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My Next Shows

I’ve got a show today at 4:00 PM Eastern that I meant to announce earlier and forgot. My guests will be Dr. Barbara Becker-Holstein, Christine Fonseca, Deon Davis and (possibly) Anna Fowler–provided her weather & internet cooperate. Please listen in! http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rrradio/2011/05/09/rfk–dellanis-tea-time

My second show in May is slated for Wednesday, May 25th at 1:00 PM Eastern. My guests will be Michael Murphy, Dara England, Sue O’Shields & Anna K. Edwards. Be sure to tune in! http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rrradio/2011/05/25/rrw–whats-write-for-me

Excerpt from “Chase”

I got the idea from my radio show today, to look at my story endings. I decided to share some of the ones I liked best.
“Chase” is named after the main character. I decided to use first person with a male narrator for this one. Chase Baker is a self-made millionaire. He owns a mall. One day, he meets Tracey Woodstone in the parking lot freaking out because she thinks her car’s been stolen. After a wild series of circumstances, Chase has to rescue his staff & her father from the bad guys and ends up in the hospital.

Tracey snuggled up beside me, laying her head on my chest on the side where it didn’t hurt. Her hair smelled fantastic. I wanted to run my fingers through it, but she had it pulled back and braided. I settled for patting her on the back. It took me a couple minutes, but I realized she was crying.

“Oh, Chase, what would I do without you? Daddy’s company would be gone and I’d be stuck in an awful relationship. You saved my life. If I’d married Ted, I know I would have killed myself.”

“You saved me too,” I murmured, rubbing her back. “I was so alone. You gave me a reason to live.”

Her lips were on mine, kissing me gently, with a sweet, hot passion that set my throbbing loins on fire. I hurt so bad I could hardly stand it, but I never wanted her to stop.

“I love you,” she whispered. “From the moment you handed me that cup of coffee.”

“I loved you when you were crying in the rain,” I kissed her forehead. “I think I’m going to send those women flowers,” I decided with a happy sigh.

“Why?”

“Because what’s her name borrowed what’s her name’s car.”

“She borrowed my car.”

“‘Xactly. If she’d done it right, I wouldn’t have gotten to meet you.”

“Flowers would be a nice gesture. Hey, Chase?”

I tried to focus on her. “Yeah?”

“You made me a promise on the phone.”

“Mm hm. Gonna keep it real soon, baby.”

“Heal up fast,” she murmured, her breath lingering on my cheek. “Because I’m waiting.”

With a satisfied smile, I kissed her and fell asleep.

Research, A Writer’s Lifeline

I’ve got research on my mind because I’m writing a sequel to my historical romance, “Indian Summer”.  Although fairly conversant with the time period, new things pop up.  I needed a timeline for the battle I’m going to include in my story.  I could find a few basic facts, but it wasn’t until I came across a website that was of important dates in Georgia history, that I got what I needed.  Strange, since I’m writing something set in Florida.  However, since the attack was led by General Oglethorpe and his troops were stationed in Georgia at the time, I suppose it makes sense.
 
Another fact that presented itself (from the Georgia timeline) was the name of an obscure fort that was attacked prior to the siege of St. Augustine.  Fort Diego?  Where’s that?  Obviously, this led to more questions than I had answers for.  Initial web searches gave me a lot of information on Fort Diego in California (now San Diego), but didn’t help the Florida research at all.  I did a serach for ‘forts in Florida’ and got a list.  Eventually, with a bit of digging, I found it’s location – well, sort of.  It’s now a golf course, but at least I found it! 
 
Each little tidbit made me so proud, I had to read it all to my husband and eldest son this morning.  They were both interested, which was nice.  There’s nothing like sharing these little gems with someone who couldn’t care less.
 
The main problem I have with research is that I have a tendency to get off subject really easily.  I have to force myself to focus and it’s not always easy.  I find some juicy tidbits which are fascinating, though unrelated to my subject.  I often am tempted to follow these leads. 
 
However odious you might find research, being accurate is so very necessary.  Even something not fully related with the story, like the Fort Diego problem, can be necessary background material that I, as the writer, need.

Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan wrote several short novels, among them “Trout Fishing in America” which wasn’t about trout or fishing. I always got a laugh when I saw it mis-shelved in book stores under the game and wildlife section.

Brautigan didn’t actually mention fishing at all in that book, as I recall. He used the words “Trout Fishing in America” as a slogan that the 6th graders wrote on the backs of unsuspecting 1st graders as a playground prank. No one, including the “Trout Fishing in America Terrorists” knew why they chose that slogan. One kid had a piece of chalk, grabbed a 1st grader and wrote it on his back. Soon all of the 1st graders had it on their backs and the principal dragged in all the usual suspects. (ie. The kids who actually did it).

The book wasn’t about terrorism or about fishing, it was just a really odd, very good book. His books were very episodic, though loosely strung together with a main storyline or theme.

I was fortunate enough to see him speak at the University of Southern Mississippi and got him to sign my books. He committed suicide shortly after that.

It interests me that Garrison Keeler mentioned him today in his daily broadcast. Way to go, Garrison!

Editing, the Writer’s Nightmare

indian summer scanned cover 500 x 750So, you’ve finished that four hundred and sixty page novel. You sit proudly and pat the cover page tenderly, smoothing the white surface when much to your horror, you see a mistake! Cold sweat breaks out on your brow, fingers tremble, mouth suddenly goes dry. As your eye wanders down the page, more and more errors jump out at you! Fear grips your heart as you stumble from the desk, desperate for a calming cool drink. It’s a nightmare, but you can’t wake up. It’s real. Your brainchild, the fruit of your creative efforts, is flawed and it’s up to you to fix it.

This is a scenario each of us faces. Sometimes it’s as minor as a misplaced comma or a dangling modifier. Other times an entire scene, or even half the novel is so bad it has to be scrapped and retooled. I started an historical novel about ten years ago, set it aside since it wasn’t going anywhere, picked it up a few years later and realized the reason it hadn’t gone anywhere was that it was garbage! No other word for it. After careful review, I threw away all but ten handwritten pages. Of those ten pages, perhaps parts of seven survive in the retooled version.

Several things were problematic that I didn’t realize until much later. First, and most important, the point of view and style were all wrong. Set in St. Augustine in the Florida territory in the late 1700’s, it was told in first person by a young Spanish woman. I had chosen to do it like a diary (not really sure why) and it was far too limiting to my story.

Second, after doing some more research, I found that the time period would have to be moved from the 1780’s to 1739 or I could not incorporate certain facets of the novel. It would have been grossly inaccurate.

Third, and most difficult, the man I had intended to be the bad guy simply wasn’t working. No matter what I did, even in the retooled version, he wouldn’t be villainous. The heroine refused to fall in love with anyone else. Even the good guy couldn’t be relied upon to behave. He became the villain, the villain became the hero, the heroine didn’t succumb to another man’s charms, and they all lived happily ever after. (Except for the villain, because he, of course, was dead.)

It got terribly out of hand. After lots of time and effort reading and re-reading, honing, changing, and fine tuning, it is a really solid piece of literature that I am proud to put my name on. Five years ago, when I started re-writing it, I wouldn’t have given ten cents for it. It was the catalyst that started me writing in earnest and made me realize I had stories inside me to tell. None of the rest are historical in nature, the rest are sci-fi, because with that novel I learned something else important. You can’t do too much research if you want to be historically accurate. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d rather spend my time bleeding profusely from multiple wounds that tracking down that evasive, all important fact.

Sci-fi is far easier for me to write. Once I have a believable setting, the lone wolf cover scanned 500 x 750rest is easy. Don’t ignore the laws of science, throw in some really good fight scenes, add a few interesting aliens and voila! Creating my own world is far easier than working within the confines of someone else’s, but that old adage “write what you know,” is nonsense. What I know is boring! Who wants to know about raising kids, doing endless errands, making phone calls and taking out the garbage? No one.

Writing is the ultimate escapism. For that short span of time, things work out; the hero and heroine fall in love and live happily ever after. The bad guy gets his just desserts, the good guy wins, and there is always a happy ending. It’s far more interesting than washing the dirty dishes, cooking dinner or sorting laundry.

But I digress. Despite the thrill of putting words on paper, the hard part is making sure that everything is right. We can live with the small stuff like ending a sentence with a preposition. Frankly, it sounds odd if it’s correct. However, misplaced modifiers, sentence fragments and subject – verb agreement are very important. Even if a writer can’t name the errors, wrong is wrong!

One solution is to read and re-read your own work, honing and perfecting it. It’s easy to miss simple errors that way. Sometimes running off a hard copy helps, but it’s still hard to catch it all. Better yet, get people who are gifted in grammar to help you. They might not be able to name the error, but they can spot one and may be able to offer suggestions on how to correct it. If you can afford it, have an editor review it. Few of us can, so it’s up to us to read and re-read our own work until it is smooth and as error free as it can possibly be.

For goodness sake, don’t rely on the grammar check in Word! It’s garbage and will cause for more problems than it solves. I don’t care if it’s the primary word processing program used world wide, the grammar check is terrible. Spell check, on the other hand, is a Godsend, but won’t help you if you simply type in the wrong word. I once finished typing out a test for my 11th grade class only to find that I had one very important little word wrong and the spell check hadn’t caught it. Instead of saying, “What is the theme of this story?” I had, “Shat is the theme of this story?” (For those of you who don’t know, that’s the past tense of the verb ‘to shit’. — 11th graders knew that!)

There is no easy way to get through the editing process. It is tedious and time consuming, but if it makes the difference between selling a book and having it gather dust, it’s well worth it.

© Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books

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To Outline or Not to Outline?

I continue to be amazed by people who make outlines of their stories, know where the story line is going and most of all know the ending before even writing the book. Who are these godlike folk and why am I not like them? I am a very off the cuff writer, I don’t know where the story is going to go, although I like to have a general idea before I begin. I usually start with an idea or, more often than not, a sentence that seems to resonate in my mind until I get it down on paper. Novels and short stories start the same way, a compelling first sentence.

I read an interview with Tim Powers with fascination. He talked about outlining everything in careful detail, knowing exactly where the story is going before he even begins writing. He stressed how important, vital, necessary this was. I read snippets to my husband asking him (like he knows), “How can he do that? How can anyone do that?” Outlines? Those are things you write after the term paper is written and only because the teacher requires it. If they had a crown for that, I’d be Queen.

I rarely know where my stories are going. I don’t always know what I’m going to do with a character after I’ve introduced him, but I know he’d not be there if he weren’t important in some way. For me, writing is an exploratory process. I can’t sit down knowing what will be, I have to let it unfold. I think the idea of outlines is very intimidating for some writers, especially new ones. To know everything in advance takes some of the fun out of my process. Don’t misunderstand, I think it’s marvelous that some people can do that. I find it incredible that they are organized enough to work their way through the entire book before actually writing it. It is a matter of preference and personality.

Having tried the outline, I can honestly say it doesn’t work for me. I can’t even write a short synopsis of a book because I put in too much detail. I got half way through my first outline and thought, “If I am going to spend this much time on it, I might as well just write the book.” The outline hit the trash and I put all that creative energy into the novel instead.

What I think I was trying to say when I started is this: Don’t be intimidated by the idea that you must outline. Don’t think you can’t start the novel you’ve been dreaming about because you have no clue how it’s going to end. Go with what is comfortable for you and find your way. By all means, try outlining because it is a wonderful tool, but don’t lock yourself into the thinking that you have to follow it once it’s there. Nothing is cast in stone, everything is malleable. Then when the creative juices flow and the words pound at the inside of your skull demanding to be set free, you can give them the outlet they need, hammering away at your keyboard or pouring from your pen. Whatever you do, just keep writing and let the outlines take care of themselves.

In the Midst of Madness

Finding time to write is something every author deals with. Some of us have more time to devote to it than others, but still find that life intrudes. I just spent the month of November taking the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. While it’s invigorating to test my writing abilities, it also tests my patience.

For those of you who have never heard of NaNoWriMo, I’ll explain. The participants make the personal commitment to write a 50,000 word novel beginning November 1st and ending November 30th at midnight. There are no money prizes, no one reads the novel but you, it doesn’t even have to be perfect, it just has to be done. For this, you get a caffeine addiction, sleep deprivation, frazzled nerves, numb fingers, a nifty little logo to put on your web site, a printable certificate and the satisfaction of knowing that despite everything, you persevered!

It’s amazing how quickly life intrudes when I set a goal like this for myself. Everyone in the household becomes “needy”, particularly my twelve year old son. Things he could do for himself suddenly take on far more importance, meaning that Mom has to get up and take care of it. The phone becomes my enemy. I can go for weeks at a time when the phone won’t ring, but once the November challenge begins, it rings all the time. I’m not being paranoid, I kept track! The week before NaNo began, I had a total of five phone calls in a week – one of which was for me. As of November 1st, I had at least that many a day – and most of them for me.

Meals are another thing that interfere. Deciding what to fix becomes a major decision that I usually leave to the last minute. Grocery shopping becomes a task that eats into my writing time, irritating me further. When I get home, the actual preparation is the most annoying because it’s accompanied by complaints about the meal.

NaNoWriMo is not the only time that these things are problematic, I simply use that as an example. During any given day, the precious moments I have to get the ideas out of my head and into written form, are limited. I don’t know about other authors, but my family fails to recognize that what I am doing is actually “work”. To them, it’s Mom sitting at the computer – again. Old hat, since ninety percent of my free time is at the computer. If I’m not writing, I’m reading what I wrote and editing it with a mixture of brutality and care. The words, “I’m working”, don’t make much of an impression on three hungry boys.

Somehow, in the midst of all this madness, I find enough time to get things done. The precious words get faithfully added to the text even as my eyes cross and my head hits the keyboard. Life, though it interferes, is what I draw from to fill my books with lively conversation, anecdotes and action. So, though I may resent the interruptions, I welcome them, because it shows me that I am a part of life, not set apart – and that is truly a writer’s richest resource.

I Did It Again!

This November gave me another opportunity to sharpen my writing skills by participating in the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge.  Those who participate agree to write a complete novel, 50,000 words or more, in the month of November.  For more details, look at www.nanowritmo.org

Sounds easy?  Think again.  Finding the time to write each day is harder than it seems.  Life interrupts and writing has to wait.  Whether it’s a job, kids, meals, bathroom breaks or spousal demands, life will always intrude.

Last year, a friend of mine told me about NaNoWriMo and I thought it would be fun to participate.  I signed up for free and on November first, I started to write.  I hammered away at the keys wondering if there was any way I could finish.  I did it and wrote over 65,000 words.  This year, I finished a little earlier than I did last year, and I hit the 88,000 word mark!  Not bad, considering how many times I went back and cut the manuscript because the story was going in the wrong direction. 

As always, it’s a lot of fun.  If you have ever considered writing a novel but didn’t think you had what it takes to do it, try NaNoWriMo and see if you do.  It costs you nothing, winning is easy and you get to put a fun graphic on your blog. 

Fun NaNo graphic for your blog

Fun NaNo graphic for your blog

“Indian Summer” excerpt from first chapter

The following is an excerpt from “Indian Summer” now available at Second Wind Publishing.


The first rays of sun rose above the ocean, setting the waves afire. I gazed out my window, watching the town of St. Augustine awake. Sounds from the kitchen below blended with the calling of the men on the docks and the soldiers at the fort.
Tradesmen opened shops as women called to one another from their houses. Carpenters and stonecutters continued repairing the walls and buildings after the latest British attack. Seagulls called raucously along the shore waiting for whatever scraps got thrown to them, fighting over the merest, insignificant crumb. All these were comfortable sounds, mingling together into a familiar morning melody.
As my bedroom faces the ocean and hence the rising sun, I wake early, before any of my family, enjoying these last quiet moments. Yawning and stretching deliciously, I dressed and sat at my desk to compose a letter to my grandmother in England. I had not written anything but the date, 15 February, 1739, when the door to my room flew back connecting sharply with the wall, thus announcing the arrival of my little brother, the pest.