Switching This World With That One

thinking-writing[1]Many writers who celebrate Christmas probably find December the busiest, most stressful time of the year. I know I do. It’s not that I don’t love Christmas and spending time with friends and family. It’s all the work that leads up to it while trying to balance the day job, and family responsibilities with writing time.

It’s especially challenging for writers with younger kids and/or aging parents, who depend on us to do their Christmas shopping and wrapping, and for those of us who also step up bookselling opportunities.

This year, I find myself preparing for Christmas while editing my first fantasy novel. The novel focuses on Wicca, witches and the proverbial battle between good and evil. Divided into five sections, the one I’m working on takes place in York, England in 1953, a drastic contrast to my real life.

Having written nine mysteries set here in Vancouver and in current time, I’m used to editing in familiar surroundings that deal with real-life types of crime. So it’s a little strange to switch from craft fair bookselling, tree decorating and other chores to writing about spellcasting and run-a-muck serpents. It’s also rather fun.

Although I’m living in two different worlds these days, I usually manage to find myself fully engaged in both. With a lot of practice and not a lot of writing time, I’ve learned to switch gears fast. Within sixty seconds of sitting down and propping my fingertips over the keyboard, real-life tasks fall away and my fictional world takes over.

To be honest, I don’t want to live in a fictional world full time, especially one that deals with the death and destruction that comes from my imagination. From 2010 to 2013, I did write full time, and I’m grateful for those days because the extra time helped me finish projects. I have to admit, though, that I only wrote a couple more hours per day than I had while doing a day job. After writing full time for a year, I missed daily interaction with the real world, not to mention the steady income, and the challenge of writing efficiently while getting everything else done.

For me, it’s not about having more time to write, it’s about making the best use of the time I do have. It’s about quick switches and ensuring that one world doesn’t overwhelm the other, and somehow it works for me.

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What Should I Tell Them?

img_2467[1].jpgA few weeks ago, I was contacted by a teacher at a local high school and asked if I would give a presentation to a group of students who love writing. I jumped at the opportunity because I strongly believe in encouraging young writers.

After the initial invitation, it turns out that I will now be giving four workshops for an entire day, which is evening more thrilling. As I prepare my notes, though, I find myself asking a key question. What should I tell them?

With over 35 years of writing and publishing experience, plenty of ups and downs, and a pretty good grasp of the challenges facing new writers, it would be far too easy to lapse into the disappointments and horror stories that many writers have endured. On the other hand, I don’t want to mislead the students into thinking that it’s all wonderful and profitable. Somehow, I’ve got to find the middle ground. The obvious strategy is to be candid and as positive as I can, but also realistic.

For the most part, I’ll be focusing on the nuts and bolts of writing and editing. Two groups will be spent discussing character development. The other two will concentrate on plotting, point of view, dialogue, themes, tense, and so forth.

At my request, I was sent a list of questions that the students have compiled, which includes getting published and making money, as well as dealing with writers’ block, making time to write, inspiration, and career choices. I hope I can give a well-rounded viewpoint in what is often a crazy frustrating business. But really, the day is all about writing and learning to express ourselves in the most meaningful way possible for each individual. Maybe I should lead with that.

Assessing Goals, New and Old

keep-calm-and-set-new-goals-257x300[1]This year hasn’t gone by quickly for me, although it has been eventful. I had two main goals in 2018 and neither of them had to do with writing. One was to finally move my mother into assisted living (the decision involved many discussions and was both physically and emotionally draining). The other was to sell Mom’s condo (which required lots of repair). The first goal was achieved on July 29, the second on Nov.  2nd.

Rather than wait for the new year to begin, I’m starting to think about new goals. I’m a big believer in goal setting. It’s the difference between getting something done and plodding along, leaving heaps of half-finished novels in piles.

I do have a number of big, ongoing writing goals that started a few years back. A few of those goals have been met while others are still in the works. Each year I edge a little closer to the finish line.

I probably won’t meet my reading goal of fifty novels this year. I just finished number forty, but I’m not sure I can read ten more books over the next two months. I’d also planned to get the sixth Casey Holland Mystery, The Blade Man, ready for my editor, but I’m behind schedule there as well. I’m just finishing draft #7 and while the book’s much better than it was with draft #6, I need another read-through before handing it over.

There are other writing projects that are not as far along as I hoped, but as you can imagine, real life family issues took priority and will take priority again as my mother’s health slowly declines. So, do I continue to make writing goals? You bet. I’d rather try and fail than not try at all.

The thing about goals is that they can be adjusted, and time limits aren’t always necessary or helpful. The point is to have at least one that matters, so I’m going to be realistic, as I decide which writing and household projects to spend time on over the coming months. Before this year is over, I just might have new goals ready to go for 2019.

MIA: A Title For My Next Novel

leather-book-preview[1]I’m working on the sixth draft of my current Casey Holland mystery. The book’s coming along nicely, except that I haven’t yet found the right title. Titles used to come easily for me, but for some reason the more books I write, the harder it gets.

The sixth installment in the series has Casey’s employer, Mainland Public Transport, (Casey’s a female security officer) under siege by an arsonist. Two of the company’s bus drivers have also been attacked by an unknown assailant who’s been attacking others in the same area of Coquitlam BC. Meanwhile, local thugs hold a grudge after an ugly confrontation with Casey and a driver during a riot. This isn’t the book blurb,  just my thoughts about will eventually be a blurb.

One of the ongoing themes is anger, the way it permeates the workplace, the public, and one’s personal life. Another part has to deal with mental illness issues that drivers in real life face from the public nearly every day.

There’s a lot of action and drama, which should make finding a title easier, yes? I’ve been compiling a list of key words and trying mind mapping, but so far nothing’s working. The title, Under Siege, aptly describes the plot and subplot, but it’s been used in movies and books many times before. So, if anyone has some great tips on coming up with a title, please let me know!

#amblogging Editing in Bits and Pieces. Yikes!

self-publishing[1]As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, I like to work on more than one writing project at a time. It keeps my goal-oriented life focused and on track…mostly. One goal I completed last year was to finish the first draft of my first urban fantasy novel. It was a satisfying moment because I’d been thinking about the book off and on for about eight years.

During that time, I’d been writing and publishing mysteries which is my comfort area and something I know well. An urban fantasy that is centered around Wicca and witches required more research than I thought, and a wild stretch of imagination. As it turns out, it’s also stretching my editing skills.

Unlike my 70,000 word mysteries, this 100,000+ word book has five sections and over 70 chapters so far. Some of the sections take place in different periods of time. The book is written in present tense, which works for the sections set in current time, but I wondered about the sections set in the past, since they basically provide backstory.

After reading Manuscript Makeover and mulling it over, I decided to go back and write the sections those backstory sections in third person. By this point, though, I was already 250 pages into the second draft.

So, I’m back to section two (set in 1953) and am starting again. It’s slow-going as I’m not only changing the tense but adding new aspects and depth to the plot and characters. At the same time, I’m bringing earlier pages of that section to my writers’ group and making notes on section One that I’d thought was in pretty good shape, only it isn’t after all. I’m also waiting to jump ahead to pick up where I left off in section four (p. 250) before reworking the tense changes. All this going back and forth is leaving me dizzy, and I’m not sure that it’s working as smoothly as it could. That I only have a small amount of time each day to devote to it doesn’t help.

I remember listening to Diana Gabaldon speak at several Surrey International Writers Conferences (she even presented me with an award once), talking about how she writes a novel in pieces and at different places, then eventually knits them altogether. To this day, I don’t know how she does it. Having experienced a taste of editing in bits and pieces at different points in my manuscript, I’m beginning to think that the straight, chronological approach works better for me. I’ll know more once the second draft is finally finished. At this rate, however, I have no idea when that will be.

#amblogging: From the Other Side of the Table

critiquing-other-writers[1]Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the Golden Ears Writing and Reading festival. This brand new event was beautifully organized and well attended. I was happy to volunteer as a blue pencil critiquer. Although I’ve pitched my novels to agents and editors before, this was the first time I sat on the other side of the table, where writers came to see me.

For those who are unfamiliar with the process, a blue pencil session is where a writer sits down with an editor, experienced author, or agent, to have a small sample of their work verbally critiqued. I know firsthand how scary this can be.

My job was to read three double-spaced typewritten pages while the author sat across from me and patiently waited to hear what I had to say. I did this in a room with others, so I had to tune out all conversation while I focused on the pages.

The session required concentration, sharp thinking, and the ability to express myself clearly and in a positive, supportive way. It wasn’t overly daunting because I’ve taken part in verbal critiquing sessions for a local writers group for many years. Despite my experience, suggesting improvements to authors I hadn’t met (with one exception) and for work I’d only just seen, was an interesting challenge, but a rewarding one.

I’ve been writing a long time. The opportunity to help others is one of the most satisfying things about my writing life right now, and I’d happily do it again.