interesting link:

Hey all,

Author Tessa Dawn just did an interesting post on her blog about the distinction between Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance. I think it’s interesting for those of us writing in those genres–especially if you’re on the edge between two of them or writing in more than one. Thought I’d share if anyone was interested.

Read her post here.

Something about Tessa’s post got me thinking about writing in multiple genres. I work on manuscripts in different genres. I’ve written YA and am currently working on a paranormal romance. I know some writers use different pen names for both, but it’s hard enough to keep up with one blog/ fb&twitter account/ website. Based on what I’ve read, the common path is to have a different name for different genres (thinking Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb).

Still, there are writers who use the same name and have written for both teens and adults. Melissa Marr, who’s written YA up to this point, is coming out with an adult novel (Graveminder–comes out in May and looks like a delicious read). A number of writers of adult fiction have come out with YA novels. So my inclination (for the moment) is to write under the same name.

At this point, I figure I’m a long way off from having to worry about that, so I’m just plugging away, word by word. Have any of you had similar musings? Have you come to any conclusions?

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Wondrously formed:

“I have found when I tried or looked deeper inside/ What appears unadorned might be wondrously formed.” ~ Carrie Newcomer, “Geodes

I reached a point today in revising where the story just opened up; it let me in. I always talk about finding the heart of the story, the place where it sings. I caught a hint of that melody today. I’ve always known it was there in this story. My main characters, Zoe and Blake, are the kind of people who’ve had to keep a lot of their emotions and struggles on the inside. Zoe in particular isn’t good at being vulnerable and letting anyone in. Yes, sometimes me included. So when the story opened up tonight, even if I don’t have the plot hammered out, I found the haunting music of their story.

And isn’t looking inside, looking deeper, what being a writer is all about? Journalists dig for facts; poets search for images in the everyday. Storytellers, we’re all searching for heart, for meaning. Our characters change during the course of the story. But so does the writer. I don’t think I’m the same person at the end of the story as I am at the beginning. I’ve always known the characters change, the story changes, the words on the page are changed again and again. But the personal transformation of the artist. I’ve known it was there. Tonight I’m very aware of how my characters and their tale are affecting me–not just as a writer, but as a person.

I’m almost afraid to say it. It’s like a dream that might slip back into the fog; a butterfly landing on an outstretched hand. I don’t want to scare the story away. But it’s those moments that remind me why I’m a writer. They remind me of the kind of person I am. Someone who’s always looking for meaning in the world around me. Not larger-than-life meaning. But the things that give life meaning. A grandmother’s kitchen. An old love letter. An inside joke. A place that brings back a hint of a memory we can’t quite recall.

I’ve been told I like “sad” things. My husband just mentioned it today, as we were listening to the song above. Sad songs, sad books, sad movies: He’s not the first one to say it. Which I find odd, because I don’t think I like sad things. I love beauty. I love things with spirit, and meaning, and depth. I like to look down into the deep places of my soul. That’s where art comes from. That’s where love comes from.

Yes, I, too, have found that what appears unadorned might be wondrously formed. The simplest words can make magic when they come together in just the right way. A few brush strokes can make us feel something we can’t even identify. The perfect image can break us and make us whole at the same time.

The story I’m writing has a long way to go. Some days I’ll feel in tune with it. Other days I might feel as though I’m trying to pick the lock or use a battering ram to break in. Somewhere inside is the place where my characters are changing. And finding that place, I think, will change me as well.

Here are some of the lyrics to "Geodes," if anyone is interested:

What a week: Friday wrap-up and plans for the first half of 2011

After a new year that started off in a bit of a funk, I finally put on my running shoes this week (so to speak).

One of my goals for this year is to read one book a week. So far I’ve read: Green Witch by Alice Hoffman, Belle by Cameron Dokey, and Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. The last has quickly shot up to my all-time faves list. It does everything a book is supposed to do: it captivates you, it haunts you, and it changes you. What more could you ask for out of a book?

My second and much loftier goal for the year is to finish my current WIP. I made a lot of progress last year but started spinning my wheels a little as I returned to it in 2011. On Monday, I met with my crit group (Amelia Ross and Kathleen Foucart) for a write-in session (take three writers, one local coffee shop, and several hours of intense writing). Focusing on a short story I’ve been working on proved to be just the thing I needed to find my groove with my longer WIP. Once I got going, it’s been easier to pick up speed.

So I’m dedicating the month of January to making extensive revision notes, going through all of the copy I currently have, and making a scene chart listing everything I’ve written and what I still need to write. I’ve never been a plot-outliner. I usually find that when I outline, I’ll follow it, even if it takes me in the wrong direction. But I’m so close to the end of this project that, at this point, creating a scene chart just makes sense. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure the story still has plenty of surprises in store for me and my characters. But as a compulsive list-maker, I find there’s a point in the process where these kinds of overviews are necessary.

February and March will be dedicated to rewriting scenes in need of major revision and writing the remainder of the story. Soon after that, I aim to have a finished first draft (probably something like version 1.4). So sometime in the spring, when my thoughts are full of seeds and flowers and there’s dirt under my fingernails, when I’m dreaming about pretty sandals and scheming up picnic menus, I hope to be sending the story to my crit group and just let them have at it. (Heads up, ladies.)

So thanks for hanging in there with me through some slow-going for the first half of January. I hope to be able to keep up with the blog, checking in at least once a week. And even when I’m not blogging as frequently as I’d like, rest assured that I’ll still check in to see what everyone else is up to. One of my favorite things about LJ is that I’m not just writing in my own blog, but also finding out what’s on the minds of my fellow writers/readers/bloggers. It’s such a great extension of the writing community that helps us to blossom as writers/artists.

How DID Stella get her groove back?

In the fall, I turned my attention to teaching, to helping others become stronger writers. My days were full of day job No. 1 (PR-type writing) and teaching: meetings, conversations with students, photocopying, and long rounds of e-mailing. My nights were full of lesson-planning, lecture-writing, creating assignment sheets and tests, and, because I teach an upper-level writing course, lots and lots of grading, writing line edits and comments until I thought my hand might fall off. And you know what? My students make it worth it. When I bring that kind of dedication, I see confused students find a voice, I see strong students grow stronger, I see my enthusiasm reflected in their eyes and their work. And that makes the late nights worthwhile.

What suffers, though, is my creative work. I worked on a few small projects, but I wasn’t able to finish anything. By the end of 2010, I felt drained. Even though I accomplished a great deal (I wrote about 2/3 of current WIP), it didn’t feel that way.

So now here I am, with a semester off from teaching, ready to throw myself back into my novel with all of the energy and passion that I did last summer. But picking up where I left off isn’t as easy as I had hoped. And that feeling, that sinking feeling of being stuck, it’s starting to get to me. I’m writing slowly, but I feel disconnected from my work and my characters. I worry a lot, about not being able to get to where I want to go–to finish this story, to write the next one, to reach the level of writing I want to reach. Thoughts of finding an agent and becoming a published writer leave me dizzy. So I’m trying to live for this scene, this day, this moment. But I can’t shake the gnawing feeling in my gut that I’m spinning my wheels.

But I don’t give up writing. Maybe it’s one of those “If you build it, they will come,” scenarios. If I keep writing, the muses will tiptoe in the door. If I put my fingers on the keyboard, the story will begin to seep out of me. If I sit in that space each day and just keep writing, the characters will start telling me their stories again.

So writers, we all get stuck. Do you ever struggle with getting back into a story once you’ve left it for a while? What helps you get back into the swing of things? How do you get back into the groove of the story?

Writing is not an easy profession, especially when you’re starting out, when you’re writing a story you don’t know if anyone besides your crit group will ever read. I just have faith that the story is an end unto itself, that it’s finishing the story, not publishing it, that matters. Writing a fantastic story, one that sings on the page, even if it takes me years, that’s the goal. The other stuff will come later.

I know the passion is there, simmering beneath the surface. The key to writing, as we like to say, is just to write. But how do you get back to the story when you just feel STUCK, when you’re writing but you feel removed from it and it doesn’t seem to get you (or the story) where you need to go? Writers, I’m curious about your personal experiences with your own stories. Any thoughts?

Do you become a poet? Or are you born one?

A friend recently posted a blog entry about poetry. Is it a learned skill or a gift with which some of us are just innately blessed? she asked. I started responding to her entry as a comment and realized that, instead of taking up space in her comments section, I would write a more in-depth response here.

I think it’s a great question, because so many times as artists, people tell us how “lucky” we are to have such a talent. Art oftentimes seems like a mystery. But even if, through personality, our natural inclinations, strengths, environment, we seem to just possess a skill, it needs to be cultivated. So, in short, I do believe that we learn to be artists (this term for me encompasses any number of fields, from writing to painting, sculpting, music, theater, etc.). I think all writing is a learned skill.

Sometimes we think that that being a poet is a natural talent because some people start reading and writing poetry when they’re young, then write poetry in college or grad school, continuing into adulthood. So they make it look effortless. But they’ve just been practicing and learning for a long time.

In my first college creative writing class, our professor wrote on the syllabus that 3 percent of our grade would be based on “natural genius.” It was a joke. (We didn’t get it.) He was both taking us down a notch and reassuring us. To the artsy creative types in the class: It’s not a god-given skill. You’ve got to work for it. You’re not as good as you think you are. To those who felt nervous or in over their heads: Relax. This is a class, just like any other one. You’re here to learn a new skill, or polish one you’ve already begun developing.

I think that the secret to all art is listening. We listen closely to the world around us, we look closely, “we listen to the breathing beneath our breathing” (to borrow a phrase from poet Joy Harjo). So writing poetry is learning to listen to the world and to our own souls.

My friend asks, “If a person can learn, how do you recommend they start? Is there any ‘secret’ to it other than writing bad poems until you get better?” So, from a more practical standpoint, I suggest reading poetry. I find reading both silently and aloud allows me to more deeply experience a poem. We might read a poem a hundred times and just start digging beneath the surface. The slowness of poetry is what makes it so enjoyable.

Secondly, write often, knowing that a lot of what you write won’t make it into your final poems. But you might write a hundred poems just to get to the one you’ve been searching for. I don’t know if you write “bad” poems until you get better. I suspect even great poets write bad poems. They’ve just developed an ear for what works and what doesn’t, which makes weeding out the good images, lines, stanzas, and poems easier as they go.

And share those poems with poets. Poets see things others don’t, and they know how to explain those strengths and weaknesses. It’s like asking someone, “Why is my car making that sound?” A friend might say, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s the transmission?” Or, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Your car sounds fine.” But a mechanic can look inside, tinker around, and will understand the complexity of how the machine works and what’s going wrong.

I wish I could say that writing poems isn’t so different from writing prose. But it really is, just like sculpting and painting are different skills. Poems are image-based; they capture moments and moods. Their metaphors give face to the abstract. When T.S. Eliot writes, “the burnt-out ends of smoky days,” we get it on a deeper level before our intellectual self grasps it. On a foggy night in the city, with steam wafting up from the grates, on a late evening full of grit, I feel the truth of it. I see it, I hear it, and I feel it. Eliot listened carefully, and he wrote. It’s that simple. And that complicated.

So poets and fiction writers alike: What do you think? Is it a natural talent or a learned skill? Or is it both, a natural talent that needs to be polished? And how do we go about doing that? How do you train yourself to “listen?”

Referenced works