Friday, November 27, 2009

Carolyn Rose Interview: Creative Process of Writing a Novel

By Guest Contributor Little_Karol. On the previous post she shared her research on the creative process of writing a novel. Today’s piece deals with an author interview she held with published author and writing teacher Carolyn Rose.

This excerpt was originally published at Writing My Heart
, and is Part II of III.

I met Rose at a reading at Cover to Cover Books in uptown at Schofield’s corner. She was there to assist her friend, Elizabeth Lyon. I had gone with Carol Doane, a student of Carolyn J. Rose, and Doane mentioned Rose would be great to interview and would be happy to answer my questions for a school paper. Doane found her e-mail and I thought I’d give it a try and see if she responds. Sure enough, she did. Rose said she would be honored to be interviewed. This was over e-mail.

“What is your creative process (what do you do when you are writing?). I know that seems kind of vague, but answer it to the best of your ability.”

“Once I’ve collected ideas, done some research if I needed to, started to develop characters, and figured out a lot of the plot, I generally go into a period of avoidance. I turn on the computer, and then play a lot of solitaire. I don’t allow myself to have other computer games or I’d never get any work done. When I’m sick of solitaire, I start to write. During the first hour I’m lucky if I get two paragraphs down because I’m still in avoidance mode—going downstairs to put in a load of laundry, emptying the dishwasher, etc. But apparently while I’m doing that my mind is working because by the end of that hour I’m moving.

“I used to sweat out the words that didn’t catapult into my brain and agonized over adjectives and similes, but lately I just leave a blank space and come back to it. Often when I wake up in the night to let the dog out the words are there and I write them on an index card and slip them in the next day.

“From day two on, I use the looping technique where I go back through what I wrote the day before and make minor corrections. That revision is a springboard for fresh writing.

“I forget about the concept of ‘perfect.’ First of all, I know it’s impossible to achieve that. And second, most of the good stuff, like subtext, foreshadowing, and the development of character voice, comes during the third, fourth, or fifth revision—or even after that.”

“How do you feel when you’re with an editor? What kind of thoughts go through your mind?”

“I’m not sure what you mean by this. I haven’t worked with an editor, only with critiquing friends. Sometimes I see exactly what they mean and agree with them. Other times I think the problem must lie with them. After all, how could they not get what I meant? I put all the comments aside for at least a week and I’m often surprised at how some of the ones I thought were idiotic acquire merit during that time period.”

“What is it like when you’re presenting your work to an audience? Do you feel relaxed or do you still get butterflies?”

“No butterflies. I attribute that to eight years working as a substitute teacher in local high schools. There is no tougher audience than teens that would rather text their friends, eat, sleep, or talk, and whose agenda for that period seldom includes listening to the sub and following through on the work she lays out.”

“What is it like for you to find a publisher? What stages do you have to go through?”

“The best way is to get an agent who has contacts with large publishing companies and can get your work in the door. Many big publishing houses don’t accept unsolicited or work without an agent. An agent will take 15% off the top, but it’s worth it.

“I had agents in the past, but those books didn’t sell, and in recent I’ve worked on marketing them myself to small and mid-sized publishing houses.”

“What will you do after you are done writing books?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be done. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and something I can’t imagine ever not doing. It’s not a job and I don’t look upon writing as work, so I’ll keep going as long as there are characters in my imagination wanting to get out.”

“Reflecting back on your work, how do you feel you did?”

“I wish I’d started sooner, but life (and the need to make a living) got in the way as it usually does. Elizabeth Lyon believes it takes about ten years to learn and integrate all the components of writing craft into what appears to be a seamless, effortless story. I think I’m still a few years shy of that point. So ask me this question again in a couple of years.

“I’m not a ‘great’ writer. I doubt I’ll ever write a classic that will turn up on high-school reading lists. But I’m trying to do the best I can and learning more about the craft every day.”

“How many books have you had published?”

“I have six out through a very small press (SynergEbooks) and three of those were former with Deadly Alibi Press (it folded a few years ago). I just sold a book to Five Star Mysteries and expect it will be out around the end of the year.

“How do you know when your book is done?”

“I don’t think they’re ever finished—I could always go back and make changes. But I stop revising when another story has built such momentum in my mind that I need to get it down on paper so I can concentrate on other things—like stopping at red lights.”

“Where do your ideas come from? Pete Fromm says that he has an idea folder... do you have anything like that or do you find inspiration where ever you may be sitting writing?”

“I also have an idea folder and a riffle of sticky notes around the edge of my computer monitor. Many of my ideas begin with character: What would happen if I took a woman like that and put her in a situation like this? Sometimes I draw on people I knew when I was growing up or situations I experienced. The Casey Brandt series sprang from my experiences in TV news. The Paladin series came from a morning at the Saturday Market. The Devil’s Harbor series (not yet published) [Editors note: due out in 2010] emerged from a visit to a tiny town on the Oregon Coast where everyone seemed to have two jobs. Hemlock Lake, which I just sold, comes from growing up in the Catskills in upstate New York. A Place of Forgetting, which I’m marketing now, comes rereading the journals I kept as a teenager and thinking about the intensity of emotion at that age.”

She added towards the end, “I don’t believe in writers’ block. There’s always something you can write. It might not be what you intended, and it might be dreadful, but it also might be amazing.”

Next Time Little_Karol shares her interview with Elizabeth Lyon

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Creative Process of Writing a Novel

By Guest Contributor Little_Karol. This piece written for a creative writing class and originally published at Writing My Heart.

Part I of III


“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” ~Toni Morrison

The start, the beginning of a long journey. It’s initiated with a page. A blank one at that. Staring me down until I’m sitting in a corner glaring at the page.. It’s intimidating. I have a need, I fill the need suppressed by fear with the ability to cover the page with words. Stuff pages with ideas spinning around my head. Of vivid characters, living life and colorful scenes. I know imagination lets the mind expand.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” ~Albert Einstein

Developing a manuscript equals hours of editing thousands of papers with red pen marks. It rounds out to somewhere close to hours of sleep deprivation, shoulder tension, head aches from staring at the computer screen for days on end with aching fingers and hands. Take action! Get published.

If you’re turned down, keep trying. Doctor Theodore Seuss got turned down twenty-seven times until he got published by the twenty-eighth publisher. His visual art and creative writing teachers said he didn’t have it. Editors will evaluate you and catch every flaw. Every word misused, every coma misplaced. But share with agents and they will help you share with the world.

Your critique group will support you and help you refine your book. The critique group will help you to become published. How do you get there? Here is a teenager’s view of the creative process of writing a novel. From the first words to seeing your book in the local stores.

I came to the School of Arts and Academics to expand my inner artist. I took literary arts explore sixth grade year with Michael Carr. Through poetry I found more of myself than I had bothered to go searching for. I was never much of a writer before this. I loved writing assignments, but I always did the basics and never thought I went above and beyond to deserve the four out of four I received. I am now putting all my efforts into writing assignments teachers give.

My mom started writing a novel in 2007. She used me to bounce ideas. I gave her feedback that helped her start her writing. Now, 2009, two years later, she has her manuscript. She has her own world that comes with it. Where no one else is allowed to be. A world where something is always happening and no one can interrupt. This is a phase where she no longer talks to her child. Where she gets holed up in her room and only leaves to go to work and meet with her critique group.

I always wanted to know what went through her head while she was writing. This gave me the perfect opportunity. Now I had the just the right reason to ask her all the questions I wanted without her bugging me because I was interrupting her thoughts. This gave me a new insight to how my mother thinks when creating art. Wonders of her creative process aren’t wonders but rather questions answered.

All questions How do you know when your book is done? What are your judgment thoughts? What is it like to find an agent? What is it like to be published? What is your creative process? Are answered. I find questions popping into my head from books. I find myself asking about voice and style and about metaphors and ruts that you get stuck in and can’t seem to find a way out of.

“The third step is getting out of the rut. This is the hard part. Knowing and admitting a problem are not the same as solving it. But executing a solution saves you and gets you moving again.” (Tharp 189)


It started with reading Twyla Tharp’s book "The Creative Habit," and then reading some of Elizabeth Lyon’s guide, "Manuscript Makeover." I also read Lyon’s other book "A Writer’s Guide to Fiction." I expanded my searching to the internet. Usually I find something on my topic, but this was a little hard. I don’t think you can really find the creative process of doing a certain task. You may be able to find the creative process of one person. But it seems a little vague. I found little to nothing about the creative process using these resources. Little details came in handy along the way though.

What is the creative process of writing a novel? Is it each stage you go through to get to the final piece? Do the Fundamental Questions help you to answer the question, what’s next? You can ask all these questions, ask so many that their head will explode before you are finished asking; and you still might not have the answer you maybe wanted. Stopping at a stand point to find you have to go and discover those answers on your own. But where to start? I have hit a rut.

I figure this question is too… vague. It’s hard to find the answer I am looking for. No internet article seems to help; every interview seems to add to my curiosity and confusion. So, I’ll look at it this way. What is the creative process of one writer? Of just one novelist? Although I don’t think of her as a novelist, but well, let’s say a mom, she still has a lot of growth and tolerance for my never ending list of questions… sometimes.

No one can define your creative process; no one can cheat off of your work. We have techniques that many of us share when writing. It’s what we have in common, the rest is up to you. We all started with one page, we all end thinking something can be improved. We all have a reference point, when we turn to a critique group to help us get through the editing stages.

In her book, "A Writers Guide to Fiction," Lyon says “If you are new to writing fiction, you may wonder if there is a right way to ‘find’ a good story, to know how best to plan a story. The answer may not be a comfort to everyone: There is no right way; there is only your way. Anything can and has inspired writers and given them the kernel from which they’ve developed a story. No matter where you begin, you will have to fill in all the blanks.” (Lyon 11)

Don’t we all start out knowing what we want to write? Is it really that easy? Carol Doane pulled her inspiration from books and observing everyday life around her. In books you don’t hear about interracial couples very often, so she put one in her book. Hear about racism, sex, alcohol? Put it in her book as well. Her book pulls you into a fantasy world where everything is supremely real and any of these things can happen to you. Live in a life with metaphors that take time to grasp and understand? You find everyday life stories that sometimes go hidden shown to us through fiction.

We all begin somewhere. When Doane starts to draw inspiration, she pulls out her three by five cards. Scribbles of words and pictures of days long, long ago. Phrases from conversations that went through her mind everyday. As she flips each note card over and over again carefully, she begins rapid fire. Typing faster than most students… or her co-workers have ever heard. She’s on a roll and no one is getting in her way. Kind of like some demolition derby driver…

She has all her writing down and begins to transform her manuscript. Making metaphor after metaphor seamlessly flow throughout her paper. Taking sentence structures and tearing them down, just to come back to something fairly similar. Replacing words with words. Deleting sentence after sentence, just so another one could take its place.

She goes to her critique group to discover more and more revising is left to be done. Going back home, thoughts are still going through her mind. She won’t let me talk to her, scared they might escape. Every time she goes, less editing seems to need to be done. But she never stops. She adds and adds and adds, and then complains her manuscript is too long. So she goes back and decides to cut some areas, just find out later, they are replaced by new ideas.

What are some techniques for writing? Everyone has their own… but some are very similar. In Elizabeth Lyon’s book, "Manuscript Makeover," she talks about many techniques different writers use when editing their manuscript. Some examples will include: cultivating deep listening, silence critics; banish censors, practice riff-writing, revise from your truth, harvest your emotions and catch fireflies.

Each of these included a description of what they are and how to apply it to your editing stage in your manuscript. She also encourages you to: model favorite authors, revise for sentence variety and revise for impact These help with the simple revisions for style. Sections in the book help you to create similes, metaphors and a correct sentence structure.

Confined in her room another week, Doane prepares for another meeting with her critics. Revising again and again… to find yet another mistake. A vicious cycle of editing and sharing. Editing and sharing. Time after time again. After a year, less editing needs to be done. All metaphors and similes are woven throughout the book. All sentences run smoothly and all scenes make perfect sense. If you pay attention.

With each week the characters begin to develop. They gain their own colors. “To make characters live and breathe, writers must write ‘from the inside out’ to the ‘outside in’” (Lyon 19). Characters overcome problems throughout her book, adding more depth to their description. Making them seem more real with every twist and turn of an event.

Lyon says to not read to a group, but read in monotone to yourself as to not “perform” your writing (Lyon 8). Doane finds that reading to a critique group helps her catch more mistakes than she does alone. So, every method you try may not work for you, but it will work for someone. Trial and error. Find the one that works for you, the one that will help you more than frustrate you during the editing process.

How can you ask a writer about her experience with publishing a book if she is unpublished? Although Doane has queried to about half a dozen agents and a small publisher asked to see the first four chapters; she still remains unpublished, work not fully completed.

So I turned to two published writers to learn what the development stage of the creative process is when it comes to writers. Carolyn J. Rose is a fiction writer.

Here is what Rose had to say….

More tomorrow in Part II of III


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Social Media? I'm sure its a short term addiction *cough*

When I embarked on my book writing adventure I buried myself in manic bouts of typing. I radiated atomic concentration waves. An illusive feel or thought pulse fluttered within grasp and I stretched to reach it. During these hiatuses from real life, my pre-teen started her Facebook page. By their terms she was too young to have one. I took it down. Then, once newly birthday-ed, she re-upped and was back surfing through social media heaven with her friends.

Her offense was not discussing her foray with me.

I decided not to wage a Facebook battle, Instead, I got my own Facebook page to keep an eye on her, and within 48 hours I was hooked, sifted down through the rabbit of hole of profiles, activities, interests, favorite music, movies, books, quotes, political and religious views. Oh, and how many pictures of my kid can I upload? We traded the laptop back and forth each evening in congenial family fashion so we could each check our growing list of friends.

During one of our exchanges, I lamented that my bud Rij had neglected to give me a quote on the cost to develop an ’author’ Web-site. After investing a year into my novel I knew it was more than a hobby and I needed to begin an online presence, a platform, to launch myself. Rij builds web pages for a living and we had discussed at length what I envisioned. He and I had parted with a promise of a ‘family and friends’ rate.

Two weeks after my grumbling my daughter turned the laptop my direction and showed me my new Web-site, a Facebook fan page. I was stunned, first, that she listened to my cranky complaint, second that she took creative action to support an addiction that mostly siphoned time away from her. To insure I duly appreciated her efforts, she detailed, in encyclopedic specificity, how difficult the fan page set up was to decipher and that she had mirrored it after Eeyore’s page. (No dumb-ass jokes, please).

I rifled through the site, noted she had a couple of misspellings, didn’t have time at the moment to attack them, closed the page, and frankly, I forgot about it.

Two weeks after that a co-worker passed me in the hall and said, “I’m a fan!” Startled, I stopped mid-stride and tried to understand what in the world she was referring to. It dawned on me. The Facebook Fan Page. The misspellings. Oh, horror. How can you proclaim to be a writer and leave a blatant trail of misspelled words in your wake?

I scrambled home that night and broke into a cold sweat when I logged on and realized I had 6 WHOLE FANS. People who knew me. People who now thought I couldn’t spell. My fingers rattled over the keyboard and I attacked the editing task. Then I played with the page. What would make it interesting, how could I draw in more fans?

Okay, I could stop right here and tell you I was not really enamored with having a fan base, half of which I have coerced to follow me, but I can’t lie like that! I love my fan page.

I also love my daughter who embraces my quirks and feeds my addiction, then writes all about it in her term paper. I'll tell you about THAT next time.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

What evil lurks in social media? A mom

Little_Karol, my daughter, sat in a cube after hours at the office. The computer screen in front of her glowed as she checked her email. At least that’s what she told me she was doing. I strode into my office, crashed behind the desk and plunged into an evening of catch up.

It had never happened before, that our wires had crossed, even though she always used my log-in to get to the internet, but an absent-minded mouse flick on my part altered the screen I stared at. Suddenly, I shadowed her computer movements. It shocked me how quickly I rocketed into the bad-mom-universe. I was the bad mom. What flickered before me alarmed me.


I had shuddered at every horrid child abuse story in regards to social media, and had nodded sagely, arrogantly even, knowing my capable parenting skills would never find me the subject of a sad news story. I was too intelligent to raise a child who would fall prey. My child was too bright to fall to a predator. But there it was. Facebook. The ultimate child predator.

drifted in semi-consciousness as: ‘places not to visit.’ LinkedIN sounded like the online bar of hook-ups. Bloggers were anal politicos who needed a forum to rant, or self absorbed punks who didn’t get enough ‘me-time’ and needed to hear their own voices, so they posted what remained of their dribble online: me-me-me. Twitter had barely hit my radar and sounded inane, a test to drill your most profound thought to 140 characters. What kind of a character is that? Did a space count as a character? Ignorance foamed and huffed at me and I choked on its fumes.

My fingers trembled as I stared at my child’s Facebook wall. What the heck is a wall? Why would I be encouraged to write on it? I clicked through the other places of her Facebook page. Oh my effing gee, she has posted pictures! If that isn’t a predator call I don’t know what is.

That was it.

She was done.

I am a woman of action.

I took control and did the most sensible thing.

I read the Facebook terms and conditions.

I had her.

She was toast.

I called her into my office and I sounded mean. I confronted her Facebook abuse. I gave her a piece of paper and a pen and ordered her to write down every email, gmail, yahoo-mail, hotmail and every Web-site she was on that required a log-in and I demanded her passwords. Her dark eyes flooded with panic and tears pushed at her lashes. She took in a shaky breath, her little knees collapsed, and she sunk into the guest chair. One-by-one, she proceeded to disclose her secrets. That’s when I learned she had a blog. I had never read a blog. I was ignorant.

I shut down Facebook and doled out strong words. She was underage. Facebook had a minimum age requirement. She did not qualify. My strong lecture lasted up through her birthday. Midnight clicked over and back up went her Facebook.

Second discovery went as well as expected.

I yelled.

I gave up.

I got a Facebook page.

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