&

Guest Post on Jungle Red Writers – How Do Two Sisters Write Together?

As co-authors, we’re often asked the “how” of writing together. People are curious about our process. Fortunately, both of us are solidly in the middle of the pantser/plotter road. We begin by talking about the central idea of our book then narrow that down into a solid premise.

Before we type the first word, we build the story world. Who lives there? Where does it take place? What happened to the characters before they appeared in those first chapters? We spend about a month talking, thinking, and developing our characters and their stories. We come to the first draft with a broad overview of the plot, usually knowing the beginning and the likely ending, but allowing the rest to develop as we write.

Once the writing starts, we assign each other scenes and email them to each other daily. Late afternoons are reserved for Facetime where we discuss what we’ve written and give feedback to each other. The first draft is akin to play time.

We place no constraints on each other and allow the characters to lead the way.

Valerie may tell Lynne, “I didn’t know Julia’s mother was murdered.” and Lynne will answer, sadly, “I know, it’s tragic.”

In our current work in progress, Lynne was surprised to open Valerie’s email and discover a new character they’d never discussed. “Where did she come from?” Lynne asked, and Valerie answered, “She just showed up on the page.” And then there was the time while writing The Last Mrs. Parrish that a gun suddenly appeared, CONTINUE READING

What does it Mean to “Show Not Tell?”

A familiar axiom of writing is “show, don’t tell”. We hear it everywhere: from teachers, in articles, in writing workshops. For a long time, I had no idea what it actually meant. What do you mean, don’t tell? Aren’t we storytellers? My natural inclination was to sit down and tell what happened; hovering above my characters like a omniscient narrator explaining exactly how they felt and why they felt it. After all, how would the reader know if I didn’t tell her? Many terrible drafts later, I have come to learn a little bit about point of view, the embodied experience, and how to let the reader feel what is happening along with the character.

In the spirit of showing…

When I looked up from the keyboard, I saw him. I wished I were anywhere but a bookstore in the middle of Baltimore. I hadn’t considered that he might be the one I’d run in to. I was so nervous that my hand shook when I picked up my coffee cup. Swallowing the cold remains in one sip, I finished the stale tasting liquid.

“Jeff.” Calling, as I might to any old friend.

He stopped, looking surprised, as he walked over to the table.

I stood up and before I knew what was happening, he swept me into his arms. He still smelled the same and I thought about the last time I had seen him. For a moment everything around me dissolved, and it was just the two of us, the way it used to be. He let go, and I felt wobbly.

VERSUS

When I looked up from the keyboard, I saw him. Sweat broke out on the back of my neck, and I wished I were anywhere but a bookstore in the middle of Baltimore. I hadn’t considered that he might be the one I’d run in to. My pulse raced and I reached a trembling hand to my coffee cup. Swallowing the cold remains in one sip, I recoiled at the taste of the stale liquid.

“Jeff.” Calling, as I might to any old friend.

He stopped, his eyes growing wide as he walked over to the table.

I stood up and before I knew what was happening, he swept me into his arms. At once, the familiar scent of sandalwood overwhelmed me, and I ricocheted back in time, reeling from the familiarity of his feel and his smell. For a moment everything around me dissolved, and it was just the two of us, the way it used to be. He let go, and I put a hand on the chair behind me to steady myself.

I don’t worry so much about this in my first drafts—it would be too crippling. It’s in revision that I keep a keen eye out for those passages where I’ve bogged down the narrative with too much explaining. Emotions words jump out at me, and I work hard to show someone’s anger or fear rather than just naming it. There are other places where showing is superior—listing a characters quirks or talents for instance. If I can show how my hero eludes a pursuer during a car chase rather than say he’s an excellent driver, the experience will be more satisfying and believable for the reader.

Take a look at one of your passages and see if there is a way to envelop your reader more viscerally into the experience. Feel free to post your own examples in the comments.

Writing a Three-Dimensional Villain

UK Cover
US Cover

While cooking up the storyline for The Last Mrs. Parrish, some of the most fun we had was bringing Amber Patterson, our antagonist, to life. Actors often talk about how exciting it is to play the villain — it’s also exciting to create a villain for the page. ♥

Only a few paragraphs in, it’s clear that Amber is up to no good — that her entire act is one she’s employing to get what she wants. Is she a woman who you love to hate? Yes. Is she a woman who is completely bad? No. And isn’t that what we find in life – that no one is all bad – and so the most convincing villains have a piece of good in them somewhere.

Possibly the most problematic and notorious villain in all of literature is… READ MORE

Are you a Panster or a Plotter?

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Thrillerfest 2012, I had the pleasure and honor to meet and hear from the best in the industry. A variety of topics were presented on the craft of writing including: Crafting a Story Outline, Finding Your Storytelling Voice, Creating Mind Blowing Twists, Creating Compelling and Complex Antagonists, as well as talks on plot, structure, publishing etc.* Weaved throughout all the discussions, was the running question – “Are you a pantser (write by the seat of your pants) or a plotter (make and follow a detailed outline). Continue reading “Are you a Panster or a Plotter?” »

There’s Something Special About Your First Book

What Circle Dance means to me

When my sister and I first agreed to collaborate on a story, we constructed one similar to what we loved to read at the time—stories about women, their emotional lives, and the choices they make in life.  Our first characters were three sisters—beautiful, blonde, rich, and American.  The story was a struggle and we realized that we were not writing about what we knew or even about what spoke to us—but rather to what was popular and interesting at the time.We talked about the fact that there were very few stories about the Greek American experience.  While similar to other ethnic stories—there are unique aspects to being Greek that we felt needed to be shared. Continue reading “There’s Something Special About Your First Book” »

Where is the Best Place to Write?

Everyone needs a room of one’s own – at least according to Virginia Woolf. Whether this is a literal or metaphorical dictum is open to interpretation – the state of women’s rights in Woolf’s day vastly different from today. Still – the idea that a dedicated writing space was integral to my success as an aspiring author was one that I wholeheartedly embraced and set about establishing. The house we lived in at the time I began my novel had the perfect writing spot – a small room off the bedroom with a window overlooking a beautiful verdant space abounding with trees. The light was perfect for writing and I spent many hours concocting devious plots while gazing at the woods. Continue reading “Where is the Best Place to Write?” »

Writing with a Co-Author

People often ask me – “How do you write a book with another person?” When my sister and I decided to work together on Circle Dance, we didn’t know the answer to that question. I bought a book (“How to Write and Sell Your First Novel”, by Oscar Collier), read it, and proceeded to follow its advice. This particular book advocated outlining and set the foundation for the way I would write for many years until I modified that approach (see previous blog post Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?). Continue reading “Writing with a Co-Author” »

The Road to Publication

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment the paradigm shift occurred.  The transition from traditionally published author to an independent one marked the beginning of the change. When my first book was published, the overwhelming feeling of vulnerability I felt shocked me. A part of me was sitting on that bookshelf for anyone to see and criticize. Promoting the book felt like conceit. Sheepishly and shyly I approached bookstores and organizations as I attempted to broaden our distribution. Continue reading “The Road to Publication” »

Writer’s Block? 5 Ways to get Unstuck

 

 

We all have days when we sit down to write and the words flow fast and furious while our fingers race to keep up. But what about the days we approach our writing time with eager anticipation only to find that we have nothing to write? Our story is stuck. Our prose is flat. Our imaginations dry. It does little good to sit and stare at a blank screen, hoping the muse will show up and get our fingers dancing again. At times like these, a shift in process helps me. Continue reading “Writer’s Block? 5 Ways to get Unstuck” »

Lose the Lukewarm Writing – Going from Tepid to Torrid

 

I’m inclined to agree…
I was a little upset…
It was almost too much to bear…
He was kind of difficult…
She was barely passing…
She was practically salivating…

These limp descriptions are the tepid water of writing – the equivalent of a timid hand raised half way with no real expectation of being called upon. Continue reading “Lose the Lukewarm Writing – Going from Tepid to Torrid” »