About Writing

Remembering

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I am a pretty good gardener. I plant and trim and weed the back yard, and people compliment it. There are a few things I can’t grow. Fuchsias don’t like me. Neither do yellow daisies or orchids. Violets, though, have always despised me. I have never been able to get a violet to survive, much less bloom.

Violets worshiped my mother-in-law, however. For thirty years, she had a pot of violets on the narrow windowsill above her sink. She constantly dumped the plant into the sink, stuffed the dirt back in and replaced it on the sill. It got indifferent light and inconsistent water, but it thrived. She passed away two years ago this August, and her windowsill no longer has violets.

On Mother’s Day, my husband presented me with the violet plant in the picture. I immediately placed it on my windowsill. I really didn’t expect it to live very long. The flowers wilted, but the leaves stayed healthy. Then, to my amazement, it bloomed! I have not yet dumped it in the sink, but it is beautiful and healthy. It’s not only my care that’s keeping it well. I know Mom is helping. This amazing woman laughed at the violet dirt spilled in her sink, and every day my violet reminds me of that memory.lily

Outside in that yard I love to care for, I had an orange canna lily. A year ago, it was one wilted leaf and one dead leaf. I dug it up, intending to toss it, but my husband insisted we give it another chance. I stuck it in the ground and forgot about it. The picture to the right was taken this morning, a year later. He’ll never let me forget I almost killed this plant. Isn’t it gorgeous? And that is how memories are made.

And memories usually make their way into my novels.

 

Authors, Interview

Author-go-Round: Nina Day Gerard

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00016]This week’s Author-Go-Round interview with Nina Day Gerard may answer some of the questions you’ve always wanted to ask about romance writing…but were afraid to ask! Welcome, Nina!

Q: How did you become a romance writer?

A: I gave myself the title Accidental Romance Writer. I’ve been writing stories since I was in the third grade, and I’ve been reading romance since high school when I used to trade Harlequin novels with my girlfriends. Then in 2012 I had kind of a V8 moment when I realized “Hey, I could do this—I SHOULD do this!” and that led to my first short story The Long Road Home in the 2014 Shades of Pink Romance Anthology supporting breast cancer research, and my first novel My Brother’s Keeper.

Q: What’s the most popular question you get about being a romance author?

A: The one thing I get asked all the time is whether or not I write about the real-life experiences I’ve had in terms of the relationships or the love scenes. But it’s not classy to kiss and tell, in my opinion.

Q: But aren’t the love scenes—and in some cases the sex scenes—what people most associate with contemporary romance?

A: I would agree with that. And I’m more than happy to talk about what goes into writing those scenes from a crafting standpoint.

Q: How do you decide the heat level of your material in terms of that?

A: The easiest way to answer that is to say that I became inspired to write romance by the love stories I have enjoyed reading. I never set out to write about a certain amount of sex per se. But like any healthy adult romantic relationship, there has to be the right balance of a strong romantic and emotional bond, along with great chemistry and attraction. To me, one just makes the other better, and vice-versa. In a good love story, by the time you get to the first love scene, the reader should experience the intensity of what the two people feel for each other—that just makes the sex better. Those are the kinds of relationships I like to read about, and so that’s how I try to write.

Q: Do you ever get embarrassed when you think about people reading some of those scenes?

A: Oh my gosh, yes! Not the fans per se, these are all readers who are accustomed to the genre and probably expect a certain level of heat. But my mother, for instance, begged me for months to read the manuscript of My Brother’s Keeper. I finally relented and sent it to her. She gave me great feedback, and thankfully had the sense not to mention any of the love scenes. That went undiscussed. But now I don’t feel shy about sharing my writing with her anymore.

Q: What other romance authors have inspired you?

A: At the top of my list would be Maya Banks (KGI and Slow Burn series). She is the master at writing with that balance I was talking about. I love her characters. Same with Christine Feehan (Drake Sisters, Ghost Walker and Sisters of the Heart Series). I devoured these books as soon as they were published.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Well, the Second Edition of My Brother’s Keeper is now available on Kindle, and Burlesque Bad, Book 1 of my Destiny of Dance series, is due out this summer.

For purchase links and trailer to My Brother’s Keeper, a preview of the Destiny of Dance series, her blog A Fine Romance, and to join Nina’s mailing list for a free exclusive edition of The Long Road Home with story Epilogue, please visit www.ninadaygerard.com. (She’ll never spam you, just periodic updates about her books!)

 

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Writing Successfully

anpencil3I love to write. That doesn’t mean I sit down eagerly at the computer every day and write thousands of words. Even with something I love to do, I have to come up with motivation and perseverance. I’m sure it’s true for my students, too, especially those who hate to write. My hope today is that if I share some of my frustrations with the very beginning of the process, others will be able to be inspired.

MOTIVATION. You would think that enjoying writing would be a motivation. It is, I suppose, but it’s not enough. I think of my current novel as a wonderful finished product, or bask in well-written chapters that are already completed. I am just about 2/3 done with the first draft, but haven’t been able to make much progress for months. I know that when I get started the words will flow until I am drained. I know that if I force myself just to start writing that the first page or so may very well be garbage I have to cut later. Having started, however, is what’s important. The good stuff hides behind a wall. Once that wall is broken, it leaps out.

I’ve finished four novels. The fact that I know I can do it is motivation. Chapters whirl around in my head until they just about spring forth on their own. The story I’m writing, Aloha Spirit, is a good one. I’m very happy with what I’ve drafted so far. I have ideas for revision, and sometimes I go back and work on a revision as a way to get started again. The motivation is there, I just need to move it from, “Someday this book will be finished, and it will be good” to “Today I need to write 2,000 words.”

PERSEVERANCE  Students know about procrastination. It’s much easier to put something off than it is to do it. Mostly I read or play Facebook games. For hours and hours. My mind tells me that I can write for an hour and still have an hour to read, and probably an hour to play Candy Crush, too. Life gets in the way, too, of writing. Grocery shopping, house cleaning, yard work, the gym, walking the dogs, cooking, errands–some of those things I enjoy very much, some not. They all get in the way of writing. The trick is to keep coming back to the piece you’re working on whether it’s been two hours, two days, or two years since you started.

I’ve always said that authors are the ones who persevered to finish their novel. I know several people with truly awesome unfinished stories. I have one of those too (Aloha Spirit!). The only difference between novelists and writers is that authors persevere until they are done. My first book, On a Wing and a Dare, took seven years. I gave it up for months at a time. I completely started over three times. I revised the entire thing four times. Most importantly, I finished it.

So whatever you use for motivation and however strong your perseverance is, I wish you good writing. I’m off to start that next chapter.

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Revising a Narrative

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Now that NaNoWriMo is over, a LOT of people are revising the novels they just finished writing. Revising is a difficult skill to teach. I’ve told students that revising is changing the words to make it better. That helps them understand, but it really doesn’t tell them what to do.

I’ve heard of teachers who tell students to write down the first word of every paragraph looking for too many repetitions, or to count the words in each sentence to make sure there are both long and short sentences. Nothing kills a joy of writing faster than these drills.

The reality is that most writers have a hard time looking at their writing objectively. It’s very clear in your head, so why isn’t the reader getting it? Or you write a scene you love that doesn’t further the story. It hurts to cut them out. What all writers need is an honest voice to give them feedback. In the classroom, I use the students’ peers to do this. They read each other’s stories and tell the author what works as well as what doesn’t. They’ve all written their own novels, so they have a good feel for missing description or unclear dialogue. Notes the reader makes on the story are very helpful to the author.

It’s also important for the author to distance themselves from the novel for awhile. Wait until the pressure of finishing and the euphoria of completion have faded. You will be in a much better position to revise. I catch myself wondering why in the world I ever thought that chapter was done!

When you are revising, it’s difficult to tell when you are finished. In reality, you are never finished. It can always be made better. It’s your piece, though, so you have to decide when it’s good enough to turn in. With students, I have to train them to raise their personal expectations a bit higher. Otherwise, they would turn it in with zero revisions!

I tell my students that I spent seven years revising and rewriting my first book. If I ask them to revise a story again, I don’t want to hear any complaining!

About Writing

Historical Fiction

rdgpastToday Sarah Johnson’s blog, Reading the Past features an article I wrote. It details the preparation and writing of Under the Almond Trees. It explores the question all historical fiction writers face–how much fact and how much fiction do I include? Click on the picture to the right to read my article. Please leave a comment!

Teaching Writing

Teaching Writing in Elementary School

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Children enter kindergarten loving school. They eagerly begin learning their alphabet and look forward to writing their name. By the time they reach sixth grade, they groan when the teacher says, “Take out your pencil and three pieces of binder paper.” Somewhere along the line, writing has become a dreaded chore. Something has killed the joy. My goal is to make my students’ eyes light up when I assign a new piece of writing. I want them to be eager for the challenge.

When learning to write, children are expected to go from learning to write their name to sentences, paragraphs, then multi-paragraph essays fairly quickly. By sixth grade they are expected to be able to organize their ideas and express them coherently with correct grammar. Along the way, there are many possibilities for a student to experience failure. As anyone knows, the more you fail at something, the less you like it.

ORGANIZATION OF IDEAS…..When a student first learns to write multiple paragraphs, they are usually handed a format to use. By sixth grade, they have different formats for narrative, persuasive, response to literature, summary, and expository. Some of them are so busy worrying about what format to use that they lose sight of the goal: to communicate their ideas on the assigned topic. Maybe instead of teaching format we should teach them to think. Discuss the topic, get them riled up, then let them write. If they are truly trying to get across an idea, it will be organized enough to understand their point.

EXPRESS THEM COHERENTLY…..After a child learns the basics of writing, they are told to ‘make it better,’ often with no specific instruction how to do that. Teachers teach a variety of strategies (transitions, choosing better words, specific sentence structure). Students get frustrated when they use a thesaurus and pick the wrong part of speech. Their sentences become convoluted when they try to twist them into a certain format. They add extra words and bigger words in order to ‘make it better.’ Often, their ideas are lost.

GRAMMAR…..My own students will tell you that I am a stickler for grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Teachers have a habit of marking up an essay in red and handing it back. Students look at the grade and are happy or disappointed. They don’t look at the markups, especially if there are a lot. No one holds them accountable for improving. When they have some program of Daily Oral Language (DOL), instruction targets certain grammar rules. Very rarely, though, do students translate that to their own writing.

So what’s the solution? Practice. Just like any sport or musical instrument, the more they practice the easier the task becomes. When students master the first steps of writing, they can move on to learn new skills. Frequent practice keeps old and new skills sharp. Positive feedback is a must, even if it means letting go of marking some errors this time around. Work on clarity for one assignment and when that’s achieved move on to run-on sentences.

I strongly believe that all students can enjoy writing and do it well. It is a form of communication that must be learned. It drives me crazy when I get a promotional flyer with misspellings or see a sign with a missing comma. (Check out my DOL page) I’m frustrated myself when a student gives up and turns in junk (or doesn’t turn it in at all) because they fear failure. Maybe not everything you put down on paper is perfect, but something is good. Rejoice in that and do better next time!

 

 

 

 

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NaNoWriMo Winner!

2013 winnerIt’s not the first time I’ve become a National Novel Writing Month winner, but it’s no less intoxicating! Fifty thousand words in one month is something I can be proud of.

At school, the first trimester ends the first week of November. That means grading final projects, tests, and other work then doing report cards. Parent conferences are held the third week of November, plan twenty minutes for each of thirty parents. Then a week off work for Thanksgiving (yes, this is where I catch up), but I spend a lot of time cooking, cleaning, and being with family. If I can find time during this busy month to write 50,000 words, then surely I can find time to write more regularly all the time.

A lot of people who enjoy writing during NaNoWriMo readily admit that what comes out is junk. I’m actually pretty proud of my novel, Under the Wild and Darkening Sky. It’s definitely a rough draft that will have to be revised, polished, revised again, but the bare bones are there. I have all but three chapters of it completed, and I’m motivated to finish it.

As usual (for five years in a row), my students participated in NaNoWriMo with me. Always before we have come back from Thanksgiving vacation with a day or two still left in November to make sure everyone reaches their word count and validates their novel. As I write this, it’s November 30 at 1:15 in the afternoon and I still have eleven students who have not done this. Some are at 100% and haven’t validated for the win. Some aren’t even at 100% yet. I can email, send NaNo mail, and shout at my computer, but it’s basically out of my hands. I have to trust that they’ll remember! Everyone send mental vibes out to my students: TODAY IS THE LAST DAY!

 

About Writing

Fear of Writing

Today I am delaying, procrastinating, avoiding writing.  I have completed the major first edit of my novel, On a Wing and a Dare, and realized that it needs one more chapter.  Although I am excited and proud of the twenty-one chapters that are there, this last chapter scares me.  So I took the dog for a walk.  I went to the gym.  Now I’m blogging–but at least it’s writing.

I find myself wondering about why people avoid writing.  I know that students are sometimes given prompts to write about that fail to inspire them.  I also know that writers of all ages face writer’s block when ideas don’t come to them.  These writers stare at a blank paper (or blank computer screen) and struggle for words.  That is not my problem.  I know exactly what needs to go in that last chapter, and I have a couple of ideas for scenes.

I have seen students with great ideas fumble with writing them down.  Some are afraid their grammar skills won’t be up to the task.  They’ve tried before and had bad grades, so they are reluctant to try again.  Some worry that they won’t use the right format.  If the teacher has taught a certain structure, and students are expected to use it, sometimes it’s hard to fit what you want to say into that structure.  But great ideas inside your head aren’t good novels/stories until they are written down.  I have confidence in my ability to write an awesome last chapter.  Just not today.

Students sometimes write furiously on a project then hand it in without thinking about it.  This is not always their best work, but it gets done.  I forced myself to belt out two tough chapters of On a Wing and a Dare, and they turned out pretty well.  If you wait for inspiration to strike, very little actually gets written.

Maybe the title of this piece should be “Fear of Finishing.”  When I finish this novel, I will be without a project.  Do I start a new novel?  Go back to my first novel and edit that?  Starting over is a lot of work.  And what do I do with On a Wing and a Dare?  There’s a lot of work ahead in sending query letters to agents and publishers and dealing with rejections until it finds that right person on the right day at the right time.

As long as I have this last chapter to write, I don’t have to deal with the hard work of selling it.  It can remain my precious baby and not be tossed to the lions, tigers, and bears of the publishing world.  Is that cowardly of me?  Maybe.

What do you think?  Give me some inspiration, encouragement, motivation to finish!

On my Kindle: People of Sparks by Jeanne Duprau