Here are a few of the best book-related links I've found today:

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson
Lyndsay Faye's debut novel comes out today and it looks like it's just my cup of tea. Also, she's my sister's friend.

Conversation with Joe Finder from Jonathan Maberry's Big Scary Blog.

Q & A with Agent Jessica Faust from Editor Unleashed

Creating Characters that Jump Off the Page from Casting the Bones

Procrastinating on the Novel? Write a Blovel Instead from

I have given myself a self-imposed deadline of May 31 to complete the first draft of my novel. It will be a challenge, but I am tired of feeling like this is open-ended. I'm far enough along to make a concrete commitment to finishing and May 31 it is.

That means I'll probably be slowing down on the blog posts a little. I do have a lot of content I need to post but it will only happen if I have time (and energy) after fulfilling the day's writing goals.

What Next?
I wish I could say that after the first draft is finished I'll be ready to start looking for a publisher. Not so! My first draft is kind of like a big rough diamond–I know it has some gem-quality writing in it but it will take a lot of cutting and polishing to get to the flawless stone.

I'm a jewelry maker, of course I have to use a gemstone analogy!

So my summer will be filled with revisions and re-writing. At the beginning of August, I'll be going to London with my husband to explore all of the locations in the novel. I'll take pictures and write descriptions, and I hope to include a feature on my blog called "Isabel Wilde's London." Many of the locations I'm using I'm already familiar with, but I need to go to each one to ensure they make sense historically. Most of this I can do from home, but I think visiting each location will bring the story to life for me in an important way.

So When Can I Read it?
That's probably a long way off. I will begin looking for an agent as soon as I feel I have a polished manuscript worthy of publishing, which will hopefully be in the fall. After that, there is a degree of luck involved and in addition to querying agents, I will begin writing the second book. One thing I didn't realize when I started this–the process never ends! But that's a good thing, because I love living in this world I've created.

Thankfully, my case of writer's block seems to have cleared up.  Today's writing task was to introduce a new and important character into the story.  This character is to be handsome and charming, and a possible love interest for my heroine.  It seemed, then, that writing his physical description was important.  This is what I wrote:

"Up close I could see that XXX was indeed a handsome man.  He had brown eyes and a thin brown mustache.  His hair, which fell to his shoulders in loose brown waves, appeared to be his own and not a periwig.  When he smiled, the left side of his mouth raised slightly higher than the right, revealing straight white teeth.  His manner of dress was fashionable but not foppish."

Is it just me, or does this guy sound a little like Rhett Butler?

It's moments like this that I am reminded that I am new to fiction writing and that I've got a lot to learn.  To that end, today did some reading of On Writing by Stephen King. 

I still struggle with descriptions, particularly, how much description to give.  Coincidentally, that is exactly the topic I happened upon in On Writing.  King confirms what I already suspected was true–belaboring a description is as tedious for the writer as it is for the reader.

My job here is to convey a not only a sense of what he looks like, but also to convey my heroine's interest.  How do do this effectively remains the question.  One thing is clear–I'm going to have to find a few other handsome-male-rogue-archetypes besides Rhett Butler (I say this because this is not the only male character in the story who somehow bears a striking resemblence to Mr. Butler).  Any suggestions?

I only include this writing sample because I know it won't appear like this in the finished manuscript.  To find out what XXX ends up looking like and how I describe him, you'll have to wait for publication.

Thank You
First of all, I'd like to start by saying thank you for all of the kind comments you wrote regarding my last post about losing Kramer.  That was a tough post to write and I really appreciate all of you who disregarded my warning about it being sad and read it anyway.

Writer's Block
I've had a wicked case of writer's block these last few days.  I've experienced it before, and the good news is that the further I get into the writing of this novel, the less I get it and the less severe it is when it does come.

That's not making me feel any better at the moment, however.

My general method of conquering writer's block is to try to push through it.  That means that even if every bone in my body wants to flop on the couch and watch Rock of Love, I ignore them and force myself to write.  If I don't have a particular scene in mind or I've finished all of my current chapters, I review my chapter outline and see if it sparks anything.  Lately, nada.

Get Your Facts Straight — Then Toss Them Aside
Without a doubt, the biggest reason for my writer's block is not having a clear idea of where my story is going.  To a large extent, I'm not writing off the top of my head.  This is fiction, sure, but many of the events and characters existed in real-life.  One thing I've had trouble grasping is that even though this story is based upon historical events, I don't have to adhere to them exactly.  It is, in fact, impossible to tell this story based solely on the facts of the case (or at least a book anyone would want to read).  I'm not writing nonfiction for a reason–I want to play.

For example, there is a key person in the real-life story who doesn't enter the action until a couple of months into the investigation.  If I was writing a nonfiction account of the events, this wouldn't matter, I would record the story as it unfolded.  In a novel, especially a mystery, this character should appear much earlier in the story.  For a long time, my outline stuck to the true events fairly strictly and I planned on introducing this character later in the book.  Today, however, I decided I need to get him into it by the beginning of the second act–at the very latest.  There are a couple of logical places I can do this and I will revise some of my current scenes to reflect this decision.

What will this do?  Well, it frees up the story in a lot of ways.  Because this person was so central to the true life events, he can now become a key character in my novel, and an interesting one at that.  I can use him in multiple ways to create conflict throughout the book, but if I wait until later to introduce him, he will have minimal impact.

But what this really means is that tomorrow I have a fresh burst of inspiration to work with and hopefully, it's adios writer's block.

Game On
When my husband and I wrote our teleplay for a pilot called Game On a few years back, it was the most significant writing I had done in years.  In my previous career I had published a few manuscripts on educational systems around the world, and contributed to another publication, but because these were reference materials I never gave much thought to the fact I was published.  They didn’t count.

The opportunity to write a pilot for a half-hour sitcom came up and my husband and I did a sort of “wonder twin powers unite” thing and got to work.  We had never collaborated on any project before and while it was not completely smooth sailing, we got the project finished as a team and it felt good.  I was energized by this writing in a way that I hadn’t been in years.

One of the reasons we worked well together is that we both brought different strengths to the project.  He was more the “outliner ” while I was the one who filled in the details.  We’d go to lunch several times a week and discuss one liners and scenes together (and argued quite a lot about what was actually funny), then we’d come home and get to work.

Outlining My Own Process
When I began writing my current WIP, a novel, I felt lost.  This was my own project–I didn’t have a partner to write the bones of the story for me.  And at the beginning, when there are no words written, the empty page seems like an ocean of failure, not opportunity.  I was overwhelmed, but still determined.

I knew almost from the start that I needed to work from an outline.  Some authors don’t–I’m not one of them.  The first thing I did was write what I thought would be the ten core scenes that would move the story forward.  I say “thought” because over the last few months of writing, things have changed and those original 10 scenes have been moved around, updated, or taken out.  Writing them, however, helped immensely during those first days of staring at the empty page.

I found it wasn’t enough, however, because I still didn’t have a clear vision of the beginning, middle, and end of my story and that was causing writer’s block.  I wrote a 20 chapter outline with one-sentence descriptions and suddenly things really got started for me.  I made notes where key actions had to occur to move the story forward (things such as turning points, complications, temporary triumph, etc).  Though this 20 chapter outline has changed as well (and honestly, is missing a few points) it has been the true beginning of getting this novel written.

If you’ve never embarked on writing a novel before and don’t know where to start, I recommend trying the 20 chapter outline first.  Don’t worry if you can’t fill in all twenty chapters–this will evolve over time and give you a mental image of the scenes that need to be written.  Write the scenes that are clearest to you first, and they will spawn new scenes.  If the 20 chapter outline doesn’t work, try something else.  But most of all, start writing.

Perhaps it was all that thinking I did about writing and depression, but in the last couple of days I've been ruminating about my history as a writer and the types of writing I've done throughout my life.

When I was young, writing was really my only creative outlet.  I have a journal filled with the poetry I wrote as a teenager and in college, and reading it now is, um, interesting.  When I was a senior in high school we did a unit on Shakespeare's sonnets, and I was quite taken with the structure of them.  This is the first one I wrote–an assignment for the English class:

If I were to reach out and call to thee,
In speaking would my words make me a fool?
If I looked within your soul would I see
A heart of stone and eyes forever cool?
Yet even if I never bare my heart,
In looking at you my eyes betray me.
They speak of feelings words cannot impart
And show you all the passion locked in me.
To say that I love you should be a lie;
For love is only true if is shared.
But I would put one more star in the sky
To know for one short moment that you care.
    In loving you I've nothing left to give–
    I sometimes wish you'd die so I might live.

So much aching in the heart of a 17 year-old girl!  I am not 100% sure, but I think I remember the boy I wrote this about (and I'm friends with him on Facebook now, if I'm thinking of the right person).  I was all melodrama and tears back then–this is why I say I wouldn't go back to my youth for anything in the world!

There are eight sonnets in the journal, and five of them are about various forms of unrequited love (for the first 28 years of my life there was no other kind).  One is about God–I was once a devout believer–and letting go of Him was a painful but unavoidable part of my life.  I don't think I'll be posting that one.

There are other poems besides sonnets in the journal, but I think perhaps the sonnets are the best.  The constraints of the Shakespearean sonnet require the writer to keep things tight and choose words wisely–good practice for any writer.  I responded to it then and I respond to it now, even if I'm not quite the bundle of teenage angst I was back then.

I was desperately trying to think of a topic to write about today when this fell into my lap via RonHogan on Twitter:

Writing and Depression:  the Kiwiburger Conversation

I have long wanted to discuss my depression in relation to my writing/creativity, but it seems so difficult to put into words.  How does one even describe depression?  I'll start by answering a couple of the questions posed in the Kiwiburger blog.

1. What is depression?
To me depression is like hovering on the edge of a cliff that you are trying not to slip off of.  You use all of your mental (and sometimes physical) energy to stay on the edge and not fall.  It is exhausting, and you always feel like you're dangerously close to slipping.

As a chronically depressed person, I live very much in my head.  I am overly analytical and I have an active imagination.  I am also very introverted and though well-liked and on the outside, fairly sociable, my preference is to be by myself or with my husband.

I do not use writing as a coping mechanism.  For me writing is a compulsion that taunts me mercilessly.  It's like exercise.  The process itself is miserable, but the end result is worth it.

2. If you live with depression, how/when did you first realise it? Was there a formal diagnosis at some point?

I have lived with depression my whole life, or at least as long as I can remember.  When I was young, I staved it off by reading my favorite books over and over.  I reckon I've read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret more times than anyone on the planet.

During college, my depression hit a fever pitch.  Already low on self-confidence, I found myself thrust into a new environment with no support system, no boundaries, and copious amounts of alcohol.  By the time I did build up that support system, I had already learned that alcohol was an effective, though temporary, form of self-medication.  Bad choices, lots of them, were made, particularly in the area of (shall we say) interpersonal relationships with boys.  Without a doubt, college was the worst four years of my life.

I'm very pleased.  My word count for the week was 4169.  I also made significant progress in outlining my chapters (which I find helped me actually write more) and sussing out my story.  I have always found it a challenge to incorporate my research with my writing but this week I seemed to have fallen into a groove.

Better yet, my total word count so far is 30,041. 

The Duke's Theatre, where Lucian Wilde's plays are produced

After a horrible start on Monday wherein I did nothing very useful, I was determined to make Tuesday productive.  Much of Tuesday was spent outlining chapters, which as I said above, really helped me move the story forward.  Wednesday through Friday was spent writing.

My biggest challenge continues to be an inability to see how this is going to end.  There are several possibilities.  Another challenge is taking what is really a very complicated political situation and explaining it so that it's entertaining.  I have now become a Popish Plot Geek, and the trouble with that is that it's easy to make assumptions that other people will know what I'm talking about.  Conversely, it's also easy to assume the reader needs to know everything, thus rendering my novel boring and unreadable.

I read an interview with David Liss today that perfectly voices my predicament:

"A lot of historical fiction makes the mistake of either not knowing how to effectively deploy research or feeling too beholden to actual, historical events in the script," he explains. "My feeling is that history makes for great history, but it doesn't necessarily make for great fiction, and that if you're writing a historical novel, the history needs to be driven by the things that make great novels. That history is there as a context and setting and background, but that it needs to be foremost a story about characters. A lot of it, I think, is… putting character before research.

"Of course, I'm not saying I make things up. But I feel there's a certain kind of historical novel that wants to basically novelize history; the novelization of historical events… It's a perfectly valid way of telling a story, and I have nothing against it, it's just that I don't do that."

When I'm not writing, I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about why I'm not writing.  One of the biggest reasons, I think, is feeling overwhelmed by this seemingly monumental task.  Outlining helps with this, but I am realizing an even bigger part of my writer's block is coming from a lack of clarity with the story itself.  I know what my characters want, kind of, but not to the extent that they are 100% real to me yet.

Useful Links:

Outlines:  Ruining the Fun Since Chapter One - From Deadline Dames via toniandrews

Guest Blogger Terry Brennan - via RachelleGardner, a first-time author describes the editing process

The Book Deal - Editor Alan Rinzler's blog about the publishing industry

Published Authors Deal with Insecurity - Author Lionel Shriver talks about her experiences with her seventh novel

What do your Characters Want? - A great post by Literary Agent Nathan Bransford

I joined Twitter around the same time I joined Facebook, but I never used it because, well, it didn't seem very useful to me.  At the time, I suppose it wasn't.  I only truly got interested in it in the last month, when John at This Young House posted this:

If you’ve noticed the “Tweet Nothings” widget on our sidebar, then you probably already know that we’re on Twitter. I’m the primary tweeter between the two of us, using it to share tidbits that aren’t quite full-post-worthy and keeping you updated when we’re on the move (like if we’ve just spotted a new deal while out shopping). We’d love to mutually follow more of you, so check us out here and click “follow” under our picture. No clue what Twitter is? Watch this to get you started.

I thought "Hey, that's not such a bad idea!  I'll try that myself."  I was intrigued by the concept of microblogging, and unlike Facebook, where I generally post drivel for all my friends to see, I planned to use Twitter in much the same way I use my blog.  To pass on information.

But Twitter really exploded for me when I read about something called #queryfail in Media Bistro's Galley Cat blog.  During #queryfail, agents and editors twittered their worst queries.  As someone who is writing their first novel but who has no experience with the publishing industry, I was completely interested.  I headed on over to Twitter and was "introduced" to a group of people who were entertaining, honest, knowledgeable, and best of all, willing to share information.

On any given day, I am treated to a selection of links as diverse as these:

Doris Lessing:  On Why Autobiography is Inevitably Untrue via Stephka, who writes The Crooked House

50 Reasons No One Wants to Publish Your First Book, via DanielLiterary

Insane Hiking Trail via EGDeedy (RT Zeblue_Prime and Maczter)

Novel Approach:  Undercover at Library via KevinRoose, an author whose book UNLIKELY DISCIPLE: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University comes out this month.

Q & A with Literary Agent Michelle Brower via mariaschneider

What's the Hook?  The Art of the Pitch via joefinder, best selling author

I follow authors, literary agents, editors, book publicists–anyone who I think will post useful information for me to gobble up.  Right now, I'm pretty much in listening mode, but as I learn and find things to share, I will be more of an active participant.

To use a Twitter-appropriate analogy, I am like a baby bird with my beak wide open, waiting for its mommy to come back to the nest to feed me.  Feed me information!

Baby hummingbirds by T. Solis

Of course, I also follow crafty-types and DIYers because, ya know, that's in my blood.  Truth be told, however, those folks don't tweet near as often as the literary-types, so most of what I get out of twitter is in that vein.

Here's another good post on why Twitter is useful.

I leave you with a few twit-bits from Top 10 Tips for Twitter…And Life, via Bookgal:

1. Fluff and filler are no longer an option. Nobody has time/interest in reading them. Get to the point.

2. Be real. 140 chars is cut to the bone – you can’t wear a fake character on top and still fit.

3. Pick what’s important. You could use twitter to talk about your day down to the bowel movements, but then you’d have nobody following you. People follow you on twitter because what’s important to you is a match with what’s important to them, so share it!