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2016 A Good Year for Writing

Dellani Oakes with glasses2016 stunk in a lot of ways, not the least of which were all the deaths, both famous and not. Too many taken from us too soon. There was one respect in which 2016 was kind of all right. It’s a very personal way, not something that means much to anyone but me.

For several years, I’ve made a resolution to finish a book a month. This doesn’t mean that I start and finish the book in the same 30 day period (though I do that, too). This means that I take a book I’ve been working for awhile, maybe years, and I complete it. I’ve been making this same resolution for three years now, and I’ve just made it again. I don’t always meet this goal, but I feel that if I make a concerted effort and write constantly, I’m progressing well. Of course, the new goal becomes getting them publication ready—a longer and more complicated project. (And, let’s face it, a lot less fun)

In 2016, I managed to finish fourteen books! That’s better than one a month. There were a few months I didn’t complete something, but others where I did two or more. Please keep in mind, unless it states short story or novella, these are all books 50,000+ words. That includes the ones written in 5 – 10 days.

This years list includes:

January – Author of Love

February – Tarrah (a short story)

March – As yet untitled novella

April – Ranger’s Heart & When Tis Done

May – none finished as I was editing Room 103 for publication

June – How Far is Heaven, Sierra and Food Truck Hero (which was written in 6 days)

July – Raven Willoughby: Origins, Beach Bum, Alton & Velda and Game Junkies

August – He Needed Killin’ (written in 9 days)

September – none finished

October – none finished

November – So Much It Hurts (2016 NaNo, completed in 5 days)

December – none finished

Overall, not a bad year, though I did better in 2015 (25 books), but I consider anything 12 and over, a win. I finished 14 books in 2014 as well. Though I didn’t finish any books every month of the year, I started 4 new ones. I couldn’t seem to make up my mind how to finish them, but it gives me a goal for this year. Challenge accepted!

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Dellani’s Tea Time January 11, 2016

red river radio logoJoin Dellani and her cohost, Christina (Rachel Rueben) for the first Dellani’s Tea Time of 2016 at 4:00 PM EST today! There’s no telling what we’ll talk about, but you can be sure to get a laugh (or even two) while we talk about all things book and writing related. We will probably get off subject and talk about a lot of other things too – who knows?

To catch us live, or listen to the podcast, follow the link:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rrradio/2016/01/11/red-river-radio-dellanis-tea-time-with-christina-dellani

Music Creates a Mood

I played a piece of music for my husband yesterday, “Requiem for a Dream” by Clint Mansell. To me the melody was somewhat haunting, beautiful, melodic, creating an ‘otherworldly’ feeling to it. He listened to it and kept backing away from my chair.

“What is that? It’s very discordant. It’s evil.”

Okay…. hadn’t thought of it that way. A little creepy, yes. Dark & brooding, decidedly, but evil? Not a word I’d use to describe an instrumental piece of music. He absolutely hated the song. I was rather disappointed, because I really liked it. I was almost afraid to play it while he was out here. I waited until he went to bed to listen to the song.

I use a lot of music when I write. I like the tempo for pacing scenes. I use the mood the story creates to enhance my own as I write. I sometimes build a scene off a particular song, or mention it in the story itself as background to the action. One song upon which I built a story, was “Linger” by the Cranberries. It’s a slow, lilting, sorrowful melody. Why I chose it for this particular couple, I don’t know. They ended up together, rather than apart like the couple in the song. But it fit them.

Another song I used recently was “Primavera” by Ludovico Einaudi. I don’t know how many times I listen to this magnificent piece of music, but as I read, I feel the rhythm of the song throughout the story, particularly in the love scenes.

Carlos Santana’s melodies often feature in my stories. I love his music. It’s so intricate and evocative, making me want to dance and sing. I don’t know how many of my stories his songs are mentioned in, but at least four that I can think of right off the top of my head. My favorite songs are “Maria, Maria“, “Soul Sacrifice“, “Smooth” and “Europa“. There are others, but these feature the highest on my list.

I frequently hear songs on TV shows or in movies that fuel my creative juices. One such was a song I heard on “Jake 2.0” a very short lived television show. The song was lovely, sad, heart rending…. It took me over four hours to track it down on-line, but I finally found “Love Can Save Us All” by Tommy Homes. Another song I heard in a TV show was “Let It Be Me” by Ray LaMontagne. It was used as background to a scene in “Fringe”. Yet another, from an episode of “Lost”. It sounds like an old time gospel song, but it’s rather modern (1997). The title is “I Shall Not Walk Alone” by Ben Harper. The recording they used was sung by The Blind Boys of Alabama.

How does music affect your writing? Do you use it for pacing, inspiration, mood? Maybe it’s just there to block out the environment. (I do that too). Is music important to you? What type do you listen to when you write?

When Something You Write Makes You Cry

sea of destiny coverI just got done writing one of the saddest books I’ve ever written. Unusual for me, because most of my work is pretty upbeat. It might be intense or action packed, even hot and steamy, but not sad. I don’t mean depressing, because the story is one of hope and it has a happy ending. However, I had a lot of moments when I found myself in tears.

Crazy. I’m the one writing it, and it’s making me cry. Does that make sense? When we write something that moves us to tears, is that a fair judge of how our readers will be affected? Does it make us even crazier than we thought we were? Or is it something else?

I like to hope that what I’m writing creates an emotional response in my readers. I want my words to excite them, get their imaginations moving and energize their senses. A story is more than just words on a page. They become meaningless and dull if they don’t go somewhere. What if that somewhere is dark, murky, frightening? Or conversely, light, humorous, whimsical? Sometimes that place is sadness, remorse, resignation.

The story I wrote hasn’t really got a title yet, so let me give a brief synopsis. Kyle, a 34 year old single father, is still grieving after the death of his wife, Margo. She died from cancer five months prior to the beginning of the book. Haunted by his inability to fix the situation and make her well, he buries himself in work and the responsibilities of raising three children alone. Seeing him heading toward an early grave himself, his boss (who is also a good friend) forces him to take a month off to get himself together.

At his boss’ insistence, Kyle books a cruise and takes his children and housekeeper/ friend, Carmelita, with him. The first night at dinner, he meets Emily. Beautiful and vivacious despite the fact that she’s recently finished chemo therapy, Emily captures his heart. His children love her, Carmelita likes her, everything is perfect – until he discovers that Emily, too, is dying. By the time he finds out, he’s already falling in love.

Kyle’s past comes back to haunt him and he makes a disastrous mistake, thus jeopardizing his relationship with Emily. Tortured by guilt and self-doubt, he falls into a very dark, emotional place. It is a story of regret, rebirth, renewed faith, resignation and remembrance. It also made me cry like crazy.

I felt compelled to update this many moons later. This story, which at the time didn’t have a title, is now called Sea of Destiny and I am currently sharing it on Cereal Authors blog. You can find the posts here.

Beating the Block

author dellani oakes banner with conduct unbecoming from Christina

Writer’s Block!  These ominous words send shivers down the spine of any writer. Insidious, it strikes with no warning, clogging the brain, paralyzing fingers, bringing grown writers to their knees. There are many types of writer’s block, each with its own pernicious characteristics. Below, I have listed those which plague me the most often.

1) Mid-Line Crisis: This is less destructive than its brothers, but still annoying. This is the unfinished sentence, incomplete thought or dialogue left hanging. The tortured …. of the soul. Though frustrating, it is not insurmountable. Usually a little brainstorming, trial and error and copious use of the delete button get me past this tiresome creature.

2) Ex Thesaurus: Also known as “What Word”? This usually runs with mid-line crisis and is fairly easy to circumvent. A visit to Thesaurus.com or a quick flip through the desk copy of Roget’s can pull a writer past this hurdle.

3) Post Climactic Stress: Or “Where Do I Go From Here?” The hero has saved the day, villains vanquished, lovers unite, children dance around May Poles – celebration time! All right, where does the story go now? It’s not over, but it needs to be soon. However, these pesky little loose ends suddenly electrify, screaming “Solve Me!” What to do? Falling action after the climax isn’t always easy. The one question a writer fails to answer is the one readers will point to and say, “Hey! What about this?” To avoid the lynch mob, sometimes it’s better to eliminate a secondary thread unless it’s absolutely necessary to the plot. Otherwise, it’s a trip to blockage category # 4.

4) The Never Ending Story: As much as we might want our book never to end, it must. Sometimes though, we can’t seem to find a stopping place. The book goes on forever until we get fed up and stop writing, or force an ending. I have one book that is 873 double spaced, typed pages. Not only can I not find an end point, I can’t even read all the way through it without getting lost. The problem is too many sub-plots. (Hearken back to Post Climactic Stress.) Everything needs resolution, making the book go on forever. It will require a major re-write or splitting into multiple books. None of these minor blocks are as frustrating as the fifth category. It really needs no introduction because even the most prolific writers have, at one time or another, suffered from it.

5) The Full Monty: Like its name implies, this is full blown, frontal exposure writer’s block. Insurmountable, uncompromising, frustrating, infuriating, aggravating, annoying, constipating…. There are no words at our disposal formidable enough to fully describe this condition. Any writer who has never experienced Full Monty Writer’s Block obviously hasn’t written long enough. Suddenly, out of nowhere, completely by surprise it strikes! I equate it with being hit by a Volvo station wagon at 90 mph. Hm, can a Volvo go 90? Maybe an Escalade? In any case, WHAM! In the face, hard core, heavy metal writer’s block. There’s no way to avoid it. Once in awhile the Muse takes a coffee break and so must we. As frustrating as they are, embrace these blocks. They force us to leave the security and sanctity of our homes and participate in life for awhile. Use this time to observe others or engage them in conversation. Each encounter gives us a little more grist for our imagination mill.

 

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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

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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.

When the Muse Strikes!

Dellani Oakes with glasses

I originally wrote and posted this back in 2008. Seems like eons ago. It seemed worth updating and sharing once more. I’ve updated a few things to make it more timely, but otherwise, it’s the same as it was November 25, 2008.

It was 5:45 this morning and I woke with a starting sentence in my head and couldn’t go back to sleep.  That’s how it begins, you know.  The infamous starting sentence and then it grows like a giant balloon full of words.  It won’t stop until you write it down – even that isn’t enough.  You have to keep going until the words stop gushing forth, the ideas quit flowing, the inspiration dries up.

That’s what it’s like when the writing Muse strikes.  It completely takes over, spinning you in circles like a giant, ethereal tornado or a vicious maelstrom.  Not that having the Muse strike is a bad thing.  It’s when the Muse strikes that’s usually inconvenient.  When I’m asleep and wake up to find a sentence circulating in my brain.  When I’m driving and I don’t have anything handy to write it down or even record a message to myself.  I have a small tape recorder for this purpose.  Where is it?  On my desk.  Good choice, great place for it.  Sometimes the Muse strikes in the bathroom.  Not pretty.

How do you tame that pesky Muse?  I don’t suggest that you try.  The more you try to tame it, tie it down or rope it in, the more elusive it becomes, dashing away when you need it most.  The best you can do is learn to channel it so that the energy can be directed where you want it.  If you figure out how to do that, please share with me, becaue I haven’t learned yet.

I am at the beck and call of the Muse.  I answer to its every whim.  That’s why I’m sitting here starting on yet another novel, although I have (thirty) fifty-five that need to be finished and fifty more that need to be edited, and seven currently published. (When I originally wrote this, I had one) My husband says I’m adult ADD.  I know that it’s not that, it’s the Muse!  But try telling that to someone who’s not a writer.

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The Ninja Tattoo by Dellani Oakes - 200Under the Western Sky by Dellani Oakes - 200conduct unbecoming front cover