out the books. The prices at these stores can’t be beat, and often there’s something I can be tempted by.

The biggest problem with books at thrift shops (compared to used book stores, which are a whole different kettle of fish) is that you never know where those books have been. Continue reading

Kay: Kill Your Darlings

This word cloud was built from the text of this post.

Last week my critique group talked about “empty” words—the words we don’t need and don’t notice we use too often. My go-to favorite unnecessary word is “just,” a word I discovered that I’d used 368 times in a 127-page (so far) manuscript. By the time I finished searching and replacing it with a blank space, I’d cut 250 words from my text. Other favorite empty words we found: really, actually, and well.

The problem with finding empty and overused words is that unless you know your favorites and keep a diligent eye out for them, you don’t really (see what I mean?) notice them as you type. They’re in there before you realize it, and they’re invisible to you when you reread your work.

A fun way to discover what words you’re using a lot is to build a word cloud, which shows you at a glance which words you’re using most in your text. Scrivener has a built-in feature for this purpose, but if you’re not a Scrivener user, there are other ways to do it.

Several free programs will build word clouds for you. Continue reading

Kay: Not Dead Yet

“Nuns at a Calder Show, Los Angeles” photographed by Imogen Cunningham when she was 70

I was on public transportation the other day when two women—neither of them young, but both of them younger than I—sat down on the seat behind me. They didn’t hesitate to use their outdoor voices on the train, so consequently I learned that one of them is writing a novel, and the other envies her friend and wishes she could do the same.

However, she said, she’s too old to start now.

For any of our wonderful followers who might feel the same, or who know others who might feel the same, let me first draw your attention to Ida Pollack, who had a book out to her editor for revisions when she was 105. Helen Hooven Santmyer hit The New York Times best seller list and became a celebrity at 88 for her novel . . . And Ladies of the Club. And Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first of the “Little House” books, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65 and the last one when she was 76.

Clearly, as long as you’re not dead, you’re not too old to write a novel.

But the conversation between these two friends on the train made me think about the writing life—a slow and often tedious process filled with (sometimes years of) revisions and then years of submitting and rejections before the hopeful author finds the editor of his/her dreams. Continue reading

Kay: Rituals are Fun, but Process Gets It Done

woman-typing-on-laptop2People like rituals. Some sports stars don’t wash their lucky socks during the season, or always eat the same meal before a game. Actors tell each other to break a leg. Spiritualists burn sage to cleanse a room of evil spirits.

Writers have their rituals, too. They sharpen their pencils and line them up. They crack open a new notebook. They put on the same playlist while working.

There’s a kind of magic that comes with habitually picking up a favorite pen or sitting down every day at sunrise (or moonrise, take your pick). Ritual is emotional preparation. It sets the stage for accomplishment and entices your muse to dance across it. Sometimes when things don’t go well, ritual can trick you into cooperating. But not always. Because ritual is tangential to actually writing, it doesn’t always work.

Process does.

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Kay: The Art of Love

Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida - https://www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/

Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida.  www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/

I’ve started writing a scene that I think will be pivotal in my book. It’s a scene in which my hero and heroine have sex, but the sex will propel them into a new stage of their relationship. My critique partners have emphasized that it’s important that I show why my heroine has been unwilling to move forward quickly with the romance—she won’t move in with the hero—even though she must make a decision soon about whether to return to her old job across the country. If she goes, the relationship dies.

So to write this sex scene with as much sensitivity and weight as it needs, I wrote a scene that sets it up—my heroine tells the hero about her mother, and in so doing, reveals her feelings about family, home, and security. I wrote this scene from the hero’s POV, because I wanted readers to see his reactions to her story, and I wanted him to ask the questions I thought readers would be likely to ask if they’d been in the room with her. I spent some serious time on the scene, and it’s not bad. I’d give it maybe a B-.

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