Nature at its Finest

We spent some time at our place in Estes Park, Colorado this past weekend. In fact, we’re actually there now as I write this post. Before me is the amazing mountainside on the other side of the river right outside my sliding glass door, a cup of coffee at my side, one of my fur babies at my feet. This morning I enjoyed the hot tub right outside my door as the sun rose on the mountaintops. Typically there are a lot of tourists here, as Estes Park is consistently recognized as one of the top visiting sites, but this weekend was quiet and so peaceful. Every time I’m here, I’m reminded how blessed my life is.

Since I can’t seem to get enough of this place and would live up here if my day job and my husband’s commitments didn’t keep us elsewhere, I thought I’d share some of its charm with everyone. It doesn’t matter the season, it’s heaven on earth.

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This is one of my favorite little walkout hiding places. It’s located right off the trail that circles Lake Estes. The lake’s shoreline is about 4 miles.

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A lot of weddings are held here, also on the shoreline of Lake Estes.

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Bear frequent the area so these are located everywhere. Last fall as we were walking the fur babies in the early morning hours at our place, we ran into a mama and her two babies in our parking lot. That was a little too close for me!

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The art of fly fishing has always fascinated me and is on my bucket list. Someday. This river connects to Lake Estes. I’ve never fished here–yet–but rumor has it there are Rainbow trout, Brown trout, Sockeye salmon, Yellow perch, and Cutthroat trout.

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The mountains in the back of this photo were breathtaking on my run this morning.

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This beast was unconcerned with the growing crowd around him last summer.

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This duel was right outside of our sliding glass doors last fall.

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This beauty was allowing us to admire him this afternoon.

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We hiked this trail last summer. It’s located in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our place is a mere 1/2 mile from the entrance to the park.

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This is off the same hiking trail last summer in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Now it’s back to camp. Camp NaNo, that is. Book two in the Whispering Pines Mysteries is well underway. And no surprise, it’s set in the Colorado mountains. But I need to step it up a bit if I’m going to meet my goal.

Have a beautiful week.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. John Muir

 

Writers and Writing

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Is there anything more intoxicating than being in a room full of motivated writers? If there is, I can’t think of what it would be.

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend a writing workshop in Denver, Writing Commercial Fiction, by Jeffery Deaver, hosted by Rocky Mountain Chapter Mystery Writers of America, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This was my second time I was blessed to learn from him, the first being at the Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference. What a talented, generous, wonderful man!

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The five hours were packed with useful information, no fluff, no time wasted.

He started with general rules of writing fiction which included:

Define your goal as a writer, remember your mission, writing fiction is a business, adopt the mint-flavored business model (as an author it’s our job to give the reader a pleasant experience, mint vs liver-flavored toothpaste), the subject of your story and what it should be about, plan your book or story ahead of time (he’s a huge advocate of outlining and research and completely convinced me to put more time into each), and know your craft (from style, prose, grammar, punctuation, syntax, the publishing market, and technology). He touched on being aware of your shortcomings, the importance of rewriting, continuing your education via classes and conferences, that rejection is a speed bump and not a brick wall (something we can all benefit from to remember) and take your time in all aspects of writing. Hurrying the process will only result in a lesser quality piece of written work.

From there he spent time on the four elements of a story:

Plot – Continually introduce conflicts. Every scene needs to raise questions. Aim for the WOW! factor. He suggested holding off on answering those questions as long as possible. Unresolved anticipation is good, but never leave a conflict, clue, or subplot unanswered. Every question needs to be answered at the end of the book and every clue resolved. He talked about adding subplots, humor, and even a few fun facts. He explained the importance of using plot reversals and how to energize the middle of the book. I was surprised (pleasantly so since I’ve always struggled with the 3-act structure) that he doesn’t believe in the 3-act structure but rather a linear structure with a series of ups and downs. He talked about the need for surprise endings, that your twists need to have consequences, and the necessity of creating risks for your characters by incorporating physical threats, death, or a loss of something, whether it be love, friendship, a career, or any other loss that’s significant to a character. He touched on using the Goldilocks principle when incorporating research–not to little, not too much, but make sure it helps the story and furthers the reader’s understanding.

Characters – It’s good to have a protagonist with flaws but s/he needs to be likeable, don’t create passive characters, observe people constantly to make your characters better, give them quirks and tics, the best way to reveal a character (telling the reader directly, describe the appearance, thoughts, and feelings, using dialogue, through the character’s actions, and through others reactions). And we can’t leave out that even the villain needs to be a little likable. Shoot for compelling characters instead of interesting.

Setting – The setting is essentially another character but less important than plot and character. The plot should be developed first, then populated with characters, then setting comes into play. He stressed the importance of doing your research on settings. Boots-on-the-ground research is best, but if that isn’t possible, use the Internet.

Dialogue – Don’t over explain during dialogue, write as if someone is talking (use contractions and break the rules of grammar), match the characters with their dialogue, and when using a dialogue attribution “said” and “asked” are best.

This is only a brief explanation of topics covered. Each section was chock full of information, suggestions, examples, and personal stories. And when I asked if I could record his presentation, he was kind enough to allow it. That’s generosity, folks! His passion for his profession is hugely contagious. (How’s that for the ole ly adverb?)

Numerous members of my Sisters in Crime-Colorado writing group attended as well. (I’m third from the right with the cut-out shoulder shirt). To say it was beneficial to us as writers is an understatement. If he’s ever presenting at a conference/workshop in your area, I highly recommend any and all writers to attend. You won’t be sorry. It will be a mint-flavored experience!

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And now it’s back to Camp NaNo where I have a manuscript vying for my attention.

Write on. Have a beautiful week!

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Camping and Writing

It’s Sunday, April 1st, as I write this. I saw (or at least noticed) my first Robin today.

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Watched a squirrel busily building his home.

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And got all settled into my virtual cabin with my awesome cabin mates at Camp NaNo.

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It’s off to the races. Additional family plans have been added to my calendar at the last minute, and family always comes first, so my Camp NaNo goal has changed from 50,000 words to 40 hours.

If anyone is interested in Camp, it’s not too late to start. Unlike NaNoWriMo in November, you set your own goals for Camp which is in April and again in July. You can set words, hours, minutes, lines, or pages as your goal. It’s a perfect way to get that project out of your head and onto the page. If you want to try, go to Camp NaNo and sign up. If you decide April won’t work for you and you want to try July, let me know if you want to share a virtual cabin. When the time comes I’ll start a cabin and send you an invite.

And I’m off to camp! Hope to see you there.

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Sandcastles

Building Sandcastles

When writing a first draft, I have to remind myself constantly that I’m only shoveling sand into a box so later I can build castles.   Shannon Hale

I’ve been struggling with my writing lately. Justifying the time it takes as well as the lure of everything else “out there” that sucks me in. All it took was meeting with my writing bestie, Karen Whalen, today to turn that around.

Women often base their worth on how much they accomplish and how productive they are. Cleaning, cooking, taking care of family, working (for those of us who work outside the home), church obligations, laundry…the list goes on a mile long. And what about saying “no” to a request someone has of you? Gasp!

Sometimes when we get caught in the vicious cycle of doing, doing, doing, all we need is that someone to issue a gentle reminder that it’s okay to be. It’s okay to take some time to do what we love. To nurture the side of ourselves that brings joy. Writing is not wasted time, but treasured time. Not to mention extra income for some.

During our conversation today my passion was re-ignited, writing projects planned, and Camp NaNo next month is one of them. For those who aren’t familiar with Camp NaNo, it’s a spin-off of NaNoWriMo in November but much more flexible. While NaNoWriMo requires writing 50,000 words in a month, Camp NaNoWriMo allows the writer to set their own word count goal, hourly goal, or page goal. Also, where NaNoWriMo means working on a new piece of work, Camp NaNo allows you to choose to work on a novel, short stories, poetry, revisions, etc. It also includes virtual cabins so you can check in with your cabin mates each evening for support and encouragement.

I’m setting a word count goal of 50,000 and beginning a new novel, book two in the Whispering Pines series. If anyone wants to join in and share a cabin, let me know. We can share virtual s’mores, sit around a virtual campfire, and maybe tell a ghost story or two. Too busy? Even if you set your goal at 10,000 words or 10  hours over the course of the month, that’s 10,000 words or 10 hours you didn’t have before. That could be the beginning of your beautiful sandcastle.

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Write on!

 There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

 

 

 

 

And in the Beginning…

Beginnings

For those who have read my bio, you know my writing years began at the tender age of four. I took my fat little crayons in my fat little fingers and decided to experiment with words on the knotty pine walls of the living room. My parents were not impressed! But even back then, I had something to say and writing was the natural way for me to say it.
As the years went by, that didn’t change. The only thing that did change is that I graduated from crayon on walls to pen on paper. For that, my parents were grateful.

In my teen years, it was writing that helped me work through the tumultuous teen emotions and heartbreak. Many summer days, I lay in our little fishing boat, tied up to the dock, rocking as waves rolled up against the shoreline and lapped the bottom of the boat. I clutched my pen and paper and wrote poetry like there was no tomorrow. The words flowed endlessly. When I wasn’t in the boat, I was perched on the end of the dock, my feet dangling in the water, or plopped on my bed in my basement bedroom, crafting more poetry.

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Fast forward a few years. I was still writing when I got pregnant with my first son. I penned 2 ½ novels (yup, not just 2, but 2 ½), which are still in boxes in my home office. I took a few writing classes, too. Then came my second son. The writing stopped. There was no spare time.

When my second son was in high school, I got my Associates of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies, and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. While everyone else was impressed, I knew it wasn’t what I was meant to do. My heart longed for the days when I was a writer.

When my second son graduated from high school, I followed my dream. I got back to writing and haven’t looked back. While I still maintain a day job in the legal field, my true calling, my avocation, is writing.

As I think about the journey to where I am now—five published books, two more in the works—there are three suggestions I have for beginning authors.

1.) Find a writing community, or even one or two other writers. Non-writers, family and friends included, think we just sit down, write and voila! A book appears. A non-writer can’t possibly know the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a piece of creative fiction—or non-fiction. And if that’s the only mindset you’re subjected to and hearing on your writing journey, you’ll start believing it yourself. Eventually you’ll start to think of yourself a failure when you’re unable to just sit down and magically produce a novel.

Additionally, the non-writer can view writing as a waste of time unless the writer is making a lot of money. You may hear that you should be spending your time on something more worthwhile, something “important,” whatever that means. “Important” means different things to different people. Writing is hugely important to me. And if you’re a writer, it will be to you, too. It’s not about how much money we make (though, I imagine you wouldn’t catch any of us complaining if we made a dollar to two), it’s about a need to express the creative side that’s burning inside of us. And it’s work. Hard work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

“To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

That being said, not all non-writers think this way. And if you feel they are, it’s important to ask yourself if there’s any validity to your feelings or if it’s your own insecurity and self-doubt that makes it feel that way. We writers are frequently tormented with self-doubt. It’s what many of us do best. Either way, let it go. If you don’t already, you’ll soon have a writing community reminding you you’re not alone. 

2.)  Plan your week and schedule in writing time. When first starting out, set a timer and just write. Don’t get up under any circumstance. Not for anything. This exercises your butt-in-chair muscle, even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time. And don’t open the Internet to check anything. Your email will still be there when you’re done with your writing session, and your Facebook likes will still be there waiting. Even hard-core social media addicts can stay away for 15 minutes. If not, invest in Freedom. After you’ve created a habit of writing, play around to discover which method most accommodates your lifestyle—continue with timed writing sessions, decide on a set number of pages per day, word count goals, etc.

3.)  Don’t compare yourself to anyone else in the writing industry. We all have mentors and people we admire in the writing industry (think Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Joanna Penn) but don’t strive to be just like them. You are you. And you are fabulous. You have something unique to contribute to the reading world. And it would be a waste to deprive the world of that because you’re trying to be like someone else. As well, comparing yourself to other writers is the kiss of death. I struggle with comparisonitis as much as the next person, but I recognize it for what it is and kick it to the curb as soon as I realize that it’s trying to sink its fangs into my writing life.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

And now it’s back for week three of Camp NaNo and more virtual camping.

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Carpe Diem

Book Launch Partytime

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This past Saturday was my book launch for not one, but two books. Finding Abby was released in November. Life got in the way and I didn’t advertise, promote, nothing. With my recent release, Shear Malice, book three in the Melanie Hogan cozy mystery series, I decided to have a double release. And better yet, sharing it with a fellow author, Donna Schlachter and her alter ego, Leeann Betts. What a better way to celebrate literary success than with a fellow author!

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In each Melanie Hogan mystery I include a recipe from Nana’s kitchen. The recipe for Shear Malice is Nana’s Scrumptious Chocolate Zucchini Brownies. To stick with the theme, I made some for the launch party. While baking a recipe from scratch takes longer than opening a box, the results were amazing and well worth the time!

Next up? An author event in October with some cozy mystery authors. The planned theme is Cozy With Tea–a variety of hot teas, scones, a fire in the fireplace, and books, books, books.

And now it’s back to Camp. Camp NaNo, that is. A time for relaxation and fun, with virtual bonfires, smores, and campfire chatter with other campers. I’m sharing a virtual cabin with several fellow writers from the Longmont and Boulder area, and creating book four in the Melanie Hogan cozy mystery series, Shear Murder.

More to follow…

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See you next week. Until then…

 

Carpe diem

Camp NaNo 2016

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Coming into the game late, I still made it! Because of sheer stubbornness, of course. I can’t stand to lose against myself. 🙂 I didn’t decide to participate until April 8th when I decided it would give me the extra encouragement and push I needed to get the revision done on my novel, Finding Abby. Now I have the momentum going to finish by the end of this month and get it to amazing editor Rachel Overton! 🙂

Write on!

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