Monthly Archives: February 2014

Stymied, Stumped and Surrendered

As a confirmed pantser, I’ve relied on the endless stream of ideas that flow through my fingertips onto the page, coupled with an innate sense of novel structure, to carry my work from beginning to end. Well, I pulled it off once. Now I’m thirteen chapters into a sequel to my JadeAnne Stone Mexico adventures, The Hydra Effect. And I’m lost. I simply don’t know where to go from the shoot-out at the meth lab. I mean, really. These people weren’t armed—they shouldn’t even have survived, let alone rescued a gaggle of kids awaiting transit to masters in the slave trade. So now what?

I’ve beaten my head into my keyboard for two years. I’ve called it writer’s block, although I’ve managed to write plenty of columns for the Petaluma Post, a sprinkling of poems, and I’m almost finished with a memoir of living in Mexico, Saints and Skeletons (be sure to read the blog when it’s up.) The problem isn’t lack of ideas. Conception is a right-brain activity—you know how ideas simmer on the back burner and are added to by flashes of inspiration? I had all that, and still have ideas percolating, but these ideas aren’t coming together into a storyline.

What if:
JadeAnne resolves to rescue the American girls from the traffickers?
Anibal knew about the house and meth-lab all along?
Anibal plans on selling the girls to the highest bidder?
(So far so good!)
What if Anibal is affiliated with the Zetas? The Sinaloa Cartel?
What if Anibal isn’t affiliated with any cartel but sells JadeAnne?
(Oops! This is probably the end of her adventures. Now it’s about Anibal.)
JadeAnne is kidnapped by one of the cartels?
JadeAnne’s natural father, who she has never met, materializes and saves her?
The man she’s after isn’t a cartel member, but a legalization advocate?

Help! I need some organization— some old-fashioned left-brain thinking—to sort out the pieces that fit together and fill in the pieces that are missing. I need some logic or this thriller isn’t going to make any sense at all. I hate to admit that all my English teachers were right, but what I need to do now is work out an outline. For a pantser, that’s almost a dirty word.

My right-brain whines, “But where’s the creativity? Where’s the inspiration?”

“Where’s the story?” Left lobe asks, a smear of sarcasm in her voice.

“I’ve forgotten how to write a Harvard Outline!”

“Make a storyboard with pictures. Stick idea Post-its to the wall—rearrange them. Make a list. Concoct a Mind Map. Make a real map—glue pictures to a real map. Use your writing software. Use a pencil and a steno pad. Outline on your smart phone—I don’t care. Just finish the damn book,” Leftie says.

But will it kill the spontaneity? Not if it’s done right. According to K.M. Weiland, in Outlining Your Novel—Map Your Way to Success,“The only right way of constructing an outline is the one that offers you the most freedom for creativity.”

A good outline leaves room for exploration and even helps spark new ideas. Once the outline is completed, your right brain can write the story. Later, your left-brain can revise, but after the outlining, your revision will be way easier, I’m told. Not the ten annual rewrites of The Hydra Effect?

Here are some benefits of outlining:

1               The outline acts as a structural framework. You can see if your inciting incident, plot turns and climax are occurring in the right places with the right energy.

2               An outline will keep you from writing your character into a corner.

3               It will act as a map to a known ending, thereby allowing for foreshadowing and pacing as well as improved continuity.

4                An outline will clearly demonstrate the correct POV for each scene.

5               Knowing a character somewhat before writing helps keep the voice consistent.

6               And the lagniappe—an outline gives us confidence—we know where we’re going!

Everybody, even a pantser, needs a map.

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Filed under Outlining

Eat local. Shop local. Read local.

Everybody knows I have some favorite local authors, but do you know that my reading list is made up of mostly Left Coast writers? We’re a talented bunch here in the land of “fruits and nuts.” Maybe it’s all the fresh food, or maybe you just have to be a little crazy to be a writer. Whatever it is, some of the best writing today is coming from the west coast.

I paused to think about this phenomenon after a student suggested I post a list of local authors I enjoy on Building a Better Story. I’ve echoed the saw that ‘a good writer is an avid reader’ for ages, so a list sounded like a great idea. OMG! I didn’t realize the task would turn into a major research project and make my brain explode with the vast numbers of authors and books I’ve read or have stacked on the shelf yet to read. Alas. Too many books, too little time. You might call me a biblio-loca-maniac.

I wish I could take a sabbatical and just read. Here is the list I’d start with. In fact, this is my current reading list—

First, I’d finish David Corbett’s Do They Know I’m Running? Of his books, I’ve read:

                        The Devil’s Redhead

                        Done for a Dime (my favorite)

                        Blood Paradise

Also unfinished, Susan C. Shay, The King’s Jar.

Then I’d read Lisa Brackman’s Ellie Cooper series (is there a third on the horizon?):

                        Rock, Paper, Tiger

                        Hour of the Rat

Lisa’s Getaway is one of the books that inspires my own series. There’s a sequel coming out soon.

Next in the queue:  Kelli Stanley:    City of Dragons  and  City of Secrets,  followerd by Cara Black’s Aimee Leduc mystery series set in Paris. I’ve read 5 of 11. The latest is Murder in Passy. Start with Murder in the Marais and read in order.

 You probably are noticing that I’m interested in thrillers, mysteries and noir. Not a local boy, but my number one favorite author is Arizonan, Clark Lohr. Follow Manny Aguilar and a trail of blood and corruption from Tucson to Mexico and back in Devil’s Kitchen, and, in The Devil on 85, ride along with Manny on State Highway 85—a smuggling corridor where guns and money go south and drugs and migrants go north. Lohr blends noir with magical realism to create a fresh voice in crime novels. I’m hooked! When’s the next book, Clark?

But I don’t read only crime fiction, and although she’s a Southern writer, I’ve just added Sue Monk Kidd’s newest, The Invention of Wings to my must read list.

Here are some of my favorite local authors:

JC Miller                                    Vacation            

Jordan E. Rosenfeld                 Forged in Grace

Susana Solomon                        Point Reyes Sheriff’s Calls

Laura McHale Holland            Reversible Skirt      

                                                      The Ice Cream Vender’s Song

Ransom Stephens                     The God Patent    

                                                     The Sensory Deception

Amanda McTigue                      Going to Solace

Amber Lea Starfire                     Not the Mother I Remember

Gigi Pandian                                Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries

P.S. Foley                                     West Newport Blues                       

Terry Shames                             A Killing at Cotton Hill                                                   

Sheldon Siegal                          Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez mysteries             

Persia Wooley                            the Guinevere trilogy

Jody Gehrman                           Summer in the Land of Skin

Lynn Freed                                Reading, Writing, Leaving

                                                    Home:   Life on the Page

My goal for 2014 is to read 26 books.

Join me!


Filed under Books