Summer Blog Hop!

Welcome to the Summer Blog Hop! Put on your flip-flops and bathing suits, slather on the sunscreen, and get ready for a great summer of reading. Thanks to Cody Gary of Avon Romance for starting this round robin blog hop.   My hostess is Meg Mims– author of Double or Nothing and Double Crossing.

 

Each author answers five questions about his or her latest release and current WIP. They also post a recipe… hopefully pertaining to their work. Then each author invites five more authors to participate and links them all together.

Down_the_Owlhoot_Trail_Cover_Final

  1. When writing, are you a snacker? If so, sweet or salty? I usually don’t snack while writing unless you count the omnipresent latte or Mexican Coca-Cola. When I do snack, it’s usually something salty like peanuts or cheese.

 

  1. Are you an outliner or someone who writes by the seat of your pants? And are they real pants or jammies? I like a rough outline, but then I just start writing and see what comes out. Once I get some good bones on my story, I like to return to the outline and make sure I include all pertinent information so I don’t forget that Kye has his pistol at the end of Chapter Three, or that Emily has an Aunt Susie. I’d say I spend about half the time writing in jammies, depending on whether I have the whole day off or have to run errands.

 

  1. When cooking, do you follow a recipe or wing it? I use a recipe the first few times, but then I wing it, changing things around to see what tastes best. This can produce some spectacular successes or failures, depending.

 

  1. What is next for you after this book? I’m working on a novel featuring the same characters as my anthology. Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid have realized all of their goals, and are at the top of their game. They have it all – until Federal Agent Stone Kirkham tracks them down. He makes them an offer: go to jail or go to work for his new government agency, solving cases that can’t be solved by strictly legal means. It’s a mystery story set in late 1800’s San Francisco, and features another new character as well: Emily Sharp, eccentric spinster and best friend to our lads.

 

  1. Last question … on a level of one being slightly naughty and ten being whoo-hoo steamy, how would you rate your book? The anthology is pretty mild, as it’s written to appeal to both teens and adults, but the novel will have some sexy scenes for the older audience. Nothing X-rated, however

 

Want to keep hopping? Check out the following websites:

 Charlene Raddon

Doug Hocking

 (watch this site for more links)

Ice Cream Scoops

 

And now for the recipe – this is from Pioneer Handbooks and you can download it along with a lot of other useful historical information.

 

How to Make Ice Cream

By John Miller

(Copyright 8/13/1886)

 

“This book will give full directions in detail how to make Ice Cream, you will have no loss or disappointments, it will tell you how to avoid getting bad Eggs in your Cream, it will tell you which kind are the best Freezers, it will tell you how to make your Custard and how to freeze it, how to keep it frozen, and how to dish it up to the advantage and satisfaction of all concerned.”

 

To 1 gallon of sweet, fresh milk take 1 dozen of chicken-eggs, 1 ½ pounds clean white sugar, and 1 tablespoon of good white flour. When breaking the eggs, do not break them over the bowl in which they are to be beaten, but break them separately into a tumbler, to avoid getting bad eggs into the bowl. Add a tablespoon or two of the sugar to the eggs, and beat them rigidly until they are thoroughly fine and foam up high. Next dissolve the tablespoon of flour with a little of the milk. Now, after everything is prepared, place the milk over the fire, stir into it the well-beaten eggs, and when the milk is hot add the dissolved flour and the sugar. Stir the milk constantly with a long-handled stout spoon from the bottom up, to keep it from scorching, for if it is allowed to scorch it will be ruined. The custard must remain on the fire until it almost comes to a boil, and begins to get thick and ropy, then remove it from the fire. As soon as the custard is done, in order to free it from all impurities that might have been in the milk or sugar, it is well to strain it through a thin piece of domestic, such as is used for small meal sacks. If in no hurry to freeze the custard, place the vessel containing it into cold water, and allow it to cool first. If the custard should be frozen at once, pour it into the freezer, place the freezer into the tub, and put broken ice around it. Clean off well the cover of the freezer, then remove it, and stir up the custard with a paddle until it is thoroughly cold. Now the custard is ready to be flavored, which may be done with any good flavoring-extract as Lemon, Vanilla or Strawberry, according to taste. To make red, or pink Ice Cream, purchase coloring in the shape of paste, dissolve as much of it as the size of a nutmeg in a little cold water, and strain it through a thin cloth. Stir the coloring well into the custard, the same as the flavoring, after it is thoroughly cold. Cover up well the freezer again. Take out the stopper just over the bottom of the tub, and draw off the water, then replace the stopper again tightly, and cover the ice which remains in the tub with a layer of salt, then put in a layer of ice and salt again, and continue so to put in layers of ice and salt alternately until you reach the top of the can. Turn the can gently around until the ice sinks below the cover, then take a whisk-broom and carefully sweep all ice and salt from the top and sides of the cover and the tub, wipe it also clean with a cloth, now raise the cover partially, and sweep, and wipe again before removeing (sic) it altogether. After the cover is removed, take the wooden paddle, and scrape the frozen cream down from the sided of the can, and stir it up well from the bottom. At first the can will stand tight in the ice packing, but after a while it will become loose, so that it can be turned with the paddle; continue thus scraping, and stirring the cream, and turning the can until the cream is well frozen. Scrape the cream that adheres to the paddle back into the freezer, and cover it up tightly again. Draw off the water again, which has formed by melting ice and salt, and then stop up tightly to prevent any leakage. Fill up the tub again with alternate layers of broken ice and salt, then raise the freezer in the tub from about 2 to 5 inches, according to the size of the freezer, to permit some of the ice to fall under the freezer. Now fill up again with ice and salt, as much as the tub will hold, useing(sic) for the top layer finer broken ice. The freezer is now ready to be wrapped. This must be done well, otherwise the cream cannot be kept well frozen. Proceed in the following manner: Take as many sacks as will be necessary to make a roll thick enough to tightly fill out the space between the can and the tub, rip them open, and place them on the floor in the following manner: The first sack place before you, so as to form the shape of a diamond, with the corners pointing one towards you, one from you, one to the right, and one to the left. The second sack place upon the first one in the same manner, but draw it a little towards you, so that the corner pointing towards you overlaps the corner of the bottom sack about 3 inches. In the same way, put down all the sacks, always letting the upper sack overlap the lower one. Then begin at the corner pointing towards you, and roll up the sacks as tight as possible. This coil of sacks place around the can as soon as the ice has melted down a little, and wedge it into the tub with a broad, wooden wedge and a mallet. Let one end of the coil, the inner one, stick out a little, so as to afford a hold in removing the coil again. This renders the tub airtight, the can stands firm, the tub may be rolled or turned over without any danger, and can be handled with perfect safety while transporting it.  The outside of the tub may also be wrapped with a few sacks; it is well to do so in hot weather. To do this fold the sacks to a width corresponding to the higth(sic) of the tub, wrap them around the tub smoothly, and tie securely with a stout string. Cream packed in this manner, will freeze perfectly hard, and will remain well frozen for nearly 24 hours.

 

 

Word Processing and the Writer

I write using two software programs: Microsoft Word and Scrivener. I’m not going to do a blog on how each program works, but I thought I’d go into some of my reasons for using both of them.

I started out on Word, and it’s an easy program to learn. Most agents, editors, and publishers request either Word (.doc) or PDF format. The newer .docx format can cause problems sometimes if the other person doesn’t have an upgraded Word program, but if you always save a copy as .doc, you’ll be fine. Word is pretty much the standard word processing program in use nowadays, I suppose, and I’ve really never used anything else since I started writing seriously.

If you have an iPad, you can download the Pages app and transfer files back and forth from Word to Pages without losing anything. I’ve done that numerous times when I don’t want to lug my laptop around, but still want to get in some work on the stories. When you’re finished on Pages, just email the document to yourself – it gives you the option to save as a Word document at that time. You can even download Pages to your iPhone, but really, why? It takes way too long to type a coherent sentence on the tiny little keypad – just stick to the computer and iPhone.

As an aside, yes, I am a Mac writer. I have an iMac for storing and working on the main files; my MacBookPro for most of my portable work; an iPad for those times when the laptop is just too big; and even an iPhone. I’ve written on a PC, and I’ll admit that your average writer wouldn’t really notice any major differences, so I’m not going to make an issue out of it or tell you that you have to have a Mac to be a serious writer.

Scrivener is a great little writing program that combines the best parts of Word with your corkboard or index card outlining system. It even has a corkboard background. You can divide each chapter into scenes, and can then shuffle those scenes around any time you want to. You can jot down notes for each scene, chapter, and the work in general. You can move chapters around just like you can move the scenes. There’s even a section for character development.

The way I work is thus: if I’m in the home office, I’m on the iMac using Scrivener. I type directly onto the main document (saving frequently, of course – we’ve all had the horrible experience of a computer crash or power loss that deletes an entire chapter!). If I’m working somewhere else, I’m usually lugging the laptop around, and for that, I use Word simply because it’s too much of a hassle to keep up with which Scrivener file contains the very latest version. Scrivener has the entire novel, you see. I could use Scrivener on both iMac and laptop, but I’m not one of those super-organized people who can remember exactly which file they were working on last. I started out with variations of “outlawsecurity.one” and “outlawsecurity.two” and it just got cumbersome and took up way too much memory, so I use Word on the laptop (and Pages on the iPad), and that way I don’t have to bother remembering. I email the document to myself, upload it to the iMac, and cut and paste into the appropriate section(s) of the main work in Scrivener.

I’m sure one (or more) of you smart readers is going to let me know of some nifty shortcut I can take with Scrivener to avoid transferring the entire novel each time – but until I get that comment, I’ll just keep cutting and pasting. And it gives me something in the old in-box!

What program or programs do you use for your writing? What are the strengths and weaknesses of that program? What program(s) have you thought of trying?

6 Steps to Planning a Novel

When I decided to write a novel about Devon Day and the Sweetwater Kid, I had to come up with a convincing plot. Here are some of the steps I took in planning for that novel.

 

  1. The main idea. I knew that I wanted to show off their outlaw skills, and to use those same skills in solving the mystery. Since I’d already decided to show them robbing a train, I had to come up with a scenario where they’d need to use the same sort of set-up. I wanted their first case to be relatively easy for them, with the main focus being the formation of the Kye-Chance-Stone team. I had several possible plots in mind, from stealing back some sort of vital document to kidnapping a criminal to return him to justice. I settled on a rather tame case, with a runaway heiress, as a suitable first attempt.
  2. Plotting. Once I had my basic idea, I did a rough outline to see what I wanted to happen over the course of the story, At this point, I didn’t put in many specifics, just tried to get the lads from their meeting with Stone to the conclusion of the case.
  3. The first draft. My first draft is always more like free-writing. I just sit down and let the words flow. Some of it is going to be crap and have to be cut, but I get the basic ideas down before I worry about editing.
  4. Edits. Once I had a complete manuscript, I had to worry about editing. Since this is my first novel, I thought it would be worth the money to use a professional editor, and I think that was the right decision. She pointed out several spots that just weren’t working out, and made a few really good suggestions on how to fix them.
  5. The second draft. While I waited for the editor to read and comment, I worked on the first draft, looking for things like repeated phrases, “movie lines” (head nods and other such movements more common on a script than in a novel), and slow spots. I tried to ramp up the tension and conflict, especially between the main three characters.
  6. The third draft. That’s the one I’m working on now. Following some of the editor’s suggestions, I’ve dropped the sub-plot I had in the first two drafts, which I admit was more boring than the main case. I’m adding several chapters from the point of view of their friend Emily Sharp. I’ve also thought of a few complications that I hadn’t imagined at first, things to further increase tension in the slower middle part of the book.

 

I’ll keep you posted on my progress as I work on what I hope will be the final draft of the novel. What are your experiences? How many edits do you usually run through before you really feel the book is ready?

5 Tips for Creating Characters

Every author faces this hurdle: how to create lifelike characters who catch the reader’s interest. Here are a few tricks and tips you might be able to use:

  • Pay attention! Great characters are great because they’re people you recognize. Great writers are the nosiest people you’ll ever meet, forever watching and listening to what other people are doing and saying. And it all goes into the story.
  • Use your contacts. Characters are people too, and they’re going to act and speak like people you know. Model your favorite characters after your friends or enemies, your family and neighbors. Just change the names before you publish!
  • Avoid Mary Sue (and Marty Stu)! People have faults. Nobody is super-special, and real people can’t bend the natural laws. Keep your characters realistic for your universe, and avoid the dreaded Mary Sue or her male counterpart. (If you’re one of the few people who has no idea what I’m talking about, just use your search engine and you’ll find more than you ever wanted to know)
  • Torture them. Great characters have great conflicts. Keep your character from getting complacent (and boring) by giving them some sort of conflict to keep the tension ramped up in the story. This can be external (like an enemy or job stress) or internal (like low self-esteem or worries), but you need to give them something to make them more interesting.
  • Pay attention again! Keep a character notebook and actually write down all those great conversations you “overhear” (while eavesdropping), all those interesting people you spot, and all those ideas that pop up while you’re out nosing around.

How do you come up with character ideas? Do you invent your characters first, or your plot?

Are Writers’ Conferences For You?

I attended my first writing conference last year. Oh, I’ve been going to DragonCon’s writing track for years, so I figured I’d pretty much heard everything I needed about writing. I was going for the chance to pitch my book to an agent or editor. Maybe I’d pick up a couple of new ideas, but I was paying for that face-time.

Boy, was I wrong.

I did meet a lot of agents and editors – and other authors, who are not only great people to talk with, but can help you connect with even more agents, authors, and editors. I did pitch my ideas, and even got positive results from all of them.

But I also learned more than just a couple of new ideas. We had lectures like “Treating Your Story’s Setting as a Main Character” and “Crafting a Gripping Opening” and “World Building 101.” We wrote, and we critiqued each other’s work. We shared ideas and websites and contact information.

We had classes on social media, and on publicizing yourself and your books. I think I learned more in one day than I’d learned in two years of playing around on Facebook. My Facebook author page – and I learned to set up a separate page for that instead of using my personal page – went from a few friends to over 3,000 in around six months, and it’s still growing.

If you’ve never attended a writing conference, save up the funds and go! You’ll learn a lot more than you think you will, plus you’ll meet all those people who will play an important role in your career later on. The contacts you make now can only help you in the future.

Plus, it’s just a whole lot of fun.

What’s the best conference you’ve ever attended — or the one you’ve always dreamed of attending?

The Birth of a Novel

As this blog is to be about the writing process and my experiences as a writer, it seems only reasonable to start at the beginning. I’ve been telling stories my whole life, but it was only recently that I’ve started thinking of it as a second career instead of a hobby, that I’ve been writing for publication instead of thinking “someday I’ll write a book.”

 

I’ve always loved trickster characters, and I’ve had this one rogue inside my head since I was a teenager: a wise-cracking scoundrel who’s not entirely on the right side of the law, good with his tongue or one of his blades, expert at knowing just what you want to hear and making sure you hear it just when he needs you to. Over the years, he picked up a big, quiet partner who’d be the rational anchor to his wild ideas; the one man he’d trust to ride the river with. The two of them, under various names and in various incarnations, starred in quite a few tales in several genres, not all of which I’ve written down.

 

A few years ago, the pair started showing up with regularity as a couple of Old West outlaws trying to go straight. I’ve always been fascinated with stories of real-life “badmen” who turned into lawmen, and I started thinking about what my lads might do with themselves if they decided to hang up their six-guns and try out the other side of the law for a change. Not become policemen, I decided, but they’d need something that would use their special skill set. I hit on the idea of them starting a security firm, something that would protect the average businessmen from exactly the sort of people that the lads used to be.

 

I’m a member of an online critique group, so it was only natural to share a few of my stories with them. One of my best friends – we met through the group – picked up on the fact that these two characters were essentially the same two men. Barry challenged me to start writing seriously about them, and that November, challenged me further: to sign up for NaNoWriMo* and start on an actual novel about their struggles with this new concept of honesty. I’d participated before, so I knew I could make the 50,000 word goal, and I took the challenge.

 

I had a basic idea, but no real plot for the lads. I knew I wanted to show their skill as outlaws somehow, and I knew I wanted them to solve some sort of mystery. Then one morning I woke up from a sound sleep with the idea of a train robbery. Now, I just had to figure out a way to tie that into the rest of the plot. I started writing the first chapter, which eventually became the preface, and thought about how they pulled off the robbery. What if they used the same technique to help them solve their mystery?

 

By December, I had the bones of the novel down, and was ready for some serious writing. I’d imagined myself quite the polished writer, but trying to pull off a novel certainly altered my thoughts. It took a lot longer than I thought it should, for one thing, and I found myself floundering around in spots, knowing that some of what I was putting down was dull and uninspired, but not certain how to fix things. I pushed through and finished the manuscript over the spring and summer – and then I attended a local writing conference. The idea was to pitch my novel to some of the agents there, but I changed my mind after the first day’s lectures. I got so many great ideas, both from the classes and from talking to agents, that my pitch sessions included the phrase “and I’m going to edit the hell out of it once I get back home.”

 

I’m on the third (hopefully final) edit now, and I look back at the first draft with a rueful smile. I can only hope that the writing process becomes easier as I learn the proper techniques and keep practicing, much as any skill does. I’m still working things out as I go along, so hopefully this blog will help some of you learn what I’ve had to figure out the hard way.

*NAtional NOvel WRiting MOnth