Working Wednesday, April 1, 2020

I know it’s April Fool’s Day, but I think Fate just pulled the ultimate trick on all of us with the virus, so I’m ignoring that. It is the first day of April, so YAY SPRING. Also I just found out there’s something called Viking knitting which does not require knitting needles, so I will obviously be looking into that. Also something called nailbinding which sounds brutal and Nordic. Lucet I already knew about, but still. Evidently there was a lot of crafting between bouts of pillaging. And I may doodle some manuscript illuminations on a specials menu, just to see how that goes.

And in other news, because I’m now obsessing on visuals, I went looking for retro diner fonts that could be used both on as the font for the diner (signs and menu heads) and as a title font, and found this list:

https://www.myfonts.com/foundry/Font_Diner/

And then lost an hour playing with fonts, which is one of my favorite things to do. (See bottom of post for some possibilities.)

Now I have to find a name for the diner. Something that sounds like a diner name but has some kind of meaning which is going to be hard because I have no idea what this story is really about. I just want the sign and the font for the visuals. And because I love playing with fonts, okay? It’s still work if I enjoy it.

So what are you working on now?

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Visual Stuff

When I wrote with Bob, he used to make me walk the terrain. We’d go to wherever the book was set and talk the story through while we walked around. The one I remember best was in the Carolinas, a big white house on a river, because I was saying things like, “Okay the gazebo for the wedding is over here, and there’ll be furniture on the front porch, maybe a swing, for that scene when the bridge goes in . . .” and Bob was saying things like “The bad guys will dock here and the scuba divers will attack the wedding from here . . .” (No, there was no scuba attack; Bob had a learning curve in writing romantic comedy, aka, nobody we like dies.). I dutifully tramped around after him through the Southern low country for Agnes and we spent one memorable October evening at an amusement park in Pennsylvania where people had chain saws for Wild Ride, but I finally had to admit that it was all worth it because he was right: walking the terrain helps a lot. (This may be why I do so many scenes in diners. I can sit the terrain.)

My version of walking the terrain is collage. Continue reading

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Visual Discovery Drafting

Krissie and Toni and I talked about the future and the Monday Street books last weekend, and that sent me back to the VooDooPad wiki we’d set up for the entire world of that series.  I hadn’t been back there for three years, so a lot of it was out of date, including the diagrams.  And since in my story, Cat lives in the church, I went back in and redid the church diagram I’d done to show Toni the layout since her Keely was going to be moving through the different levels, too.   And just like that, I was back in the story and I remembered how important those visuals are to me.

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Book Done Yet?: Pick a Lane

Note: This weekly post is to keep me honest about working on the WiP. It’s going to be mostly me figuring things out and therefore probably not very interesting. Feel free to skip as I free-associate myself through to enlightenment.

So as part of my New Efficient Approach to Life (wait for the implosion, it should be here any minute), I am determined to pick one WIP and FINISH the damn thing. Which means I have to analyze what I have and see what I really want to write. (Okay, what I really want to write right now is my version of Lucifer but I know nothing about LA or the nightclub business, and the last thing I need is an eighth book in progress, so back to the WiPs). Below is my analysis of the seven manuscripts I have in progress, in no particular order. It’s pretty much a three part analysis: Do I have story? (protagonist/goal/antagonist/goal); How much do I have done? (word count); How do I feel about this book? (what do I love/what’s keeping me from working on it?). Continue reading

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Collaging Character

We’re talking about collage this week in the McD class, and one of the hardest things to get across is that collage is not illustration. While it’s perfectly fine to google for specific things in your story, what you’re really looking for is the look and feel of the narrative, and nowhere is that more important than in the characters.

It’s tempting to just pick one face to represent your character and leave it at that, but I’ve found that it’s too limiting, especially if you’re using an actor in a particular role. At that point, you’re really just using somebody else’s character, so I’ve found it’s easier to visualize my people if I choose multiple faces to represent them. For example, here’s Tennyson from “Cold Hearts:” Continue reading

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The Link That Made My Head Explode

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I’m an visual geek. Well, you probably guessed that from the collages. Words are great, I love words, and music soothes my savage breast AND beast, but visual . . .

Visuals are shiny. Visuals will make me stop what I’m doing and stare and think in other images. I started out as an artist, my college major was weaving, my first career was an art teacher, visual is my thing.

So when a pal on one of the lists I’m on (thank you, Teresa Hill) said, “Hey, this link is great for images,” naturally, I went.

And then my head exploded.

God bless you, Daily Kos. I may finally be able to find all the visuals I’ll ever need to make my collages and write my books. May. I’m not sure. But it’s definitely looking possible.

If you’re an image junkie, you gotta go HERE.

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Narrative Cartography: Mapping My Way to the End

Writing a book is like wandering in a strange country. You’d think since I made up the country I’d know my way around, but I don’t because I only think I made it up. My theory is that the core of the story exists in my subconscious and that my job is to get out of my own way and let that story emerge as I write. That’s great for a first draft, but that’s also how I end up in a strange country.

So then I take a step back and start to try to make sense of things. For some reason tonight, it struck me that what I do is make a map. I’m lost in a wilderness, and I stand in the middle of it and I say, “Okay, where’s the north star? Right there, there’s my protagonist. Now what does she want and who’s keeping her from getting it? Keep your eyes on that, Jenny, because that’s true north.” (Actually, the symbol I usually think of is Wallace Stevens’ jar in Tennessee, but that doesn’t work with the map metaphor, so we’re deep-sixing that for now.) Then all I have to do is figure out what kind of map I’m going to make to get myself to the end, keeping my eyes on the True North of the heart of the story.


Usually it’s the four act structure which I diagram out on my big white board in four columns. I look for turning points, first the point in the middle where the protagonist experiences an event that is so life-changing that she can’t go back to where she began the story, she’s too much a different person now. Then I look for the event before that, midway between the beginning and the midpoint, that also had a remarkable impact on her, turning her in her journey. And the point on the other side, midway between the midpoint and the climax, the dark moment, going to hell in the classics, where the protagonist is tested the most. Those three events divide the book into four chunks or acts, four shorter stories if you will, each with its own narrative arc that I can then diagram out on my big white board, but this time with Agnes, the map just didn’t fit the terrain. We had an excellent three act structure, but the fourth wouldn’t diagram, I couldn’t even get it on the white board, so I couldn’t find my way home.

Then I went to my intuitive map: the collage. I’d tried collaging the book earlier and it wasn’t working at all: bland, predictable, no oomph, no excitement. I chalk this up to the fact that I was writing to my partner’s outline at the time, but I may just have been pushing too hard. Sometimes you have to wander around the strange country for a while before you try to map things out. Then many months later we finished the first draft, and I rewrote and did my four act structure map and my partner signed off on it and we sent it off to our editor and it came back smartly with the rewrite notes: his stuff was great, mine needed work.

Rats. (That wasn’t what I said, but I’m trying to clean up my act.) So I went back and ripped the collage apart and threw myself into the revision of that, just taping things on intuitively, doing a first draft of the collage all over again, and ended up with something pretty interesting. The top twelve inches or so turned out to be Agnes’s life and her relationship with Shane, the hero, and it held together beautifully. Everything else was a mess (which I knew from the revision letter). So I sat down with my paper and my pen and started to look at the elements of the collage and, basically, drew a map of the collage. Instead of “here be dragons,” it was “here be the love triangle complication,” “here be Shane’s troubles in the swamp.” I couldn’t figure out what Agnes’s Mothers were doing in Shane’s swamp until I remember that they were nearby while he was under fire, just as Shane’s stripper was nearby during Agnes’s bachelorette party debacle. That had to mean something, there had to be some road connecting those, so I looked for the paths, the way the characters traveled through the story. Then I pinned the map to the wall and started to structure the collage as I added the missing pieces. And as the collage started to make sense, the book finally started to make sense; the collage began to become the map to the book that I needed.

But there was another map. I went back to the book where both our editor and agent had said that they’d have a much better grasp of what Agnes did for a living if they could actually see some of the columns that she wrote as a food critic, maybe as chapter headings. I was against that because you really need to break chapters at turn-the-page moments, and quotations at the top of chapters pretty much stomp on momentum, but then I thought, “Okay, so maybe on this one, we don’t use chapters.” And I took a step back and looked at the book again. There’s a time lock on this plot: The wedding has to happen by noon on Saturday or Agnes loses her house. With a time lock, one structure that can be effective is one superimposed on the book that lets the reader count down the time to the climax. So I divided the book into days instead of chapters. I hate chapters, they have no narrative meaning, but days had narrative meaning because each one brings Agnes closer to disaster or victory. Of course the big drawback to days is that they usually end with the POV character falling asleep, but in this book, at midnight, Agnes is either having sex or being shot at, and Shane is either having sex or killing somebody, so basically, every section ends with a bang. I also found out that with some cuts which we already knew we were going to have to make, we could almost certainly make each day grow shorter, which would give us the pacing we needed. And I could put the column quote at the beginning of each day since there was going to be a page that said TUESDAY in between each day, not just a “Chapter Twelve,” and a turning point at the end of each day, although I’m still not completely sure I can make the stakes get higher in each of them since they all have to happen at midnight. I’m not a miracle worker. The important thing is, the structure gives the reader a map to the book. She or he knows with each passing day that the climax is drawing closer because the day page is right there, tick tock.

Of course we’re still in the middle of rewrites. By the time this book is in stores in August, all of that may be gone. But right now, I’m happy. I’ve still got the collage to finish, it’s only about two thirds done, and I have those midnight turning points to arc and some how, God help me, I have to raise the stakes each time, and there are about fifty other things to fix, but I know where I’m going. I’m not wandering any more.

I’ve got my maps.

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Trudy: The Collage

So I made a collage for the Trudy novella, which I am stubbornly calling “Hot Toy” even though I’m pretty sure my editor is going to change it, and which is going to be in an anthology called Santa Baby, out in 2006. I did it this week because I’m heading for the Surrey Writer’s Festival this weekend where I’m giving a talk on collage as brainstorming for fiction, and I needed pictures to illustrate it. As craft topics go, this is the one that makes Bob twitch, so I’m not even going to discuss the huge box of stuff I have for the Agnes collage.

(Agnes and Shane are the hero and heroine of our next book. Agnes writes about food. Shane kills people for a living. Bob does the outline and blocks all the scenes out on a spreadsheet. I do the collage which he doesn’t want to see. Then we both write the book. Well, it works.)

In the past, when I’d start thinking about a book, I’d tear out pictures and stick them around my computer to remind me of the world I was creating. Then some friends—Jo Beverly, Barbara Samuel, Anne Stuart, Susan Wiggs—started talking about collage and I thought, “You know, I used to love collage. I should do that.”

And then I lost my grip.

Long ago, I was an art teacher. That doesn’t leave you. And collage was always my favorite medium. So twenty years later, I got a piece of foam core board and start gluing things on for a book I was writing called You Again, and then I thought that since the book takes place in an old house, I should really put a roof and some walls on it, and then there was a stone terrace and, well, one thing led to another and I sort of built the house and then went nuts filling it with stuff and it was a huge help on the book (especially now that I’m going back to it after a hiatus of a year) and I will never again do another book without a collage.

I did a small collage for Bet Me (if you want to see it, go to the Bet Me page on the website) and a big one for Don’t Look Down, and then this week, as part of the collage presentation and also as part of writing the novella, I did the Trudy collage. As usual, it got out of hand.

I started with a really beat-up, splintery shadow box that I’d found in the mark down bin at Hobby Lobby. It was full of pseudo-Italian stuff, wine bottles and bread and yellowed posters and a corkscrew that was a real bitch to get out of the box because they’d screwed it in. I ripped out all that stuff and put it in the Agnes box because the Agnes book is about the Cincinnati mob. Yes, Bob and I know there never was a Cincinnati mob. That’s why they call it fiction, folks.

And then I had an empty, even more splintered shadow box. I liked that because the first image I had of Trudy was walking through this very old, dark toy store that had splintery wood shelves. I decided the box part would have the plot imagery—antagonists, goals, plot points, setting, motif and symbol, theme—and the frame would be Trudy. It worked really well until, as I said, I lost my grip.

There are two parts to brainstorming with collage. One part is gathering stuff, and that goes on for a long time. I’ve got boxes for four different books and another novella started, so whenever I see things that look like those books, I throw them in the box. This is easier than ever since the scrapbooking craze hit. You wouldn’t believe the great stuff you can find in craft stores now. And then there are magazines and catalogs, and of course, the Internet. And Goodwill. You know that big table full of miscellaneous little toys every thrift store has? Pure gold. I found a lot of stuff for Trudy, but I told myself I wouldn’t use all of it—it’s a small shadow box—but I’d collect all of it so I could pick and choose later.

The second part comes when it’s time to start the book. You lay the pieces out and construct the background and figure out what the structure is going to mean and start gluing stuff down. And as you glue things next to each other, they take on new meanings and give you more of the story, making visual connections. I can practically hear my synapses sparking when I glue the stuff in. So I started gluing things in for Trudy. and I couldn’t stop, and I put it all in and then got more, and now both the box and the frame are jam-packed full of stuff from the story, and it’s exactly right because this collage feels to me the way Christmas always feels, too dark, too loud, too crowded, too bright, too busy, and yet, you have to love it.

So when I get back from Surrey, all I have to do is play the four different versions of “Santa Baby” that I have on my iPod while looking at this collage, and I’ll know how to finish the novella. It’s all right there.

And because I did the twelve days of Trudy with you, I’m putting it all right here:

Bob will undoubtedly post something snarky here, but I’m telling you, this works.

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