NaNoWriMo Book Launch

Welcome to November 1. For those of us who participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this is a big day. Thousands of novels will be launched. Some have been planned meticulously in the days/weeks/months previous to November. Others are being conceived starting today.

Many writers will not finish their novels. Most of those who do finish will find themselves with a very messy first draft. Finishing or perfection are not at the heart of NaNoWriMo. This month and this movement are all about writing. People who otherwise can’t find the time to write will do so this month.

To all of you who participate, I salute you. Each sentence you write brings you one sentence closer to your dream. If possible, don’t write alone. Find a write-in in your area by joining a region on NaNoWriMo website. Participate in a NaNoWriMo word sprint. Go to or start a local Shut Up and Write Meetup. Find your tribe and write like you never have before, with joy and passion and no internal editor.

Today, I’m launching my debut novel, Fake. It was first written during NaNoWriMo and that first draft was a hot mess. After many drafts and a professional edit, I’m very proud of the final results.

You can do it, too. I know you can. I have faith in you. Now, write that book!

Binge Complete

As part of my summer binge, I decided to watch the 189-episode telenovela, Lo Que La Vida Me Robó (What Life Took from Me,) on Netflix. I finally finished watching it. That was one long binge! As a viewer, I enjoyed its riveting and twisting storylines. As a writer, I appreciate the show for its characterizations.

Unlike U.S. soap operas, telenovelas come to a conclusion. Since the end of the main story will be reached, the characters are compelled to change and grow, or so one would hope. I felt this was done particularly well with Lo Que La Vida Me Robó.

Classic love triangle. Who will Montserrat choose?

Classic love triangle. Who will Montserrat choose?

The main story concerns a love triangle between lovely young Montserrat Mendoza and her suitors, Alejandro Almonte and José Luis Álvarez. Montserrat plans to run away with José Luis, a marine stationed at the local naval base. However, her money-grubbing mother, Graciela, forces her into the arms of Alejandro, who just inherited a large fortune.

Sounds fairly typical, but it’s not. At its heart, this is a rags-to-riches-to-rags story. Money is the root of all evil and those with it, or obsessed with becoming rich, find themselves far unhappier than those without it. At one point, one of the characters says he is glad he lost his fortune because it had brought nothing but evil to his life.

As the main protagonist, Montserrat changes over the course of the series, going from a naïve and sheltered girl to a strong, determined woman. She makes mistakes, some of them pretty bad, but she also learns from them rather than repeating them endlessly.

The other main and secondary characters grow and change, some for the better, some for the worse. Avarice and vengeance play a huge part in how the stories progress. Some characters overcome their worst instincts while others cannot or will not.

I was impressed by the depth of the characters and by how their story arcs played out. As an author who is writing a series, I took note of how the characters progressed and how each pitfall and triumph made them change and yet remain the same person.

It can be hard to keep momentum going in a series. Lo Que La Vida Me Robó is an example of how that can be done. Watch it for the excitement and fun of a juicy good drama, but also appreciate the writers for knowing how to tell a story.

When History Happens

This past weekend I went to a Shut Up and Write marathon at a cafe in downtown San Francisco. Try as I might to do just that, it was hard to concentrate when history was happening right outside the door. Finally, I packed it in and followed the rainbow clad crowd to the Pride celebration happening down the street.

SF City Hall

San Francisco City Hall has Pride!

It’s always a festive crowd, but this year it was even more so. There was so much happiness in the air over this great victory for human rights. People were literally jumping for joy!

SF Cheer

Ready and…

Cheer SF

Jump!

 

That’s Cheer SF performing at the festival. People were hopping all over the place, having a great time. I did, too, until my computer started feeling heavy on my back and I headed home.

Later, when I got online, I noticed some interesting problems mentioned in several writing forums. One person asked, what should writers do if their contemporary WIP concerns a gay couple who can’t get married, since now they can? Another wondered if prejudice against LGBTQ people is an issue any more.

Of course, this sparked some interesting debate. For the first topic, it was mostly suggested to set the story a few years ago or deal with what history has handed you. For the second topic, the original poster was reminded that the SCOTUS ruling was 5 to 4 and prejudice sadly remains an issue.

When writing contemporary fiction, history can indeed hand you a whopper. Consider this scenario: you spend years working on your saga of espionage along the Korean border. Then, boom! Kim Jong-un is assassinated, and the north and south are reunified. Sound farfetched? So did the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it happened. Authors of Cold War spy fiction probably had to rethink their entire careers.

History happens and when it does, don’t panic! Instead, see it as an opportunity to make your story even more relevant.

Shutting Up and Writing

shut up and writeLet’s face it: shutting up and writing is a toughie, especially if it’s the job of your heart, but not your livelihood. Finding time is hard and distractions are plentiful, especially if you’re at home. It’s difficult to concentrate when there are dishes in the sink, clothes in the washer, a hungry pet, a restless child, or a significant other who needs a moment of your time that becomes an hour.

Writing in a cafe is one solution, but also has obstacles to creativity, such as grating music, loud conversations, free Internet and answering the call of nature. If you’re lucky enough to trust the people nearby, you should be fine. If not, you either take your laptop into the loo or you head home.

Or you can join a Shut Up and Write meetup. Yes, such a thing exists and it is fantastic.

I joined the San Francisco Shut Up and Write group, and I have found it to be a very constructive and creative experience. Here’s the description from the SF meetup page.

Shut Up & Write! Meetup is a venue for writers to work in the company of other writers on a regular basis. Writing, whether approached as a profession or as an avocation, is an isolating activity. We provide this forum, writing resources and meeting times as a method of developing a community of creative people. We welcome people who are serious about ‘writing down the bones’ and are looking for the companionship of other writers.

Meetup Format
Making the time to write one hour per week is an empowering and ultimately rewarding experience but it needs to serve as the foundation of your daily discipline. If you RSVP that you are coming, then please arrive 10-15 minutes before the start of the Meetup. The facilitator will lead introductions and then the group will write for an hour. There will then be 15-30 minutes of social time to get to know each other and possibly discuss personal writing successes such as getting published or overcoming writing resistance in some small way. No critiquing, exercises, lectures, ego, competition or feeling guilty.

Being part of a group dedicated to getting work done is an empowering experience. Keeping distractions at bay is easier because you’ve set aside this time to write and you’ve physically put yourself someplace where this can happen.

A typical SF group includes writers of fiction, memoir, thesis, reports and presentations. Some groups last only an hour, while many can go three to four hours and even longer, with short breaks.

Want to Shut Up and Write? Go to meetup.com and look for a group in your area. You can find SUAW groups all over the United States, Canada and internationally. Similar groups with different names can also be found on meetup. A good place to start is this list of creative writing meetups.

Not one in your area? You may want to consider starting a group of your own. Best wishes and keep writing!

Using Filler in Dialogue

I was sitting on a bus in San Francisco yesterday morning and two 20-something tech workers behind me were having a loud conversation. It went something like this:

TW1: So I’m, like, no, that’s not how, like, big data works, y’know?

TW2: I know, like, that guy, he, like, he doesn’t know his stuff at all. I think he’s, like, someone’s son or, like, nephew.

I am not exaggerating. They each used ‘like’ or another filler word about every three to five words. When they were gathering their thoughts, they’d repeat it: “like, y’know, when he was like… like… like… three days late with that report and, like, nothing happened.”

At first, it was funny. Then it became annoying. Grating, even, to the point I was glad to get off the bus and escape it. However, the writer side of me processed that this was natural, realistic dialogue. This is how people talk or at least these two people, and many others like them.

When I write dialogue, I think about it and even say it aloud, trying to be as natural as possible. My characters, the younger ones in particular, do use the word ‘like’ as filler. In order to be realistic, should I use filler as excessively as the very real people above? If it’s annoying to hear, then it’s certainly annoying to read.

However, think about what excessive filler words say about a character. Is she nervous? Does he have trouble vocalizing his thoughts? Do trivial words and conversation keep the world from getting too close? These are all good reasons to use excessive filler.

Perhaps the two people on the bus don’t always talk that way. Maybe they were nervous. Maybe they like each other and were trying to play it cool and casual. One or both of them may have realized how they sounded and inwardly cringed, but couldn’t stop. This is the stuff of character development.

Filler words are mindless, but as writers let’s be mindful of how we use them.

For a funny and informative take on ‘like’ and other filler words, check out “The Other L-Word” by Christopher Hitchens.

Volunteer’s Eye View of a Writer’s Conference

I’ve spent the last four days volunteering at the San Francisco Writers Conference. It was an amazing experience that came with many perks along with lots of responsibilities.

First, I want to answer why I decided to volunteer. I attended SFWC in 2012 and 2013 and felt like I’d already done the conference as an attendee. I wanted to participate as someone who soaks in the creative atmosphere and knowledge without having the pressure that I will make the right connection that leads to a book deal. I was interested in being part of the team, an insider who helps make SFWC a really fabulous event.

I got all that and more. As part of my responsibilities, either as timekeeper or host, I was able to sit in on some great workshops. I also worked as a wrangler who kept the crowds moving during the Speed Dating with Agents sessions. These are the sessions where writers have 3 minutes to pitch their work to agents. That was really exhausting for everyone involved: writers, agents and volunteers. It was also fascinating to witness all the different personal styles and the reactions of the agents.

I can tell you what made the best impression: being personable, prepared, and ready to listen. Steamrolling the agent with a 3-minute ramble was a waste of time and energy. You should be able to recite your pitch in under a minute and spend the rest of the time answering the agent’s questions.

I was a timekeeper during the freelance editor sessions, where writers could seek 8-minute consultations with freelance editors. This was actually an okay place to ramble a bit if you just wanted to approach someone with your idea, but it was still really important to listen. The people who got the most out of it were the ones who came prepared with their pitch and the first few pages of their manuscript.

When you are pitching to an agent or editor, you are making a valuable first impression. You want to be someone they want to work with. It’s okay to be nervous. They expect that. Along with being nervous, you can also bring your A game. That’s what makes the best impression.

Keep in mind that the most important people at the conference are the attendees. It’s funny, but that’s what I learned as a volunteer. The agents, editors and presenters are there for you, the attendee, not for themselves. They really want to impart information and make connections.

Most of the agents, editors, presenters, organizers and volunteers are writers as well. During the conference, there was a strong sense that we are all in this together. Presenters also attended sessions and keynote speeches, eager to learn.

Speaking of the sessions, you may be interested to know that the SFWC has generously made the session handouts available online. While it’s not the same as attending, you can still glean a lot of valuable information from these handouts.

You can download the handouts here: Presenters Handouts: 2014 List of Presenters Handouts for Download.

San Francisco Writers Conference 2014

San Francisco Writers Conference

The last couple of years I have gone to the San Francisco Writers Conference as an attendee. This year will be different. I’ll be participating as a volunteer. I’m super excited about this opportunity.

I belonged to several different writers groups in Boulder and I miss being part of that network. Volunteering seems like a great way to meet local writers and find out what groups are looking for new members.

The conference itself is always awesome and I’m happy to be able to give back after all I got from the past couple of years. As always, there are going to be some great keynote speakers and awesome breakout sessions. I am particularly stoked that Barry Eisler will be there. I’m a big John Rain fangirl. There’s something about a gentleman assassin that makes a girl’s heart flutter. 😉

The conference runs from Thursday, February 13 through Sunday, February 16 and, amazingly, it hasn’t sold out yet. If you can’t attend the entire conference, keep in mind that low cost writing classes are open to the public on Thursday and Monday.

There are also several events open to the public for free, including book signings, poetry readings and, for fans of Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, a Faery Market. The Faery Market has room for a limited number of people, so if you’re interested be sure to RSVP here.

Check out the conference website for more information.