The Annual Wicked Retreat

It’s that time of year again – the Wickeds are going on retreat, starting today. This year, we’re changing things up a bit and heading to Boothbay Harbor, Maine, to stay at Barb’s famous former B&B. We’re planning a lot of fun, food, and drinks – and of course, work. So, Wickeds, what do you hope to accomplish this year?

Edith: I might still be polishing Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery number one, due June first. But I might start plotting (did I, a Pantser, just use the PL-word?) and writing Quaker Midwife Mystery number four, since that’s next on the schedule. Conversation with the Wickeds is high on the agenda, as always, and I hope to get a Canva tutorial from Julie and Sherry, so I can get over my graphics ineptitude. Can’t wait!

Sherry: I hope to get some plotting done too — yikes, Edith maybe the others are converting us! I will be working on book six which has a possible title of For Whom The Belle Tolls. I love our late night late night chats when we are settled down with a glass of wine. See you all soon.

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Animal socks Liz brought each of us to the retreat one year! Guess whose foot is whose…

Liz: Hoping to get a bunch of words written in the second Cat Cafe Mystery, as well as a plotting session for book seven in the Pawsitively Organic Series. And some quality time with my besties…

Jessie: When I am writing I’ll be working on the second book in my new Beryl and Edwina series. Liz and I also plan to demonstrate interactive plotting/ brainstorming/ book noodling for those Wickeds who are not quite convinced about the upside of plotting ahead. I hope to convince at least one of them that premeditated crimes can be as much fun as those that are crimes of passion!

Barb: I’ll be finishing up a short story and getting it to my writers’ group. I also hope to make good progress on two synopses.

Julie: I have copy edits due next week for Theater Cop series book one, A CHRISTMAS PERIL. Pages are printed out, and I will be doing another read through and some final tweaking. I also just finished a draft of Theater Cop series book two, tentatively titled WITH A KIISS I DIE. I want to do a read through so I can get it to my first reader, Jason Allen-Forrest. I also want to talk to Edith and Liz about this juggling two series business. Plus, wine.

Readers: What do you like to accomplish when you go away from your everyday routine? Do you have a list, or prefer just chilling? And if we’re a little slow on responses to comments today, it’s because many of us are traveling north!

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Endless Possibilities

by Julie, confused by 50 degree weather in Somerville

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The Cover for CHIME AND PUNISHMENT–isn’t it great?

At the beginning of the year I had two packs of 3×5 index cards, wrapped in plastic. Both have been opened, and are spread out on my dining room table. Each pack of cards will be a book by the end of the year. January is my plotting month for both projects.

As we’ve mentioned before, and Hallie discussed on Tuesday, there are different ways to start a book. Some of us are pantsers–write by the seat of your pants. I am a plotter. I plan the entire book, figure out the dramatic structure, add subplots, figure out twists and turns, and then I start writing. (For a great method of plotting, read Paula Munier’s PLOT PERFECT.)

My index cards become my roadmap. After I rough out a plot, I make notes about who is in each scene, where it takes place. I shuffle the cards–should the body be found that early? Should I make him a suspect? How does she get from here to there so quickly–let’s add another scene. How can I add to the drama? Should I have a subplot about the blue shoe? All of these ideas swirl around, and are possibilities. I think, shuffle, add, combine, separate, shuffle again until it all makes sense.

I love the blank card phase of my book. The possibilities are endless, and the plotting is intense. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be changes–but it does mean that I’ve thought it through enough that I’ve worked out the places where I might get stuck later on. This is the way I think, and create. For some it is torture–for me it is bliss. Anything is possible at this phase of the project. I just have to make it all work.

This year will be a busy one for me. January is for plotting, and filling up index cards with ideas. I couldn’t be happier.

Writer friends, how do you plot? Do you love that phase, or dread it? Does the muse visit as you write, or does she front load you with ideas?

Wicked Wednesday: Memories of the Wicked Retreat

Last weekend, the Wickeds held our 5th annual retreat.IMG_1143

Tell us, Wickeds, what is your best memory of the weekend?

Liz: Jeez, how can we pick just one? This retreat is the highlight of my year. The company,
the location, the friendship – it’s all amazing. This year, I had the luxury of taking two long walks on the beach, which is one of my favorite things to do EVER (next to sitting on the beach, of course). That was awesome. But sitting on Jessie’s porch with everyone, talking, laughing, eating – being together – was perfect.

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Edith: Echoing what Liz said. The collected  inspiration and ideas of this group are pretty amazing. I also loved my three long beach walks, during which new plot ideas arose. And since I always rise early, even if I stay up until 1:30 AM talking (which happened both nights – and the rest of them kept going after I went to bed!), I had two quiet mornings writing new words at the kitchen table, so it was a personally productive weekend, too.

White rose with pink tipsJulie: Jessie’s garden is stunning, and has a wonderful table that is conducive to work, eating, and laughter. Sitting at that table, in that setting, with these people. A tonic. I also loved the two beach walks I did, and the brainstorming. The Wickeds are six very different women, with very different personalities. We don’t always sing from the same song book, but we always support each other in our music making.

Edith: I love that, Julie – our different song books AND our mutual support for music making.

Sherry: Being back in New England is always a treat and a reminder of why I set my books there. I love it so much — from theIMG_9409 lobster rolls to the accents to the quirky shops. I loved our meals out on Jessie’s lovely patio and our conversations until the wee hours of the morning. Talking about the plot for book five was so helpful. Jessie is such a gracious hostess and makes all her hard work to accommodate us look so effortless. (I took the photo below as I flew over Portland!)

IMG_9460Barb: You know how all TV shows are essentially about groups of friends (or families or colleagues) and you always think that’s what I want. I was sort of startled to realize during the retreat, I have that. We live in four different states, and as Julie says, we don’t always agree. We all practice the same art, but we have different strengths and weaknesses and we approach our work in differing ways. But my Wicked sisters are all generous and kind and smart and funny, so it just works. We “talk” all the time, but getting together physically, especially with great weather, great food, in a great location, is the icing on the cake.

Jessie: I look forward to the retreat all year. One of the things that always strikes me is how lucky a thing it is to make new friends when one is an adult. It is truly a blessing and one I am grateful for more with each passing year. Writing the blog together has made those friendships possible. Spending time together makes them strong. I hope all our readers are involved in groups and communities that provide the same sort of easy understanding and fun.

Readers: You can tell we’re still all aglow from our experiences last weekend. Do you have a group of friends who are creative and fun? Tell us about them.

Wicked Wednesday- Writing The Dreaded Synopsis

Jessie- Cheering herself with the notion that the shortest day of the year is already behind us in the Northern Hemisphere!

This month we’ve decided to all chime in on the process of writing proposals for book series. Mystery series are often sold this way, in fact all of us have sold series in this manner, some of us more than once. The format for doing this is fairly standardized in the publishing industry and each Wednesday this month we will dive into one aspect of the process. This week is the Dreaded Synopsis. For those readers who may be unfamiliar with the term, the synopsis is the part of the proposal where the writer distills the idea for an 80,000-word novel down to less than a page. So, Wickeds, how do you approach a task like that?

Edith: It ain’t easy, and I’m still learning how to write one. As a writer who mostly follows the “write into the headlights” approach – that is, I write by the seat of my pants – I have a hard time describing the main conflict, the main characters, and the resolution in advance of actually writing the book. A couple of guidelines I learned early on were: name as few characters as you can get away with. Use “the brother” or “the chef” so you don’t confuse the one-page story line with a bunch of names. Also, my editor at Kensington wants to know the beginning, middle, and end and doesn’t let me get away with turning in anything less than that for the synopsis. Luckily, if those bits change as I write the book, it’s usually fine with him, as long as I update the synopsis by the time I turn in the manuscript, or even sooner.

Liz: At first I thought writing a synopsis was a terrible punishment for something – I wasn’t quite sure what. When I wrote the first one for my editor (same as Edith’s) I did it because I had to. But as I was writing, I found it very helpful to have that roadmap, even if the pieces did change as I went along. Now, I find it helps more than it hurts, even when it feels like pulling teeth when I’m in the middle of it. As a self-proclaimed pantser, I’m teetering on the edge of liking things plotted out. It definitely helps when you’re juggling a lot of deadlines and other aspects of life.

Julie: I am a plotter, and writing with a bible, so the synopsis is a little less painful for me. For the sake of the synopsis, it is a question of boiling it down to its essence. Make it intriguing. Mention the characters. Hint at the subplots. For this purpose, you need to tell all. Don’t be coy–you are trying to convince someone that you can tell the whole story.

Sherry: Ask a published author if you can borrow their synopsis. I was very lucky to be able to read through Liz, Edith, and Barb’s synopsis before I wrote mine. The synopsis for my first book was four pages and poured out of me. The second book was much more difficult and Barb gave me some excellent advice in my blog about plotting. I return to this advice time and time again.

Jessie: I pretend I am once again in elementary or middle school and have been assigned to write a one page book report. The only catch is that the book hasn’t been written yet and I’m the author. It is sort of an out-of-body experience but I generally like that kind of thing. I also like to think of a tagline for the book or even the entire series before I work on the synopsis. Having to distill a story down to a single run-on sentence makes a whole page feel limitlessly voluptuous.

Barb: Sherry’s already given away my advice, and it’s the only advice I have. As a recap, it’s the first three steps that are important.

  • Pretend you are in a bar with an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile.
  • Start like this, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to my friend Julia (or Sarah, or Stan, or whatever your protagonist’s name is)…”
  • Then start the story.

The key to the bar story is, you keep the details to a minimum to avoid confusing the listener, you tell the story in a compelling way designed to entertain, you tell it in your voice, and you try your best to do justice to the story so your listener understands how absolutely amazing, sad, and life-changing these events were for the person they happened to.

Readers–any synopsis writing advice? Any questions for us?

Possibilities

Jessie: In NH watching for the first frost of the season

For the last few weeks I’ve been poking around and working on a new book in a new series. I’ve been brewing up plot and summoning up characters. I’ve been thinking about places and dreaming up spaces and enjoying all the possibilities the story could mean and be.

I’m enthralled. I’m also exhausted. Every possible choice twinkles and sparkles with its very own sort of allure. But not all choices stand up to scrutiny and many don’t play well with others. Every decision I make requires other decisions but it also eliminates many other possibilities.

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Trusty pen and notebook

This will be my fifth novel and this time I am determined to do the better part of this sort of thrashing and handwringing before I begin to write. I always start out a new project with a fresh notebook and a gel pen. I begin by writing question after question in the notebook and answering them in a variety of ways. When I hit on an answer I like, I circle it. The answer invariably leads to more questions and before long I have a huge array of possibilities.

After a while, as the story sorts itself into order in my mind I get an itch to begin. This seems to happen when I have about a third of the scenes for the story in mind. When it gets to the point I have to scratch, I write out individual scenes with the goals I have in mind for each on index cards. When I am happy with those I transfer the information to color-coded sticky notes and start arranging them on my office wall. I rearrange them until I like what I see and then I set up a new file in Scrivener and  begin the actual writing.

Usually, by the time I’ve gotten to the end of that first third of the story I’ve been back to my notebook and have come up with the next third. The process gets repeated once more and finally, I reach the end. It works for me but it also requires me to make plotting decisions right along with all the word and pacing choices. Sometimes the possibilities blur the road before me and I just wish I had a map and a flashlight.

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Hardest working spot in my office.

So rather than wishing, this time I’m building the whole road and the map. I’ve slathered myself with mental Calamine lotion and have ignored any itching. I’m still using my notebook and my wall of stickies but I’m finding it is easier for me to discard an idea that is no more than a single line on a yellow square than it is to slash and burn dozens of fully fleshed scenes.  I’m using a goal of finishing a sticky note outline by the last day of September to keep the urge to actually write at bay. I think it just might work so long as the local office supply store doesn’t run out of sticky notes.

Readers: Do you have decisions that overwhelm you? Writers: Do you have a favorite way to develop your own stories?