June Rodriguez
JUNE: Last week at the meeting of my local RWA chapter our guest speaker spoke about using emotion in your writing. The need to show your characters’ emotional state and their emotional conflict. The information wasn't a new concept but it resounded with me in a new way. I have a hard time writing emotionally. Why? I looked at what I am currently writing and there is no emotion that stands out. No anger, sadness, or even unease. There should be something. I think it might be because I personally have repressed my emotional extremes for many years. Working to let go in my writing means letting go for me as well. So this week I will work on adding deeper emotional conflicts in my writing.

DORI: I think to write emotion we have to tap into our own feelings and experiences, which makes us feel vulnerable. Like peeling back our outer skin and letting the world see how we tick, see our innermost fears, and desires. What we, as writers, have to remember is that those emotions are human. We have all experienced fear, sadness, lust, joy, etc. Showing those emotions are what helps the reader empathize with our characters--puts them in their shoes. Without emotion, the reader remains unattached, distant from our characters, and therefore less interested in what happens to them. When we write we want our readers to care deeply about what happens to our characters, not be ambivalent.

Some emotions are harder to express in writing than others. For instance, fear is probably an easy emotion to acknowledge, whereas lust may be more personal, more embarrassing to acknowledge. Unfortunately, as writers we have to let go of our repressed feelings if we want writing that resonates with readers.

SARAH: In romance, emotion is everything! Like a principal in a ballet, a character's feelings must take center-stage. Readers want to live vicariously through the characters they read. Not only must a writer ensure a character solves the mystery, gets the girl/guy, or beats all odds, she owes it to the reader to emotionally experience every facet of the journey.

JACKIE: That is well put Sarah, it's a good thing to think about emotion like that. Emotion is the "beat" of the story. Like a heart, it pumps blood into the story, keeps it alive, otherwise it is just words.

I also relate to June's comments. Often, we fear ourselves being seen as related to our characters. We don't want readers to make the mistake that WE are like THAT. What does it mean if we can imagine such things? This is something I have faced myself.

But I think that is what makes writers so important. We CAN imagine that. So we are able to connect our readers to aspects of themselves and the world around them to what they feel; what they fear and desire.


DORI: On a similar note as June's concern with emotion, what I fail to do with my writing is show sufficient interior thought. Interior thought is another way of understanding characters at a deeper, personal level. Part of interior thought conveys emotions, but it goes further than that. Interior thought helps the reader understand what makes a character tick, what motivates them, what they want, what they fear. So, on top of adding emotion, we need to make sure we add the character's voice to our writing, to draw the reader in and bring the story alive in a way that setting, plot, and dialog cannot do on their own.

SARAH: Interior thought is very much like the window into a character's soul. I know we all have the chops to write a smokin' hot scene full of action and suspense and even love, it's just a matter of remembering to layer in the little things that make a character stand out. Yep, this is just another example of the ole learning curve kicking us in the caboose! lol

DORI: I agree, all part of the learning process. June though doesn't give herself enough credit. It's just that she has to let go a bit and infuse more emotion. As the rest of her crit partners know she's got it in her.

JACKIE: You are absolutely right Dori. June, you are an amazing writer. I have watched June let "the horse gallop" a bit more with her current novel and it really makes it sizzle.

I think interior thought is the thread that sews the emotion and the actions together. If all you have is a thinking head, nothing seems real. If all you have is action, no matter how exciting or relevant, then you have a picture without a story. Emotions have to have a source and so do actions, and that is interior thought.

When a story is working well, all three are working in tandem. The trick is to keep the writer the boss and not let any one of these aspects take over, because at any given time in a story's telling, they will want to ham it up.

JUNE: That is a great way to think about the connection between the three Jackie. You guys have given me a lot to think about this week. Thanks for the great feedback.
SARAH: During that same speaker's introduction, she asked us what sort of books made our "keeper shelf" and why. This got my hamsters to spinning. Obviously, I read romance because I enjoy the love story, but "love", if given a role, would be the meat in the lasagna. What makes up the rest?

I flipped through a couple of shelves and realized I have a fondness for spies, mysterious killers or stalkers, and definitely heroes and heroines who defy convention. Well, go figure! Ain't that a short blurb for my WIP?!

What about you gals? Do the plot/characters of your WIP reflect your tastes?

DORI: Absolutely! I caught the reading bug when I discovered my mother's old Nancy Drew books. Enter the mystery genre in my life. Next, I discovered Robert Ludlum in college, the master of spy/suspense novels. Loved them. Most of the other books that now line my bookshelves are in the suspense/thriller category from spies to legal thrillers. Because it is easier for me to write legal thrillers than spy thrillers (no covert ops in my background) that's what I gravitated towards in my writing life. I definitely want to write what I enjoy reading.

JUNE: My favorites list is a bit more varied. When I was younger I read science fiction, mysteries, and Shakespeare. I spent years reading plays and poetry. My current shelf runs to romance with a tug at your heart flavor. If it makes me want to cry I can’t wait to finish reading it. I am a little surprised to figure this out.

June Rodriguez
DORI: I missed being with everyone last week, but I’m so glad I went to Left Coast Crime. It was a great four days. I learned a lot and met a lot of other writers in my genre. Walked about feeling both inspired and unworthy. I realized that all of those writers I was listening to all had to start somewhere. They too had to write between jobs, family, and other life demands. That meant there is no excuse for me. On the other hand, listening to established writers reading from some of their work, I questioned my ability to write as well.

JUNE: Glad to have you back Dori. I’m not sure why genre writers seem to be so much nicer and more helpful to each other. All my experiences at conferences and workshops have been like yours. Someone is always willing to share what they have learned and eager to learn from others as well. I think that is why I am looking forward to signing up for more opportunities as soon as the funds will allow. You just have to remember that now that you are back to only remember the useful stuff and forget the downer stuff.

SARAH: I'm glad you had fun, Dori! You deserve the break. I can only imagine what a conference is like. I'm very excited at the prospect of attending the RWA Nationals when it arrives in Anaheim summer 2012. Long time away from now, but hopefully, I'll be going as an author! lol

If you let yourself get bogged down with the reality of writing, you're gonna be a candidate for the coo-house! Your voice is YOUR voice, just like those Big Dog writers. It's hard not to compare your writing to the glitzy work of the revered, believe me, I'm right there with ya! But they had to put their undies on one foot at a time, too. As a person who has read your writing, Dori, I don't think you have anything to worry about!

JUNE: We had more problems with computers again this week. I’m not sure where I got my original manuscript formatting information but I have followed the same guideline for years. Sarah’s computer keeps changing her spacing between paragraphs. After several attempts at correcting the situation the problem still persists. Working with more than one operating system and switching work back and forth has also caused problems. Widows and orphans is a strange little formatting elf that helps to allow the full use of your page but can be difficult to find.

SARAH: A good web site for formatting of manuscripts is http://www.passionatepen.com/formatarticle.htm It was one of the first sites I found when I started googling "writing". Lol Jenna Petersen has a mega-load of information for writers of all walks. It's worth the click over.

My problem was completely operator error. LOL For years, I stuck with Windows 98 and now that I've upgraded to Vista and more recently, Windows 7-- I'm stuck within the trenches of the learning curve. Thanks go to Dori and June for showing me where the prompts were within my software. Whew! You gals made it look easy!

JUNE: This week I took another small step forward. I am still doing some research but reading more in the format I have chosen is on my list of things to do.

DORI: I came back from LCC with stacks of books, to add to my already huge stack of books. I wish I had time to read them all. Every book I read certainly helps me as a writer. Guess I'm going to have to carve out time to read in addition to writing. Can someone create a 48 hour day?

SARAH: I don't know if this is a brag worthy tidbit or a confession of sorts! Since December, I have read and listened to close to 25 books. Yeah, my writing suffered, BUT I was able to pick up a feel for my genre's flow. I know the books I read were technically written the year or two before, but there was still a wealth of information to be had.

I know for my genre of Regency Romance there is a very distinct flavor to the stories and that was what I was "researching". LoL My writing is better for the exercise. I decided to redo the beginning of my MS and the extra work paid off. The first five lines of my MS were selected as one of 12 finalists in the New Beginnings Contest sponsored by author Jennifer Haymore. My first chapter and synopsis will compete for the grand prize of having an agent read the material for possible consideration!

JUNE: What I’m working on has its own set of perimeters. I plan on doing something along the same lines as you Sarah. I need a better feel for the rhythm of the movement of the story.

Big congrats on the contest finial and we are cheering you on.
June Rodriguez
JUNE: A couple of week’s ago I started a new novel. A new idea and new content. As an unpublished author the novel I was working on began to feel out of my reach. The complicated plot became more and more unbelievable. My frustration with the project increased until I was unable to write any further. I made the decision to write a contemporary with a smaller word count and a more straight forward plot. The past two weeks I have worked on research and the story setting.

The setting is a very important part of any story. There are many facets to any setting. Being able to search high-speed internet has opened so many doors to finding the information you need. Not only does the web cut down on the time it takes to find the information but it also broadens the type of info you can use. And as they say “one thing leads to another.” Deciding on the location (New Jersey), the big city (Trenton), the type of house (real estate), and the time of year (spring) can be googled, binged or yahooed. I have found excellent sites on names for both Italian and Irish. I tracked down country clubs in northern New Jersey and the perfect BMW car for the hero to drive. His and her occupation and the current housing market in the area. With all this information all I need to do is add the words.

SARAH: Ha! You missed your calling, June! You should have been a P.I.!!! Having authenticating details to back up a MS is always a good idea. Kind of like using a little pepper to season up a story.

JACKIE: Good one Sarah! But what June has learned are the tools to build a story. You're right, just add the creative "stuff" and you have a story built with a firm foundation. I am learning the same writing my novel. And you know what, it is a lot of fun. The IDEAS you come up with when doing "P.I." work is just amazing.

DORI: If anyone wants to volunteer to do my research, I'll gladly take the help. I find it a necessary evil. Know I'm odd, but I have so little time to write that any time spent doing research seems like a waste of precious time. That's one of the reasons I switched gears, like June, and now I'm writing a novel where there is less research needed as it's something I have more real world experience with.

JUNE: With the new story I am writing I brought a copy of the first chapter of a book for you guys to use as an example of the genre I am working on. I have read a lot of this type of book and selected several to learn from.

SARAH: I enjoyed the read and thought it was an wonderful example. Next week, I'm hoping to flavor you ladies with some Regency reads.

JACKIE: Same here. Thanks, June. Sarah, is it chocolate flavoring? I too, need to do the same. I keep trying to think of the perfect book that incorporates all the ingredients I am using in my novel, but I think what I will begin with is simply the book I am reading now. It is not exactly a representation of my story type, but it is of the basic writing style, strong description, poetic narrative. With me, of course, a big splash of fantasy and adventure.

DORI: Can't wait to read it. Sorry I had to miss Friday night, but my writing conference (Left Coast Crime) was well worth the time and money. Can't wait to tell you all about it.

Think it is great that we're getting to be more familiar with our various writing styles. Can only make us better critique partners.

JUNE: Looking forward to hearing all about your conference Dori. And to have you back at the table.

SARAH: I recently found an internet translator. It's a very handy tool to have in a writer's arsenal. Now, should I feel the need to add in a foreign accent, I'll have the answer in seconds. As long you double check what you've written to what's come out, you're in like flint! Here is the link: http://www.microsofttranslator.com/

JUNE: That sounds like a great link to have for working on my current book. I could use a few Italian and Irish words for what I am working on.

JACKIE: Definitely sounds like fun. I wish I needed it right now, but you never know...

DORI: How fun. I need Spanish phrases, foods, mannerisms, etc. for my protagonist's sidekick.

SARAH: I entered a contest on a historical author's blog this last week. The 'what-to-do' was entering the first 5 lines of your MS. The prize, should your entry make it to the final round, was the opportunity to have an agent read your first chapter for possible consideration. With 5 finalists being picked each week for three weeks, if selected, there would only be competition between 15 other entries for the grand prize. Kind of worth it, huh? Excellent way for an author to bring activity to their site AND most importantly, pay it forward!

Those first lines of a book are quite hefty. Whether it's a snazzy zinger of a first sentence or an intriguing lead-in paragraph, an author has to deliver the punch that pulls the reader into the story. Kind of like speed dating in a way. First impressions are either do or die!!

DORI: Good luck!

JACKIE: I am fascinated by that. The very idea that someone is utilizing so much creativity and effort in a rather complex contest set up, lets me know that they are truly interested in what is "out there" in terms of talent and potential sales worthiness. Very cool.

JUNE: Count me in. I have at least one first five that I could enter. It's free and a great opportunity to boot. Up for a little competition Sarah?

P.S. Good luck Sarah on your selection as a finalist for the first five contest!
June Rodriguez

JUNE: This week all of us brought our two pages. Tonight the critique process moved along really well for each of us. What I noticed was a problem with our computer. As a writer our most important tool is our computer. We rely on it heavily for correcting our spelling and grammar with an effortless ease. But as we noticed tonight we still benefit from the practiced eye of our other partners. So far the computer can only do what it is programmed to do. It can not learn from its mistakes. Our bugaboo tonight was words that are spelled incorrectly for the usage that we intended. The word was not spelled wrong so it was not picked up by our microchip friend. I know in my case I did read over that section several times and still did not catch the incorrect spelling. Thank you ladies for being my extended family of eyes and ears.

DORI: Then there are the dreaded backwards quotation marks where the computer thinks it knows best. Wrong! They're hard to catch, unless you're looking for them. How very frustrating.

SARAH: I really dislike when the auto format flips on and a simple double-drop moves the whole MS to centered justification. ARGH! I'm also not a big fan of the gremlins that add in hieroglyphics to the body of a doc when copying/pasting into the HTML box of a blog post! Now, that is frustration squared!


JUNE: Bringing more authenticating details into my pages without doing an info dump was one of my goals tonight and I seem to have succeeded with that. The other was to work on my hyphen usage. I did better at knowing where to put them in but then I also put them in where they were not needed. So it looks like I need to work on this writing hitch just a little more.

We succeeded in tightening up our work from last week as well.

DORI: Your added authenticating details were spot on. Kudos to you for that. Really paints a better picture than before. Doesn't take a lot of them, just a sprinkling will do.

JUNE: Overall our work brought more believability to our characters.

DORI: Our work will be more believable after we make the changes needed based on June's input. She is good about catching things like how did my protag get her wet sticky running clothes off without taking off her shoes first. She'll question whether actions are true to our character, the setting, etc. Thanks June for your watchful and questioning eye.

SARAH: Yes, June does have a knack for spotting such details. It's just another reason why every writer needs a strong critique group. Another set of eyes to help polish BOTH craft and an MS. A real win, win situation.

JUNE: I rely on Dori to challenge me on my horrible punctuation and grammar usage. Sarah always sees the details in a more vibrant way and Jackie teases my imagination to go a step further. I see real progress in our writing since our start and I know we will continue to step up to the challenges.

DORI: Best part is that we're moving forward and our work has fewer editing required.

SARAH: Practice makes progress. It's trite, but very true. I've heard it said time and again by the NYT's- the more you write, the better your writing will get. Here's to keeping our digits glued to the keyboard!

June Rodriguez
JUNE: Our goal this week was to send out two pages to be critiqued by the group. I managed to meet the goal with a very rough draft.

JACKIE: I was a little short of my goal of 2000 words but I still benefited from the goal with 2 1/2 pages. I wrote and I was focused.

DORI: Technically, I didn't meet the goal as we were supposed to e-mail our pages out by Thursday, so everyone would have a chance to review before Friday night. All week long I meant to get my pages done, but just couldn't seem to get it done. Work was demanding this week, and will be for a number of weeks to come. Handling someone else's full-time criminal defense docket along with my own clients, teaching, grantwriting, and kids I was overwhelmed. So, I excused myself for not meeting the goal.

But then I received June's and Jackie's pages. I reviewed their pages Friday afternoon, all the while lamenting my failure to meet our goal. Worse part was it was the very first week of my commitment to write at least two pages every day. What's two pages after all? I looked at the clock and realized I had about two hours before I had to be at June's for our Friday night critique session. Enough excuses. Bound and determined not to break my commitment I banged out two pages to bring with me. I didn't get them to everyone in time to be reviewed beforehand, I didn't have a chance to edit them, but by golly I wrote them. I realized that life, no matter how chaotic it may be, will always hold obstacles that will make finding time to write difficult, but I can't use that as an excuse or I'll never finish a book. So, no more excuses, only pages to write and deliver. Forge on!

JACKIE: What is amazing is how, just slamming the keyboard at the last minute, you were able to produce such good work. You are a natural storyteller.

SARAH: I've been playing around with a chapter and wanted to get a better feel for the scene, so I recorded the words into a voice recorder. When I listen to books on CD, I see and hear the words. So, listening to the playback helped me find the rougher spots and showed me I had found a flow I liked.

Since I was able to gain so much from listening to my chapter, I decided to voice record the pages you gals sent me! I thought it would be fun to have a group listen. Kind of cool to hear your stuff read out loud, huh?!

JUNE: Thanks ladies. So the consensus is I need to brush up on correct hyphen usage, work on tightening and setting the time frame in my beginning, and use a few more authenticating details. Sarah thanks for recording my pages. Listening to your reading gave me even more insight to the flow. That was a great idea. Maybe I should do that with my own writing. I do read my work out loud but I don’t really connect to my own voice. Listening to Jackie’s pages was helpful as well. I wish we could do this when we critique other work as well.

DORI: June, your first draft showed a strong start to your new novel. I'm looking forward to seeing the story progress.

Most published authors say that they never let anyone read their first draft and only bring polished work to their critique groups. While that is probably the ideal situation, our focus is on getting the first draft done. No matter what. If we don't have time during the week to get the writing done and polish it, I think we should be brave enough to bring it forward anyway. Yes, it's great to bring something fully edited and it gets rave reviews, but if we don't bring anything forward we'll never meet our goals. I trust each of you and know that any feedback I get is coming from the heart and intended to help me improve my writing. I recognize that when I bring a first draft it will have a lot of room for improvement and therefore a more critical evaluation, but that's okay. We're not looking for perfection in our fellow critique partners.

Besides, if we were perfect writers we wouldn't need critique partners, as there would be nothing to critique.

SARAH: Yes, it was me that slacked off and didn't bring my pages because I didn't think they were quite ready to be digested. I guess I was stuck in the old mind set that if it wasn't my best, why bring it. You're right, Dori. I should have bit the bullet and brought my pages. I'll have them ready come hell or awful writing by next week. *sigh* Sometimes being a perfectionist isn't always a good thing, you know?


DORI: For me, the best opportunity to carve out time to write is over the weekend. I still have other work commitments that have to be addressed, but I have the ability to find an hour or two to write. I sat down at my computer intent on banging out the first draft of Chapter 5. I knew the purpose of the chapter, but couldn't put a word down on paper. My problem was that I didn't know where to start. Without a start how do you get to the end? Kind of like being in the starter's block, but the starter never fires the gun. There I sat, and sat. Worse part was I knew that I could only free up a few precious hours and the more I sat the more I fretted that I was wasting the only opportunity to get my writing in for the week. The more I fretted, the harder it was to conjure up the right words to begin. So, I never did. The weekend came and went and I didn't write a word. Literally, not one word. Sigh.

Then Friday rolled around. As I pointed out earlier, I got my critique partners' required pages and the guilt that had been nagging me all week long set in with a vengeance. If I broke my commitment in week one, then I was setting up a pattern for every week thereafter. When I finally realized that I couldn't let that happen I banged out those pages lickety split.

Let me tell you what I learned from that experience. You can't linger over finding the perfect place to start a chapter. Not the first draft anyway. The important thing is to write. Write anything. Once I wrote those first few lines the story carried them away. If I'd had the time I have no doubt that I could've banged out the entire chapter that night. I will never waste the few hours I can allocate again. Lesson learned.

SARAH: Well, I thought you nailed it! I loved the beginning. I think it showed a great deal of your MC's control issues.

JUNE: I agree with Sarah. Even if we had taken more time to scrutinize your pages I would have come up with same results. You are on the right track with the flow and the craft. Keep on rocking Dori.

JUNE: I wanted to do a little more research on the series line I plan to submit to. So I went to the Harlequin web site to check out the Silhouette Desire line. They have their writing guidelines for each book line posted there. I also found an interview podcast with the editors. There are also podcast recordings with several of the authors. There was a lot of insider information in those interviews that I will be able to use as I get closer to submitting my work.

DORI: Thanks for sharing the guidelines with us. Listen to the podcasts and savor. I really envy your set of rules to follow. Not every market has that benefit. I think you've chosen the right place to target your first novel and I look forward to helping you work your way there.

SARAH: Congrats on your new inspiration, June! I love that you're fired up and ready to go. It's a very good energy to catch! Here's to 'Writing "The End" in 2010!'