Finding Extra in the Ordinary

carMy friend, Kevin, took this shot on a recent business trip to New York. I asked him to find me some “writing shots” and this was one of those he came back with–along with a picture of the world’s largest eraser. (Oh, NYC, you have everything, don’t you?)

When I looked at the pictures, this was my least favorite at first. Our thread went something like this.

K: What was your favorite?

Me: The sparkly light ones. The one from the car makes me sad.

K: Funny. That’s my favorite. More like melancholy.

Me: Hmmm.

K: Like what’s this girl thinking? What’s she waiting for–her n’er do well brother who’s late again to pick her up? Did she lose her keys?

And then it occurred to me I hadn’t had my writing head screwed on at the moment I looked at that shot. As writers, we need to be close observers of the ordinary–to see the quirky spins on things, the emotions spitting from a captured image that passers-by don’t take time to notice. We need to look closely, to see the story behind the moment. After all, much of writing happens in the pre-writing.

I know this most of the time. My family and I have played this game in restaurants over the years where we complete the story lines of fellow diners. (Beware if we see you in a Red Lobster. It could be you.) We talk about the relationship of the people, where they come from, their jobs, their hopes and dreams, their scandal du jour. Imagination game #134.

We need more of that. Imagination. Seeing the extraordinary.

So, then, why do you think this girl is sitting here?

Critique Groups

DSCN2174Accountability. Feedback. Ideas. Support. These are all reasons writers join critique groups. What they get back, however, is so much more.

There is a sort of serendipity that occurs when creative minds come together to create. It’s a collective consciousness of sorts, a group dynamic, where each individual is made stronger by the whole than they would be if they were alone in a vacuum.

Critique groups come in all sorts and sizes. I’ve worked in a variety of them over the past six years. Each is valuable in its own way. It’s really about your needs as a writer.

My first writing group was in Southern California–the Southern California Fiction Writers they called themselves. The critique members came from a larger organization–the Southwest Manuscripters–which was Ray Bradbury’s group at one point. (Every organization needs their star.) I was asked to join by the man who started the group very early on in my writing career. We called him Captain Dick because he ran the group like a military mission. I will be forever grateful for this group which met weekly on Wednesday night, because I knocked out the first draft of my novel to provide ten pages for them each week. Hoo rah. They cheered me on and encouraged me–and taught me how to do the same for them. Accountability.

When I moved to Northern California, I met Linda. Working together was meant to be as we both had a ready draft of a young adult/middle grade novel, and we were both very passionate about our stories. Having this compatibility was like skiing with someone at exactly the same level–smooth, efficient, fun. We met weekly and were able to quickly work through revision drafts of our works in no time. One-on-one feedback was priceless and the timing was a gift. Simply, a gift.

Along the way, key writing partners came into play. Charlie was really what felt like my first editor in looking at my novel as a whole piece (very important since writing groups focus on sections usually). We write in the same genre, and care about the same key issues, which made his feedback priceless. His experience and sensitivity to my voice let my creativity materialize. Other writer/readers along the way are key: Abe, Barbara, Lois, Deirdre. Not groups, per se, put a key accessory to your process.

Currently, I work with Jen and Darbie in what we call the “Tiaras.” (I don’t really know why, but it kind of stuck.) Each of us are working on a YA novel of very different types. Working in the same genre, though, really informs each of our writing. We are able to brainstorm as we are in the same head space. Ideas. They are the first ones I think to call with a writing success (or bump in the road) because they get it. Support.

We meet every 3rd week and each brings very unique gifts to the process. Together, we watch our writing grow, improve, and we are all able to be very thorough and honest with each other in this size group. Each of us is able to bring ten pages each time for the next time and we do the edits off hard copy vs. Google Docs. I am so grateful for this combination of writers because there is something magical in the combination that I’m not sure I can even put into words. It’s almost other worldly.

Each group is unique and so valuable in its own way. There are as many types of groups as there are writers. Where do you go if you want one?

It’s important to really think about what you need from a group. Is it accountability? Is it feedback? Ideas? Support? Then, write it out. Draw out what your perfect group would look like. How many members? What would each write? Contribute? Where and how often would you meet? Get very clear. Then, like with everything else, put it on your vision board (what? no vision board?) or just mentally send it out to the universe and before you know it, you’ll have a group, and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one.

YA vs. NA: The New Adult Genre


We do like things in categories, don’t we? Especially when it comes to books, and where to shelf them in the bookstores.

Most writers I know don’t set out to write a particular genre. They have a story in them–one that won’t go away. This story, like a petulant child or annoying friend on Facebook, pokes at their brain until they can’t stand it anymore. They have to let it out.

This is how my stories come to be. I’m working on one now that I have avoided for 36 years. (Why, you ask? Because it involves a serial killer that was very real in my life and I really would rather not go down the road. But it’s very clear when it’s a story I’m meant to tell that I must tell it.)

My debut novel–not the serial killer one but the one before that–is called First Break. Again, a story I had to tell. The plot line goes like this: 17 year old girl from a small town moves to a big city to go to college and two weeks in starts hearing voices telling her to kill herself. (You know. Your average Rom-Com.) Paige finds herself in the vortex of a psychotic break and doesn’t know what’s happening, a coming of age story with a brain that’s in crisis.

When I started to write this story, I didn’t think, “What genre is this?” “Will it be a problem that she steps on a college campus?” I just knew this was a story that needed to come out. Poke, poke.

Because I’m a conference junkie, I’d listen to many editors, agents, and writers affirm my decision: “Don’t worry about the genre. Just tell the story.”

After I finished the 8,527th draft, and prepared to submit to agents, I started hearing this: “Love your writing. Show me anything else you do. Problem with this story is the protagonist steps on to a college campus. True, only for two weeks before she goes to the psychiatric hospital, but those two weeks just may take it out of young adult and then where would we put it?”

Really? But don’t we want our children to go to college campuses? Are we really sure they’re not reading? I mean, as an English major I had to read 10 books per class and still read for pleasure. I wasn’t buying it.

I had more than one agent ask me to rewrite it with her only on a high school campus, but because turning 18 is a key theme here, that seemed rather challenging.

I started calling it “Young Adult Crossover.” Not that it mattered.

And then guess what happened? More studies were done to suggest 18 – 25 year olds actually DO read books after all and maybe the market share had been wrongly calculated. Ha! Having one of my own–a transitional youth, that is–I knew this to be true. My son had friends. They definitely read for pleasure. And went to college.

Enter “New Adult,” the old YA Crossover. That’s what we’re calling it. I’m guessing there’ll be a spot for it soon in the bookstores if there isn’t already.

My fantabulous agent, Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary, explains it like this.

“New Adult” is this genre emerging for an age group that never previously had a voice because people didn’t think it would do well, and that is the college age to early 20’s bracket. (If you want to think of it another way, it is what “tween” books are to the gap between middle grade and young adult literature, but between young adult and adult fiction, usually women’s fiction.) It’s come to attention recently that there may be more of an audience for this genre than previously assumed. The big problem with trying to write that college and fresh out of college age range into literature before was that, even though they are technically “young adults,” they are not in high school. They are not living at home–they have an independence that sixteen-year-old readers can’t identify with, so editors didn’t quite know what to do with them. These books also deal with self-discovery and finding your place in the “real world” and identifying as a proper grown-up for the first time, which is really a little mature for proper teenagers and a little immature for 30, 40+-something readers. However, once people figured out that adults were actually buying a ton of YA literature, minds were opened to expanding the definition of who reads a genre a little more.

What this basically means for you, the writer, is that an editor or agent who sees your manuscript about a college freshman isn’t going to automatically reject it based on her age. Rather, they are going to consider it as a possible fit that can be pitched as “New Adult”. At the end of the day, it’s all about figuring where it’s going to sit in the bookstore.

Hallelujah! Now I have a name for both the stuff I like to read and the stuff I like to write. But it really doesn’t matter. The next story I have to tell will be the story it is no matter what. We can worry about making up a new genre later.

Wednesday Writes #1

6236_337288503037165_1518858661_nA quick study of the dates since my last dip into the vortex of word fun tells the tale.

Theme #1: This girl needs some writing Metamucil. Or some word juicing. Something to get her moving the keys more regularly.

Theme #2: She likes to write about conferences. Not so much about writing. Or anything else. Just conferences.

There is some truth to both these themes, but as with all things, there’s more when you dig deeper. So I’ve dug, and have uncovered this truth: no time like the almost-end-of-the-world (I know–so 2012) to turn over a more regular leaf. And this is a good thing. Perhaps it will eliminate cliches about foliage from my writing.

What really spurred me on was my commitment to my health coaching clients and to my personal health. I set a goal to write daily through the 2012  holidays and completed that recently. Heck, doing anything every day during the holidays besides wrapping presents is a challenge. Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas (we like to be safe) makes December a full-time job at my house so just getting through on a regular year is iffy. This year I had an additional four trips to weave through that tapestry.

Still, by keeping this commitment, I realized the value of daily writing outside my normal  writing. I fell back in love with that which had become trudgery. (Don’t go looking it up. the Merriams haven’t learned the word yet, but once they stop being trudgerous, they will.)

I reignited with that part of me that got so excited when I saw my first poem, “Red,” published in the Redding Record Searchlight back in 1971 or so. (Oh, to find that piece of work sent in by my first grade teacher, Mrs. Pope.) I’ve always felt I was put on this planet to write, and when I do it regularly, I’m reminded of that.

Balance is key, though, and I’m working on many projects. I need to organize my time. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Look for thoughts on writing each Wednesday. If you’re into healthy living, you can find me Mondays here  ( They go together in my mind since I gained 85 pounds drafting my first novel (too many peanut butter M&Ms–you’ve been warned) and I had to learn how to draft novels without that crutch, a secret of the universe I like to call decaf tea.

I hope you’ll join me through the process, the trudgerous and glorious roller coaster we call writing.