How to Research Locations for Writing

Courtesy of Photo Morgue

Courtesy of Photo Morgue

We’ve all heard the old adage to write what you know, but seriously, how boring would that be? I want to learn just as much from writing as I do from reading. Although my first book, Denim & Diamonds, is set in Missouri, my second book is set in Maine. I’ve never been to Maine. Now, before anyone writes to me and points out every error in any of my books, let me point out that I write fiction. Sometimes I take creative license with exactly where things are or how they look. That said, I want the feel of my settings to come across to my readers, and I do research to be as accurate as possible.

For instance, here’s an excerpt from Fatal Impulse:

They drove down Main Street, rounded a curve and the harbor appeared before them. Tall masts sprung up from the boats like a forest of toothpicks, and white sails billowed in the salty breeze. As they turned into the parking lot, Andi was blown away by the number of cars already there. Parking would be at a premium after the tourists arrived after Memorial Day, but early May was still quiet. She drove down three aisles before she found a parking space.

Not lots of detail, but I used the senses of sight and smell, and incorporated the mention of tourists to give the idea of it being a touristy-area.

If you are writing about an area that you have not personally visited, there are lots of resources to draw upon.

  • People. Let folks know what you’re writing about and likely someone you know knows someone who is from there, or has visited there. Talk to them.
  • Books. Tourism books are great, but also pick up fictional books set in that area.
  • Google Earth. This is invaluable. You can actually “drive” the route you are talking about to see what the area is like.
  • Reviews. To include authentic details, read reviews of restaurants and shops in the area. You’ll pick up on all sorts of little details, like local specialties.

Word of warning: do your research, don’t wing it.

(as an aside: I read a book years ago by a woman from New Hampshire. Her book was set in Missouri. Her character stepped out of her motel room and looked “south at the Ozark Mountains.” This was mentioned several times in the book, about looking south at the mountains. I was acquainted with the writer, so I emailed with what I hoped was a helpful note about not being able to see the Ozarks from Kansas City, in case she decided to write another book set in Missouri. She sent back a snippy email that she was entirely capable of looking at a map and that the mountains should be clearly visible from Kansas City. Um, okay. I haven’t emailed her again, nor have I bothered to see if she wrote another book.)

#CritiqueGroup

http://www.amazon.com/Denim-Diamonds-Lori-Robinett/dp/1631030035/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405879835&sr=1-7&keywords=denim+%26+diamonds

Lori L. Robinett, author

The number of people who want to write novels is quite high, but very few people actually make it happen.  I get questions fairly often from aspiring writers, and a common question is how I found my critique group. My group is close-knit and I am very fortunate to have found them. Based on my experiences, here are my suggestions for finding your own group:

  • National Novel Writing Month. We all started as NaNo’ers. That’s how we met. When you participate in NaNo, you find others in your area who share your passion for writing. Some people might call it crazy, but we prefer to call it passion. ;o)
  • Network. Talk to your librarian. Tell people you work with that you are a writer. Tell your family and friends. Chances are, you’ll find other aspiring writers.
  • Test Drive. Don’t commit to a group until you’ve had a chance to read each other’s writing. Genre doesn’t matter as much as passion, enthusiasm, dedication, and skill level.
  • Find what works for you. My group meets every other week. We send a few chapters to each other by email the week before we meet, then we talk over suggested critiques face to face. But that may not work for you – do you want a high level overview of an entire novel, or are you looking for intensive line edits?

In a future post, I’ll give some tips about how to get the most out of your critique group. If you have ideas/tips, I’d love to hear them!

 

Making Time

One of the most difficult things about writing for me is making the time to write. We went on a camping trip this weekend. I imagined hours lazing by the pool, with my laptop out, going over edits for my next novel.

Didn’t happen. We went to town to get a late lunch. Stopped at a little shop that I’d always wanted to visit, which is going out of business. Although I really wanted the giant wine bottle that swung open, I just couldn’t bring myself to actually buy it.

Guess I really didn’t want it that bad after all.

Watched a movie last night. It was Star Trek: Into the Darkness. Of course I had to watch it. Again.

Got up this morning and had a nice, big breakfast, then broke camp and headed home. Of course, when we got home, I had to clean house. Then I had to make invitations for my step-daughter’s graduation party, then I had to check Facebook and email. And the hubs wanted me to spend some quality time with him. We watched Deep Space Nine and ate chocolate mint popcorn. A good use of time, I’ll agree.

BUT . . . where does my writing fit in? I have GOT to start building time into my schedule. Starting tomorrow night, the first hour after I get home is going to be dedicated to writing. If I am going to make the leap from hobbyist to professional, the time has to be respected.

Is this something you struggle with? How do you make time for what’s important?

Working for Success

Denim & Diamonds

Denim & Diamonds

I’ve been on pins and needles lately. I am THRILLED that CaryPress offered a contract on my novel, Denim & Diamonds. And now I’m waiting to find out if The Wild Rose Press will offer a contract on my manuscript, Widow’s Web. I’ve been writing seriously for over ten years now, and desperately want to be successful. Sometimes I think about how long it has been, how long it took to get that first contract, and I wonder WHY. Why did it take so long? Why am I struggling? Why do I open myself up to rejection time and time again?

Simple.

Because anything worth doing, is worth working hard for.

Success should not come easily. The things we want should not be handed to us. We need to learn to work for the things we want, so that we appreciate them. I mean, come on. We all know kids that were given everything they wanted, and they appreciate nothing. Think back to the 16 year old kid that is handed the keys to a new car on his birthday. Does he take care of it? Does he drive it carefully? Does he signal when he switches lanes? Does he keep it clean? Of course not! But when I got my first Mustang at 40ish, I washed that car every Saturday. I never ate or drank in it. That car was cleaner when I traded it in than it was when I bought it. I even did the wrenching on it myself (full disclosure: I do not have man hands. That’s my hubs in the picture.)

Doing our own wrenching

Doing our own wrenching

I hope the same is true with publishing. Because I want success so bad I can taste it. And, I promise, I’ll be super appreciative if the publishing gods will just smile down on me and grace me with another contract. (that sounds terribly greedy of me, doesn’t it? But that doesn’t change the fact that I want it . . . )

Shameless plug: Check out Denim & Diamonds on Goodreads. Here’s what you can do to help me out:

  • Enter the giveaway
  • Mark the book Want To Read
  • Share the book

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Denim & Diamonds by Lori L. Robinett

Denim & Diamonds

by Lori L. Robinett

Giveaway ends July 23, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Denim & Diamonds: Proof Copy

Denim & Diamonds

Denim & Diamonds

 

I just got an email from CaryPress. They are mailing a proof copy to me. I can’t wait to actually hold this book in my hands.They had no further changes after my last round of edits – but I bet I find something else when I read through the book again.

There’s something about reading something in a new format. If you have to proof something, print it out in another font or print it on colored paper. The human mind is an amazing thing. It sees what it wants to see. It knows what you meant to say. So, sometimes you have to trick it. That goes for writing of any kind – fiction, non-fiction, stuff for work.

Try this trick the next time you need to proofread something, and I bet you find something you’ve missed before.

Juggling Jobs

Denim & Diamonds by Lori Robinett

Denim & Diamonds by Lori Robinett

I work full-time as a paralegal. For the past several years, I’ve written during my spare time. In the last few months, I’ve upped the ante and started treating my writing as a true “second job.” What’s this mean?

  • I’m doing the fun stuff . . . and the not-so-fun stuff like editing and rewriting and marketing.
  • I’m writing for publication, not just for me. Which means when my critique partners tell me to kill my darlings, I do. <insert evil laugh here>
  • I’m writing every day, whether I am inspired or not. Regardless of how tired I am, I show up at the page and put my fingers on the keyboard.
  • I’m submitting. Although I think there is true value in the indie revolution, I wanted a contract. And I feel so honored that Cary Press offered me that first contract!
  • I’m spending a vacation day ensconced in my writing perch at the end of our sectional, instead of lounging in the pool with a drink and a book.

This is harder than I expected, and I have a newfound respect for those who turns hobbies into second careers. It can be done, but it’s tougher than expected! Not that I’m complaining! 🙂

Throwback Thursday #TBT: 8th grade graduation gate album

Here’s a post about the gate album I made for my daughter’s 8th grade graduation. Enjoy!

One of my hobbies is scrapbooking, which dovetails nicely with my love of writing. Those are two things I can do that really get my juices flowing. Over the weekend, I worked on a gate album to commemorate my daughter’s 8th grade graduation. I thought I’d share, since this is a project I’m especially proud of.

1. Pick your pictures. Just pick the good ones. The not so good ones can go into your regular album, but you want a special album like a gate album to shine. By saying good pics, I don’t mean just those that are perfectly composed & lit – I mean those that mean something, those that bring back memories.

2. Pick a color scheme based on your photos or your theme. My album was celebrating my daughter graduating from 8th grade and going into high school, so I went with the high school’s colors – green and black – and added pops of pink and yellow to accent. I let my daughter pick most of the papers since this is her album.

3. Choose your base. I’ve been on a tree hugger kick lately (not sure what’s up with that, but last week I stopped twice to help box turtles across the road), and decided that recycled materials would be good. We still use old fashioned telephone message pads at work, so I started saving the backs of them. It’s like chipboard, basically, about 4 1/4″ x 5″ or something like that. I mounted 4 of them to cardstock (or mounted the cardstock to them. Six of one, half-dozen of the other.) to use as the base, then I built up from there, using 2 across for some pages and 2 stacked atop one another for others. Just remember to trim your pages that are not the base to allow for binding.

4. Scrap each page, leaving room along the outer edges for binding.

5. Bind the outer edge of the album using whatever method you prefer. Personally, I like the Zutter Bind-It-All, but you could also hole punch holes then use yarn or ribbon to tie your pages together. You could also use jump rings through the holes. The reason I like the Zutter binding  is that it is easy to use, easy to turn, and is sturdy. Another note: if you use the Bind-it-All (or some other binder), flip your pages so that the album back is at the front when you bind, so that your rings will be “clean” on the outside and the rough binding wire will be concealed inside your album. If you’re not sure what I mean, email me and I’ll send detailed instructions.

And here are a couple of images:

The front of the album (which is actually 2 half pages):

And here’s one of the inside pages:

Thanks for looking – and let me know what creative projects you’re working on.

Drawing Inspiration

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I always assumed that the writers I look up to (Stephen King, James Patterson, Stuart Woods, Lea Wait, Jennifer Crusie, and many others) are surrounded by inspiration. That is, until I decided to start taking my writing seriously. One of the first affirmations I chose for myself was “I do not wait for inspiration to write, I am inspired by writing.” If I wait to be inspired, I won’t touch a keyboard for weeks, even months, because life gets in the way. There are so many demands on our time, that we don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to hit. One of the young writers I work with years ago told me the blank page staring at her freaks her out, and asked how I can sit down and just start typing. “What inspires you?” she asked.

The answer for me is competition. In order for me to be successful, I have to be accountable to someone other than myself. It’s way to easy to lie to myself and bargain with myself. I believe me and fall for it every time. At this point, I have eight completed novels (one published, one in the editing stages and the remainder in rough draft stage). I would never have gotten there if it were not for four very important things – in no particular order: Book-in-a-Week (BIC HOK TAM!!!), National Novel Writing Month, my critique group (this is a talented group: Colleen Donnelly, Ericca Thornhill, Carolyn Branch and Jennifer Bondurant – pay attention to those names. You’ll see them on the best seller list someday), and my friend Lynn.

I need that push, that drive, that accountability, which is currently offered by my critique group. And there used to be NaNo (this is only the 2nd year I haven’t competed). All of my completed novels started as NaNo novels (by the way, our little region frequently finaled in the top 10 for the average production per writer list!! Kudos to us!!). And that’s how I got hooked up with my writers’ group. I really like these people, and even though I only see them occasionally, we share a unique bond. I joined up as a Nano’er and stuck with them throughout the year. It is well worth it to have a face-to-face meeting with other writers. We writers are a different breed. By our very nature, many of us have tendencies towards introversion. This gives us a chance to talk to others that understand our hopes, our fears, our dreams, our frustrations.

So, that’s what does it for me. Accountability and competition.

And the chance to meet some fantabulous women for breakfast every other Saturday!

I encourage you to give serious thought to what inspires you. Do not wait for inspiration to hit. It doesn’t knock on your door and ask if now is a convenient time. Surround yourself with inspiration. Think about what fires you up and makes you productive. It may be something like a support group, or it may be something completely different, such as having a ritual before you begin writing. Once you find something that inspires you, incorporate it into your life, and start making your dreams become realities, bit by bit.

Make Yourself a Priority

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For years, I put my daughter first. She has now flown the coop. For the first time in my life, as an empty nester, I do not feel guilty putting myself first. But what does that mean? How do I make myself a priority? Today is a perfect example. I took the day off. A whole, entire day to myself, by myself. Feels decadent. And it is. But it is also work. I have a LOT that I want to accomplish today, because my time is precious. And by extension, by recognizing that my time is precious, I am recognizing that I am precious. I am editing, critiquing, drafting. I’m having so much fun! :o)

Over the past several months, I have done a few things for me and allowed my wants and needs to be a priority:

  • Went to a Star Trek convention. If you haven’t and you enjoy sci-fi at all, go. The con was an absolute hoot.
  • Went to ORACon 2013. Whatever you want to do with your life, whatever your goals, you must invest time and effort into achieving your goals. If you want to write, go to a conference. You will make connections and you will be inspired.
  • Went to Michigan with my husband and stepdaughter. That time was invaluable. It allowed us to reconnect and make memories.
  • Went to Gulf Shores with a good friend and her mother. The trip was amazing. I got to know myself a little better, allowed myself time to heal recent wounds, and spent time focusing on the craft of writing.

Hmmm. Looking over this list, I note a trend. Went. Travel and experiences are important to me. By experiencing new things, I grow. I learn. What have you done for you lately? How are you making yourself a priority?

 

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Courtesy of Photo Morgue

Courtesy of Photo Morgue

In my recent journaling, trying to mine the depths of my soul for writing, I received a tip to explore my wild side.  Yeah, right . . . I may have had a wild side when I was younger, but my days now consist of work, taking care of our furbabies, watching TV and going to bed, with a side of laundry & housekeeping for good measure. If I drink 2 glasses of wine, I’m sound asleep. I don’t drink and drive, don’t do drugs, don’t smoke. BUT . . . those times when I have pushed myself, I felt more alive than I ever have before.

  • We took a rented Jeep up & over Tin Cup Pass – a 4×4 trail in Colorado. That was exhilarating as all get out. It was fun, exciting, challenging. I remember two main things about that day: (1) having to pee so badly when we were above the tree line that I dropped trou & hunkered down behind a scrubby bush – just as a bunch of 4-wheelers came down the switchback trail above us. My ever-so-thoughtful husband snapped a pic. And (2) when we reached the summit, it was like being on another planet. Truly awe-inspiring beauty and solitude.
  • I went on a police ride along last year, during the downtown night shift. The officer who took me was very helpful, glad to answer questions and allowed me to experience more than I ever though I would get to. I remember a couple of intense moments from that night: (1) the ability of the officer to maintain his composure even when the perp puked towards him, (2) the strain in the officer’s voice when he was responding to an attempted suicide that turned into an attack, and (3) that moment when I was locked in the SUV in a rough part of town with flashing lights strobing around me and thought, “Holy cow, what on Earth am I doing here?”

So, what have you done that was a walk on the wild side for you? Something that pushed you out of your comfort zone?