Name this turtle and get your name in the next Gator McBumpypants book!

A one of a kind stuffed box turtle made by Maria L. Berg

What should my name be? Enter the contest

Creation makes its own calendar

I thought I was way ahead of the game. I had big plans and was gonna do it right this year. I mean, I have experience. I have my online presence set up.  I filled in my Google calendar. I had a marketing plan. Everything I had done would make this book easy, right?

WRONG

At times it felt like the earth itself was against me. Record high heat and illness when I had signed up for the SCBWI  critique and record rains when I had planned my photo shoot. At other times it felt like a complete waste of time to create a book about a child  coping with the loss of a friend moving away, when everyone was in a state of constant hyperbole.

And then, the one person who I could count on to take Gator McBumpypants very seriously, who would police my commas and make sure that I wrote the best I could, died. I still haven’t dealt with it. One third of my critique group is gone. She was amazing and beautiful and knowing her gave me hope for humans.

So, that Google calendar reminds me what I haven’t done and I ignore it. My marketing plan was based on things I have been told to do, that honestly, haven’t given me returns so far.

Yesterday and today, as I worked on the turtle that I have imagined for so long, but was not  ready to make until now, I thought about the joy of creation. I remembered how much I enjoy the process of forming an idea and letting it grow, then using my bits of fabric and stuffing to create a three dimensional sculpture that will have thoughts and feelings and adventures for readers to live in.

It is alchemy of the best kind. I am in love with this turtle.  I love it because at times it felt impossible but I had to make it, and because I made it as close to my model as I could (a very angry looking turtle), but still made it adorable which was my goal.

Please join in the creation of Gator McBumpypants Doesn’t Say Goodbye. Name this turtle on the Gator McBumpypants and Friends facebook page and you will not only name a new friend but get a special thank you in the book.

Thank you for being part of my writing life and letting me be part of yours.

Update: The turtle’s name is Shelley. Congratulations to Amy Chesler who won the contest.

 

 

Tips and Tricks: Creating Revision Goals and Preparing For First Readers.

 Crater Lake July 4th 2015

The hummingbird moth drinking after dark.                                                                             photo by Maria L. Berg

I apologize for my time away. I needed a break and an adventure to fill me up with new energy, so I could return to you with insight.

I can finally see an endpoint to my revisions, at least an endpoint that will allow me to send a draft to my carefully chosen first readers (I chose my first readers for many different reasons. I chose eight people who will give me honest feedback and may see my content from different points of view. I will talk more about first readers in October). Here are the revelations occurring in my writing life that have brought me to this exciting point in the writing of my novel.

Tips:

1. Listen when a good friend asks if you need to be held accountable.

There is nothing better than a fellow writer and good friend wanting to read your book. When my critique group asked how my revision was going and I said I kept writing other things, Sherri stepped up and said, “Do you need me to hold you accountable?”  I am obstinate and rebellious, so having someone else hold me accountable was not an option, but wow did she set a fire under my seat .

As a self-motivator, I interpreted her words as, “you are not doing your work” in a way that I needed. I realized I had to set goals and make deadlines to see my draft become the novel that I want it to be.

2. Make your goals real and tell others.

The first thing I did to become accountable was to choose a date that had meaning to me. I didn’t map out the time I thought it would take and then set a date.That never works for me. Large dates like birthdays, anniversaries of important events, important holidays, are ways that I challenge myself. This time, I have a difficult anniversary (Ten years since evacuation with no return) and I want to turn it into a celebration.  Once I imagined I could achieve my goals by that date, I set personal goals for each day. For the first time ever, I tried to be reasonable and create achievable goals. Believe it or not, I procrastinate and have impressive skills in self-sabotage.

Then I talked to my first readers. I told them the date I chose and asked if they still wanted to be my first readers. This made me accountable, not only to myself, but to eight other people. And now to you.

3. Break your goals into little pieces and attack!

Knowing what I had left to accomplish in a short amount of time, I had to break down the last of my goals into daily work. To do that, I created weekly themes that I could break down into little projects. The first hurdle was typing all of my hand written edits from my last read through and from my critique group into a new draft. The perceived tediousness of the task had been the stop sign that had me wandering into different styles and story ideas. I gave myself two days to only type in edits. However, for every little comma or word choice, I saw larger problems that I either changed or got stuck on.

One of the greatest tips I have to give you is when you get stuck, change your text to red, type a note about what you want but can’t get to or why you’re stuck and move on. Typing up all the editing ended up taking five days instead of two, but I discovered how prepared I was to finish. For every sentence that was confusing, I knew how to change it into sense. For every chapter that was weak, I had a plan.

great reflection on Crater Lake

Reflecting on reflection                                                                                    photo by Maria L. Berg

Which leads us to my new (and newly applied) tricks:

1. Character Development through dialog: A personal breakthrough and a lesson in rereading my own blogs – This was my original name for this post because I felt like I had a major epiphany and wanted to share, but realized I had already posted about my use of dialog to get writing to the page in a previous post Getting words on the page. Dialog as a warm-up is the third tip in that post. My epiphany, however, is a little different. My protagonist is a self-proclaimed hermit who has very little interaction with anyone outside of her house. She has a lifetime of reasons for her hermithood and layers of associations as motivations, but I found it hard to get any of this across to the reader because my character didn’t want to think about those bad experiences. Finally, I had a breakthrough. I had already established that she talked to a friend every day on the phone, but I hadn’t written any of their conversations. I started writing their conversations as part of my morning pages and suddenly my protagonist’s world opened up. I found it awe inspiring how a quick phone conversation could let the reader know twenty years of back-story. My critique group found some of conversation unclear, but I think leaving some parts of the conversation up to interpretation leaves space for the reader (to relate to or not, to imagine something different in the space between).

2. Let yourself go through research- After finishing my edits, I created a separate document for each of the seven section I had left in red ink that need further writing. I noticed that the sections I need to really dive into are the areas I have little to no experience with, or contain behaviors that are outside my purview. I needed to get outside of myself.

Even if your novel isn’t historical fiction or science fiction, finding an avenue for research can inspire. In my case, a textbook on criminology and Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D. (Samenow is a great last name!) inspired pages of notes. Inside the Criminal Mind also showed me that many of the behaviors I had already written were right on track which felt great! It’s not often a writer manages to find her own positive feedback.

3. Names: A new fun technique for me– One of the most important things I have left to do is come up with names for the tertiary characters. Looking through lists of baby names or name engines online did not inspire me. I enjoyed looking through the most recent local candidates and trying to mix lasts with firsts, and talented friends have told me to look online for another country’s white pages, but these techniques were not what I needed either. Today, I found an unlimited fountain of names in my piles of old records. If you don’t have records, CD liners or movie credits will do just as well. Think of all the people that work behind the scenes to make music and film happen, then think about the multitude of combinations you can make by mixing and matching those first and last names.

For my example, I had a sampling of my old records and my parents old records. I had records from Sweden and France. I had a selection of Pop, Rock, Musicals and Classical. I made three columns in my notebook: Last names, Male character and Female character first names. This way my lists created unique randomized combinations as I wrote them down so when I look at it later, I won’t have to worry about using an actual name.

4. Those pages you don’t want numbered – When I send out my draft, I want to make it very clear to my first readers that I wrote a piece of fiction, so I created a page with the well known statement “All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. After typing it into the center of my new page after the title page, I had a major page numbering dilemma. This bugged me. I knew how to not number my cover page in Word, but I hadn’t figured out any extra pages until today. The magic? Section breaks.

How to: Delete your header. Create all the front pages you want: I created a disclaimer, but you might also want a couple quotes and a dedication; like I said this is for my first readers, so I might make a page of my expectations for reading time, editing/commenting expectations and easy directions for making notes inline. Once you know how many pages you do not want topped with a header or page number, make a section break. To do this in Word, leave your cursor at the end of the text that does not want a number, select the page layout tab, click on Page Breaks and scroll down to New Page. That will most likely create a break and a blank page. I recommend clicking on the Home tab and clicking on the paragraph symbol to see the backspaces needed to delete the extra page.

Once you have created a new section, click on the page you want as page one then click on the Insert tab and select Header. Make sure to click (unclick) Link to previous. Once you’ve created the header that you want, click pages and choose your style and placement then select format page numbers and select start at and enter 1. That should do it.

(I had to go back to the beginning of my first section and edit Header and delete it, then recreate the second header in the second section, but that is most likely because I was making changes instead of starting from scratch. Happy news, it worked).

So there you have it. The tips and tricks I am using to finish my revision and prepare for first readers. I hope you found something useful. Happy writing.

Nobody’s Perfect

Want to make me not at all interested in a character? Describe him, or her as beautiful and rich. I gave up on Mary Higgins Clark’s mysteries in middle school because I just couldn’t care about the plight of the wealthy, beautiful people any more. Isn’t it enough that they cover the screens of our T.V.s and movie theaters; that they create enough scandals to fill tabloids week after week? Honestly, do they have to pollute our fiction as well? This last week, I read a novel which included a very beautiful woman planning her wedding. Her father was a billionaire, of course, who had two helicopters. She went to have a moment to herself in a bar, but she had to keep refusing drinks from strangers because she was so beautiful. Then when her fiancé saw her before the wedding she was even more beautiful. Really? There was more beautiful to go? What did that add? One thing Americans learned through the economic collapse was that only 1% of the population holds the wealth. Now think of how many of those people would be described as beautiful. I would say the fictional population is a pretty skewed subset of our population.  And the perfect character problem does not only reside among the beautiful that are wealthy. There are also the perfectly skilled. Why would I want to read a story about a person who went to battle school and never lost a battle from his first day? Why would he go to battle school when he had nothing to learn? These perfect characters have nowhere to go and nothing to overcome which makes for a boring story. But worse than that, there is just no relating to them. I realize that some people like to fantasize about being some mass produced beauty aesthetic with unlimited resources and adoration, but when those stories are over the reader is left with an empty feeling of ineptitude. As a writer, one wants to hook the reader by creating ways for the reader to relate to the characters. Give your character some adult acne, back pain, a car that breaks down when it is least convenient, bills that are always due and an out of work family member on the couch and your writing might resonate with the not as privileged 99.75%.

Reality T.V. as fuel for character development

How do I develop a villain without making him, or her, a cliché bad guy? Tips I’ve read say to try to make him less one dimensional by giving him quirks and something about him that could be loveable, if he hadn’t gone so wrong. Yes, these tips are good, but why was my villain behaving so badly, if he was a loveable guy with fun quirks? How could my reader relate to behaviors that seemed so strange to me? I wasn’t finding examples for my villain in my own life, or in the faces of my acquaintances and friends, so where could I look? My villain in progress was a sociopath who was able to live a double life with no remorse. At first I didn’t have a feel for what he was feeling, or how to understand his motivations, but then I stumbled upon the show Hard Core Pawn. I watched it because the inexplicably erratic behaviors of the pawn store customers made me laugh, but after watching a marathon of episodes, it dawned on me that the hysterical people the bouncers were walking, and sometimes carrying, out the door all had something in common: a sense of entitlement that I could not wrap my head around. Who would walk into a store and demand money for worthless objects and then throw a fit and threaten the owner when he said no?  From the show, I got the impression: everyone in Detroit. But then I started thinking, someone like my character; someone who felt that the world owed him and he was going to demand his due. This overreaching sense of entitlement brought a new dimension to my villain. I recently thought about adding a disillusioned young adult whose mom  put her in pageants as a child (Toddlers & Tiaras), or a hoarder who won’t let anyone come to her house because she lives in piles of possessions and piles of debt (Hoarding: Buried Alive). I am not recommending focusing on any one reality persona (for example Si Robertson (Duck Dynasty), or any one of the Kardashians), too closely, but when looking for inspiration for your characters with bad behavior, a dose of scripted reality can be inspiring.