Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Now What?

I finished it.

Well, not really, but there isn't any more I can do on my latest effort, "Wherever You May Be" until I get more feedback. I'm not a writer who can dash off a story, send it to a publisher, get immediate acceptance and sit back a few months later with a book in my hands (or on my e-reader).

I sent my first draft to two trusted beta readers. They sent back critical advice and I knew enough to realize they were right. So -- I wrote a second draft incorporating their suggestions.

While writing that, I discovered I needed some additonal scenes, more points of view from the male character, more tension... well, you know how it is. Three a.m. and I wake up with a complete new scene in my head. That hasn't happened lately, so I hope my subconscious is finished and not thinking up some diaolical plot twist that will have me re-writing the entire story.

Meanwhile, as I worked on the second draft, I sent weekly chapters to my critique group. They are a diverse group of writers and what one likes, another doesn't. They catch typos and grammatical errors and suggest things I hadn't thought of. I take what I can use and try to explain why I'm not using what I don't agree with. Sometimes in the middle of an explanation I realize they are right.

Then I went through the manuscript one more time and made some slight changes and added two new scenes.

I sent this third draft to a trusted editor/friend who can be ruthless. Which is what I need now. Then there will be a fourth and possibly final draft before I sent it out into the world to make its fortune.

While I'm waiting, I plan to submit another story that so far has received nothing but rejections, although occasionally accompanied by a kind and encouraging word from the publisher. I believe it's a good story and I want it to find a home. So that's what I'll be doing until I hear back. Oh, and do some revisions on "A Question of Boundaries" after having completed a very good workshop on Steampunk. I discovered I need to add a monster. That sounds like fun, doesn't it.

One thing I can state positively: There's more to writing than sitting down and typing. There's always the question-- what's next? 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Be a survivor

I first published this on my now-defunct website, "Cancer Can't " 10 years ago. Yep, I am a breast cancer survivor (you can read my story in "I'd Rather go to California", a small book that people have told me helped them or a friend get through their own ordeal).

I think the words I wrote then are just as valuable today. so here goes...

Most of us know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I hope that doesn't just mean wearing a pink ribbon pin and listening to a guest speaker at one of your clubs. I hope it reminds you to do your monthly self-examination and make your annual appointment for a mammogram.

Yes, I know all the excuses:
     1. That lump? It's probably a cyst -- I've had them before. I'm not going to worry about it.
     2. Cancer doesn't run in my family, In fact, I can't think of a single relative who's had it.
     3. I'll make an appointment as soon as I get time, but right now I am just too busy to sit in a doctor's office.
     4. If it is cancer, I don't want to know it.
     5. Why bother? If it is cancer, I'm going to die anyway.

I'm pretty familiar with the first three, because I used them myself. I was moved to action only when my gynecologist asked what I was waiting for.

I think the fourth goes through everyone's mind -- for a few minutes, anyway. If this is your excuse, you need to recognize that not knowing isn't going to make it go away. You need to acknowledge your enemy before you can fight it.

As for number five, this is the most incredible of all, and yet I have heard perfectly sane and otherwise rational women tell me this. My response is, "Really? I'm still here."

You might well ask yourself, if you suspect something is wrong, "What's the worst that can happen?" First, you may have your fear confirmed by a doctor. On the other hand, you now have an ally.

You may have a needle aspiriation to check for cancer cells. This is painless (at least, I never felt it). And, it may come back negative and you can go home and kiss your husband or lover and carry on with your busy life.

If it is positive, you may have a biopsy/lumpectomy. This requires surgery, but there is a quick recovery and little scarring. You may miss a day or two of work, and then put your experience behind you.

If the biopsy shows a more advanced cancer, you have a choice of partial resection or a mastectomy. You and your surgeon will sit down and talk about the pros and cons. The days of radical mastectomies are in the past except in very advanced cases -- which yours isn't, because you caught it early.

Your surgeon may remove some lymph glands to see if the cancer has spread. If he finds some positive nodes, this doesn't necessarily mean the cancer has gone throughout your body. It is just in the nodes, and now you can stop it before it goes any further. You may have to have chemotherapy or radiation, or both.

If you need chemo, chances are you will need another minor surgery to insert a catheter. This means you don't get a needle stuck in your arm every time you go. There are drugs now to keep you from being sick, so don't expect more than a little nausea and lack of appetite. Most women I know continue to work throughout their treatment. A plus is that you may lose those unwanted pounds.

If you hate the thought of being bald (and you will be) now is the time to buy a few wigs and experiment with that hairstyle you were always too timid to try before.

Radiation means daily trips to the oncology center for six weeks or more. This is a nuisance, but other than being a little tired, it does not make you sick. You may get a mild burn, but no worse than that sunburn you got at the beach last summer.

And that's the worst that can happen. The good news is, you have given yourself a chance to survive. You can pat yourself on the back, knowing that you still have many good years ahead.

None of the things I have described are as bad as what will happen if you don't take that first step.

So please, make October the month you do something for yourself. Get that mammogram. And ask your sister, mother, friend or daughter to do the same.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Juggling - a lifetime skill

Many of my writer friends are younger than I am. That means they juggle a job, home and family obligations before they can sit down and write. Their writing time is precious to them because they have to carve it out of a staggering menu of Things That Must Be Done. 

Up until a few months ago, I was still working. Working at home, not in an office, but working nevertheless. If I wasn't at my computer I was attending a meeting or an open house for a new business or taking photos at a festival or parade and then  processing them into a slide show. (In case you are wondering, my partner and I created an on-line magazine that largely catered to business news in the comunity, and managed websites for businesses and organizations.)

I thought after I "retired" I would have plenty of time for my writing. It turns out I was prematurely optimistic. I have just as many obligations as before with some added on. Added on by my own willingness to volunteer, I must admit.

My husband suggested that I cut down on my activities. I won't, and here's why:

They keep me connected to the community and my church. I love being around people and feeling like I am part of something bigger than myself.

They keep me connected to friends and family. E-mail, snail-mail, Facebook: a little time each day checking in on the folks I love.

They give me a chance to "pay back" for the many advantages I have been given. This is important. If I don't help those looking for a better life, it's like ignoring all the people who helped me along the way. And smacks of arrogant ingratitude.

They keep me grounded. Most people don't care that I wrote a book or two. They just want me to help in the ktichen at a hot dog fundraiser or take minutes at a meeting. 

 I like being busy and involved. And yes, I can still carve out time to write. So my advice to these young writers is not to complain about having to schedule because it's a skill you will find helpful, if not necessary, when the babies are grown and the day job is a memory. Books aren't written in ivory towers. They are written from and in spite of a full involvement in life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Daily Life of Your Historical Characters

Please welcome Karen MacMurray today. Even if you don't plan to write a historical novel, you might be interested to find out where and how your favorite author gets his or her information to make the richly detailed novels you love to read.


This article is for those of you who want to write a historical novel based in another time and perhaps on another continent. To include information about the clothing, customs, events of the day and other tidbits brings your novel to life and creates an atmosphere around which you can craft a more realistic work. If you have ever read a Lee Child’s book you know the author had to have been in the military and he had experience of being in fights.

Let’s start close to home. Your public library has paid databases that you can access such as Heritage Quest. Their PERSI records have information on people and places which include pictures. The Library of Congress is a great source for old newspapers, manuscripts, diaries and photographs. If you look in a newspaper from 1836 you will see advertisements showing clothing and numerous articles about news events and prominent people. You can type in Google “free newspaper archives” and read newspapers from all over the US . If you are interested in courtship in America the Virginia Romance Writers website has links to costumes, etiquette, hairstyles, and courting behavior. Cindy Vallar at www.cindyvallar.com/links.html  has a treasure chest of information on everything from the daily life of sailors, cowboys, pirates and more.

England and Europe are favorite countries for authors to base their novel. Google “Vision of Britain” and you will find manuscripts from travel writers dating from 1066, pictures and illustrations of villages and cities. One of my favorite websites is Odin’s Castle. There you can find information on not only England and Europe but ancient cultures, Asia and of course the United States. You can find out about daily life for many time periods: Regency, Middle Ages, Medieval etc.

The Victorian Times at www.victorianweb.org specializes in everything during this time including customs, clothing, fashion, shoes, courtship and flirting rituals. The Central New York Romance Writers also have a lot of links to this time period. www.allempires.com/forum/default.asp has historical picture galleries showing. I also found the Luminarion: Anthology of English Literature has a lot more than literature at www.luminarium.org. Reading about women’s occupations during Chaucer’s time as well as medicines was fascinating stuff. Weid’s links to the middle ages goes into children of the time as well as clothing, occupations, cooking and more. Check it out at www.fidnet.com/~weid links to the Middle Ages.

Karen MacMurray is a retired librarian and author. Check out her newest blog at http://www.promote-your-book.com/blog

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stories from N.C. wine country

The summer is drawing to an end, the days are hot and the nights are cool. It's perfect weather to take a mini-vacation, and fall is the perfect time to visit the N.C. wine country. So we did. I expected to have a good time with my husband, and my sister and brother-in-law who came down from Pennsylvania to join us. Turned out I got more than I expected.

We broke the trip down into two day-trips, one in the Yadkin valley area, and one in the Albemarle area. We enjoyed the scenery, expecially when our travels took us to a cool mountain top overlooking a vineyard spilling down into the valley below. We enjoyed tasting (just sips!) of different wines and comparing one to another. I ended up with a  collection of glasses and a collection of something I hadn't looked for: stories.

People love to talk about their work--in many cases, their passion--and so after asking few questions we sat back and listened.

One woman told of almost losing the family farm before they switched from growing tobacco to growing grapes. Now three generations work there.

Another couple met in middle age, both divorcees, and honeymooned in France. They came back with a dream of having their own vineyard, and combined their second marriage with a second career.

Some traveled to France or Italy to learn their craft. Some apprenticed themselves to other vintners in the area. Some took classes at N.C. State University.

Some make their wines from tested formulas. Others treat wine making as an art and confess that trial and error is their best teacher.

In addition to people, we met a variety of freindly and courteous dog assistants, and in one case, llamas -- who weren't all that friendly.

I  came away with three bottles of wine that probably won't last out the month, and memories of some very special people that will last a lifetime.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Say it ain't so, Lance!

I read with dismay that Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France, has been stripped of his medals and barred from racing.

I am sad and furious over the decision. If Lance had been doping, as accused, why did the numerous tests he submitted to over the last 10 years come up clean? The only "evidence" is the accusations of fellow cyclists who claim to have seen or heard something. In most courts, hearsay is inadmissable evidence.

Lance has been my hero for years--not because I am a fan of cycling, but because his victories came at a time I sorely needed one. During his  seventh  race, I watched the tour every time I could get a chance, puzzling my friends and family who know my aversion to spectator sports of any kind.

I even kept (and still have) a scrapbook of the newspaper articles describing the race.

Why? Because this was the same year I was diagnosed with cancer and I knew Lance was a cancer survivor. Given 60-40 odds of beating my disease, I clung to the knowledge that he had beaten his. Somehow, I had the certainty that if he won this race, that I would win my own race against those runaway cells.

We both won.

I continue to admire Lance, the more so because he chose to walk away. Some say because he knows in his heart that he did what he is accused of doing.

I say it's because he knows he's innocent, and chooses not to fight whispers and rumor. They stripped his titles, but not his dignity.

Lance is still my hero becauseof the inspiration he gave me and thousands of fellow cancer survivors.

And they can't take that away from him.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why I didn't blog last week...

There is nothing more validating than having someone call you on the telephone or walk up to you in a grocery store to tell you they liked your book. I don't mean friends and relations, because they have to be complimentary or risk being struck from your Christmas card list -- not that I'd ever do that. I mean people you never heard of before who don't have to go out of their way to mention they've read the book and enjoyed it. Best of all is when they ask,  "Are you writing another?" 

With that in mind, I'm hard at work on my third novel. And, it is work. Someone told me recently how much they envied my ability to "sit down and let the words flow from my fingers."

I told her the words didn't so much flow as skip, tumble over themselves, and generally refuse to behave in a civilized manner at all. Well, I may not have put it quite that way. I've had a little time to think of a better response that the one I actually gave, which was, "Oh, ha, ha; I wish."

I sent my first few chapters out to my critique group, and the response was, "Why are you waiting so long to introduce the conflict?"

I had fallen into a familiar trap of starting out with introductions and backstory. My wise publisher/editor told me to lose the first chapter in both of my previous books. I did, and had a stronger beginning.

So I knew my writing friends were correct. I had to start the story at the beginning and "hook" the reader before going into the background details. And, since this is more of a romance than the other two, I needed to bring in the hero long before page 38.

So that's what I've been doing: cutting whole pages of description and dialogue and putting them where they belong. It's made me a little crazy, trying to keep track of all the messy little details that get lost in the shuffle.

And, I decided to tell the story from both Marcie's and Adam's point of view. Knowing what Adam thinks and feels will, I trust, make the story stronger. And, in doing this, I have gotten to know him better. He may be a preacher, but he still has an eye for a pretty woman.

I also changed the title to "Wherever You May Be," since the story does revolve around a mysterious disappearance--and reappearance.

 I am confident it will come together at some point and everyone will have his or her Happy Ever After and I can relax.

Until some character hiding deep in my mind whispers in my ear, "You need to tell MY story."