Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Word Count - 30,500!

I'm writing again finally! Putting this blog together seems to make it easier to sit down at my computer. It's less stressful to write the blog because I don't need to keep so many threads in place in my head, nor pause to do Internet research when I get stuck not knowing my subject matter well enough.

When I wrote Arrowstar, it seemed as if the vast space given to a novel quickly became an endless desert I kept struggling to cross. The more I wrote, the less tightly written I felt the book became as I tired to "make it long enough."

I'm a student of journalism and having taken newswriting courses at Arizona State University back in the 80s, I'd learned how to communicate the news using the least amount of words possible. Tackling a novel gave me freedom to describe people and places in great detail, while keeping in mind the admonition that each tidbit I choose to include must contribute something vital to the storytelling.

The number of pages in a novel varies according to what font you might be using and where your page margins are set. It also varies with the page layout chosen for publication. I've found "number of words" to be the best measure of my writing progress on a novel. I finally realized this as I wrote Arrowstar. I felt the book was complete, but I struggled on with the writing because the number of pages I'd written didn't seem right. Then, when I began looking at word count, I knew I could trust my gut feeling it was time to wrap up the writing.

I consulted several resources about word count for the various kinds of novels and found the length I needed varied from 50,000 words up to 120,000. I settled on somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 to judge my creative progress. Knowing those numbers helps me determine where I am in the story arc.

As I outlined this novel (something I couldn't seem to do with Arrowstar), I divided the novel into the three obvious sections all writing manuals list: Beginning, Middle, and End. Then I began thinking within those boundaries. I lost focus by the time I got halfway through the Middle section, so the rest of the outline seems sketchy now that I've reached that point.

I need the characters to speak to me as I write and let the story take shape in the process. However, it has been a plus up to this point knowing where the next chapter would lead.

Looking at a story arc diagram today, I realized how it would have served me well to think about the "crisis" points in this story in more depth when creating my outline. The arc suggests a couple of "bumps in the road" for the characters as the story ramps up followed by two more "crisis" points halfway through the middle leading up to the climax and falling action.

Another thing I read today made me think about how a focus on the characters and their troubles, personalities, wants, needs and desires must drive the plot. If I focus more on where the characters want to go, then the plot will work itself out just by letting the characters live in the story!

It makes sense to me looking at plot development that way, so today I'll pay more attention to what my characters are trying to tell me. However, I'll also need to take some time to research some of the finer points of ranching. Although I've had dreams of being a cowgirl, I'm really nothing more that an "urban cowgirl." I know zilch about ranching and turning a profit doing it.

Here's what cheered me up considerably yesterday as I got serious about getting more words into this story: I've written a bit more than 30,500 words. That means I'm quickly sneaking up on the middle of the story! I'll have to hustle to finish by the end of the year, but now I feel like I can drive toward the end and begin the fun editing that ensues when smoothing out the more subtle and finer points of the story.

Here's today's little light bulb: Structure, routines, goals and maps help give meaning and direction to living, and that same scaffolding holds the elements of a novel together.

Write on!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Author Website Now Available!

I'm getting ready to go to my 50th high school class reunion, so I thought I'd create some new business cards advertising my books to hand out while I'm there. In the process, I signed up for a basic website the business card site offered. You can check it out here.

I'd appreciate hearing your suggestions for the website. I think I can add an RSS feed so that my blog will also appear there. I can also add other pages to the site. If you think of anything that would be eye-catching, please let me know. I have some experience creating websites, but it has been some time since I've ventured into html-land. Things sure are a lot easier now with the handy creation software available. I know what html code looks like, and I'm not anxious to write any on my own again!

If you don't want to leave your comments here, you can email me at I usually post a link to my blog entries on Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter, so you are welcome to comment there as well.

I haven't wanted to take the time to market my novels up to this point. The website, this blog, and my Twitter account are my first fragile attempts at generating interest in my work. Having a readership would be a gift worth the time investment involved. I'm looking forward to hearing from my readers, savoring and learning from their feedback.

I'm very excited about the companion books I've decided to write that will be published under Arrowstar's protagonist's name, Star Lance. A Train Robber's Tale will be the companion book to Arrowstar and The Storm Women will be the companion book to Charade, the second book in the Arrowstar series.

Yes, I've finally decided on a title for the book I'm working on finishing right now. The working title for awhile was Novel #3 and then Stormy, which would have been fine, but I think Charade best describes the plot line. I'm jazzed about finishing Charade now that it has a title that pleases me and then moving right along to write the two companion books by Star.

I'm flying off to Kokomo, Indiana for the reunion on September 4, but I hope to continue writing the blog while I'm there. Please send feedback. I'm always glad to hear from you, and your comments lift my spirits, always!

Takeaway treasure for today: Run toward your fears and those phantoms will evaporate like a mirage in the desert. They will, won't they?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reading - Riding - Writing

Okay, I’m going to stop complaining about waking up early. I've always been a morning person anyway, so a 4:00 a.m. wake up might be a blessing. This morning I’m waking up in Winnemucca, Nevada. We've traveled through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada the past six weeks. It’s not our first rodeo, so we’re recognizing many landmarks and continuing to marvel at unexpected scenes along the way. Like the seven cowboys on horseback riding toward us in a long, slow-moving line across the dusty scrub, leaving a few head of cattle grazing behind them. What a seldom-seen snapshot of life in the West! Stellar!

Yesterday we drove eight hours from Castle Rock, Washington, and I took the opportunity to refresh my memory of what I've written so far on Novel #3. It surprised me to remember that I've written the first draft of eleven chapters rather than the eight I thought I’d written. I do remember getting stuck on some questions about what direction a key character might take and bogged down in less than satisfying research on the Internet. With a fresh look at my prose, I’m encouraged to realize it’s pretty darn interesting. Sometimes getting away from it all and looking with fresh eyes at where the writing has been and where it’s going isn't such a disaster after all.

I must confess I put zero words on paper yesterday, but I did catch up with the flow of the story and refresh my very unreliable memory on the finer points of the plot. Now maybe I can break the research logjam and sully forward with new determination. Armed with technology that lets me read, write, and research online while speeding cross country on the way home to Phoenix, I just might be fully into the flow of things by the time I’m back in my comfortable chair on wheels this weekend. After all, I am supposed to be on vacation, and I do enjoy looking at the scenery when it’s worthwhile. We’ll be traveling some lonely desert roads today, so distraction should be kept to a minimum.

However, I am reading a novel out loud to Frank as he steers our rig toward home. We’re both avid readers, so when we’re blasting for home after becoming super saturated with plying our nation’s highways, it’s nice to share a good book along the way. Now that I’m writing my own novels, I read those written by others with new eyes. I’m aware of the clever devices authors employ and consider reading the work of others instructive as well as enjoyable.

Take-away tidbit: “I write for myself. I figure if I enjoy the journey, my readers will too.”


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Avoidance Hill (Mountain?)

Hi Gang,

Here I am awake again at 4:00 a.m., and it hasn't occurred to me until this very moment that I could be working on the novel! What's up with that? I was going to change my cover picture on Facebook, but the darn thing wouldn't load. I checked my email on my iPad and deleted a whole bunch of old ones I'd already seen. Avoidance seems to be my hill to climb. Here's the best one of all: "When I get home from vacation I'll buckle down and write." Of course, a couple of weeks after I get home I leave for Indiana, and my 50th high school reunion. Yiikes!

On the positive side of things, I'm determined to finish Novel #3 this year.  Since I've put an e-book on Amazon in 2011 and 2012, it follows that 2013 should be the year I post another one. I know I can do better than one book a year if I just learn to climb "avoidance hill."

I'm also thinking of producing some hard copies of Arrowstar and Honor Bound on Amazon's create space just to make the writing seem more real. At least I could have a set of my books on my own bookshelf to remind me of what I've already accomplished. What devices do you employ to remember your triumphs? As women a lot of us have been taught to downplay our successes. Isn't it about time we stopped doing that?

I've got to stop blogging now because if I'm going to write Stormy, The Storm Women, and A Train Robber's Tale I'd best get with it right NOW . . . not when I get home from vacation, not after the high school reunion, not someday when I'm in the mood, but RIGHT NOW!

I'll let you know how many words I get on paper today. The best way to climb "avoidance hill" might just be ACCOUNTABILITY. What do you think? Just what has Star been up to while I've been on vacation?

Just another struggling artist from me to you, Cheryl

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Working Title: Stormy by Cheryl Thomas -

Drum roll . . . for your reading pleasure . . . an excerpt from Novel #3

Stormy, the second book in the Arrowstar series, features Star Lance, owner operator of Arrowstar Antiques, Mineral City, Arizona and part-time writer of historical fiction.

Companion books by Star Lance in the Arrowstar series coming soon:

A Train Robber's Tale by Star Lance, a companion book to Arrowstar
The Storm Women by Star Lance, a companion book to Stormy

Background: Star Lance takes a leap of faith after her husband dies and moves from Indiana to Mineral City, a small town in southeastern Arizona. She unwittingly buys the entire contents of an estate belonging to a former old West train robber as inventory for her newly opened antique shop, Arrowstar. Read Arrowstar by Cheryl Thomas and catch up to Star's encounter with that train robber's legacy. Star still struggles to keep her little store afloat in such a small town and supplements her income with proceeds from her writing. A Train Robber's Tale and help from her friend, Kat saved Arrowstar once. Now, while writing her second novel, The Storm Women, Star's struggle to make ends meet continues as she uncovers history that some in Mineral City would rather stayed buried.

Hope you enjoy this little peek into the novel, Stormy by Cheryl Thomas:

The back screen door slaps against the house with a loud crack, causing Star to jump up from the desk and run to hook it closed.  Rain doesn’t seem likely in spite of the bluster outside, so Star returns to the office where she polishes off the last paragraph of the first chapter of her second historical novel.  Leaning back in her chair, she stares up at the tin ceiling, musing over the possibilities for stories about the pioneer souls buried up the hill in the cemetery behind Minceral City's church.

Some of the graves have been here since Cochise roamed this land, and no doubt his band of renegades put some of them there.  The saddest ones have inscriptions on the headstones that break your heart, "Our Little Angel" or "He lingered with us, but the blink of an eye - Guard this precious little soul."  Very specific ages accompany many of the inscriptions, "four years, two months, and twenty-seven days," usually followed by a plea, "Lord receive our little lamb."

Star thinks about the little lambs carved in stone and the marble angels, doves and puppies gracing these small memorials.  Several crumbling monuments at the very back of the cemetery especially spur her imagination.  On a narrow pillar, an inscription reads, “Stormy” Almanza Storm, 1861 - 1890, and tucked very closely beside it, a second small marker adorned with a lamb says, Clare R. - Dear Little Cherub, born December 25, 1890, Received by Our Lord, January 30, 1891.

On the other side of the pillar a larger, more recent monument shows the name Ladoska (Dusky) R., 1888 - 1974.  The statue of a horse stands watch over this grave, one knee bent, head down, and the remains of leather reins coiled on the ground.  Three much simpler, flat markers inside an iron fence mark the graves of women buried there in what seems to be the Storm family plot. The grave marker where Star secretly observed someone placing violets in the middle of the night is one of those and the engraving reads, "Opal G. - 1935 - 1965."

"Rest in peace, Storm women," Star whisperes to herself. "Will you give up your secrets and tell me where you've buried your men?"