Monday, October 28, 2013

NaNoWriMo and Other Stuff

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

So, brief update this week.


Well, I might be jumping the gun just a bit, but a release date has been set for Lucky Charms - December 2, 2013. That's Cyber Monday for all you holiday shopping types (books of all types make superb gifts). The book will be available via all e-book outlets (Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo) and in print from CreateSpace. And, I'm sorry, but the cover is to die for (pun intended).

Cover for Lucky Charms
My story Batter Down is included (written as Liz Milliron), along with eleven other fantastic stories. A little bit of suspense, a little bit of police-procedural, a little bit of paranormal. I am so honored to be included in such fantastic company!

My major contribution to the project (aside from the writing) is formatting and compilation of the book files, a task I've been hard at work at all weekend. I'm pleased that we have a pretty solid print file, and only a few tweaks to make to ebook files. It's been quite the learning experience. At the same time, I've learned a ton so I can (maybe) use it for my own writing some day.

Launch festivities are in the works, so stay tuned!

NaNoWriMo Starts this Friday!

So, NaNoWriMo kicks off this Friday. I've got my outline, and I've got my scenes mapped. I'll be drafting the first novel in The Laurel Highlands Mysteries and I'm super-excited to start. I'll be posting weekly word count updates here on the blog, so check back to keep up to date on my progress. And feel free to crack that virtual whip if I'm slacking! To be a NaNo "winner," I need to put down 1,667 words per day, every day from November 1 to November 30.

Wish me luck - should be a wild month!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Hardest Writing Job Ever

By Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Over the weekend, I completed what I consider to be the hardest thing I've ever written.

I planned an entire novel.

Now, this is not to say I wrote the novel. But I planned it. I sat down with Structuring Your Novel, by K.M. Weiland and thought about things like plot points, and pinch points, and a three-act structure. I wrote a twelve-page narrative of how this story was going to go, and then turned that into a list of 64 scenes.

It was tedious, time-consuming, and exhausting.

"But wait," you will say. "Haven't you done this before? Don't you do it all the time?"

Well, yes - and no.

Much of the other things I have written to date are much shorter. The Hero's Sword series, for example, is almost all novella length. So while I do write a "road map" (that's what I call these things - I'm not sure they are what a literary agent would call a treatment or synopsis, but it's my map to the story) for those, they usually don't exceed five pages.

All of my Laurel Highlands Mysteries stories have been short stories or novelettes (6,000 to 12,000 words). So while I've worked out the story question and key plot elements, I've never done a full-blown road map.

This was different. This was sitting down and saying, "Okay, what needs to happen? What needs to happen before that? How is this scene going to flow into the next one? How does this plot point affect the story?"

I wrote. I changed. I moved paragraphs. I rewrote. By the end, my brain felt like a wet sponge.

Yes, it's harder than writing the actual story. It's still not a true "outline" - I'm still what they'd call a "pantser" at heart (someone who makes it up as she goes). But I think I'm going to be very glad I did it.

I have, on a couple of occasions, compared this to a construction project. You draw plans. You measure. You write up lists of required materials and tools. And you do this all before you start, not in the middle. The purpose is to do everything you can to make sure you have what you need before you start and minimize those middle-of-the-project trips to Home Depot because you didn't buy enough dry wall (I mean, it might happen anyway, but you're doing your best).

You are also trying to make sure that you lay a firm foundation, so your masterpiece doesn't fall in on itself when you're done.

I'm also taking an online scene writing workshop. Based on today's homework, I finished just in time. I'd never be able to complete the work without what I finished last night.

The next step? Write the darn story. That will happen in November as part of NaNoWriMo. My hope is that since I've planned out all of the scenes, the actual writing will go much smoother because, well, I'll already know where I'm going. I might take a side trip or two, but it shouldn't derail me completely. At least I hope not.

So onward! Wish me luck - I'll let you know how I did at the end of November.

Image courtesy of Linus Bohman; used under Creative Commons.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Growing and stretching

by Mary Sutton / @mary_sutton73

Last weekend, I went to my annual writing retreat with my fellow Sisters in Crime. It was my third retreat and, as always, great fun. Our weekend instructor was Tim Esaias, and he provided not only tons of useful information, but made me laugh so hard Saturday night that my sides hurt. And he let me help with an impromptu self-defense demo Sunday morning, which is always fun.

As I always do, I returned home full of energy and holed myself up in the den to work on the story I'd submitted for critique (that was fairly well-received). And after the weekend, all sorts of things started jumping off the page. I thought I'd gotten rid of them. But suddenly, I wondered why people weren't falling over all of the eyeballs rolling around, and why someone hadn't reported a hurricane with all the sighs blowing through the rooms.

It was eye-opening - and awesome.

Later, as I was still bouncing around about this, I was talking over imagery with my husband, who has read all of my stories. I was looking for the metaphor for the series. And he just said, "Duh, it's the dog, dummy." But isn't that too obvious? "It doesn't have to be rocket science, dear. I'm your target audience. It's fine."

And much later, when I reported completion of the revisions, my husband said, "It's really exciting to watch. You've moved from gifted amateur to a real professional."

The comment caught me off guard. There are days when I really don't feel like a professional. After all, while I've garnered a few publication credits, I still have a day job. I still don't get to get up and spend all day playing with my make-believe friends. I'm still so far away from where I someday want to be.

But when I go back and look at what I wrote three years, a year, or even six months ago, I can see the difference. My first Laurel Highlands story, An Idyllic Place for Murder, was published this month at Mysterical-e. I had to professionally edited, and I know the editor liked it, so it's a good story - and readers have told me they like it. But while I re-read, I found lots of places where, if I was writing the same story today, I'd change things, craft a sentence differently, go for a different visual.

And, in that sense, I guess I am further down the road, a professional. An amateur just writes. A professional studies the craft. She enjoys her publication, but never stops learning, looking for yet another tool for the box. I spent part of the weekend reading Structuring Your Novel, and light bulbs went off as I finally had words and techniques for the things I always sort of "felt" rather than "knew."

Even reading the book is a change. Three years ago, when I wrote my first novel, the word "structure" was a foreign concept. Structure? I don't need no stinking structure. I'm going to wing it! And man, does it show.

So on a rainy Monday morning, I am making a conscious decision. I will not lament where I am not, I will celebrate how far I have come, all while I acknowledge that there is much more to learn.

And maybe that's the sign of a true professional.