Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Writing Rule Questioned

Bootleggers Caught After Car Chase from Art.Com

If you attend a Q&A with an author - famous or not - inevitably an audience member will ask how the author finished her book. The author will answer along the lines of: butt in chair, fingers on keyboard; or, (my favorite) you can't fix a blank page.

It's all great advice but here's the rub: sometimes you gotta get your butt off the chair and leave the keyboard for a pen and notebook and go out into the world. A reporter can't write a story from her desk. My best interviews almost always happen face-to-face because you can hear the inflection of the person's voice, you can see it in their face and the way they move their body. And when they can see you, typically they'll open more than they would on the phone or God forbid, email.

I finished my NaNoMo book Friday, November 14th at 250-odd pages. (Clearly more work needs to be done to whip it into readable material.) One of the biggest challenges of writing a story, especially one that takes place in 1926, is experiencing it as much as possible. I've jotted down notes from conversations with my grandma, listened to oral histories in library archives, studied maps and read through newspapers. My imagination can only fill in so holes.

One of the best times I had writing the book was a sequence when my heroine smuggles alcohol across the Mexico border. But I could feel myself hesitating when describing the car she was in. I've never riden in a 1920's era car much less sat in one so when I read about the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo - where on Sundays you can ride around in a historic car - I realized that manna comes in different forms from heaven.

At this museum you can sit in a 1937 Piece-Arrow towncar and imagine you're Jean Harlow driving down from the Holmby Hills to work at MGM Studios. Or, you can sit behind the wheel of a Ford Model A and realize how much we take for granted with today's computerized, air-bagged, power-steered cars.

When you're stuck in the middle of your book, or you're thinking of revisions to a finished manuscript, I recommend that you get yourself out into the sun (it won't hurt, I promise) and experience what you can of your characters' lives. It works for me.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Friday, November 14, 2008

NaNoMo with Kelley Armstrong

In 2005, Kelley Armstrong wrote a book during NaNoWriMo. She had been published in adult fiction but decided to take a new direction with her writing. Her gamble paid off and now she shares her tips and experiences that resulted in a new YA series that launched this summer with The Summoning.

Chica Lit: How did you prepare for NaNoMo 2005?

Kelley: Oooh, that's reaching back a bit far for me. I would have had an outline--when I want to write fast, I need to know where I'm going. Oh, and I remember that I cleared my plate of other work and told my agent I was doing NaNo, so I'd be "off-line" for a month. I haven't had that luxury since (I'm doing NaNo now and have edits for my main series coming in the mail right now) But it was nice to be able to have that first NaNo clear.

Chica Lit: On those days when the blank page glared back at you, how did you just keep writing?

Kelley: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. I make myself sit and write anything until it starts to flow. And I give myself permission to write crap. I can always go back and edit or delete it, but I can't work with a story that exists only in my mind. It has to be on the page.

Chica Lit: At the end of NaNoMo, how many words had you written?

Kelley: In 2005, it was over 60,000. The last two years, it wasn't much more than 50,000...namely because I can't clear my plate the way I could back then.

Chica Lit: And then you revised and revised and revised ... how did you sell The Summoning?

Kelley: Well, it was a little bit easier for me, already being published in another area. The Summoning is young adult urban fantasy, and I have an adult urban fantasy series. I'd had the idea for The Summoning for years, and had been talking it over with my agent when, within a few months, she got a couple of cold calls from editors saying that if I ever decided to try young adult, they'd like to see it. Perfect timing! So I decided I'd give it a shot for NaNoWriMo. I got most the first draft done that month...and I immediately knew I could do better. I liked the characters and the basic plot, but saw a lot of problems too. So I put it aside for about a year. In late 2006, I rewrote the first act, and my agent took that, along with a synopsis, to the publishers, where it sold. Yes, that sounds incredibly easy, but I spent many, many years doing the whole query-rejection cycle, so I know how lucky I am to be able to bypass that now.

Chica Lit: What will you be working on this month?

Kelley: This month I'm doing the third book in the trilogy that began with The Summoning. What I learned from my first NaNo is that writing fast works for me. I can immerse myself in the story and push forward without stopping and second-guessing anything I wrote the day before--I don't have time to! So for the past three years, I've managed to arrange my schedule so I'm always in first-draft mode during NaNo. This year, it worked out perfect and I was able to start the book Nov 1st.

Chica Lit: Check out the website for Kelley's exciting series at www.chloesaunders.com. For excerpts and insights in to all of her books, visit Kelley's main site at www.kelleyarmstrong.com.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Between the Pages with Gloria DeLa Torre-Wycoff

Back when I was in high school, my mom worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald's niece. When Mrs. Reneau discovered how much I loved her uncle's books - I carried his collection of short stories in my backpack - she let me read a book she had written about her father, Vice Admiral Clifton Sprague.

What I remember most about her book - other than Mrs. Reneau's memory of Scotty Fitzgerald and her French nanny coming to the dinner table in evening wear - was the way she referred to her father as "daddy." It was a little strange because this was a man who was one of the first to open fire on Japanese planes on the morning of December 7, 1941.

(Ironically, the same week Wonder Woman first appeared as a comic strip!)

Anyway, writing about your parents can be tricky business. When I met Gloria DeLa Torre-Wycoff at the California Comadrazo earlier this year and saw the cover of her book, I bought it without hesitation. In Scarred by Scandal, Redeemed by Love, Gloria tells the story of her mother, Maria DeLa Torre, a young woman who grew up in the priveleged household of her uncle and aunt in Mexico City. But her parents who had fled for the U.S. during the Revolution called her back to live with them and Maria entered a different world in the barrio of East Los Angeles circa the 1920's. At the age of 19, Maria was pregnant by her brother-in-law and then banished from her family.

Even though her love for her mother is apparent, Gloria steps back to show Maria's strength and weaknesses; her mistakes and her triumphs. It's an extraordinary book about a single mother who in spite of a life of poverty and humiliation, leaves an enduring legacy of love. Please meet Gloria DeLa Torre-Wycoff.

Chica Lit: When did you start writing this book and why?

Gloria: I actually began writing this memoir in 1997. Although I didn’t consciously realize it at the time, the seed for this book was planted on the day my mother died in October 1993. I had asked my daughters to call family and friends to let them know of her passing, and that we would mail details about the funeral. During the phone calls, one of my daughters came to me upset and frustrated because a family member on my father’s side had reacted sarcastically to the news about my mother and referred to her own mother’s death 60 years earlier. Because of the vulnerable state of our emotions at that moment, my daughter and I agreed to just “let it go” and talk about it another time.

I began writing random notes about my mother which took the form of a poem of sorts about the tender, lonely nurturing of a single mother – lovingly breastfeeding her babes, picturing my mother, alone with her infant. (These writings became the book’s Dedication). I also developed a list of all the places we had lived, beginning in 1927 when Ruben was born, until 1950, when I married. It took quite a while to tie this information together because we had lived in so many places. I wanted this to be as accurate as possible, so I mailed a copy to my brother, Ruben in New York City. He appreciated it, made a few changes and interesting comments. This list served as a guide for me, an outline for writing the book.

In 1997 when my husband and I moved to Orange County, I was planning to retire and decided it was time to write something for my children about my mother - their Nana –and for my grandchildren and great–grandchildren. My intention was to write something to serve as a loving legacy for my family. I would write it, print it out, take it to Kinko’s and have it set in a nice binding. And that was it. But the more I thought about it, and the more I wrote, the more my husband encouraged me to develop it into a book. This is when I realized that it was time to write a book in honor of my mother.

Chica Lit: Would she have approved?

Gloria: I believe she would have approved, or rather, she would have agreed, especially if she could have seen the finished creation. Mama and I had implicit trust in one another. Also, knowing it was written as a loving legacy for her grand-and great-grandchildren, yes, I believe she would have approved. She would have loved the photographs!

Chica Lit: I'm curious ... what happened to your father after your marriage? You never mentioned him again after that chapter.

Gloria: The last time I mentioned my father was on page 237 in a discussion with my nephew about my mother being perceived as passive. She was not passive, rather, she was unobtrusive. Back to your question: the last two chapters were devoted primarily to the memory of my mother. Not mentioning Ezequiel was not intentional; he simply no longer played a role in my mother’s life once Ruben and I had married. I stayed in touch with him until he died in 1976. He and his 2nd wife were fond of my children, liked my first husband - no negative vibes…

Chica Lit: How did you mother feel about your father after all was said and done. Did she resent him or did she still love him?

Gloria: She always loved him. I don’t recall being aware of overt resentment from my mother toward my father. Her attitude, her actions told me she accepted her responsibility for her part in their relationship. Although there were times when I did sense her great disappointment, sadness and sorrow where my father was concerned, but she rarely talked about it. She never blamed him for her situation. I’ve conjectured that she may have acted out her resentment when Ezequiel remarried because that was when she began seeing other men.

When he died in 1976, I took her to his funeral in East Los Angeles; she was greeted by some and ignored by others. It’s a vague memory for me. The next day, after I had gone to his burial, I went to see my mother and she had taken out a formal handsome photograph of him and placed it on a shelf in her front room. In later years it “disappeared” otherwise it would have been in my book. To repeat, yes, I believe she still loved him.

Chica Lit: One of the most poignant moments of your book is your mother's regret over leaving Mexico. How did she not let her regrets get the best of her?

Gloria: Leaving Mexico was a major turning point for her. She was a young 18 and had lived a relatively affluent, albeit lonely lifestyle in Mexico City as a result of living with her aunt and uncle. According to my cousin, when she first came to the U.S., my mother was not happy and hated living in East L.A. Unfortunately, she did not stay in touch with her aunt and uncle ~ probably because of her relationship with Ezequiel.

My mother often reminisced about her early life in Mexico City with some regrets, but she didn’t allow them to consume her or to dwell on them. My mother had an innate ability to adapt to life’s changes even under the harshest of circumstances. One of my reader’s wrote in her Reader’s Review: “…such a profound story of a woman who lived life on life's terms.” And that’s what she intuitively learned to do at an early age; she learned to accept what life dealt her. She was not without regrets, yet didn’t blame others for her situation. She had moments of depression, sadness, longing - probably for my father to re-enter her life…

Chica Lit: I'll never forget when you told me that your mother's story is one of the oldest stories in the book. Why do you think her tale is so prevalent among our mothers and grandmothers' generations?

Gloria: Two sources have made me aware that my mother’s story was not unique. My first source was the local library when I became curious about the term “illegitimate births.” I could only find census data beginning in 1940, but it was enough to indicate that “births to unmarried mothers” have grown exponentially since then. In 1940 there were 90,000 “Illegitimate Live Births to Unmarried Mothers” and in 2006 there were 1.6 million “Births to Unmarried Mothers.”

The other source has continued to be more personal and anecdotal; it evolves after I do readings and presentations of my book. This is where I hear very moving, touching stories, often from young Latinas/Chicanas who buy my book and tell me tearfully, proudly about their unwed mother’s or grandmother’s who struggled to raise their children; or they tell me about themselves as single, unwed mothers struggling to get through college to make a life for themselves and their children. I’ve also been approached by older women, mostly Mexicanas/Latinas, who have stories about their husbands, grandfathers. In fact, my very special friend/colleague of 20 years, told me (after reading my book) about her father having a relationship with her mother’s (his wife’s) younger sister who had his child. Sound familiar?

Chica Lit: What do you hope the younger generations of Latinas will take away from reading your book?

Gloria: My hope is that they will recognize and take away the experience of the great power of mother love which endures beyond any other love. It is my hope that this book carries a motivational message for Latinas of all ages – unwed mothers in particular - who struggle with family and with bettering their lives. I hope they take away the message of the value of education; the richness of reading; the gift of encouraging young children to read at an early age. As she struggled to learn English, my mother discovered the public library and literally opened the doors to the wonderful world of books for us - her young children. No matter how poor we were, we always had access to library books – and they were free!

My hope for the younger generations of Latinas is that that they recognize that there is no shame in giving birth as an unmarried mother. The shame is when the attitude of others – family in particular - see this chosen birth as shameful act. The shame is also when a child born out of wedlock is treated as “less than” by family members, by the school system, by society.

My greatest hope is that the younger generation of Latinas will ultimately be inspired to make wise choices for herself and for her future.

Chica Lit: To order a copy of this amazing memoir, please visit Gloria's website.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Prize

The other night when the image of Barack Obama as our 44th president flashed on screen, I thought it was a technical glitch. The music had cut out and there was a stretch of silence that usually comes when someone in the control room hit the wrong button. But then Tom Brokow appeared and he assured us that yes, we had a new president.

Some people wept with joy, others shouted and danced. Our neighbor blew off fire crackers in the street and I saw Ryan wipe a tear or two off his face (and he didn't even joke that it was dusty in our living room). However, I couldn't move. My throat was tight and my eyes a little misty but I couldn't feel my face from the shock. I'm not much of a crier. I'll do it in private or at the movies, but when everyone else falls apart around me, something snaps inside me and I'm the one passing around the kleenex box before going into the ktichen to make tea.

Ever since Tuesday night, I've been struck by moments of such intense emotion especially when writing. It freezes me in place. I'd like to cry just to flush it out of my system, but before I can it just settles back down, waiting in its dark corner to get me again. In fact I'm coming out of it right now after having written a scene between Anna and the man she loves. Not much is happening on the surface. But they're face to face, half lit by a dim lamp. She's crossed an emotional ocean to realize that even though she loves him, their life together is not to be. Oh I wish I could share it but half the sentences don't have periods and I've probably misspelled their names.

I wasn't sure I could tap into the intensity of what is happening inside her. I thought I'd maybe get it in the third draft but it came out of nowhere. I felt the same way when I wrote the scene between Tamara and Will on the Queen Mary, and again in Switchcraft when Nely and Aggie watch the ending of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

I used to think that the ultimate prize you'd get as a writer was the publishing contract and then the big check that came in the mail. Don't get me wrong; they're pretty cool and I'd like to sign another contract in the future. But the real prize are these moments when the emotion and the honesty is almost too much for you to handle. In a way, you don't just write a scene or a book; you create an experience. Like Tuesday night, we didn't just elect a president; we made good on the promises of the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that
among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure
these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers
from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish
it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles
and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to
effect their Safety and Happiness.

I don't know about you, but rereading those words in light of what happened earlier this week gives me chills.

Maybe I will go have that cry after all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

NaNoWriMo With Shelley Adina

Last November, Shelley Adina needed to kickstart a book that was coming due to her publisher. Find out how she used NaNoMo to make her deadline on her upcoming release, Be Strong and Curvaceous!

Chica Lit: Please tell us how you prepared for NaNoWriMo.

Shelley: I was contracted for book 3 in the All About Us series, Be Strong and Curvaceous, due that January, and I was behind on it because of work on previous books. So a November kickstart was perfect timing for me. To prepare for the experience, I outlined my book in advance. To do that, I got the characters nailed down and wrote out a clear series of events that would put external and internal pressure on my protagonist. These pressures caused her to change, so that in the black moment "crunch" at the end of the book, she had resources within herself to do what she could not have done at the beginning. With this narrative line in mind, and a clear theme (the power of courage), I was ready to write on November 1.

Chica Lit: On those days when the blank page glared back at you, how did you just keep writing?

Shelley: It's hard, no doubt about it. But what helps me is to go over my synopsis again, to remember the book's theme, and to read over the previous day's work and give it an edit pass. This seems to prime the pump, and the words start to trickle in. When they don't, I go for a walk. Or eat chocolate. That works, too.

Chica Lit: At the end of NaNoMo how many words had you written?

Shelley: I got about 30,000 words, I think. It wasn't the NaNo goal of 50,000, but it was half a book!

Chica Lit: And then what happened after NaNoMo?

Shelley: I then had six weeks to write the second half, which was completely doable. The first 100 pages are always the hardest for me. Once those were behind me in the NaNo process, I could keep on rolling until "The End."

Chica Lit: What will you be working on this month?

Shelley: I'm working on The Chic Shall Inherit the Earth, the sixth and final book in the series. I already had the synopsis completed and approved by my publisher (it has a few edgy elements that had to get the green light first). I know my protagonist's character arc, and the key events are all mapped out in my head. November is all about the writing ... and then I'll be celebrating the release of Be Strong and Curvaceous, in bookstores everywhere in January!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

NaNoMo Day 2: 2750 words

So much for doubling yesterday's word count! This is what happens when I write on my laptop with its high-speed Internet and email access. Dangerous stuff. Tomorrow I'll be on the road with the AlphaSmart so we'll see what happens.

Nonetheless, I wrote some of the hardest scenes in the book. It's the middle of Act II when my heroine makes her major emotional transition. I can't say more or else I'll give it away and considering that this is a first draft, it'll probably change.

Mrs. V asked in the comments of my videoblog if this is a fictional or nonfictional story. It's a paranormal women's fiction with roots in family lore. I've been inspired by my great grandmothers, Eduvijen Holguin Melendez and Inez Mendez Vasquez, and my grandmothers, Margaret Castillo and Maria Mendez. My character, Anna Vazquez is a mix of my grandmothers' rebellious and independent spirits, and Great Grandma Vazquez's ironclad strength. Another character in the book is my Great Grandma Eduvijen. When I get my act together, I'll scan their photos and post them on the blog. But don't hold your breath.

Election Day

My dad sent me this video last night. HIGH-larious!

But seriously, the right to vote is no joke and it came at a high price. Our grandmothers fought for us in the 1920's. Our ancestors whether they marched against the British, arrived on a ship, walked through Ellis or Angel Island, or crossed a border have fought for the right to vote.

Don't be a loser. Don't let the old lady in this video call you a motherf&#%!er. Go out and vote and score a free coffee at Starbucks.

Monday, November 03, 2008

NaNoMo Day 1: 3750 words

Today was my first day of NaNoMo and I logged in 3,750 words or 15 manuscript pages. For inspiration, I studied this photo that I found on eBay, of all places. She captures who my character, Anna Vazquez, will become at the end of the story.

Tomorrow I hope to turn in 20 manuscript pages, which will put me up to my normal speed.