Gina Writes Words: 2014

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Read All About It! Melissa Shirley Interview

If you like your romances based in a small town where you get to know the locals, look no further than author Melissa Shirley and her two fantastic locations, 'Storybook Lake, Il.' and 'Battlecry, Tx.' 

I was lucky enough to grab some time with Missy to ask some questions about both places. 

  • Firstly, can you give us a brief introduction to Storybook Lake and Battlecry, for those who may not have read your books?

Storybook lake is located in the heart of Illinois half way between Chicago and St. Louis, MO. Someone, right around the 1960s, came in and decided to make it a tourist attraction the likes of which had never been seen. Buildings were refurbished to look like the business mission statement. There is a giant pair of ballet slippers housing the dance studio, the library is an open book and the 'Little Shop of Hairs' beauty salon is a giant Venus Fly Trap. The town is dedicated to stories of the past with street names like Dr. Suess drive and Tolkien Trail. Visitors travel through fiction at the wheel of a motor vehicle. Storybook Lake originated with storytellers of the past and is home to an entire generation of people who find their happily ever after within its borders.

800 miles south we find Battlecry Texas, home of the Laugherty family. An old town that prides itself on its deep south roots and southern hospitality, Battlecry is sheriffed by the youngest Laugherty, and a woman at that.

  • And where would you rather live - Storybook Lake, or Battlecry?

I would rather live in storybook lake because I love the people there. Mable's tea pretty much guarantees a good night every night. Simon is always good for a grin and with that much eye candy running around, no day is ever going to be boring.

Plus the people always seem to come together to help each other. I like that.

  • If you had to be related to someone from either town, which family would you choose to be part of?

The Laughertys. They are all very close. They get along pretty well. There isn't a lot of drama inside the family.

  • Who would you pick to be your best friend?

I think I would pick Simon as a Bestie because he went through something horrible and just bounced right back with a smile on his face. Plus, he's fun and funny. But he already has Keaton so I would have to split best friend time. So maybe, but only because Simon already had keaton, I think Becca because she has awesome clothes and shoes and loves fashion.

  • Who is your favourite person we haven't seen a lot of yet?

Cody is my new book boyfriend but I have done others coming to Battlecry. They should arrive just in time for Christmas next year. This year, Cody gets a fairy tale. I can't say much but it's all reality tv and a wedding and he probably gets a happily ever after.

  • Do you have anyone who is evil, or truly bad, to balance all the nice?

Kind of. I have a wicked flame from the past in Storybook Lake, an eccentric ex,  also in Storybook Lake. And a wicked pair of sisters in Battlecry. I can't say yet whether anyone finds redemption but if I had to guess I would say "maybe".

  • Which other character, from book or film, would you most like to steal for Storybook Lake, if you could?

I would love to drop Shirlee Kenyon from the 1992 film "Straight Talk" into Storybook Lake. She was a radio talk host who dispensed real world down home advice and she would fit in with the quirkiness of the town, and she probably would not mind working inside a giant microphone every day.

  • What would you do for your day job in Storybook Lake?

Hmm. I think I would like to work at the resort. I've heard that Keaton is pretty great to work for.

  • Where would you best like to live in the town?

And I would definitely line in the fairy tale section of town where Danielle and Keaton live. There's going to be some action there. I can feel it.

  • Have you got any new construction planned?

Hmm. I definitely think there will be a radio station, a giant microphone because I just thought of that this morning. And I think they need a regular soda shop for the kids so I need to build a giant milkshake in an old time cup with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

  • What future stories have you got in the works?

There are probably at least 4 for Battlecry. Lily Laugherty has one due for sure. Then there is a new family coming to town for Christmas. Cody's story is yet to come. And definitely at least 3 for Storybook Lake. The evil Danielle will get redemption and a man. Kelly has a story that may or may not include love with Gatlin, or someone new. And there will be some Storybook Lake short stories on my blog in between the times the other books come out.

My thanks to Missy for her time - that all sounds very exciting, and it looks like I could end up having a very long TBR list next year!

If you haven't yet read anything set in Storybook Lake or Battlecry, I urge you to get started with Decadent Publishing's  "For the love of... Geese" (part of the Beyond Fairytales line) as more stories will be hitting the shelves soon.

Connect with Missy on her Facebook page and through her Twitter profile.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder - Right?

So, I've been gone a little while, child wrangling and writing and all that good stuff. And it's Christmas tomorrow, so even better, but probably a good idea if we don't discuss present wrapping. I'm not finished yet and am deeply traumatised by something taking me so long to do that will be UNdone in mere seconds.

But, in other news, I received a contract for the Decadent Publishing story I mentioned back in July, so that has been an amazing early Christmas present for me.

Once I have myself in gear and send a completed contract back (it now needs to wait until AFTER the chaos *sob*), I will allow myself to go into full celebratory mode. Christmas is positioned very badly for me, this year. :-D

Oh, but one thing I have done, and I found very exciting, is put a Pinterest inspiration board together for the story. I guess the title is subject to change, still, depending on how it fits with the Beyond Fairytales' line, but I've been calling it "Last Dance of the Doll Maker". You can find the Pinterest board here if you feel like having a look at what I wrote about:

Last Dance of the Doll Maker Pinterest Inspiration Board

I might still rearrange the board it, although part of me loves seeing that picture of chocolate cake first.

I've also set myself a Facebook page - feel free to drop in and say hello. I'm always happy to meet people and to chat - I have a very high quota of words to get through in any given day, so chatting is sort of my thing. I'm on Twitter, too, but that confuses me a little - am I supposed to try to keep up, or just jump back in where people got to while I was away? :-) I sort of do a bit of both.

Anyway, I just wanted to do drop by and share my news. I've got quite a bit of paperwork to fill in now, instead of just hiding out from the rest of the family. Wish me luck.

Lastly, have a fantastic day tomorrow, and I hope you manage to finish all of your wrapping without bodily and emotional trauma.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

My Foray into #pitmad

I had a wonderful time and would totally take part in #pitmad again. Reading all of the other pitches was great, and strangely addictive. Makes me quite thankful not to be an agent... or jealous. I'm not quite sure which.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Very Bad Beginning

I must live with my head under a rock because I have only just discovered that it is bad form to start your story when somebody wakes up. Instinctively I have always started my story where I believe it starts - I do not start the writing before I start the actual story, as far as I can tell. I am lazy in that respect, and that wouldn't gel with my skeletal first draft style, anyway.

What You Wish For starts when Maggie, the main character wakes up.  This is bad, apparently. But less than half way down the page, while she is still in bed, the action starts. Is it still bad, now? I have scoured my first chapter, looking for a better starting point, and I couldn't find one. Anything less, or midway through, doesn't set the scene at all, and there needs to be a tiny bit of introduction, surely? Just enough for anyone reading it to find their feet - a couple of paragraphs. I set Maggie's expectations for the day... and then take them away.

I have considered starting the previous evening, but why? Surely this would contradict the advice to start the story where it starts... I could literally be adding useless padding for the sake of simply not starting when Maggie wakes up.

And, let me be clear she does not wake up, yawn and stretch, make her cereal - with skimmed milk as she doesn't like cream, jump on the tube to work - making sure to sit as close to the door as possible, take the stairs up to her office - to get her daily steps in, and arrive to a giant dog eating her desk. I do not use five pages of scene setting. So am I still wrong?

I like to flatter myself that I sort of know how to write a story. Ask me about any kind of arcs, or plot and pinch points and I will give you a very confused look, but the telling of the story is what I enjoy.  I have works in progress that start in places other than the protagonists bed because I have started where the story begins... hopefully.

It may be worth noting that I have further impounded my literary faux pas by having Maggie question if it was all a dream at the end of the first chapter. Again, this was a deliberate choice, and all is soon revealed.

I am, however, entirely open to another point of view and, should someone come along who can see a better away, let's discuss it. Please. Show me the error of my ways... :-)

When can an accepted 'rule' be broken?  Have I created something entirely unreadable by twisting old cliche's/tropes/stereotypes/bad writing to suit my own ends?

Have you ever broken a rule? How did it work out for you?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

What You Wish For

Yay!  My book writing friend and critique partner, Missy Shirley took my #pitchFURY post, some lines from my story and created a lovely trailer for me.

What You Wish For is the story of Maggie Forrester and what happens when she wakes up in an alternate version of her life. She switches back and forth between both lives and two husbands while trying maintain a degree of normality behind secrets and lies, and work out the difference between 'love' and 'in love'.

Missy is a contracted author (writing as Melissa Shirley) who writes the excellent Storybook Lake series. Storybook Lake is an amazing small American town where the men are gorgeous, practically have to take a kissing exam to live there, and falling in love is a daily event.

Check out Missy on the web:
or on Facebook:
or on Twitter:

Thursday, 7 August 2014

That's Great, but What is It?

I should be able to answer that, right? Given that I wrote the thing. Approx 73 000 words and it still doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up.

I've gone with the really general term "Women's Fiction" because it doesn't seem to be straight-forward genre anything. There is a wide thread of romance running through it, but it may touch a romance-genre taboo, there is a little flavour of magical realism, but I'm not sure I've gone in from that angle enough to classify it absolutely 'magical realism'. It isn't sci-fi, and not really fantasy. The setting is contemporary.

It isn't literary, but is it commercial? Would anyone buy it, because surely that is the real meaning of commercial - that it has wide sales appeal?

And because I'm not sure what it is, who will want it? I've combed all sorts of submission requirements trying to decide if it is a good fit for someone.

I've brought myself (and anyone who will listen) a bit of stress the past few days by trying to classify what I've written, and it almost changed how I view it. It nearly went from being an affectionately regarded child to being assigned all the chores and sleeping under the stairs. But then I realised I still like it. I didn't write it with a market in mind, I wrote to be true to the story.

And, besides, I can't devote all of my thinking power to what I've already written when I need to direct at least some of my thoughts to the next group of people trying to find a way out of my head. (I'm not sure there are any lights up there, to be honest.)

So it is what it is, really. And if no one else wants it, it'll have to be that child who lives with me forever.

Monday, 4 August 2014

A Question of Balance?

With 3 children aged 6 and under, a house to keep clean and tidy, and week 3 of the summer break starting, things here are moving veeeeeeery slowly, here.

Well, that's not entirely true.  My house is not at all clean and tidy because I have very demanding characters who keep distracting me and seeking my attention. And my children have started behaving like barbarians. But that probably isn't related to the writing.

So how do I balance everything? No, really - how do I? This isn't a how-to guide, it's a desperate plea of a question because I don't have the heart or stomach to cut myself in two.

I keep a notebook to jot things down as they occur to me and I attempt to capture my flashes of inspiration there but, by the time bedtime has been and gone and I have have wrestled three very unwilling children into submission, I am tired.  Tired, and only worthy of slumping onto the sofa in defeat. At that point, most desire to write has left me and it's a slog.

I've tried writing when the inspiration occurs, and my story builds in little fits and starts all day but the danger there is that I become entirely carried away and the children could take my house apart around me, brick by brick (because 6 yr old is a bit obsessed with Lego, and - recently - Jenga), and I wouldn't even notice.  My husband would, though, when he arrived home to a house that no longer existed.  Just a group of barbarian children playing in a large pile of a rubble and a wild woman typing up a firestorm on a laptop fast running out of charge.

Where do I find my balance?  Does a good wife and mother wait until the housework is done, the children are dressed and fed (they are never full.  I've tried.) and sufficiently entertained before she turns her attention to writing?  Or does a good writer ride that wave of inspiration, throwing the ideas on the page while the baby eats dirt in the garden and the two oldest attempt to build an extension upstairs (I have no idea what that banging could be, otherwise)?

Where does the balance lie? Is there any such thing?

Saturday, 26 July 2014


I can't read anything I've written - story, blog post, note to a teacher, shopping list - without wanting to make changes.  I make changes all the time.  Words, sentences, phrases, punctuation.  Everything is up for grabs - barring the main theme and (usually) character names, although I think I may have actually renamed a character during a bout of excessive tweaking, once.

I'm never entirely happy with what I see on the page - it could always, always, always be better.  Even when it makes me laugh, or smile, or I love a character I've just written and that is exactly something he'd say - it is never quite perfect.

Recently, I needed to proof read the first three chapters of my story because I was starting at the beginning to bring that final polish.  That was it - I. just. needed. to. proofread. Right.  Because I'm capable of 'just' doing anything.  (I'm one of those people who 'just pops upstairs to grab X' and returns three hours letter with five half started cleaning jobs, two medal winningly tidy bedrooms, a small nap under my belt and without the thing I went to grab.)

So I started proofreading (and hopefully I finished the proofreading) but I also did a dangerous thing.  I tweaked.  I swear my fingers do it on their own, without any permission from my brain - they're in total cahoots with my eyes. My eyes see an issue, my fingers fix it.  Never mind the potential errors I'm introducing by typing new content.

You see, my first draft is always sketchy.  I think I may have mentioned that before.  Often, ideas come faster than I can flesh them out, so the bones go down first.  Sketchy, skeletal... those two words equally describe my first drafts.

And I'm one of life's messers.  I prefer to think 'perfectionist' but I've yet to produce anything truly perfect so I really do just mess. :-)  I play with words, with how they sound, what they say... and then I'm happy.  Until the next time, when I read over and tweak some more.

I get worse.  I tweak text, but I mither my ideas.  I worry them relentlessly, talking to those I know will listen about this idea, or that one - does it work, could it work if I just...? Is it too far fetched?  Am I relying too much on suspension of disbelief?  But the ideas thing eventually stops.  I commit them to paper, get them to work and I'm back to just tweaking.  Every time I open the file.

For me, the devil really is in the detail.

(I totally just tweaked this blog post right now.)

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Stupid Questions of a Newbie Writer

I do a lot of googling, these days.  What's a pitch?  How about a query?  Do I need an agent?  What is a synopsis... and, holy moly, how the heck long should it be?

The more I read, the worse I feel, to be honest.  Some agents and writer pundit people believe that I need a 'platform'.  I need to already be known to sell anything, but what comes first, here?  People knowing me, and 'hey, by the way, how about my book' or the fact I wrote a story and 'pleased to meet you'?

So do I need to blog so that I show up in a google search?  But what if I run out of things to say (side note: I very rarely run out of things to say, my quota of daily words to get through appears to be very high, much to the horror of my husband, but not all of the things I say are intelligent) and is a deserted blogship floating about on blogger more damaging than one filled with days of blogged rubbish?

Do I need to learn how to use Twitter?  Let me tell you this much - and, Steve Jobs, I'm rolling my eyes towards you, it is very hard without instant and easy access to a hash key.  I need to learn the keyboard shortcut, stat.  I tend to copy and paste one from someone else's tweet, but this system falls apart if I copy anything else.  (If you ever see a tweet of mine with sudden spurt of something that doesn't make sense, I was probably trying to paste in a hash key.)  It really interferes with inserting my little hashtag #WhatYouWishFor.

And back to that synopsis.  I get that it needs to be short.  Really.  I get that it can be dry.  But how short?  I've seen five pages quoted, I've seen one... and I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that.  The five pages was double spaced, but is the one page synopsis also double spaced?  And have I really noticed submission guidelines all differing on this? ;-) I think I might just need a range of synopses.  Cover all my bases.

Do I need a Facebook account dedicated to my writing?  That feels a little too early... I have nothing to brag about yet, nothing to show, beyond "Look at these words I wrote!" and, in all honesty, that's kind of what I do here.

I need to find the Newbie Writer Guide for Dummies.  It  must be out there.  Except then I'd find something that contradicted most of it and this would all start again.

So, I will just leave you with this:

I wrote some words.  They all join together into a story that I really quite like (most days) and someday, I hope, it might be available for you read.

If I can navigate my way through being a newbie with stupid questions.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Confessions of an Ex-Book-Finisher

I used to finish every single book that I read.  Every single one.  I turned it from an art from into an extreme form of self-torture.  It was as if the books that I was reading needed to be finished for the simple fact that I had been into a shop, selected them from a shelf, and parted with money to be allowed to bring them home.  Often, quite a lot of money, really.

But what kind of reader am I, if the main reason that I will finish a book is because I paid for it?  I mean, sure,  I paid for it... but, possibly (and I'm still not sure this is entirely likely) I made a bad decision.  I may have selected a book that a) isn't terribly good, or b) - the more likely, I guess - just isn't written in the style I like to read.

Luckily for me, I was gifted with an e-reader, and my entire reading world changed.  The biggest change is - and, please, no one tell my husband this - I have a lot more books now.  He watched quite happily as stacks of books left my bookshelves destined for charity shops so that I could share the book love, and was disappointed when very many shelves remained full... but he would have been even more disappointed and shocked if he could have seen just how many books were invisibly whizzing their way straight into my hot little hands.  E-readers are the ultimate way to sneak books into my house.  Let me say that again, in case you missed it - as I believe that it could apply to all of us.

E-readers are the ultimate way to sneak books into a house.

Somewhere, in my delicious fit of sheer book gluttony, I also learnt what it is to be a book tart.  These days, I don't place ultimate worth on a book based on the fact that I paid for it.  Where my book shelves have groaned (and still do, if you ask my husband) under the weight of books I have read, my e-reader is stuffed to its gills with books that I have yet to read.  I have an entire personal library of books I haven't read, and I still keep buying more.  I'm possibly a little compulsive in that regard.  I must have pretty things.  Pretty things and lots of words.

Because I have more books than I dare to admit to now, and an assumed finite time left on the earth, paying for a book isn't reason, alone, for reading it to the bitter end.  These days, if the book doesn't make me happy, or something else feels lacking, or even if I'm just not in the mood for it that day I move on.  And I've even managed to stop feeling guilty about that.  Life is too short to feel guilty over not finishing a book - it was never a reasonable thing to consider as an achievement, anyway (but what a humorous epitaph it could have made "She always finished her book').  To be honest life is too short to not enjoy the book you're reading.  So if you are currently reading one that isn't working for you, put it to one side, move on... pick up another.  Keep picking them up until you find one that you want to read, that you want to go back to bed and neglect your children to finish.  Read a book because it calls to you.

Don't feel guilty for not finishing a book.  Go on, choose another.  I said you could.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Writing Challenge

Beyond Fairytales is a writing project/challenge being issued by Decadent Publishing and I, in a sleep deprived, wisdom free, state, decided it would be a good thing to have a go at.  I'm not sure why... apart from I'm doodling two stories at the moment and am ignoring my finished one until I've stopped loving it quite so much and can feel more objective about it... so what's one more thing to think about?

After I finally emailed the correct address to get assigned with a fairytale to work with (we're back at that sleep deprived thing again) I've started wondering if I've bitten off more than I can chew.  I've drawn a pretty small story to work with - I mean, who knew that Hans Christian Andersen published every single thing he wrote, including snippets that may have only been germs of ideas?  Stuff it looks like he never actually got round to fleshing out.  He might have been like me - my first drafts are seriously sketchy.

So I've been thinking all day, and considering the rules and trying to imagine ever reaching a word count beyond 5000 words.  I think the minimum I can submit and still have it count is 15,000.  But I have 6 months to write and edit and polish before I have to submit it to see if it meets the publisher's standards or if they will reject it.  Because, after all that work, and targeting the line and everything... it can still be rejected.  How nerve-wracking is that?

But it's good.  It's good to have a purpose with a potential market at the end and to have a piece of work that will be critically appraised for publication.  I just have to write a "straightforward" romance, which will be the difficult bit, because my brain doesn't usually do straightforward.  I end up with people who probably shouldn't be there and situations that shouldn't exist and impossible outcomes... and everything just needs a hefty dose of suspension of disbelief.

My deadline is 15th January.  I should also thank my two critique partners at this point, because this situation is entirely their fault.   Maybe I'll thank them at the end, instead. :-D

Monday, 14 July 2014

Chaos Theory

My go-to mode for writing is 'chaos'.  I write standing at my kitchen counter while supervising lunch for little people, on my lap in bed, on a notepad in a coffee shop, while watching the TV... and generally surrounded by screaming and yelling.  I have dreams of writing in a peaceful place - maybe somewhere tranquil by the sea, or a secluded little hidey-hole in the forest (something gingerbread cottage, but friendlier) but the closest I get is my garden and three children communicating at top volume.  Always top volume.

And I don't just write in chaos.  I also write chaos.  At the moment, I have two stories open, side by side, in my word programme, and I am happy to hop alternately between them adding sentences.  Or, I'll walk by my open laptop and add a paragraph to one.  If I'm editing, things get a bit more confusing because then the first two stories double as wallpaper with the editing open over the top.  And if I'm reading someone else's work, too?  My word docs are like lots of pretty Russian nesting dolls.  Makes it harder to find stuff, though.

And don't even get my started on my many works in progress.  I love, love, love pretty notebooks (that may be a blog post all to itself) but I'm not such a good, organised, writer that I keep my notes in one.  No.  Whenever I think of a new idea for a story, I start a beginning. It can be a few lines, or a few pages, but just enough to get my initial thoughts, or the general feeling down.  Sometimes, this odd habit works, other times I re-read something and haven't got a clue what the next bit would have been.

Like, for that story I threw together in the last post, I might jot down something like this:

Sadie Appleton didn't know too much about the ocean.  She didn't even know how she'd come to be in the middle of it.  But she did have a fairly good idea that sea water wasn't for breathing, and that she should probably have paid more attention to those swimming classes when she was five.

Then, if I was being good, I'd organise a few bullet points underneath.  Just to jog my memory.

Because, already in my beginnings folder, I probably have about five.  Not all of them have merit, but a few might have a kernel of something.

Do you compulsively write beginnings, or work in chaos?

Friday, 11 July 2014

In the Beginning

Is it a scary blank page with a blinking cursor, or page full of opportunity?  Maybe it's a page that can easily be filled from the very detailed outline that has been the past three months in the making, or one that will be scribbled all over by the meanderings of little more than an enthusiastic mind and some fast fingers.

I'm in the fast fingers camp.  I don't think too much - sometimes not even enough.  I just hit the ground running and I'm ready to go.  A story forms as I write it, which sometimes does really awful things to those words that have gone before, leaving them twisted, broken or deleted.

My favourite part of the process is using my walking time (I have a lot of that) for a good game of "What if...?".  It's easy to play.  I start off by chewing on my latest issue - writing with so little direction leads me into plenty of blind corners - and I gradually try to work my characters back out.

For example, I have right now, this very minute as I've been typing here, taken a poor, innocent fictional being and dropped her in the middle of the ocean.  The sea is quite calm today, but she can't swim.  I don't even really know how she got there, but how will I get her out?

Well... what if a boat arrives just at the right moment?  That's a bit coincidental, and a little too simple.  I'd like to think I'd have seen that passenger ferry on the horizon and chosen a more secluded spot to abandon the character in.  So, if not a boat, are we going to let her slip beneath the water?  And what if she sees a whole different world down there?  What if there are little streets and people walking about?  Not swimming, because they're not mermaids or fish people... just walking, like they have no idea that they shouldn't be breathing.  (By the way, if water was rich enough in oxygen, we could all breathe it, but that's beside the point at this moment).

So we have a world beneath the water where people are walking about.  How deep are they?  They must have sunlight, right?  Do they look like people?  Like our fictional character?  Maybe their whole city is covered in a giant bubble?  Are they part of a scientific experiment for humans colonising other worlds?   Or are they magical and only Sadie - I just named her - can see them?  So, Sadie has slipped down beneath the waves, and she can't swim so she's just sinking.  Is she bouncing off their bubble all the way down to the see bed?  What if someone sees her?  What if the someone who sees her lets her in to the bubble?  Let's go further - what if they illegally let her in?  Sadie's inside, half drowned, has just discovered a group of people living on the sea bed, and is illegally being sheltered in their world.

The blank page isn't looking so blank, now, right?

Sometimes, when I feel a particular spark of discipline, I attempt to restore some order to my writing so I'll try to think ahead and I'll end up with a vague group of points that I want to hit in my plot.  So Sadie's story might start as:

- Sadie in the sea, drowns
- Discovers bubble of people
- Let into bubble - Adam - hides her
- Sea people are dying
- Sadie can save them, but mustn't be discovered
- Romance with Adam?
- Sea people have evil ruler?
- Is evil ruler known to Sadie?

The later points become question marks as they are more flexible and are more likely to be moved or twisted into something else.  Those aren't the best examples in the world but there is an 18 month old around my legs who doesn't fully approve of Sadie getting this much attention.

Sadly, this is not too far from my actual writing process.  Massively undisciplined, sometimes stressful, but quite a lot of fun.