In early August, my laptop turned into a beast. It chewed through time like I chew through licorice whips. Snap, munch, yum, next hour, please.

It’s not like I was perfecting the craft of procrastination. Honest. I was working. I designed book covers, formatted ebooks and print books, updated webpages, created a whole new website. I was crazy busy and still not getting any writing done. Every morning, I put my butt in my  chair, and my hands on the keyboard and did everything except write story words.

And I was getting madder and madder at myself.

Then, I read a productivity book. I don’t usually like self-help books. I find most of them a little too “magic elixir” if you know what I mean. Just do precisely what the author says and you’ll sell a million books, lose a pound every time you blink, AND rule the world. Yeah. Right.

Anyhow, my dear friend Gina Storm Grant gave me this book. Gina has a very sensitive BS meter, so if she thinks something’s good, I believe her. So this book is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

Talk about a whole new way of looking at your habits, good and bad. In the early chapters, Duhigg talks about the habit loop; cue, routine, reward.  A craving initiates a cue that prompts us to perform a routine that gets us a reward.

Here’s an example from the book; I hope I’m paraphrasing correctly. At work, in the middle of the afternoon, a woman is craving stimulation; she’s bored. She goes to the cafeteria, gets a doughnut and chats with her friends. She leaves the cafeteria feeling refreshed and ready to finish the day. However, she’s slowly gaining unwanted pounds.

Duhigg focuses on changing the routine of the habit loop. The craving is still satisfied, but without the unwanted side effects. Instead of going to the cafeteria, the woman goes for a brief walk, or chats with a friend at her desk.  The woman still satisfies her craving for stimulation, but doesn’t gain the weight.

For me, in the mornings, I craved the stimulation of creativity. My routine was to go to my desk and create all kinds of things. I was happy with what I’d created. My dilemma was there were no story words piling up on the page. So I changed my routine. Instead of going to my desk, I stayed at the kitchen table with my coffee and wrote my stories longhand. No distractions from email, Facebook, loops and groups, GIMP, WordPress etc etc. I wrote 200 pages of story, filling one notebook and making a serious dent in another.

Two hundred pages.

Totally blew myself away. Still can’t quite believe it.

So did this change of routine work for anyone else?

Here’s why Gina recommended the book: “At the time I sought out The Power of Habit, I was spending 10 hours a day at my computer, but rarely feeling I’d accomplished as much as I could have. I was also trying to form better eating habits and spending more than $50 a month at Weight Watchers to do so. I found this book helpful in both endeavours. I now accomplish more in my day and lost a total of 25 lbs.”

This is what my friend Wayne Tedder said after he took my suggestion and had been writing longhand for a while: “My heart opens up and expresses itself when I’m holding a pen. Since neither my heart, nor my pen, have a backspace key, or the ability to cut and paste, my word count while writing longhand always eclipses what I can accomplish at the keyboard. In writing longhand, I often feel that I’m not only writing a poem or story, but like I’m composing the music of my heart.”

Wayne is also the source of the title of this post. Don’t you just love those words? The texture of paper does change when it’s loaded with words, and so does the sound it makes when you turn pages. It’s such a tangible marker of progress. Somehow, more real than a number on a screen.

It’s tough to change a habit. Understanding habit building, breaking, and rebuilding will help you get the job done.

There’s no magical elixir involved.

You can get The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg on Kobo, Amazon and other fine retailers. Gina and I recommend it.

Celebrating Firsts

It’s been a long time coming. Learning curves have been steep enough to toss me on my back. Family crises have intervened. Distractions abounded. But I made it! YAY!

Massive hugs to all the amazing people who helped me get here.

These images now hold pride of place on my Wall of Fame.

My First Sale

I found this in my inbox the day after the release of ABOVE SCANDAL.

Joan's First Sale

My First Review 

This is hosted by Goodreads. Click on the image to see it in place.

Joan's First Review

Enough celebrating. Now back to the business of revising and editing the next story; SIGHT FOR SORE EYES to be released on November 23rd.

My Next Big Thing

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday Break.

Did you know that 2013 will be the Chinese Year of the Water Snake? Ancient Chinese wisdom says a Snake in the house means your family will not starve. Pretty snake!

To kick off my New Year, I’m jumping into the ongoing game of The Next Big Thing!

Thanks to Kelsey Browning, author of Sass–Kickin’ Love Stories and the Brain Candy Blog for inviting me to participate!

I answer ten questions about my Work-in-Progress and let you into my head space. C’mon in! But watch your toes; it’s crowded in here!

1) What is the working title of your book?

Sight for Sore Eyes

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

From the occupation of my hero and the hobby of my heroine. Asher is an ophthalmologist. Emma works in the china shop she inherited from her grandmother. She’s a photographer in her spare time. Her favourite subject is lightning storms.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Sexy small-town contemporary romance.

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ben Affleck for Asher as they share the same dark colouring and they way Ben cares about his family is perfect for the role of Asher. I can’t think who’s a match for Emma. Some lovely Irish girl, for sure. 

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Ophthalmologist Asher Stockdale wants Emma Finn to dust off her old dream of globe-trotting photographer, no matter the cost to his new dream of home, family and small-town life. Carpenter ants, cream pies, and a pair of scheming seniors help Emma and Asher to see what really lies before their eyes.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m seeking agency representation for my Chronicles of Clarence Bay series. But I’m also taking two courses on self-publishing in January, so things may change. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

107 days. Yes, I keep track. 🙂 It’s all part of my goal-setting.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t think of a specific book, only authors who share the readers I hope to appeal to. They would be Robyn Carr, Susan Mallery, Susan Anderson. These are readers who love an intimate emotional experience of authentic character growth in modern real-life relationships without save-the-world melodrama or make-believe creatures.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

These characters were introduced in Above Scandal, the first book in my Chronicles of Clarence Bay series. I was so charmed by them, that I had to write their story. 

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s set in Ontario Canada on the eastern shores of Georgian Bay, smack in the middle of cottage country. Though Clarence Bay is fictional, it’s modeled on the real town of Parry Sound which has a long history of lumbering, railways, and tourism. 

Do you have any questions for me about my stories?

To continue the fun, I’ve invited the following writers to build their link in the chain of The Next Big Thing. Their posts will be out next Wednesday, January 9th.

Gina X Grant, author of the fun and quirky Young Adult series, The Reluctant Reaper. 

Bonnie Staring, writer of Paranormal Young Adult, winner of fabulous writing awards, and awesome cheerleader. Nobody can squee like Bonnie—nobody.

Jessica Aspen, author of the Twisted Tales: Come Into the Woods series.

Mona Risk, author of sexy romance stories in settings around the world.

© Joan Leacott 2013

Sleight of Mind

Writers find ideas in a lot of different places; the shower, the cafe, a wine glass.

Many ideas pop up in the middle of some mundane chore or oft-repeated task.

Why does this happen?

I believe it’s “sleight of mind” at work.

Sleight of hand is a magician’s tool used to distract the audience’s attention away from the real action of a magic trick.

Sleight of mind applies the same principle to the two sides of your brain. While your worker-bee left side is safely distracted by an activity, the creative right side runs off down hidden alleys kicking up ideas like a kid kicks up mud after a rain.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to shut down the right side.

For me, doing dishes by hand does the trick. Or washing the floor. There’s something about bubbles… I think I’d rather take a bubble bath.

Where did you find your most recent idea?

© Joan Leacott 2012

Do I Know You?

On September 23rd, I volunteered to man the Toronto Romance Writers booth at the Word on the Street Festival  in downtown Toronto. A good crowd turned out despite the flirtatious weather, all sunny one minute and spitting rain the next.

My brainstorming and beta buddy Gina X Grant put in hours of work as volunteer wrangler, swag lady,  and booth boss. You can see her cool racks in the photo.

BTW, Gina recently won a three-book with Pocket Star of Simon & Schuster to publish her far-out funny Reluctant Reaper series. Ain’t it grand when your friends succeed?

When I showed up, Gina introduced me to another volunteer, Sherry Issac. And then the conversation went like this:

“What did you say your name was?” I asked.

“Sherry Issac.”

“Do I know you? Are you a member of TRW?”

“Yes. But, don’t think we’ve met.” She’s looking a little wigged out at this point.

But I’m persistent because her name means something to me. “Do you blog?”

“Yes.”

“About ghosts and haunted hotels and stuff like that?”

Now she’s really spooked. 😉

“I’m Joan Leacott. One of your followers.”

“Are you her? I follow you, too!”

Squealy hugs were exchanged, and we shared some fun and laughter with the other volunteers. After a long chilly day, a bunch of new and old friends went for sushi and sake.

Have you ever “gone live” with a social media friend? How did it turn out?

© Joan Leacott 2012

Silence in Writing

I adored The Artist. Jean Dujardin, as Valentin, deserves his Best Actor Oscar.

In one scene, the irrepressible Peppy disparages the broad gesticulations and exaggerated facial expressions of the old silent films as “mugging for the camera”. This film has none of that.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go see it now.

Yes, yes… but how does this relate to writing?

A lot of a modern novel’s emotional action is conveyed in dialog. What happens when you remove it?

You’re left with silence…

that needs filling with effective body language.

There’s a scene where Valentin is sunk deep in despair. His anguish is clearly understood through his slumped posture, his disheveled appearance, the look on his face, his lethargic movements.

Not a word is necessary.

One of my favorite comments when I critique or judge is get out of the character’s head and into her body.  Show a character’s emotion  by what’s going on in her body, not via her words.

Instead of “I want to shout at you so much!” , or she was furious at her ill mother but she couldn’t say a thing, use emotive body language, Cathy pressed a fist against lips tucked between her teeth.  Can you see Cathy desperately trying to keep her words contained?

Another example? Instead of “I’m scared to ask.”  or Hayley was so jumpy about asking her mom about her dad, how about Hayley’s bent leg bounced like a maniac rubber ball. She stabbed her thigh with the brush handle to stop the darn jiggling. The brush and her leg bounced together. Can you see the incredible tension?

The next time you’re trying to show a character’s response, imagine him in a silent movie. How would you direct him to show his emotion?

Tip: For an awesome course on body language, I highly recommend Mary Buckham’s Body Language and Emotion at http://marybuckham.com/Onlineclasses.html

© Joan Leacott 2012
photo © pressmaster/123RF Stock Photo

Plotting with Ripples and Waves

A recent post from Alicia Rasley at Edittorrent got me thinking about a theory I devised to explain  the impact of change in my life.

I call it The Ripple Effect.

The Little Version

Visualize a pebble dropped in still water. Plip. Ripples radiate out from the strike zone. Eventually the ripples dissipate and the water smooths out.

Small change, small impact.

The Big Version

Visualize a big granite boulder dropped in still water. SPLOOSH! A coronet rises around the strike zone. Big waves roll over the water’s surface. A long time goes by before the water settles.

Big change, big impact.

The Messy Version

Visualize both the pebble and the boulder dropped into the water at the same time. Plip. SPLOOSH! Ripples and waves spread in all directions. Crests and troughs are amplified and diminished.

That’s real life. Sigh.

The Story Version

How useful is my Ripple Effect theory?

For me, the natural extension of observing and thinking is writing. So I use my theory to plot stories. Here’s how.

The initial conflict in a book is the first pebble thrown in the still waters of a character’s ordinary life. It’s not necessarily a huge conflict, but it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Before the story waters have stilled, toss in a stone. What is the interplay of this slightly larger conflict with the first conflict? How does it cross and alter the first conflict?

Before the story waters have stilled, toss in more pebbles and larger stones.

Watch for unexpected collisions in the intersection of waves and ripples, dips and troughs. Watch how the crest of a wave is increased by a ripple. Watch how the dip of a ripple diminishes the crest of wave.

Surprise your characters and your reader, and maybe yourself, with unusual results of  the intersecting conflicts–the Ripple Effect.

Let the story waters still. Just a bit. Let your reader catch her breath.

In goes the boulder.

SPLOOSH!!!

Chaos. Conflict. Bwahahaha!

Then comes a rainstorm. Hundreds of thousands of drops fall. All the waves and ripples are beaten down. Conflicts are resolved. Order and peace return. The story waters return to a smooth glassy surface.

So what do you think? Does The Ripple Effect appeal to you?

© Joan Leacott 2012x-posted at Voices from the Heart

An Out-of-Head Experience

Sally and Tom are having a knock-down-drag-out battle of the sexes. Their repartee is blistering the air around them. Sexual tension seethes like a volcano, spewing steam and lava.

Can you hear it? Oh yeah, the dialog’s easy and lots of fun.

Can you see it? Even easier.

Can you feel it? Umm, not so much.

Why? Are you writing from inside your characters’ heads? Is your scene overloaded with internal monologue? Possibly.

Here’s an exercise to help you get out of their heads and into their bodies. Sit relaxed in a chair. Assume the identity of one of your characters–let’s try Tom. Fill your head with his words. Absorb the emotions behind the words. Now think–how would he mime those emotions and thoughts?

Mime? That’s right, get up out of your chair and mime. Skip the white face and go straight to gesture and movement and inarticulate sound.

Tom is angry. His hands are fisted, his shoulders tight, his breath constricted, and he’s yelling. That’s all true, and it’s all reactions confined to his head and torso that Sally might not even notice. Try using his limbs to express his anger. Does he throw up his arms, pace the room, slam a door? Now he’s moving around in the setting you’ve chosen for this fight. Even though he’s muzzled, he’s still expressing his emotion.

Now let’s go back inside his head. Under the anger is lust. A fine line separates the two. In typical romance fashion, he’s got a woody hard enough to bend nails–the hammering kind, not the manicuring kind.  What’s going on with his other four limbs?

Do you remember the delicious swoon-making ways that Rhett Butler handled Scarlett O’Hara in the movie? Not just carrying her up the staircase and kicking the bedroom door shut. Remember the kiss when he leaves her on the road to Tara before he goes off to war? Whew!

That’s what Tom wants to do to Sally. How do his arms and legs show that? One way is that his pacing swoops in and around the delectable Sally as he moves about the room. The anger drives him away, the lust draws him back. Another way is… you tell me.

How does your Tom or Sally mime the emotion and the thoughts that will make this scene pound in the hearts of your readers?

For inspiration check out the awesome Emotion Thesaurus at The Bookshelf Muse.

© Joan Leacott 2011x-posted at Voices from the Heart

Quiet on the Set!

Let’s take the scene from the gal’s point of view. Action!

She gave him a nice long hot going over, ending with his fine dark eyes.

He glanced away, then back. Who me?

Yes, you. I’m coming to get you.

Eyes a-twinkle, he answered her dare with a slight nod. Yes! She set off across the room, seduction on her mind and in the sway of her hips. He leaned back on the bar, a smile lifting a corner of his luscious mouth.

Cut! Too many words. Let’s try that from the guy’s point of view.

Action!

She walked. He salivated.

Cut!

How do you decide the point of view (POV) character? Yeah, I heard you, whoever has the most to lose in a scene gets point of view. Or whoever has the most to say, if you’re watching word count.

Ho. Hum.

Let’s try something different to help you figure it out. How about if a person who has nothing to lose gets POV?

I heard that snort of disparagement. I also heard the question you wouldn’t voice.

Put POV in the hands of a random stranger who couldn’t care less about the outcome of the scene?

Yep, a stranger.

But not a cool omniscient observer. Instead, choose a curious person (call them Pat) who just happens to be in close proximity and has been on both sides of the scenario. For the example, in my opening, Pat knows what it’s like to be a seducer and the seduced. Being without gender, Pat fully understands and shares the emotions of the man and the woman.

What flows through Pat’s senses? What outcome does Pat hope for? What would surprise Pat? If Pat was permitted one moment of interference, what would Pat do?

Have you got a scene that’s just not working? Let Pat explore your scene. Is your POV decision any easier? Did you get an interesting bonus by way of plot twist or character reveal?

© Joan Leacott 2011x-posted at Voices from the Heart

Speaking Non-words


The most common piece of advice about writing dialog is: sound natural, but not too natural.

Omit the hellos, the how are yous, the weather references, and other meaningless bits that are part of everyday conversation. The dialog must move the story along.

Excellent advice.

But there’s an overlooked category that intrigues me. It’s those little noises that communicate a wealth of information.

I call them speaking non-words.

Here’s a list I compiled of common non-words and my own spelling and long-form translation.

Uh-huh Accompanied by head shake. Yes; okay; I agree; I will; I’m following you.
Unh-uh Also spelled nuh-uh. Accompanied by nodding head. No; I don’t agree; I don’t get it; I don’t want to.
Huh? Accompanied by rising voice inflection and puzzled look. Please repeat that because I still don’t get it; I don’t believe you.
Huh Accompanied by small chin lift and facial shrug. You surprise me, but not much.
Meh Accompanied by small shoulder shrug and head tilt. I couldn’t care less; whatever. (Between you and me, I really want to slap the kid who says this!)
Ew! Repeat “w” to indicate extra grossness. What an awful smell/sight/sound/idea/image!
Blech! See Eww!
Eh? Favored by some Canadians, “eh” converts a statement into a question; e.g. “You’re going the movies, eh?”
Pfft! Accompanied by small wave of hand. I dismiss that irrelevant detail, no matter what you think.

Finally, there’s a special group of non-words that all mean the same thing.

Um, uh, hm, er I’m buying time while I think about your request; I’m trying to remember what I forgot; I’m about to say something you don’t  want to hear or make a bad pun

Repeat the second letter to extend the thinking time; umm, uhh, hmm. Not on “er”, because then you get a real word “err”. To drag time further, string a few of these I’m-thinking non-words together; e.g. Umm… er… uhh.

For me, non-words are essential to natural-sounding dialog. Like all goods things, alas, they must be used in moderation.

My list is by no means complete. Do have some non-words to add?

© Joan Leacott 2011x-posted at Voices from the Heart

In my previous post, I chatted about my madness as a writer. I may, perhaps, have another writer’s flaw. My non-writing friends consider it far worse than voices that wake me in the night. After all, my characters don’t disturb their sleep.

Latest hunky hero says “Hey.”*

This flaw strikes anytime, anywhere. It favors inopportune moments; a sob-broken eulogy, a co-worker’s tale of woe, over crème caramel in a romantic restaurant. Something catches my writer’s fancy.

Suddenly, I’m scrounging for notepad and pencil. Really, a writer should come with a built-in version.

It happens so often, the Loving Husband coined a phrase for this special spasm of my mine: Fodder Alert.

I confess. I hang my head in shame. I apologize in advance and arrears. Not only am I a mad writer, I’m a scene spy.

Family, friends, acquaintances; all are surreptitiously propositioned for story ideas. But strangers are better. They never find out they been—OMG—used.

Before you all shun me, please know that the final result seldom mirrors the originating incident. My peculiar madness bends and twists the original beyond recognition. Innocent contributors are protected by a thick veil of privacy. I do, after all, want peaceable relations with my family and friends.

When and where do your Fodder Alerts sound? Which was your favorite?

*Ryan Chisholm, hero of Above Scandal (my romantic women’s fiction work-in-progress) informed me, “I am not idiot enough to use a little girl against her own mother”. He and Carter of The Painted Ladies must be gossiping behind my back.

© Joan Leacott 2011

Am I Mad? Or am I a Writer?

The first time it happened was in the middle of the night. I woke from peaceful slumber, a deep masculine voice ringing in my ear. “You can’t make me do that! I’m no wuss!”

Who was the dark-eyed, dark-haired man protecting his masculinity? Not The Loving Husband. Though he does have lovely laughing brown eyes, hubby’s hair is mostly grey and mostly gone. Besides, he was sound asleep, snoring ever so slightly.

The vocal fellow was Carter Whealdon; a complete figment of my imagination, a character in my first novel, The Painted Ladies. I’d made him do something, can’t remember what, that offended his virile soul. And he was making himself heard.

My characters talk to me; all the time, non-stop. They tell me they don’t like the clothes I chose for them, the friends I picked for them, the relatives I dumped on them. Why is it they only complain?

Why can’t my characters cheer about the good stuff that floats out the depths of my imagination? Why hasn’t Danni Parlowe thanked me for gifting her with the above-mentioned hunk? Why doesn’t he whisper sweet nothings to her in the dark of the night, and leave me alone?

See that romantic photo at the top of the post? Well, Danni doesn’t care for that tattoo, no matter how sweet and sentimental the verse. My man Carter won’t have anything to do with this gal unless she’s a natural blonde. Sheesh! What’s a writer to do?

Go away, people of my conscious deep

I really need my beauty sleep

So on the morrow, at the keys

I finally write some stuff to please.

Do your characters complain or congratulate? Do you listen to them? Are you mad, or are you a writer?

© Joan Leacott 2011, x-posted at Voices from the Heart