Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Quick Tip to for Editing a "Cooled" Manuscript

You've finished writing your book's first draft and you've let it "cool" for a few days or weeks—or sometimes, in my case, years—and now you face that horrible slog known as editing.

The purpose of letting a manuscript cool is to put some distance between your creative process, the feeling of being fully enmeshed in a story, and your critical side, that part of you tasked with seeing your work through readers' eyes. Fail to give yourself enough time or mental distance from the moment of creation, and you won't be able to spot the flaws, the errors, the rough or slow patches. You won't be able to untangle the stuff that was purely in your head, should have made it to the page, and didn't.

Whenever I've let a manuscript cool and I'm eager to begin editing, eager being perhaps too strong a word, I'll dive in thinking I have my reader's hat squarely affixed to my head. I'll make note of the mood and the hook, our first introduction to the main characters, moving along at a brisk clip, and then it happens. My reader-self will stumble over a glitch, a poor word choice, an awkward sentence, or some murky element of the story that will definitely need rewriting.

No problem, I tell myself. I'll just do a quick fix. Let's cut that sentence there. Now we'll change that awful adjective, or get rid of it entirely. And what if I insert a phrase here?

I think it will only take a moment, but I'm almost always wrong. Before I know it, my reader's hat has been tossed in a corner, and writer-me has taken over again. I've come to a dead stop, and the experience of reading the manuscript from start to finish, the way a reader would access the story, has been aborted. I can't recover it unless I allow the manuscript to cool again.

To avoid this problem, I've created my own simple trick for noting and acknowledging a problem on the page, without breaking that reader's rhythm.

  1. Open up the manuscript you'll read and click anywhere on the first page.
  2. Type two letters that aren't commonly found next to each other in the English language, such as QZ or FW.
  3. Bolderize and color the letters so that they will stand out, like so: QZ
  4. Cut the two letters, removing them from the page and thus coping them to the computer's pasteboard.
  5. Begin reading. The moment you come across the first thing you want to fix, click your cursor near the problem word, phrase, or passage, and paste in the two letters, QZ.
  6. Keep reading and click-pasting. 
  7. When finished with your read-through, you can go back and make your edits. The bold, colored letters will help you spot the problem areas visually, while the odd letter choice can help you locate these via a search.
  8. When done with your editing, don't forget to remove your indicators. You should probably also Select All and change the entire file's type color back to the default black, just to be sure.
Yes, the same thing can be accomplished by using Track Changes in MS Word and inserting a note, but I find that even this action slows down my first read and takes me out of the moment. It feels more like a technique that should be used later as a line-editing tool.

Clicking and pasting is fast, I can do it without thinking, and it preserves the organic experience of that crucial "fresh read."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are Paper Books Starting to Feel Antiquated to You?

I was at my favorite thrift store today, browsing the book aisles, where paperbacks were just 25 cents each. I grabbed a basket and settled in to fill it with several dollars worth of books.

Look, I thought, there's a J.R. Ward I've never read! And a Lisa Kleypas I'd love. I'd never tried Christina Dodd, and the cover for Touch of Darkness, looking shiny and near new, popped out at me. I reached to add it to the pile weighing down my arm.

Gradually, as the basket got heavier and heavier, the idea that I would be buying so much paper, began to feel odd, wrong somehow. The more books I picked up and considered, the fewer I wanted to bring home. Slowly, I began emptying the basket I'd just filled.

I'll just take these six, I decided. No, just these five. I love these authors. I can hardly wait to read them. I whittled the batch down to a dollar's worth, 75 cents, and then finally just two books, one by Gena Showalter, plus the silly yet irresistible Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I want to read these, I thought, I want to.

Finally, I put them back. They felt heavy in my hands. Strange. They didn't have a screen.

At home, I pulled out my Kindle, and downloaded my two favorite picks from the thrift store. Sigh. There. I had my books. All was right and normal with the world.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sneak Peek ~ Chapter 1 ~ BEYOND HER DREAMS

Working feverishly, okay, as feverishly as I'm able, to finish Book 2 in the Dreamrunner trilogy, and thought I'd put up a teaser. Here are the first few pages from BEYOND HER DREAMS. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

“We’re taking a huge gamble on your say so,” Gavin said, not looking at Rafe.

Gavin had just joined him for a meet in Rafe’s high-clearance, mud covered pick-up. While Rafe studied the photo of the delicate, wary-eyed brunette in the dossier propped against his steering wheel, Gavin sat in the passenger’s seat, staring at the narrow streets of downtown Battle Forge, Virginia.

“You know I’m right,” Rafe said.

Rafe wasn’t that thrilled with the vehicle he’d been given for this assignment. The mud he didn’t mind, but the bible-rifle rack combo and Confederate flag branded him as the stereotypical half-brained Southern redneck. He only hoped the look helped him blend in with the locals in this depressed Blue Ridge town with its shuttered fabric mill. He was afraid Gavin had gone overboard when setting up his cover and that he now stood out, as much a caricature as the truck’s mud flaps and their charming cartoons of a little boy with his pants down, peeing on the words, TIME TO GO TO WORK.

“What choice do we have? We have to go with this,” Rafe added. “You’re running out of time.”

“We’re all running out of time,” Gavin corrected him. “You, me and 1,367 men, women, and children back at The House.”

“No pressure, right?” Rafe said with a sarcastic grin.

He closed the dossier with the photo of the girl; set it on the bench seat between them. He’d parked on a claustrophobic one-way street fronted by 19th century brick buildings in various stages of dilapidation. The road ran downhill toward the community’s more active commercial neighborhood, where lunchtime was starting to draw a crowd at the only decent cafĂ© in a thirty-mile radius. To the west, the town climbed a hill in stages, parallel streets like terraces clinging to its steep sides. At the top, the depressing walls of the old Brickleburg Sanitarium, now a private hospital, loomed over all, a colossal cement vulture.

When his boss didn’t respond, Rafe glanced his way. Gavin was tall. Not as tall as Rafe, of course, but the sheer presence of the man always made him seem as if they were the same height. Gavin’s shock of white blond hair and sharp European features, coupled with eyes like the North Sea on a winter day, and the shallow gouge near his left cheekbone that disappeared into this hairline—souvenir from a bullet in the face—gave him the look of a high class criminal. He was a man who made decisions no one else was willing to make, made them quickly, without wasting time on regret.

Rafe’s eyes narrowed in concern. Gavin’s stare had grown unfocused. His jaw tightened, an indicator of some intense effort.

It was all the warning he got.

Battle Forge suddenly disappeared. It was as if a black tarp the size of the entire town was instantly thrown over them. Beneath this horizon-to-horizon shadow, an alternate landscape took shape, replacing the town he saw with another location entirely. Objects formed in the dark, each glowing with dull gold light. Clouds of that same yellowish metallic light sprang up and drifted around the pickup truck like ground fog. An historic stone mansion surrounded by park-like grounds emerged from the gloom, supplanting Battle Forge with buildings that resembled a college campus. In a wooded distance, winding lanes with cottages and larger homes all embodied the air of comfort and safety, individual havens for the people who lived there.

Rafe immediately recognized the mansion, the buildings, the grounds, the homes, all of it. Except none of it should look like that, not doused with that golden murk that distorted details, blurred edges, replaced reality with something else. Rafe knew what the light was, understood what it meant, he was dreamrunning. But how? How had he been abruptly pulled into a run without having initiated the dangerous and energy-draining journey himself? No one simply fell into The Fields, that gold-tinged alternate plane runners traveled at will. Where had Battle Forge gone? Why was he here, looking at his own home? And why was it the middle of the night? Nothing going on, everything peaceful, not even a dog barking.

A moment later, a missile screamed out of the dark, lanced toward the stone mansion, and blew it to hell. The building went up in a blossoming orange cloud of brick and glass and stone. Even before his mind could grasp what he witnessed, three more smoke spewing missiles crossed Rafe’s vision and the buildings nearest the mansion, one of which he knew to be an orphanage housing over 200 children, were incinerated by missile strikes.

So hot were the flames, so appalling the noise that Rafe forgot the distorting effect of the golden light that characterized this odd, alternate view of the world. Stranger still, he realized he wasn’t standing in the open as he expected, but still sat in his truck with his boss, as the place that had been his refuge for more than two decades was wiped off the map. He threw a quick glance at Gavin, whose eyes were closed in deep concentration. The sense of the surreal, like being at a drive-in, one where the movie played around them in 360-degrees, didn’t diminish the horror as debris began to rain down around them. They actually hit the truck, thumping and pinging and crashing, causing the vehicle to shake and lurch while the monstrous hail storm of concrete and splintered lumber, broken bricks, and torn metal, rained down.

When a body part Rafe couldn’t identify hit the windshield and then slowly smeared the glass with blood, it was all he could do to keep the animalistic, back-brain terror under control. His hand went to the truck’s door handle, but froze when he turned and saw a boy, a young man really, running from the burning orphanage. The boy was ablaze, fire whipping out behind him like an angry mane, consuming his clothing, while he clutched two toddlers, one in each arm, and struggled to carry them from the building to safety.

I’ve got to get out there!

His hand, having momentarily released the door handle, went for it again, ready to yank it open, so he could leap out and run toward the orphanage. He couldn’t let them die.

I’ve got to help!

“Rafe,” It came out as a low, strangled croak from Gavin, but the sound was sufficient to break the spell.

Within seconds, the scene and the black shadow over them, as well as the sights and sounds of the place, dissipated, leaving them sitting in his truck on a bright summer afternoon in a town hundreds of miles away from where he’d just been. There was no sign of the red smear on the windshield, nor dents in the roof of his truck from debris.

“Christ,” Rafe said. “Why didn’t I know you could do that? Was that real? Is that happening? I’m mean…” He grasped for a hold on reality. Where he’d just been it was night. Darkness meant it wasn’t happening right now. Not yet.

“It’s a vision,” Rafe said. “You dragged me into a fucking premonition.”

“Yes. I did,” Gavin said.


Gavin knew what he meant. When would it happen?

“You know these things never come with a definite sense of the timing,” he said.

“But you must have an idea—”

“Within the week. If we don’t succeed here,” Gavin said. “That’s why I need you to be certain. Is Amelia Manning the one?”

“Oh, yes,” Rafe said. “No question. She’s the one. I can smell it on her, the dream signature. Even from here.”

It was his boss’s turn to express surprise.

“You what?” Gavin asked him. “You know that isn’t possible.”

“Don’t try to tell me what’s possible and what’s not,” Rafe said. “Not after what you just showed me.”

BEYOND HER DREAMS will be available later this year from Dapple Gray Books. Would love to hear your feedback. In the meantime, check out the first book in the trilogy, IN HER DREAMS, available now on Amazon.com

Friday, January 6, 2012

What Inspires a Writer?

One of the first questions many new writers ask their fellow authors is, "Where do you get your ideas?"

A better question, I believe, is "Where do you find your inspiration?" Literally. What locations inspire you to write? I've noticed that while many top authors don't restrict themselves to any one location, others tend to set their stories in a limited set of locales. Think Kay Hooper and the South, the Carolinas, predominantly. Heather Graham's stories often find themselves in New Orleans, Florida or the Northeastern U.S.

Do authors choose locations over and over again because they're familiar, and it's always easier to write what you know? Or do they find particular settings inspiring, great generators of ideas and story lines? Or maybe a little of both?

It's odd, but though I love where I live in the Southern Rockies, I haven't been able to come up with a story using it as a setting, despite the area being hugely atmospheric. I love Florida, too, with its sugar sand beaches, thunderous rains, and wild green parrots nattering together in the palm trees. I'd love to have a cottage by the beach, an old one in the Florida cracker style where a Christmas tree decorated with shells and starfish makes sense. Yet, I'm not the least motivated to set a story set there. So far, Florida just doesn't fit the type of fiction I write.

Rather, I'm drawn to the Northwest, its dense forests and lonely islands, the urban rhythm of Seattle. Equally inspired by the Northern California coast with its rocky cliffs; the scents of San Francisco, sourdough at the wharf and wonton soup from Chinatown; or the memory of the ornamental pepper plant I once bought from a stall in Ghirardelli Square (it smelled of fog and earth and irresistible greenness).

Settings aren't stories, of course, especially in the romance genre. In fact, too much description often gets in the way of character and plot development. Still, I find the right setting to be a necessary jumping off spot when it comes to inspiring those characters, to use in figuring out who they are and where they're going.