Adding scenery to a scene

Sometimes  writers are strange bunch. But if being strange helps get the story written, then I can live with it.

The other day, I was writing a scene and looking to add some physical description. Thankfully, I have a very useful primary source I can draw on. Lewis and Clark wrote detailed descriptions of the locations they camped at. One of their last campsites before settling down for the winter was at Tongue Point. Clark’s journal mentioned that the river had astonishingly beautiful little stones there.

The Shore on the Side next the Sea is Covered with butifull pebble of various Colour …” [Clark, November 29, 1805]

When I read these words, I thought that was an odd thing to mention. A website quoted Moulton saying these were probably quartz and cherts, but to me, rocks are just rocks and who cares about that? Still, I wondered about it. Those words were written by a man who had travelled thousands of miles over the course of several months to get to that point. He must have looked at a whole lot of rocks in the course of his travels. Why did he notice these in particular?

And then came one of those moments that sound really strange if you’re not a writer. I could hear my character’s voice, in my head, saying “But look at these!” And he scooped up a bunch of pebbles from the river and held them out.

He opened his hand. On his palm were a collection of pebbles that glittered like jewels, a translucent milky stone flecked with gold, rose quartz, topaz agates, carnelian and moss-green stones, glistening with water and sparkling in the sunlight.

Sometimes, it can really help your writing if you have tangible objects to look at and to hold. And while I have always considered a bunch of rocks to be pretty boring, they seemed important to my hero. I wrote a rough draft of the scene and then went off to the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks & Minerals to look at rocks. I had to try to find out why my hero was so convinced they were beautiful. I think I can understand him a bit better now.


So yes, I just brought a bunch of rocks home because I wanted to understand my hero. It sounds crazy. But it helped me write the scene.

Have you ever done something odd to help get a scene written? I can’t be the only one who finds it helpful to have tangible objects. Probably it’s just as well I don’t write about billionaires with fancy cars and luxurious mansions!

Thank You Seekerville!

When I first entered the Manuscript Matchmaker contest, a lot of my fellow contestants said that they’d heard of the contest from the Seekerville blog. So naturally, I had to go check it out.

What is Seekerville? It’s a blog maintained by several romance writers. They were all unpublished when they started the blog. One by one, they have all gone on to become published authors, but they continued the blog. It’s a marvelous resource for people who want to learn how to write, but it’s more than that. It’s a very welcoming place. Newbies are encouraged to leave comments about their own experiences, and the bloggers respond to all the comments.

And they’ve been doing this for several years now. Writer’s Digest rated them as one of the best writing websites around.

This month, they’re celebrating their anniversary, and trust me when I say these people know how to celebrate! If you leave a comment, you are entered into one of their giveaways.

I actually won two giveaways. Last month, I left a comment on the Seekerville blog and won an e-book (His Montana Sweetheart, by Ruth Logan Herne). And then this last week, I won another gift, a Kindle!

Please go check out their blog.

How NOT to use Twitter

img_1605I don’t consider myself an expert on Twitter. But I’ve begun to notice things that irritate me and might annoy other people as well.

If you follow me, I will follow you back — unless it’s obvious from your tweets that all you want to do is force your book/product/agenda on me. Twitter is a cocktail party, not a marketplace. It’s an opportunity to get for you to get noticed — you, not your book or product or agenda.

You can get to know a person by following them on Twitter. How often they post a tweet, what kinds of subjects interest them enough to tweet or retweet, how often they push their own particular product or agenda, all these things reveal the person behind the tweets. I might want to buy your product or agenda once I get to know you. But not before.

So, given the above, here are some ways not to use Twitter:

  • Do not send me a Direct Message saying how great it is that I’m following you. Twitter is a cocktail party, and we’re just at the stage where I’m asking you your name and whether you think the appetizers really needed that much wasabi. We don’t need to go have a private conversation. Let’s get to know each other on Twitter first.
  • Do not send me a Direct Message saying “Hi! How are you doing?” It’s like asking for my phone number the moment we meet. Chat me up a bit first, ‘k? And by that I mean post tweets.
  • Do not send me a Direct Message telling me that I can buy your book. Hearing a sales pitch at a party is right up there with having a telemarketer interrupt you at dinner.
  • Do not send me a Direct Message saying I can download your book for free. I don’t know you yet. I’m not going to bestir myself to download a book simply because it’s free. There are a lot of free books out there, and my interest in reading all of them is nil.
  • Do not offer to sell me Twitter followers.
  • Do not offer to send me pictures of nekkid wimmin. Honest, I know what they look like. And if I forget, I have a mirror.

If you want me to chat with you privately or to download your book or promote your agenda by retweeting you, give me a reason to care. Post tweets on a subject of mutual interest. I’m following you on Twitter because I’m interested in what you have to say. On Twitter.

Experts say the best way to promote your current book is to write another one. Similarly, the best way to tempt Twitter followers into reading your book is to post tweets that make people interested in hearing more from you.

Exploring Oregon’s Past

I took a research trip over the hill and across the Willamette to Champoeg (pronounced “shampoo-ee”). If you’re curious what life was like in Oregon in the 1850s, then I highly recommend a trip to the Newell Pioneer Village.

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I came on a Saturday afternoon, and since I was the only guest at that time, the docent gave me a personalized tour. There’s a replica (a bit larger than the original) of a log cabin, with authentic furnishings, many of them donated by descendants of pioneers who came west on the Oregon Trail. Up the path is the Newell house, which was the “posh” house on the hill when it was originally built. When the town of Champoeg was destroyed in a great flood, the Newells ended up sheltering most of the town. The attic houses a collection of inaugural gowns worn by the First Lady of each governor of the state of Oregon. There’s also a selection of quilts and of native baskets and tools.

My interest on this trip was the school. The original Butteville school and jail are on the grounds. The jail is sited about 10 feet away from the school. I needed to research details about schools in Oregon, so the docent unlocked the cupboard and brought out several textbooks from the era to show me. She also provided lots of information, the sort of details that often get missed. It was like having access to my own personal historian.

When you’re writing history, there’s always the worry that you’re going to get some details wrong. It really helps to be able to walk through a piece of history, to stand where your characters would have stood and experience something of what life would have been like for them. If you get a chance, go for it. This site is less than a quarter-mile from Champoeg State Park, which has a nice exhibit on the native people of the area as well as some bike trails and a campground. Fun!

Pinteresting Your Reader

In case you haven’t checked it out, Pinterest is a site where you can collect or share images. I’m not sure I quite ‘get’ Pinterest. Am I using it the way as a writer should if she wants to make her stories known?

I started out on the site like a kid in a candy store. “Oooh, that’s a pretty picture. I’ll pin that. And that. And that.” I collected a whole lot of pretty pictures and some pretty good quotes. Is that what you use Pinterest for?

I can see the use of Pinterest as a way to stimulate your imagination. Put down a net and snag the images that intrigue your subconscious. Encourage the right side of your brain to participate in the creative process. However you want to phrase it.

At the same time, it can be one of the greatest time sinks ever invented in the history of space-time continuum.

I don’t want to think of the time that I spent search for just the right face to match  my idea of a character. If you follow people, pictures that they’ve pinned will start showing up when you first open Pinterest. For example, if you want to see pictures that I’ve pinned, you could follow me. Um… not that you have too, y’know. But you could. (Note to self: work on that self-assertiveness stuff.)

You can follow just one board (one collection) that someone has put together. Then you’d only see photos in your feed that they had pinned to that one board. Or you could follow the user and see all the photos that they’ve pinned lately. Some users have widely divergent interests. I have a board that’s devoted to nothing but jewels. (I can’t help myself. Jewelry is shiny. My inner magpie says “want.”)


The image above is from a collection of faces and places for the story that I sold to Harlequin. That’s another use of Pinterest, it can help you communicate with the art department. Whether you’re publishing traditionally or independently, you’re a writer. You’re good at wording. Artists communicate in visuals. If you can’t draw (like me), Pinterest can bridge the gap.

I’m curious if Pinterest is helpful for readers. Do you like seeing how the author pictures her characters or their setting? Or do you prefer to imagine them for yourself?

How do you use Pinterest? Or do you use it at all? Is there some other Shiny New Site that you using instead?

Whitewater Drafting

When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.

-Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

I’ve finished the rough draft of Geoff and Lia’s story. I always feel encouraged at this point — I got through it so quickly! (Of course, by the time I finish the second draft, I’ll be moaning about how slowly that went.) I was three quarters done when I stopped to revise my sold manuscript, so once I got back into it, I didn’t have too much trouble finishing this story.

I have learned that I must finish the first draft quickly, or I’ll lose the shape of the story.

Bear Trap Canyon Wilderness (15101522686)Writing an effective first draft is like following a river that tumbles down from the mountains in a great hurry.

If I take too much time on this draft, it becomes a river that has reached level ground and slowed down, spreading out into innumerable channels with little or no forward momentum.

That way lies stagnation.Canning River Delta

I get a bit nervous when things slow down. Because I know, I know, that I will start throwing in strange elements to speed the pace up again.

“Hey! Why don’t I have a spaceship filled with an army of robot zombies crash on the ranch? That would be a novel idea for LIH and I am, after all, writing a novel. It’s perfect! I’m sure my editor will looooove it.”

Yes, that’s an extreme example. I don’t honestly understand why zombies appeal to readers, but I can see why writers might like them. Is the story slowing down? Have the hero/heroine get chased by zombies. That will speed up the narrative.

To avoid that kind of scenario, I spew the first draft out in a great hurry. Now that I’ve finished, I’ll set this story aside for a few weeks, if not longer, before I start the slooooow second draft. Once I’ve gotten the first draft written down, the shape of the story is there. I can put it aside to work on other manuscripts.

In the interim, I’ll go back to revising James’ story. It’s been sitting on the back burner since I started the Manuscript Matchmaker contest. On the plus side, this means I’ll come back to the story with a fresh eye. I don’t usually let a story sit this long before starting the revisions. It’ll be interesting to see if that makes a difference.

Everyone has a different approach to drafting. Rex Stout apparently used to go out and work in his garden while he thought about his plot. Then he would go inside, sit down at his desk, and write the story out. Just typed it up and sent it off. I love his Nero Wolfe books, but that scenario… no comprende, señor.

Joanna Bourne wrote a post describing the different drafts she goes through when writing a book. (If you haven’t checked out her blog, you should. Some very good stuff on writing there. And cute animal pictures, of course.)

How do you approach writing a first draft? Do you go slowly, painstakingly polishing each sentence so you don’t have to come back later? Or do you throw yourself into a story and… well, spew?