Musings

4 x 4 Blog Hop

Hi all,

I was invited by talented YA fantasy writer Dina von Lowenkraft, author of Dragon Fire, to participate in the 4 x 4 Blog Hop. Thanks for nominating me, Dina!

I hereby answer the questions for the hop:

1) What are you working on?

I’m working on a YA psychological/supernatural thriller set in a convent in the Puerto Rican rain forest in the 1970s.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

As human beings  from different cultural backgrounds, environments and upbringing, we all have our own individuality and the potential to bring originality into our work. When we follow our true vision, regardless of what other writers are doing or what is ‘trendy’ at the moment, when we write with passion and honesty, when we go to where the pain is and where the pleasure is, we can create works that are fresh and unique.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Because I cannot not do it. My creative spirit must have an outlet, a channel. In my case, it is writing stories. For others, it is creating a painting or sculpture or music composition. If I weren’t able to write and create my fictional worlds, I would probably be mentally unstable. Where would that rush of creativity go? Suppressed, in what devious ways would it unleash?

4) How does your writing process work?

It may start with an image, a character, a name, a title. There are no rules, and it’s never the same with every book. Sometimes a single image simmers in my mind for years before it becomes the spark for a story.

Then I mentally play with ideas and the thing that was just an image begins to expand into a web. Simple at first. Then more intricate as I spend more and more time thinking about it. And I think about it. A lot. While driving, walking, taking a shower, doing housework, etc–routine, monotone activities, which are great for creativity. Once I can’t stop thinking about it, once I become obsessed, that’s when I know I’m ready to start jotting down words and sketching a rough plot.

Nowadays, I like to begin ‘discovering’ the story using Alan Watt’s “Unlock the Story Within” techniques. Once I have a more solid idea of the characters and where I want to go with them, my plotting gets tighter and more detailed, but never at the expense of staying flexible and open to change. In fact, what I love most about the writing process are those surprises that I never saw coming.

For plotting, I love Alexandra Sokoloff’s method and Carol Hughes’ Deep Story method.

Then, after some anxious procrastination, I try to put my ego aside and sit down and face the blank page. That is never easy. In fact, it is terrifying. Every time. But the need and passion to create is greater, I guess, because finally I just do it.

The plot keeps evolving as I write. I adjust and change things as needed.

I may write like the wind at times, but those moments are rare. Usually, I edit as I write, which slows down my writing process considerably–not to mention that it prevents me from getting in “the zone.”

Rituals and habits work for me. I write best in the mornings. Unless life gets in the way, I’m at my desk Monday-Friday from 9:30 am to noon. I put my timer and go. There’s something about the timer that works for me, as if somehow I’m tricking my brain. Sometimes I listen to an eerie movie soundtrack (for my current YA WIP, I often listen to Interview with a Vampire, among others); other times I need complete silence.

Slow but steady. This pretty much describes my progress. I would love to be one of those writers who can cough up a whole novel in four months, but I’m not–not yet, anyway.

Once I finish the first draft, I spend an agonizing amount of time editing and polishing. My SCBWI critique partners are awesome at pointing out things that I can’t see. Also, I always hire a professional editor before I send my manuscript to my agent. I think a professional editor is a writer’s best investment. I love Deborah Halverson of DearEditor.com. She’s fabulous.

It takes me about two years to fully complete a book that is ready for submission. I’m trying to write faster and cut it down to a year. But it isn’t easy.

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And now…I nominate the following author to continue with the 4 x 4 Blog Hop…

Irene Roth!

Irene Roth is a freelance writer for teens and tweens. She has published over 180 ezine articles about adolescent self-confidence and self-esteem. When Irene’s not writing for adolescents, she loves writing about the psychology of writing. Irene is also a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature.

 

Writers Are Like Aliens

IMG_20131129_103335I had such a beautifully productive morning. I’m pretty much a hermit. I don’t write or edit in cafes often, but today I had an incredible urge to go to the British Tea Rooms that recently opened in Stone Manor, an English shop that I love and that has been around for ages.

So I packed my laptop in my bag and was on my way. The reason I love Stone Manor is because they have English products that cannot be found in local stores, but also because of its cozy ambience and the fact that it is pretty much in the countryside, surrounded by farms and beautiful fields. To go there, I have to drive through this endless, narrow cobblestone road flanked by trees. It’s a peaceful drive.

The owners of Stone Manor go out of their way to decorate the place for every holiday, be that St. Patrick’s, Halloween, or Christmas.

With Christmas approaching, the Tea Rooms were quite festive today. Best of all, it was toasty warm. I found a corner table and immediately took out my laptop and got ready to work. It was about 10:30 am. The place had just opened, so I was pretty much alone in there. I was planning on ordering Earl Grey–that’s what people drink in British Tea Rooms, right? But I saw on the menu “Pumpkin Spice Latte” and had to order it.

There’s something warm and fuzzy about drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte while working on a YA mystery/fantasy in a Tea Room around the holidays, when you’re snuggled inside and the wind is howling outside. But then, I’m a romantic for stuff like that.

For the next hour or so, I worked on the edits of The Luthier’s Apprentice, soon forthcoming from Twilight Times Books. (By the way, I was planning on completing an interview for Dora Machado for her blog, Murder by 4, but when I got there, I couldn’t find the questions in my files!)

There’s no Internet in the Tea Rooms–thank God! So I had no distractions, no emails, no Facebook or any other stuff like that. In spite of the people that kept coming in and out, I was completely submerged in my novel, perfectly focused. I loved when that happens. It makes me feel “in the flow”–even if I’m editing and not writing. Hyper-focus like this anchors me intensely in the present moment, with no worries from the past or the present, nothing but me and my story, me and the words.

IMG_20131129_103715At midday, my brain signaled me that it needed fuel. I took a break and ordered a soup. To my surprise, the same hyper-focus continued while I ate. I was in the “now.” I savored each comforting spoonful of hot soup, relished each bite of warm bread, loving the way the different flavors teased my tongue. As I looked out the window and saw the trees rustling in the wind, the yellow leaves falling, I was filled with gratitude and something close to mild euphoria.

Then I worked intensely for another hour. Afterwards, I ordered a carrot cake–completely unnecessary! But I guess my Muse was demanding it, even if she was in editing mode. But, hey, I’m not one to argue with Muses. If she wants carrot cake, she’ll have carrot cake (good excuse, huh?)

As I got ready to leave and pay the bill, the waiter, a boy of around seventeen or eighteen, asked me if I was writing. I said yes, that I was working a book, and he ended up confessing that he had been writing a thriller for the past 2-3 years! I was so pleasantly surprised. A like soul! He said he was about half way. Of course, I encouraged him to keep writing and finish that book!

While driving back home, I couldn’t help thinking that writers are like aliens. It’s as if writers are a different species and are secretly living on earth among humans and, suddenly, when they encounter another alien, something clicks, something that makes them widen their eyes and smile and go “Ahh? really!” It’s that powerful feeling of connection, the silent and subconscious acknowledgement of like minds.

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Preparing for Nanowrimo

My supernatural thriller, DARK LULLABY, now on tour!This month has been productive and exciting so far, forcing me to step just outside of my comfort zone (the best place to be!).

I’m promoting my supernatural thriller, Dark Lullaby, with three virtual book tour companies; I’m almost finished putting together an anthology of Latina author interviews (Latina Authors and Their Muses, Twilight Times Books, Spring 2014); I’m working with various authors/clients, helping publicize their work; and I’m preparing myself mentally and emotionally for Nanowrimo, when I plan to complete my YA psychological thriller, Chills.

I’m not going to sign officially for Nanowrimo, but I’ll be benefitting from the “group energy” as I work on my own. I started working on Chills about 3-4 years ago, then put it aside to work on something else. I already have about 40K words written. So what I need to do is write another 30-40K words more.  My plan is to write 2K words a day until it’s done. This is an exciting, high goal for me, one that will push me out of my comfort zone for sure.

When I work on a novel, my usual output is 500-600 words a day. This is why I said earlier that I’m preparing myself mentally and emotionally. Also, to prevent getting stuck during the actual writing process, I’ll be brainstorming and outlining my plot during the last week of October.

One book I just finished reading that has been incredibly helpful is Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly, by Jim Denney. I liked it so much that I bought copies to my three SCBWI local critique partners. The book is all about “the zone,” book-1-writing-in-overdrive-finalwhat it is, how to tap into it, how to sustain it. Denney’s advice is perceptive, insightful and best of all, doable. If you’re considering Nanowrimo and need to increase your regular daily word count and at the same time stay calm and confident, I urge you to grab a copy.

Once I complete the manuscript, I plan to put it aside for two weeks, then do one or two rounds of edits before I send it to professional freelance editor Deborah Halverson of www.DearEditor.com. Then, once I’ve revised based on her edits, Chills will be on its way to my agent.

It’s a long process, and I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m deeply passionate about this story and its characters. Although I have a basic idea of how the ending will turn out, I know from experience that there are always surprises along the way—and for me this is one of the most exciting aspects of writing fiction.

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing – first chapter excerpt

Are you passionate about books? Do you have a talent for easily capturing the essence of a book after having read it? Do you often feel the desire to share your thoughts about a book with readers? If you answered “Yes” to these questions, then book reviewing can be one of the most satisfying, rewarding activities you’ll ever undertake. In fact, book reviewing can become addictive.

I started reviewing in 1998. Back then, I wished someone had written a book with all there is to know about book reviewing. Sure, I found many articles on the web about the craft, which I read eagerly. But, I really wished I could have found everything in one volume. A sort of “user’s manual”–a book that I would be able to come back to again and again and use as a reference, one that would reveal the secrets of the trade, the Dos and Don’ts, full of guidelines, tips and practical advice.

Though it may seem strange, there are hundreds of books on writing in general, and many on writing book reports, proposals, query letters and synopses, but practically none on writing reviews.

Like all fledgling reviewers, I made my share of amateurish mistakes, becoming all the more experienced and polished because of them. I, too, was guilty of the fledgling reviewer’s disease–that of writing overly-positive reviews. Overwhelmed with enthusiasm, a good heart, and the desire to please everyone associated with the book, I often made the big mistake of forgetting the foremost person a reviewer must keep in mind–the reader. As I read and wrote more and more reviews, it soon became easy to tell a good review from a bad one, and to realize that a large number of reviewers, especially beginners, would profit from a bit of guidance, the things I learned from my mistakes.

The fact is, most people do read reviews to select their reading material. Reviews do have a positive or a negative influence on whether or not a person buys a book. Hence, reviewing is a serious responsibility, one reviewers shouldn’t take lightly.

The aim of this book, therefore, is to offer some guidelines in a clear manner supported with targeted examples of how to write and publish thoughtful, well-written reviews no matter their length, type or genre, and to examine the essence of reviews within a broader spectrum.

This book was written not only with the aspiring reviewer in mind, but for the established reviewer who needs a bit of refreshing and also for anybody–be they author, publisher, reader, bookseller, librarian or publicist–who wants to become more informed about the value, purpose and effectiveness of reviews.

On a final note, the writing of this book has been a highly interesting, educational and thrilling ride into the slippery world of reviews for Anne K. Edwards and me. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey and profit from it as much as we have.

Purchase The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing:

Buy the ebook from Twilight Times Books—only $5.50.

http://www.ereader.com/ebooks/b69828/The-Slippery-Art-of-Book-Reviewing/Mayra-Calvani/?si=59

In print on Amazon for $12.00

http://www.amazon.com/Slippery-Art-Book-Reviewing/dp/1933353228

A Typical Writing Day – A Parody

A typical writing day in my life…

7:00am: Get up, make breakfast, take kids to school.

8:00: Walk my dog, Amigo, while listening to podcasts on my iPod (I’m addicted to Book Bites for Kids and Publishing Insiders!)

8:30: Major dilemma! Should I make the beds, tidy up the kitchen, pass the vacuum… or WRITE??? Procrastination wins! Yeah, housework, my favourite! (Yeah, right.)

9:00: Sit at the computer. Stare at the screen. Stare at the screen. Stare at the screen. Scowl at the sign on my desk that says: “A writer is someone who writes everyday.”

9:15: Go to kitchen. Make a cup of tea. Writers and tea go together, right? Or is it writers and coffee? Oh well… Fight urge to grab a mini Snickers bar… Will loses. Go to computer with tea and Snickers bar. A writer needs her nourishment, right?

9:30: Drink tea, eat Snickers bar, check email. Stare at the screen. Stare at the screen. Stare at the screen. Scowl at the sign on my wall that says, “Leap, and the net will appear.” Starting to feel guilty. OK, that’s putting it mildly. Starting to HATE myself.

10:00: Just remembered: laundry, get dressed, buy toothpaste, brush Amigo…  STOP! Take a deep breath. Tell my inner critic, Helga (I named her like that), to SHUT UP. Do a short meditation with affirmations. Yes, that’s it. Calm, calm. Write. Write. Write… Aaaah. Soothing. Time stops. The earth stops rotating. It’s the zone. No other place like it.

12:00: Happiness. Bliss. Get dressed and brush your teeth (finally!).

12:15-14:00: Lunch and errands, all the while listening to podcasts (otherwise they’re quite unbearable!).

14:00: Email, blog, Twitter, Facebook.

15:00: Call my mommy long distance (So I’m still a mama’s girl. Sue me.) Talk to her while critiquing somebody else’s manuscript. Talk to her while preparing interview questions for a guest author.  Talk to her while editing my own story.  She asks, “Are you listening to me? I hear the keyboard!”

16:00: Email, website, Twitter, Facebook. Email, blog, Twitter, Facebook. Head is spinning. Neck hurts. Shoulders stiff. Ouch!

16:30: Make dinner while listening to podcasts, get kids from school.

17:00: Back at the desk. Look at tower of books to be read. Ignore. Stared at mountain of books to be reviewed. Wince. Look at TO-DO list. Scream. Friend calls, “Want to do lunch tomorrow?” I say, “Nah. I’m a serious writer. I write. That’s what I do.” She says, “You’re antisocial. A hermit.” Email, website, Twitter, Facebook. Email, blog, Twitter, Facebook.

18:00: Dinner. After-dinner walk with hubby and Amigo (while planning scenes and hearing voices in my head). Hubby says, “Are you listening to me?”

19:00: Watch an episode of Columbo. I’m mesmerized. Sshh! No talking. Not even breathing, please!

20:30: Browse on eBay for Marc Jacobs bags, Chanel bags, Lauren Conrad’s clothes, Bare Minerals makeup I’ll never buy. Browse Amazon. Add a zillion new titles to my wish list.

21:30: Put kids to sleep, tidy up kitchen, take shower.

22:30: Cuddle up in bed with book and iPad. Email, Huffington Post, iTunes store.

23:00: Call my mommy. Exhausted. Fall asleep with scenes in my head… Mom says, “Mayra! Are you awake?”