18 November, 2013

Fiction Friday: Teaching an Old Writer New Tricks w/ Scrivener II

Well, it seems my optimism about being finished with revisions was just that: optimism.  Agent has requested more changes before she'll consider offering a contract.  But that's okay, with Scrivener, the problem areas will be simple to find and the changes quick (I hope) to make.

As I noted in my first blog of this subject, I've customized Scrivener to work the way I work.  After all, what's the point of using a tool you have to fight with all the time? Last time I showed you my Binder and Corkboard. They give me a macro-view of where I am.  Further customizing the Corkboard and the project notes give me the micro-view.

I've added additional keywords for the various red herrings sprinkled throughout the mystery.  Adding these to the Corkboard allows me to see how many I have, where, and whether or not I've tied them up. I've also added a hot pink tab to track the growing romance between protag and hunky cop.  Any scene with even a hint of sexual attraction gets a pink marker.

The arrows show where I've planted a red herring and have one scene where the protag at least thinks about her sometime-in-the-future boyfriend.  If those colours don't appear again, I know I have unfinished business.

The first keyword I add to each card is "scene" or "sequel."  Since I have a tendency to skip the sequels, I now have a visual cue: black for scene, white for sequel.  In addition, I use the the project notes to make sure each fills its designated role.

For scenes, the notes spell out the goal, conflict and outcome.

For sequels, the reaction, dilemma, and decision.

The second marker on every card denotes the day of the week.  This comes in helpful when I lose what day things happen--just like in real life.

Some people may prefer to use keywords to track which characters appear in scenes, or where the scene takes place.  That's the great thing: how you use keywords is up to you.

As a writer, I belong to the pantser party, but that doesn't mean I don't need a bit of a roadmap.  I like the 4 Act structure, so I include this very brief plot outline in my binder.  That way, if I get lost in my pantser wanderings, I can use the split screen to see where I thought I was going (even though I'm now no where near there).

Here, my manuscript is on top and my 4x3 plot structure below.

And finally, for fellow graduates of Margie Lawson's EDITS classes, you can colour code right within Scrivener!
Hows that for a one-size fits all writing program?

So that's how I use Scrivener.  Any converts? Any helpful hints? Leave me a comment - I love to discover new tricks!

29 October, 2013

Fiction Friday:Rejection: the Good, the Bad, and the...

As an unpublished writer there's one reality I have to face: rejection.  And no matter how much I (and my published friends) repeat that everyone has been rejected by agents, it doesn't seem to get any easier.

I have to admit I prefer email to hard copy -- there's something so final about holding a physical rejection letter, but they're all painful, one more tiny pinprick in your self esteem and hopes.

The worst part, for me at least, is that the vast majority of agents don't tell you why they're rejecting your manuscript.

Thank you so much for allowing our agency to consider your material. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time.  As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends. As a result, our own agents’ needs shift and change, as well; therefore, we would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate.  

So what didn't you like?  The genre?  The protagonist? The plot?  The writing?  Everything? 

Fortunately there are agents out there who take the time to pass along gems of wisdom.  I had one agent send me a rejection email that went on for 2 pages, listing suggestions for improvement.  And each and everyone of them was valid.  As a result, my manuscript is tighter, stronger, and generally better.  There is also the "warm fuzzy" of knowing that she must have seen something in there if she took the time to read the entire 300 pages.  

Another agent said she loved everything except...wait for it...there are too many culinary cozies out there and mine had nothing "unique." Gulp. Actually, I owe this agent a debt of gratitude, too.  Thinking about what she'd said, I made some tweaks to my protagonist's background that not only make her more interesting, but give her wider latitude for sleuthing in future books.  When (note the positive attitude, please) I find an agent, I'm sending this one a bottle of wine! I've already sent a thank you note!

Obviously agents are flooded with queries, and there is no way they could read, digest, and critique each one. But wouldn't one sentence, one suggestion, be nice? We can only hope. And be thankful for those agents who do reject with both kindness and suggestions.

So what has your experience with rejection been like?  Has an agent given you that extra nudge you needed? Or simply doused your hopes in cold water? 

Remember, rejection is not fatal!

10 October, 2013

Fiction Friday: Teaching an Old Writer New Tricks w/ Scrivener

The last round of revisions are finished and querying has begun, so now's the time to start writing the NEXT mystery. Want to make sure it's ready when I sign that elusive three-book deal. LOL.

Like many Guppies and other writers, I've made the transition to Scrivener.  After taking Gwen Hernandez's class last year, I decided I was ready.  I imported my first draft into Scrivener, broke it up into chapters and scenes, and just went for it.  I loved writing in Scrivener, but I was only using a fraction of the program's features.

Now, with a blank slate to work from, I'm determined to take advantage of Scrivener's power. I'll be posting blogs, at irregular intervals, chronicling my successes and failures.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a Scrivener expert and what works for me may not work for you. . . or anyone else.

By the time I'd completed the final draft of my manuscript I had the basis for a template for the proposed series. That includes folders of potential plots, weapons and poisons, red herrings and twists, as well as complete character sketches, photos of my characters and links to useful sites.
This is what the template binder looks like:
To get started, I created made a copy of my project, deleted all the text, emptied the trash, and then created a template.  From there, I simply started a new project based on the series template.  So far, so good.

In the world of plotters and pantsers, I'm a hybrid.  I like a very loose outline from which I can ad lib.  Scrivener has everything I need for this.  Based on a handout from Gwen's class, I started modifying Scrivener to suit my personal plotting and writing style.

My mysteries have a primary plot, one or two secondary plots, and an on-going romantic plot.
I'm using labels to keep track of the various plots.

This will allow me to see, at a glance in the Binder, whih files relate to which plot, as shown below.

I'm using the labels to show me where within the plot the scene falls.  So far I'm using crisis, red herring, and clue as labels.

This allows me to use keywords for several purposes, including the time line since I inevitably lose track of what day everything happens. I set my options to show the keywords down the side of my index cards. I'm sure I'll be adding additional keywords as I go along.

So here's the beginning of my plot in the Corkboard:

Come back to visit next week to see how I tweak my settings! And leave me any helpful hints you've picked up along the way.

18 September, 2013

Tastey Tuesday: Confessions of a Foodie

I have a confession to make: I've never eaten macaroni and cheese from a box.  Does that sound heretical? Un-American?

I can't explain how it happened, it just did.  Ramen noodles, hamburger helper, Shake & Bake, those I've all tasted.  Confession #2: I love Ramen noodles.

But back to macaroni & cheese. I don't know if it was frugality or taste, but my mother always made her mac & cheese from scratch.  And she made it with tomato juice! She got the recipe from her mother, who got from . . .I have no idea. Imagine my surprise when I found out that no one else had ever seen or tasted anything like it.

All I can tell you is that I love our version, it's lower in calories than the standard recipes, and my brothers and I still eat it cold for breakfast.

What about your family?  Any hand-me-down recipes that differ from the norm?

Nanny's Macaroni & Cheese

  •     8 oz elbow macaroni or small shell pasta
  •     8 oz extra sharp cheddar
  •     11.5 oz can V-8 juice

  1.     Cook pasta al dente, about 10 minutes.
  2.     Shred cheese. Reserve 1/2 cup.
  3.     Mix warm pasta and cheese (except 1/2 cup) in a 2-quart oven-proof, deep casserole.
  4.     Top with reserved cheese.
  5.     Pour V-8 juice over casserole until it comes just to top of pasta.
  6.     Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.
  7.     Enjoy!


29 July, 2013

R.I.P. Clue (1/15/1999 – 7/29/2013)

Life is full of joy and equally full of pain, particularly for pet lovers. Today is one of the painful days, the day my beloved Clue passed over the Rainbow Bridge, way too soon.

Sixteen years ago I lost my Golden, Max, and six months later his sister Chauncey; they were 16 by then.  I swore I'd never get another dog.  Never.  Losing them was too painful.  That resolve lasted through weeks and months filled with deep loss and sorrow, jabbed by constant pricks of memory when I found a lost chew toy or finally got around to sanding down the door they had used as a teething ring.
Eventually the pain subsided, the memories were more of happy times than the bad last days.  Like most animal lovers, I felt a void which could only be filled by another dog.  In my case, another Golden.
I didn't want a "replacement" for Max and Chauncey, I wanted a new dog to love.  For me, that meant adopting from a shelter. 
After six months of searching, I found a picture on Petfinder.com.   A shelter near Hartford had a tenth-month old Golden which been abandoned, dumped on a back road to fend for herself.  And she was a dead-ringer for Chauncey. I drove to Hartford the next day.
Our introduction was not the most auspicious.  Young, frisky and totally untrained, she immediately jumped up on my then 80-year old mother and knocked her to the cement floor.  Oops.  But I'd dealt with Goldens for years and as soon as I took her for a walk around the shelter grounds, she was mine for life.
She got her name on the way home.  Running around in the back of my SUV, trying to crawl into my mothers lap, laying on the gear shift, attempting to lick the rear view mirror.  And Clue it was, from then on, as in "hasn't got a ..."

She was well named. We laboured through three beginner obedience classes before she got the hang of "sit," "stay," "heel."  "Come" never made it into her vocabulary. And contrary to Golden lore, she could not be trained with treats; she wanted praise, petting, and hugs. Her instructors never understood this--some even disapproved-- but all fell in love with her cheerful disposition.
It didn't, however, take her any time at all to train me.  She had a built in alarm clock and fifteen minutes before meal time, she'd appear at my side and give me "the look." Need to go outside? She never learned to bark or scratch the door, she simply walked up to the door, cocked her head and gave me "the look."  Fortunately, I'm a fast learner.

Clue believed her purpose on earth was to love and be loved. She would stand patiently while little kids on the street stroked "the big doggie's" ears or while senior citizens rolled up to her in their wheelchairs at the local nursing home. She gave everyone, whether they knew they needed it or not, the opportunity to give and get love through petting her.

She was the world's worst guard dog. She'd rush to the door or the garden gate meeting everyone with a her long, plumy tail wagging to a beat only she heard.  She'd had shown a robber here the silver was, if she'd known. And if, by some human mental lapse, you forgot the obligatory biscuit immediately after meals and before bed. . . well, let's just say she had that look down pat, too.  And used it as I walked the walk of shame to the biscuit jar.

Clue loved car rides, walks and any other adventure.  Her favourite word was "wanna?" She was always up for adventure, even after her hearing turned off all sounds, her sight began to get fuzzy, and her back legs started to give way. She still responded to the sight of her leash - sign language for "wanna go?"

She wasn't perfect. She snored like a sailor and belched like my brothers did when they were teenagers.  She wasn't the smartest dog on the block, but she was the most loving.  And I'm going to miss her head in my lap, the wave of her tail under my nose, and the sweet smell of her fur when I go to bed tonight without hugging her. I also know she'll live on.  In my heart. In my memories. And in my writing.

 Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.... 

10 June, 2013

Fiction Friday: Reading outside your Comfort Zone

If you're like me, you tend to read books in the same genre as you write: I write cozy mysteries and that's my preferred reading material. And that's fine, but you're missing a lot of opportunities to learn from masters of the mystery genre art. Personally, I'm not into Stephen King, but I acknowledge his literary prowess.
In an effort to shake up my reading life, I joined a local mystery book club, aptly named The Usual Suspects. And, as a result, in the past two years I've read some wonderful mysteries and some which, IMHO, should never have been published, although others in the group enjoyed them.
The larger benefit has been exposure to the styles of a wide variety of amazing authors. With each book I've learned something about setting or characterization, about dialogue or red herrings, about hooks or point of view. Every mystery writer faces the same basic problems; it's all in how they approach them within the constraints of their genre.
As one of the great unpublished, I struggle with openings and closings(denouements to use the technical term). I’m always surprised when a well-know author opens with one of the "no-no's": prologue, dream, weather, backstory dump). I've also been impressed by the creative ways others have found to draw in their readers.
Here's our reading list for 2013:
  • 61 Hours / Lee Child
  • Flying Blind / Max Allan Collins
  • Murder on Astor Place / Victoria Thompson &/or Murphy’s Law / Rhys Bowen
  • Belshazzar’s Daughter / Barbara Nadel
  • Busman’s Honeymoon / Dorothy L. Sayers
  • The Attenbury Emeralds / Jill Paton Walsh
  • The Coroner’s Lunch / Colin Cotterill
  • Case Histories / Kate Atkinson
  • Tug of War / Barbara Cleverly
  • Mr. Churchill’s Secretary / Susan Elia Macneal
  • Black & White & Dead All Over / John Darnton
  • A Place of Execution / Val McDermid
  • Morse’s Greatest Mystery and Other Stories / Colin Dexter
And if you really want to go way out there, try something like Mary Buckham's Invisible Magic Book One: Alex Noziak (Invisible Recruits), an urban fantasy mystery-- a far cry from my world of culinary cozies!

25 April, 2013

Wooden Spoon - Instrument of Mass Inspiration

 There is something comforting about holding a wooden spoon, be it a new, pristine spoon or an old stained spoon, each has its own special magic.

Remember being a kid on the first day of school, that feeling you got when you had a new, never used pencil and an unopened box of crayons?  The possibilities were limitless.  That's how I feel about wooden spoons.

New spoons are imbued with possibility, the possibility of creation. What culinary delight will result from this virgin piece of wood?  A master sauce?  A delectable dessert? A comforting soup?

Old spoons, on the other hand, bring power, the power of those who have used them before. I have spoons used by my grandmother and great-grandmother.  They are stained beyond salvation; some have cracks or dents, and all hold the secrets of long-ago dinners around the family table. Holding a "family" spoons, I can feel the love, patience and work that went into cooking the Sunday dinner. These particular spoons are legendary, impregnated with the tastes and smells of Irish and German cookery:  Irish stew and Colcannon, Spaetzen and Sauerbraten, Coddle and Soda Bread, Rouladen  and Bratkartoffeln.  Holding those battered spoons, I can smell and taste the foods they so lovingly stirred.

Yes, they have imperfections, beautiful imperfections when you consider the source and truth of those imperfections. Recipes that failed, no matter how hard or long Nanny beat, sweated, and stirred.

Handed down by generations, these spoons—short handled, long handled, perforated, small bowled, large bowled—form the backbone of my kitchen, standing in a jar, side by side with the ones I've added myself.  Newer, smoother spoons, these carry the promise of future degustation, of imagination and promise.

 The pen, so they say, is mightier than the sword.  So too is the spoon, for it creates the meals that bring love and comfort to your family and friends, in good times and bad.  It is the source of inspiration, and the instrument of tenacity and dedication.

If a pen inspires you to write, try wielding a wooden spoon.  Who knows what you may  create. Me, I'm off to create a new stuffed crepe filling, hoping the magic of past generations of cooks will end up in my mixing bowl.

What are you  inspired to create today? Food for the soul or prose for the spirit?

08 March, 2013

Tastey Tuesday: Food to Write by

Ten more inches of snow fell last night which translates to comfort food and a great writing day. I love this pot roast because a) I can switch around the vegetables (try adding parsnips) and herbs (play around with fresh sage or bay leaves) for a mystery taste combination and b) after it's in the oven, I have 3 solid hours in which I can write without interruption!

  • One 3 to 5-pound chuck roast  
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, half cut into thin wedges, half chunked
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or pushed through a garlic press
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 6 to 8 whole carrots, unpeeled, cut into 2-inch pieces 
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2-3 cups beef broth
  • 2 or 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Using kitchen twine, tie together 2 bundles of herbs using half the herbs for each. (The string will make it easier to remove later)

Toss the chunked onion, 2 chopped carrots and the celery into a food processor and process until finely chopped.  Set aside.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the halved onions to the pot, browning them on both sides. Remove the onions to a plate.

Throw the carrots into the same very hot pot and toss them around a bit until slightly browned, about a minute or so. Reserve the carrots with the onions.

Generously salt and pepper the chuck roast. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to the very hot pot. Place the meat in the pot and sear it for about a minute on all sides until it is nice and brown all over. Remove the roast to plate with carrots and onions

Add finely chopped vegetables to pot and cook, stirring often until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir.  Push vegetables to one side of pot. Drizzle a couple of drops of olive oil on open area of pot and add tomato paste.  Stir until slightly browned, one to two minutes.  Stir paste into vegetables.  Sprinkle with flour and cook 1 minute.

With the burner still on high, use red wine to deglaze the pot, scraping the bottom with a whisk or wooden spatula. Place the roast back into the pot and add enough beef stock to just cover the meat.

Add in the onions and the carrots, along with the fresh herbs, tucking them in around the meat.

Bring the pot to a simmer, put the lid on, then roast in the preheated oven for 3 hours for a 4-pound roast, 3 ½ to 4 hours for a larger roast. The roast is ready when it's fall-apart tender.

Serve with wide noodles or mashed potatoes.  Then go back and edit what your wrote while the roast cooked.
Serves 6

08 February, 2013

Time to Appease the Kitchen God

According to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of 2013 is the Year of the Snake, which begins on Sunday,February 10. The Chinese New Year--or Lunar New Year as it is more properly known--is actually celebrated over a 15 day long period (a complete cycle of the Chinese calendar takes 60 year). 

Ancient Chinese wisdom says a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means that your family will not starve. Food plays an important part in Chinese culture and religion.

Of all the Chinese domestic deities, the most important to average Chinese is the Kitchen God: Tsao Chun. Tsao Chun (shown below with his wife) not only watches over the domestic affairs of a household, but he is a moral force in the lives of all family members. Every year, during the Chinese new year, Tsao Chun ascends to heaven to present a report to the Jade Emperor as to the good or bad behavior of each family member. 

To ensure that the report will be favourable, householders clean the god's shrine in the kitchen thoroughly and bribe him by smearing honey in his mouth so that sweet and flattering words will be said about them, dipping the god's portrait in wine to get him drunk or feeding him a sticky confection to prevent him talking or both. A good report would bring good fortune and luck. Each household burns a paper image of the Kitchen God, so that he may ascend to the Jade Emperor in the heavens. 

The Chinese include a paper horse to lift him on his journey (the Vietnamese prefer a carp fish). In the afternoon of the fourth day after Zao Shen’s ascend to Heaven, people prepare offerings of food to welcome the return of the Kitchen God and his retinue from the trip to the Jade Emperor's court. The Kitchen God's return signifies the end of freedom from spiritual surveillance.

According to superstition you must clean your house thoroughly to sweep away misfortune and make way for good luck and fortune in the coming year. The old year and its spirits are banished by sweeping the floors before New Year's Day. (Don't sweep on New Year's Day itself - you'll sweep away the New Year fortune if you do.) At New Year, special emphasis is placed on the symbology of different foods. Here are what a few foods symbolize: 

  • Bamboo shoots = wealth 
  • Black moss seaweed = wealth 
  • Dried Bean Curd = happiness (note: fresh tofu is not served because the color white symbolizes death and misfortune in Chinese culture). 
  • Chicken = happiness and marriage (especially when served with "dragon foods," such as lobster), family reunion (if served whole)
  • Eggs = fertility Egg Rolls = wealth 
  • Fish served whole = prosperity 
  • Chinese garlic chives = everlasting, a long life 
  • Lychee nuts = close family ties 
  • Noodles = A long life Oranges = wealth 
  • Peanuts = a long life 
  • Pomelo = abundance, prosperity, having children 
  • Seeds = lotus seeds, watermelon seeds, etc. - having a large number of children 
  • Tangerines = luck 
Gung Hay Fat Choy! (That’s “Happy New Year”, or literally, “May you have good fortune".)And try out my recipe for Crab Wontons to ring in the New (Lunar) Year. http://tigerwiseman.com/?p=763