My Life as a Nonconformist

I am a first born.  I am female.  I was raised to enjoy being held as an example for my younger siblings and to be an ambassador for my family.  As such, I was almost always a good student, with exemplary behavior and a positive disposition.

Boring? Perhaps.  Nauseating? Only to my siblings. 😉  Follower?  Not so much.

See, I have issues.

I have rebellion issues.

Like this mouse, here, I want to do things my way. You will note that the mouse remained within the maze. He totally did. The environment in which he was placed has boundaries and you will see that he has kept within those boundaries.  He merely changed the rules for obtaining what he wished.

I totally, totally dig that.

As a mom, I have encouraged my children to think outside of the box…but they need to also be aware of that box so they CAN operate within it.  Some sociological norms are necessary on a day to day basis. And when you’re a minor, they can be compulsory.  But that doesn’t mean their minds should stop at the edges.  They should imagine how to live outside of them…I encourage their imaginative moments, their humor, their inventions.

In my various professions over the years, I have failed to conform to what someone wished.  I have found myself fired from jobs as mundane as an office aide in high school (true story) as well as teaching elementary school (also a true story) for my failure to perform tasks in a manner set by rote. My ways worked, understand.  They worked and worked well for the tasks at hand, but I was not supposed to be inventive as a neophyte.

I didn’t choose to conform.

In writing, I don’t tend to follow the curves, either.  I throw in “OH NO!” subjects, I write quirky characters, I explore dark psyches in Christian books.  I am comfortable discussing drug labs and serial killing as well as hermeneutics.  This isn’t “normal” and doesn’t conform to the average idea of a Sunday School teacher, I know.

As a novelist, I write to my own soundtrack.  I live with an eye on the “What if” in so many situations.  To me, this is creative, controlled psychological adventuring.  Maybe not what the average reader is looking for…

But I’m not terribly average. I’m that mouse up there.  Chewing my way through the walls to get what I want. It’s kind of messy sometimes, but… I really enjoy the cheese. 🙂

The First Five Hundred

I thought I would take a moment and discuss…writing.

Shocking, I know.

For me, one of my favorite parts of writing is the beginning of a story.  There’s the inherent challenge involved in the craft of creation, of course, but the fun is making sure I can drag people in with me.

Perhaps “drag” is not the best word.  Perhaps “entice” might be more appealing.

I’m going to stick with my original choice though because I often feel like I have to forcefully convince a reader to join me.  And I give myself less than five hundred words to make it happen.

The key, for me, is to throw my readers into action and/or dialogue.  No backstory to start with. No big “landscape” moments.  Usually, it’s a short and dirty introduction to characterization via observation of action or through the words folks say.  My readers have to connect with my characters. I want them wanting to read on and find out why these guys are important.

“But Sandi, it’s just a romance novel…”

I know. But I also know that my readers have endless romance novels vying for their time and entertainment dollar.  Mine have to grab their imaginations, right?  I want folks to jump in and enjoy.

I do this by utilizing as many of the five senses as I can in those five hundred words.   You can, too.  I dare you.  It doesn’t take long to write that many words, but I would challenge you to tell the first part of a story and touch on everything as you do….

And if you do, let me know. 🙂

Writing a Novel in Three Minutes a Day

I’ll just lay it out here in black and white:  I write a good deal.  It can be an obsession when the fit is on me.  The “vortex” Jo March speaks of in Little Women can be entirely consuming when one is lost in it.  It is an indulgence for a novelist to find oneself there, I maintain. An indulgence.

Piers Anthony, back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, made himself a place outside his home in Florida with few amenities to distract him, just so he could write.  David McCullough – the only biographer I can read with any degree of attention – has a tiny office on his property that is equipped with research materials and writing materials but without (last I heard) a great many connections to the world at large.  Some writers set writing goals for themselves in terms of hours spent “at work.” Others have goals focused on word count or pages typed, depending on their preferred working medium.

This is a dream of mine.  A dream currently unrealized.  I am a stay-at-home-mom with two sons. One of my sons is a teenager, currently on the second half of his junior year in high school.  The other of my sons is in third grade and is autistic.  My husband works and I stay home to be the Domestic Engineer.  I’ve also been a novelist – submitting my work for rejection and sometimes getting an “I love this story, read it in one sitting,” from an editor – since 1997.  In addition, I have written weekly columns for online ‘zines, participated in the best roundtable/writers’ group in the history of mankind (The Writers’ Roundtable of Phoenix, 1999 – 2004) and still cooked dinner every night, kept up with laundry for all my guys, paid bills, handled the usual domestic obligations and managed to be on top of birthdays for my entire family.

(I never said I slept. Just putting that out there.)

The point to that patting-myself-on-the-back paragraph is that I do not, as a rule, have the sheer luxury of taking myself away from my guys and saying, “I am writing. Leave me alone!”  I talk to women who try to schedule “a block of time” for writing.  They feel that they can concentrate best when they, like well-read and established authors, are able to tune out the world and focus on their creativity for an extended period of time.  But often, for some of us, this isn’t highly practical. And then, it is all too easy to blame a lack of productivity on outside sources.

From there it is a simple matter to slide away from the dream of being a novelist at all.  “It’s not a good time for me,” I’ve heard.  “I’ll wait until the kids are in school/out of school/I have some vacation time…”  And sometimes, when folks see how much I write professionally and for other, playful purposes, they ask, “How do you do that?”

How does anyone write?  I just go one sentence at a time.  Same as anyone.  The key to writing a novel without the indulgence of a separate workspace and/or vast blocks of alone time is to keep the story always running through your mind (a topic for another day!) so that when you can steal a minute or five you can jot down the next event or happening.

If I know that George and Martha are having a deep meaningful moment divulging his real activities under a cherry tree of yore, then I am prepared – when next my guys are all happily engaged with floor plan software, the Playstation 3 or a movie – to plop myself gracelessly in front of my laptop, click on my document and pound (Tap? Me? Surely, you jest!) out the next few moments of George and Martha’s conversation.

Really, that’s how you write a novel:  one moment at a time. Some authors write key scenes and tie them together with flowing prose.  Others start at the end and work their way back.  Still others are more like me in their approach – proceeding in an orderly manner from page one to the final sentence of their story.  No matter how you do it, it’s still just a sentence at a time.

If you can’t partition off your space or Day Planner or calendar, you are always free to partition off your mind.  Keep a part of your brain free to create, all day, every day.  And then, when you can physically wrangle an opportunity, you are more than prepared to take advantage of it. Even if all you get is three minutes that day.

(Now lodge your tongue firmly in your cheek…) If all else fails, you can use this Fic Generator. It’s like MadLibs® and you can probably fill in all the fields in three minutes. Or less.

Originally published here here in January, 2011.

Uh Oh.

You KNOW it’s going to be a confusing writing day when, upon reviewing an outline, you cannot remember WHAT, precisely, you “meant by that.”

I have a novella mapped out. It involves some psychological terminology – which I could totally look up if that was the problem. It’s not. The problem is I don’t know WHY I used those terms. Upon review of what I remembered of this story, the terms are, to me, bringing up empty, blank rooms in my imagination.

This does not bode well.

Do I investigate these rooms or set it aside for perusal after I finish another project…?

Decisions, decisions…

I Am a Serial Novelist

I am preparing a new monthly column and reflecting upon my work habits.  I have a title for what I do.

I am a serial novelist.

This is, sometimes, a lot like being a serial killer but without the need to bury bodies.

I don’t write a book, take a month to regroup, then start plotting and designing a new story concept.  Granted, much of what I eventually write hasn’t been published, but I assure you I write almost every single day.  Rather, while I am writing one novel, I have notes for two to four others being made on my desktop.  I am writing, perhaps, about Rhiannon and Preston (from Making a Diamond) but on another document I am jotting down notes for She Was Riveting, a story I’ve got going taking place during World War II, and I’ve got my mental conversations happening concerning Robert and Georgiana in In the Name of Duty, an historical romance that’s still a work in progress. Alas.

So now that Making a Diamond is published and up for sale (with a Kindle edition — my first and I am SO excited!) I am now working on She Was Riveting and In the Name of Duty.  Whichever one grabs most of my brain next will be the one I tend to focus on for the next few months, until it is ready to go to my beta-readers.

Over the course of my writing career (such as it is) I have written more than twenty-five novels.  For a total of three years, I didn’t write any.  (Homeschooling sapped my brain!) But on the whole, I continue to be a serial novelist.  I am hidden in my neighborhood – no one expects my predilection.  I plot responses and presentations, like any good serial-anything.  And like a serial killer, perhaps, I make sure I have something to do if “this one goes badly.”

Am I macabre? Almost certainly.  Do I leave a trail of dead bodies behind me?  Dead characters could rise from their collective graves and hunt me down…if they were real.

But I also hope that, in my serial novelist career, I bring good stories of people who fall in love under the strangest of circumstances.  Stories of hope, with deep feelings and/or laughter. Stories of faith.  Stories of trust.

I am a serial novelist.  I am always working on something.  Be afraid. 😉

Sherlock Holmes is My Hero

I am an author.  In my skewed semantical universe, this means someone has thought highly enough of my words to pay for them and/or to request me to write for them. I differentiate myself from a writer in that I am held accountable for what I do.  This is not just a hobby for me; it’s a means of income.

Am I stuck on myself? Oh, probably. A certain amount of imperishable ego goes along with being a novelist, in my experience.

There is a considerable quantity of invisible baggage that trails a novelist.  First, there is a mystique that I confess I don’t entirely understand.  Maybe it is because when a novelist writes, their words go before perfect strangers to be analyzed and dissected and that takes a certain kind of bravery.  (I am not lauding myself, honest. This is just a characteristic that I believe is shared by writers.)  Perhaps it is the idea that we create realities alternate to our own that folks find fascinating.  Or maybe that our minds are almost always at least partly somewhere else, if this is what we do with our lives.

Now, my friends and family know that I am always observing.  For me, this is something I do consciously and purposefully, in full view of others.  At a recent wedding, I went around writing hysterical quotes I heard around me.  I am sure my friends got a little irritated/weirded out/confused as I slid my pen once again out of my purse and jotted (in execrable script) something I just heard, or sketched out an arrangement of a room to jog my memory.  I try always to carry a journal with me, but I hadn’t had one on me at this wedding, so I was using a scratch pad to do all this.  I was amused.

And I still have the notes.

But back to my tendency to consciously observe… May I confess to you that Sherlock Holmes is a hero of mine?  His fictional mind is legendary – as is his detecting acumen – but he maintains to his closest friend Watson that really, what he (Holmes) does is observe.  He sees and evaluates everything before making any conclusions.  Minutiae are his friend.

When writing fiction, minutiae are also the writer’s friend.  Tiny bits of realism that reach out from the page and catch the senses of a reader are highly valuable.  Holmes is my example in this regard. He studies things with a steady, knowledgeable gaze.  Going in pursuit of a fact or circumstance is commonplace for him – and this taking place in an age where the “going” had to be done with one’s own personal body, often on foot!

I study things. I take notes with a paper and pen. I have a huge collection of journals filled with observations as well as possible story ideas.  Processing things through writing them is a highly recommended memory tool.  (You didn’t think your teachers had you make notecards for their benefit, did you?)  Sometimes, when I am feeling as if I am stuck in a chapter, I take time to go consciously observe, free from other obligations.  Walking down the street, cataloguing details.  Making wonton soup from scratch.  Kneading bread.  People watching in a store.

And copying down really good one-liners on twitter. Seriously. I just did that while writing this article.

Because, see, I write all the time.  This is my life.  When I hear something, see something, smell something, touch something unique and distinctive… I take note.  With my own personal body, like Holmes did.  I take what I experience, what I feel, and process it through my mind and put it into words.

That is what it’s all about. That is, I believe, the real mystique surrounding a novelist.  We take the intangibles and put them into words.  And that is a magic all its own.

Originally posted here, in December, 2010.

KINDLEd!

YES! I am excited.  I bought a copy of my own book on Kindle.  Yes, perhaps I’m silly, but there you go.

It’s my first official Kindle title, and if all goes well, I hope to get my other novels formatted and ready to sell at Amazon’s eBook store.

If you’ve been waiting for the Kindle Edition, it’s now a go!

Just click here!

Riding the Rollercoaster

I like rollercoasters.

This is fortunate, because I am currently living on one. Not literally (imagine partaking of coffee on a loop …!) but figuratively.  Spousal Unit was laid off due to a company sell-out/off/bankruptcy and now he is having to find a job.  But in this area, there is a dearth of jobs in his field.  He has perforce needed to apply…elsewhere.

Out of state.

This is rather exciting, I think. I believe wholeheartedly that nothing is a surprise to God. No, he doesn’t move the world for my benefit, but I know he loves me and I know he’s not out to ruin the life of my family. He just keeps it…interesting. Like riding a rollercoaster.

Right now, we’re on that uphill climb.  Buckled in. Prepared.  The offspring units are hanging on to the sides or the handlebars and watching with some trepidation as we climb, but no one’s freaking out.  With each interview Spousal Unit goes to, I feel like we’re getting closer to the peak of the ride. That moment of anticipation before the screaming, laughing, exhilarating plunge.

I’m not afraid of plunging.  🙂  I know I’m safe and secure and prepared for the ride.  We’ve done all we can to make this as smooth and safe a ride as possible.  I trust the One who has his hand on the controls.

I love riding the rollercoaster. 🙂

Starting Over

Hi.

I don’t know if anyone is still out there, but I thought I’d clear this blog out and start over, as the whim takes me or the spirit moves.

Condensed Life Update:

Spousal Unit’s company (that he worked for, not that he owned) filed bankruptcy and he was laid off. He is now interviewing for a new job. I have utter faith that everything will be as God wills it, and am thankful we were prepared for adverse circumstances.

Cyclone (aka Big Guy or BG) is finishing his Junior Year in high school. He’s an honor student, studying web design and TV production as well as advanced anatomy and honors history.

Builder (aka Little Guy or LG) is going to be taking the FCATs starting next week. The meds are working well (thankfully!) and he’s gradually emerging from the hospital homebound education to a regular school day.

Me? I’ve recently put out a new book. (Check for My Site on the sidebar for a link.) I’m reissuing Captive Irish Moon with an improved glossary and larger type. I’m doing more freelancing, too, as well as playing MomTaxi and writing for various entertainment formats. 🙂

More later. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I’ll have to re-learn habits. 😉