Thursday, April 29, 2010


I've been temping at a new job and the insanity is finally winding down. In this instance insanity is defined as working 14 days straight with overtime sprinkled on top. * Children? I have children? Oh, yeah, I remember them. They're cute.* Type of thing. A birthday that passed by and made me think, really think of where I am and where I want to be in life. Not to mention one of my days off was spent at a funeral for a beloved family member. So as an understatement these past two months has been a little crazy.

And all of it has changed my clarity on so many issues. Since this is a blog about writers...

The definition of published is not in the eye of the beholder, but definitely why one wants to be published is. And in those quiet moments I've asked myself why do I want to published. With only enough time to sleep and eat writing has been pushed to the back burner for the first time in many years.

I mean, the people I work with don't know that I write. Let alone that I'm published. I'm a little ashamed to say I find this freeing. I'm not asked "When is the next book coming out?" So there is no answer that makes me feel like a failure in some way. Maybe that just means I need to have that separation of church and state i.e. Melissa the person and Melissa the writer.

But I think it means I need to find clarity on why I want to be published. The answer is there, but like I write I need to fill in the middle, which I dread. The thing is the answer won't be what it used to be. At least not the one I used to have secretly, but now it's because being published means having a career in something I'm absolutely passionate about. But first I have to get to the answer. I have to fill in those blank spaces between the question and the answer in order to know how to proceed.

Why do you want to be published? What was your journey from the question to the answer?

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Over the past year an idea -- a dream -- has been knocking around in my head. Could I retire and become a full time writer? If I focused 100% on writing -- put as much time and effort into it as I do my job, would I achieve success? I believe, I believe, I believe . . . yes, I would.

I have a great job, a lifetime of experience. It's rewarding work and I'm good at it. It represents security. And I'm making a difference in people's lives. Why would I want to turn my back on all that? But a little voice keeps whispering, "why not follow your dream?" In the back of my mind I know I have a safety net: if I just can't swing it I can go back to work. Of utmost importance to me is the medical insurance I get as part of my retirement. Without that, this would be impossible to pursue. What have I really got to lose?

If I retire now, my monthly pension will be much smaller than if I wait, and I'll have permanently lost that larger pension. My income will be approximately 1/3 of what I currently earn. (Yikes!) And I'll be the only motivation I have to pursue my new profession. I'll have to sit my butt in that chair every day. Can I do it?

I've put some money aside that I can use to supplement my pension. I'll have to be verrrrry frugal. But I want to follow that dream. I want to do something totally different than what I've done for the past 37 years. I want to give myself that opportunity. My co-workers are surprised that I'm retiring so young. "You're too young" they say. "What are you doing to do?" I tell them I'll still be working full time. I'm going to have a whole new career as a writer. I write historical romance. I'm going to follow my dream and give it a shot.

They're encouraging and happy for me. And every time I say it, it becomes a little more real, a little more possible.

I have to be brave, I have to be determined. I'm not really sure where all that's coming from, except deep down inside I do believe. I've worked hard at my craft. I have one completed, polished manuscript and I'm one-third of the way through my current WIP. I know it takes more than talent, hard work and perseverance. It takes the right time, right place, right person, too. I'm thinking maybe I can find a bit of luck.

Thinking of all the women who'd like to be able to do this but can't gives me the courage to go forward. So May 29, 2010 I officially become a full time writer. I will consider my profession to be Writer. I expect to be successful -- three years seems a reasonable goal. Yes, I Believe.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

That One Thing

I talked about that One Thing in my last post. For me it's not motivation or goal. It's the deep dark secret thing the character needs or maybe even wants. The one thing the character admits to when no one else is around or his/her usual barriers are down. It's the one thing they've been running from, because having it and losing it is the ONE THING they don't know they'll be able to survive.

It's not an easy thing to pinpoint. It may take the fifth draft of the book before it truly hits me. Of course I then go back to make sure it's not just in my head, but also on the page. The only way to find it is knowing my character. Writing is circular in that way. Need a plot? Find out who your character is. Need an overall goal for your novel? Find out who your character is.

So how do you find that one thing? Unfortunately it doesn't show up in the ms color-coded or followed by !!!! to emphasize it's importance. Oh, how I wish, because it can be anywhere. And sadly, it's like porn you know when you see it. I've written or read it and something in me paused. I come across it and all the layers I've surrounded my character with makes sense.

Let me see if I can make this clear as mud with an example:

I have this hero. He's all business. He grew up poor, but his push has nothing do with not being poor ever again. At first I thought it had everything to do with his father being murdered. Losing someone in such a violent and sudden way can skew you in a way that can't be defined. For him it made him focus with a tunnel vision that made him torture himself and refuse the lighter side of life. So, of course he wouldn't stop to smell the roses. And, of course pairing him with someone who manages to do everything but focus would drive him insane.

In a way I was right. Losing his father was the One Thing, but only the top layer.

Father murdered.

Scared of losing someone else he loves.

That fear turns into him not connecting with others in a deep and intimate way.

The heroine's way of living is his idea of worst nightmare. He pushes her away and by doing that pushing away the very thought of intimacy.

Yet when they get closer he tells himself their attraction, their compatibility is out of his control. When it's really him finally rejecting the idea he doesn't want intimacy.

Then I came across this:

He could have Lynne who made him forget reason. Forget his purpose for being in this town. Make Nate forget the grief that wanted to choke him at night when he was alone.

Out of context this makes absolutely no sense, but when I wrote this I had to stop. Yes, he wants intimacy and is sabotaging himself in order to get it. It's something he craves, but in order for him to have it he has to let go of the grief. The same grief that goes away when he's with the heroine.

His One Thing is letting go. He believes if he lets go of his goal (the goal is the physical manifestation of this ---->), lets go of the grief he will somehow forget his father and making his father's life in vain. It's the one thing he admits to himself when no one else is around--he wants to stop grieving for his father. He secretly wishes that constant ache would lessen.

No the realization isn't ground breaking, but everything about my hero made sense--why he was so cold, why he was fighting to death for his goal, why loving the heroine was the absolutely last thing he wanted to do (not for the idea of loving someone is scary, but what he would have to give up in order to love her). The wonderful thing, it also helped me see what the ending needed to be.

Which is the One Thing I'm still looking for with the new story I talked about. Sigh. Needle in the haystack, anyone?

Have you found your character's One Thing?

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Have No Idea

How my current story is going to end. To a non-writer this may make no sense at all. The logical set up is that you have a story in your head. That's where it resides. Since it does you should know every facet of the characters, the plot, and the ending.

The truth is every writer makes it up as they go. I say this even for a plotter. While they may use some tool to help them plan before they sit down to write Chapter 1 they still don't know every facet of the story before they use a tool.

So here I am with my names, a plot, some backstory, but I just can't fathom how the story ends. To be honest I'm at war with the hero making the ultimate sacrafice again in one of my stories. Maybe I've been trying to strike a blow for womenkind who have had to make sacrafices for centuries when it comes to love and family.

More likely, while I'm penning the novel the perfect solution will hit me. The one thing I do strive for is that the characters meet each other half-way. A part of love, for me, means letting go of the things you should have done a long time. (usually a faulty belief system.) You have to let whatever it is in order to have that HEA. At this point of the story (I have a plot and some pages written) I can't say with 100 percent certainty what it is my chracters need to let go. Fear, hurt, self-doubt all manifests itself differently. For all I know the heroine has a ring that somehow symbolizes the ONE THING and she has to give it away, lose it, or throw into the ocean to finally be free.

But that's the thing, I have no idea. And THAT'S the reason why I keep writing. Why I love it when a story takes ahold of me. It's an uncertainty in my life that I don't have any control over, but it has yet to fail me.

What don't you know about your story right now?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

You Gotta Get Out Of The Way of The Story

So, I've been banging my head on a brick wall with one story. Parts of it is fabulous. Parts of does everything a story is supposed to do. Other parts make me want to select all, hit delete and save the current changes.

Then NaNo happened and that story sucked me in. And that little 'you suck' voice got drowned out by thousands of shiny new words. The problem was when I went back to the MS That Makes My Brain Hurt it still sucked. Yes it had more fabulous parts to it, but the sucky bits took over the ms and left me wondering once if I had it in me to write a good book.

I made the decision to open up a completely different ms and edit that one. It's been sitting on my computer since September. 2 months is more than enough time to come back to an ms with a fresh perspective and for the story to read as if someone else wrote it.

I stayed up all night reading it. The story by no means is perfect, but when I finished I knew exactly what needed to be fixed and HOW to fix it, which is half the battle. I knew it'd take me maybe three days to fix the major parts. Another day to make all the sentences shine and I'd be ready to shoot it off to a CP or Beta.

But more than that I sat back and wondered why this story was so much easier to fix. The first answer is that I haven't spent a month reading it over and over and over again just to keep hitting a new snag. One major reason is that the goal/motivation/conflict is on point. I can't say it was the prep work before the novel. I did A LOT prep work with the other book.

The defining factor is that with the story that's easier to fix I got out of the way and let my characters show their story through dialogue, action, and narration. It's easy to say I'm just here to dictate and to actually dictate what's happening. My, characters, and I'm sure yours do too, become their own people after a while. But the moment I stepped in and wrote what I thought should happen, what I thought they should say, the whole thing turned into a cluster*****. So every time I read a scene that just doesn't jive I see myself imitating the characters and doing a horrible rendition of them. Much like someone doing an impersonation of Elvis and gets it all wrong, you cringe a little don't you? Now imagine hours of it.

Oy, vey.

So as a public service, I'll tell you to just step out of the way. You can save hours of your time. You can keep your sanity. You can prevent the brain bleed from banging your head on the wall day after day after day. The upshot is getting a story that rings true through the character.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Typing "The End"

by Sharon Lathan

I am thinking we would all agree that one of the high points in writing our stories is to type "The End" in bold print at the bottom of that final page. Maybe it is just me, but I always flash onto the scene in Romancing the Stone when Joan Wilder types those words - on a real typewriter no less - and is dissolving into tears while searching high and low for a tissue. I love that scene! Of course, until recently it was just a humorous moment in a movie with no relationship to my life. Now I have typed those words a few times, most recently two days ago. And let me tell you, it is a fabulous feeling!

Of course, we know that just because we type "The End" it really isn't the end. We will read it over a few more times before we click the attach and send buttons. We will add a little bit here, take away something there, find some typo or misspelled word, all before we are satisfied enough to turn it over to our editor. And then it will be picked over by a series of editors (praise God!) who will find more sentences and paragraphs or - heaven help us - whole sections or chapters that need to be rehashed. Hopefully it will not be too agonizing and the finished, published product will not vary too much from what we submitted.

Yet for all the work that is ahead of us before that shiny bound novel is in our hot little hands, the real challenge is going from a vague concept in our head that starts with some "It was a dark and stormy night" catchy beginning sentence to typing "The End." When we get there we aren't fretting over the work to come. Rather we are leaping for joy at the incredible sense of accomplishment. Like Joan Wilder we are overcome with emotions.

I have typed "The End" after four novels with surging emotions each time. Relief, happiness, satisfaction, giddiness, touches of fear and doubt, and a whole lot more that I am not sure there are names for. The journeys from inception to completion differed and the challenges varied along the way, making each process special. But for me the prior undertakings were similar in many respects whereas this recent “The End” came after a totally unique experience in several fundamental ways.

First off, I was writing a novella. Early in my writing endeavors I wrote two short stories that have now been incorporated into the whole of my saga. I suppose that gave me some experience. However, this time I had a specific word count to keep in mind and that was a very new phenomenon for me. It is one thing to dream up a great story and jot down a hazy outline, and another thing entirely to pull it off within an allotted boundary! “Anywhere from 20-30,000 words” sounds like loads of wiggle room until you get down to those final few thousand and realize you have so much left to say. Yikes!

Secondly, I was given a particular theme to write about. Actually, this was the easiest part for me. My wonderful editor, Deb Werksman, approached me for a Darcy Christmas themed novella that is to be part of an anthology released next year. She was receptive to any direction I wanted to take as long as Christmas and the Darcys were in there somewhere. Oh my! The possibilities are endless when one thinks about it! Yet at the same time for me this was a first: Being asked to write within a specific topic. But since Christmas is my favorite holiday and I had already written of the Darcys celebrating Christmas twice, it was easy for me to come up with ideas. Perhaps too easy! I needed to rein in the numerous thoughts and keep it cohesive with its own plotline.

Third, I was writing under a deadline for the first time. I know, I know.... Many of my writer friends are going to heave rotten tomatoes smack on my head for that one! Sorry!! But for me this was a unique experience. And one I am not sure I liked! Yes, it was good to have that discipline, I have discovered. When Deb broached the subject way back in June, getting a mere 30,000-word novella done by the end of the year (or Nov. 19 as it ended up) sounded like AGES away. No problemo! Heck, I had nearly half of it written before Nationals in July! So what happened? Well, there were vacations to take, conferences to attend, family crisis to deal with, blogs to write, a book to launch, and that pesky RL job to show up for. Oh, and family! Yep, they require some attention! Suddenly that looming date circled in bright red on my calendar was creeping closer and closer. The upside is that I learned to buckle down and get serious, even if that meant turning off the email alert and Facebook chat!

Fourth, my novella was the first undertaking after the release of my debut novel. Somehow the expectations felt different. Maybe most of that was in my head, but with what I hope is a long career stretching out ahead of me and with readers potentially waiting anxiously for the next Sharon Lathan written story (Hey, I can dream!), I felt a keen sense of pressure to perform. Ha, performance anxiety! Something none of my male characters will ever suffer from, but I was occasionally flustered by this annoying voice in the back of my head yammering at me. Sometimes that voice sounded like the critics, sometimes it was my editor, sometimes it was my praising fans, and sometimes it was my own doubt and indecision. Valid or not, like it or not, gone are the days of writing blithely only for my pleasure. I do have others to consider beside myself. *sigh

Yet, as I stare at the typed “The End” to my 29,957-word novella that I have titled, “Reflections of Christmas at Pemberley,” I am satisfied. I really love it! I am confident that Deb will love it and feel it fits perfectly into the themes for this anthology. I know my faithful fans will adore it. I have hope that new readers will smile at the glimpses of Christmas with Jane Austen’s beloved characters that I have given them. And I no longer fret over the critics! LOL! Whatever hair-ripping work may be ahead of me, I have accomplished something remarkable in reaching The End.

Tell me how it felt for you! Your best experience in writing or most celebratory The End you typed.

**On a side note:
This Thursday, Oct. 22, I will be at the Hanford library for the Friends of the Library Author's Chat. Naturally I shall be talking about The Darcy Saga and my journey as a writer. Plus, I will be signing books. If in the area, stop by for fun and refreshments at 7pm.

And, if anyone is in the Sacramento area over this coming up weekend, be sure to swing by the Citrus Heights Barnes & Noble on 6111 Sunrise Blvd. between 11am to 3pm on Saturday, Oct. 24 to see Loucinda McGary and me, along with several other fabulous Valley Rose romance novelists, at our joint book signing. Not only will it be tremendous fun, but it is a fund raiser for area public schools so also a worthy cause. Loucinda and I hope to see you there!

Monday, October 19, 2009

To Be Subtle Or Not To be Subtle

Subtle has it's advantages, especially when you are trying to make a point to the reader. This character is flighty, this character hates their job, this character *insert what you want to convey here.* You can do this by the words you choose, or how a character reacts in a given situation. But sometimes the subtlety can get lost in the other noise of the novel. Readers come to stories with their own luggage and they see what they want to see.

Case in point: I read this Women's Fiction novel. The heroine hated this one character. He rubbed her in the wrong way and she gave her reasons to why she hated him. On the surface those reasons made sense. Also the fact I was reading a Women's Fiction I wasn't on the look out for "Oh, here's the hero" like I do in romance. So by the time I got to the Big Reveal, I was shocked. OMG!!!!!

Now when I go back to read the story I can see where the author put in the clues. A sentence here and there. The heroine completely evading. It was subtle and it was meant to be that way. Even if you caught on earlier in the novel you still somehow felt vindicated that you were right.

Loosely connected--when it comes to a readers own luggage and seeing what they want to see--I was reading The Grand Sophy and I knew it was a romance. So every man that came on the scene I was looking for the hero qualities. It wasn't until half-way through the book that I settled on one character. But the author kept beating me on the head THESE TWO ARE NOT TO BE. I was mildly disappointed, because I couldn't figure out who the hero was and why would the author wait until the very end of the book to introduce the hero. And then Sophy had the long, steady glance, (that we use in romance novels) the one that says YOU'RE THE ONE...with her cousin!

I was reading The Grand Sophy blind. I had never read a review. I had just heard how incredible this book was. So I was coming to this novel with my 2009 way of thinking, you don't marry your cousins. (It's ALMOST acceptable when you start hitting 5th, 6th lineage. Not your 1st cousin.) I brought my own luggage and I saw what I wanted to see whenever Sophy and Charles would make a scene crackle from their conflict. (I totally needed to buy a Romance Clue when I read this novel.)

Now if those scenes didn't crackle and when I got to the point where they had their "glance" I would have needed to take a serious shower. If those sentences and evading hadn't been placed early on in the Women's Fiction my head would have whipped around and I would not have bought as easily that the heroine really had the hots for the hero.

But in both instances I can see what wasn't subtle. Charles did not like how Sophy was turning his world upside down. Sophy (and myself included) did not care for Charles's betrothed. The heroine in the Women's Fiction needed to grow up and stop living in denial. And after a certain point she just needed to peel the hero's clothes off with her teeth already.

And while I'm going through my second round of edits I'm keeping this lesson in mind. What to place in with a whisper (also taking into consideration how many times I'll have to do it) and what to pump up so that the reader can see it no matter what luggage they bring to the story.

What subjects do you introduce to the reader in a subtle manner? What do you choose to put out there for the reader to see and see clearly?