Sunday, December 19, 2010

All I want for Christmas...

Most little girls ask for dolls or a tea set for Christmas. Or, at least they did, in the days before television.

I liked dolls well enough, and we had Grandma's dishes from soap boxes to use for our imaginary parties. For those who don't remember, companies used to insert dishes in boxes of soap powder and someone who did a lot of laundry could accumulate an entire set, if she was lucky and didn't end up with seven saucers, one cup and five cereal bowls.

Maybe that's what Grandma's neighbor was doing when she hung out her laundry every day of the week and not just on Monday. "That family must be awfully clean or awfully dirty," Grandma observed.

So, having a family of dolls and enough dishes to invite the Queen for supper, I asked for books. When Christmas came and there wasn't at least on flat, rectangular package under the tree with my name on it, I was filled with disappointment. It didn't matter what else I received. If there was no book, my holiday was ruined.

After my parents discovered this, they made sure I wasn't sulking all Christmas Day while my brother and sister played with their new toys. First there were the Bobbsey Twins: Nan and Bert, the older twins, and Freddy and Flossie, the younger set. This lasted for several Christmases. Then I graduated to Nancy Drew. There were a few other, non-series books, along the years that I have forgotten the titles of.

The problem was, I read the books too quickly and often was finished by the end of the day. One year my exasperated parents presented me with the entire set (to date -- they were produced until 1955) of the Honey Bunch books. Honey Bunch was a saccharinely sweet little girl who had numerous adventures which I was privileged to share. The set lasted about a week.

I still think a book is the best gift. A few years ago I went to a book store and selected books for all my grown sons. This was not a hit. They like to read, but our tastes are too dissimilar. The only authors we share a liking for are Neal Stephenson and Clive Cussler.

Same goes for the grandkids. I spent the month before Christmas last year e-mailing back and forth with my daughter-in-law: me suggesting a book and her telling me they had already read it. I ended up sending her money to buy them gift cards a a local book store.

So -- there most likely won't be a book under my tree this year unless I go out, buy it, and wrap it myself.

Which isn't a bad idea.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

And does "it" really matter?

I'm still slogging through the WIP following Eliza Knight's editing tips. She suggests using the "find" function to locate weak or lazy words. I guess the laziest novel never-to-be-published would begin, "Yeah, well you know what I mean..." Unfortunately, this can't be accompanied by a vague armwave, so we novelists must say what we mean and not rely on the reader to guess.

I was able to substitute stronger verbs in most cases or remove an unneeded word entirely, but when I came to the word "watch" I was literally flummoxed. I'm sure Ms. Knight meant it as a verb, but in my case it was the noun that tripped me up. I had a character looking at her watch and mentioning the time in every chapter, and sometimes more than once. I deleted or rewrote these sentences while shaking my head in dismay. How did I miss this? I can't blame my critique group, who read the work in segments and undoubtedly didn't make the connection.

For the past three days I have been working on "it." "It" is a lazy word and the suggestion is replace it with the noun "it" is referring to.

Sometimes this is simple. Other times the sentence then reads like Dick and Jane. This passage:

"Have you seen my book?
"You left it over there, on the table."
"Oh, there it is. Thanks."


"Have you seen my book?"
"You left your book over there, on the table."
"Oh, there is my book. Thanks."

Or, "He picked up the book from the table and returned the book to the shelf, fitting the book between two other books, where the book belonged."

This means I have to stop and think every time the cursor highlights the word "it." Can it be replaced? Can I reword the sentence so it (the sentence) doesn't begin with "It?" Or can I leave it alone? After all, it is a very useful word and saves repetition.

I had hoped to have the editing finished by the end of this month. Now, I hope to finish this part of the exercise by Dec. 31. Alas, I still have all the adverbs to go, which means I will be searching for "ly" in January.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shoes and ships and ...

Before Sunday School started today, a couple of us women were talking about shoes. I guess that was still on my mind when I looked down and compared the footwear of the three men sitting at my end of the table. One wore ankle-high work boots, another a pair of comfortable slip-ons and the third a pair of highly polished wingtips.

Even though I know each of these gentlemen, I could tell by the boots who was the outdoors handyman, who was going to be on his feet for the next hour preaching and who was the businessman.

I thought then about the shoes the characters in my WIP wear. Morven, the heroine, wears a pair of sturdy boots outside the house and soft moccasins inside. When invited to a dance, she takes some stiff material and sews a pair of slippers that she knows will be ruined by the end of the evening.

Morven also is infuriated when the town assemblymen decide not to grant her the money to purchase her ward, Elisabeth Anne, her annual pair of shoes on the grounds that she has stopped growing and therefore can continue wearing the pair she has.

In another scene, Morven snares the rabbit that has been nibbling in her garden. She takes the skin to a tanner so she can make Tamsen's baby son a pair of fur-lined booties for winter.

Tamsen loves to work in the garden or sit outside weaving her baskets. She goes barefoot except in the coldest weather.

The villain, who manages to control Morven's life even after his death, drowns when his jackboots fill with water and drag him under the raging current.

Are shoes important to the story? Probably not in themselves, but they are details that add to character and setting -- and in the villain's case, the plot.

This doesn't mean I wasn't paying attention to the lesson. I was -- but don't we all have moments when our minds wander?

If we didn't, we wouldn't be writers.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

One down and miles to go

After spending hours formatting my journal, I submitted it to Create Space. I should get my proof copy Monday and if all looks good I will sign off on it and then figure out how to get it on Kindle. Thanks to Raymond Griffith who made a special trip to take the photograph I described to him. So that is one thing I can cross off my list!

And, I am halfway finished editing "The Lunch Club." This was a fun book to write and I hope I get it polished enough to start sending it out soon.

Several people have asked me why it is so important to get my work published. Surely the personal satisfaction of having written a book is enough. "You got it out of your system," they say, as if a novel was one of those songs that get stuck in your mind until you want to scream.

One of the people who asked this baffling question was an artist. I asked her what she did with her paintings after she finished them. "Do you stack them in your closet?"

"Of course not," she said. "I sell them and people hang them on their wall to look at."

She didn't put all her talent into something that no one would ever see. I told her that a writer's published book is the same as her framed painting. It isn't finished until others read it. Publishing is a kind of vindication that our time and trouble were valuable to someone else.

It's a lot of fun, too, but I didn't tell her that. Artists are supposed to suffer.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I had a really good Idea for my blog. I thought about it around 3 a.m. and actually remembered it in the morning.

I also woke with a bad cold and was sick in bed for three days and recuperating for the next three. I didn't feel like doing anything but coughing, sneezing and whining.

I still retained some remnants of the Idea. But after I recovered, I had to catch up on my paid work (clients have the idea that their stuff should be posted as soon as they send it to me). So that took time, and my Idea got a little fainter.

Then my sister and her husband came to visit and I couldn't work on the computer while my company sat around, bored and unentertained -- and the Idea faded away to a wisp.

Now I am feeling better and have (almost) caught up on my work; the house is still clean from our frantic pre-company cleaning; someone actually bought a copy of my book from (I have a tracking site and was obsessing for a few weeks, then made myself stop looking). What fun to see the arrow dip down the chart to show a sale!

And, I have the cover in hand for my CreateSpace nonfiction book and after one more run-through to spot typos, I am ready to submit it. So, some progress is being made.

Sure wish I could remember what the great blog Idea was, though.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Too many ideas -- too little time

I was beginning to feel good about getting caught up. After many hours hunched over my keyboard, I finally have the ms. ready to upload to Create Space. I am lacking a cover, but a photographer friend is working on it.

I "published" the book in 2002 with PublishAmerica. Please, no commiseration. I didn't know any better, all right? But the rights have reverted to me and I plan on seeing how well I do self-publishing where I will have more control of the product.

I am not doing this out of vanity; people are still asking me if I have a copy of the book so they can give it to a friend. The book is an account of my bout with breast cancer and tells a newly-diagnosed patient what to expect from treatment. It's not just clinical, I also discuss spells of depression and how to handle the reactions of friends and family. From what people tell me, it has helped them get through this difficult time in their lives.

Anyway, I hoped to complete this project and start editing another book I wrote about a year ago. After taking Eliza Knight's course, "Edit Your Book in a Month," I can see many places where it could be improved before sending it out into the world. Next up, doing the same process on my historical novel which is about three times as long as the other one.

Then what happens? A new idea for a new book. I can't stop thinking about it and my fingers itch to get it down on paper -- er, a digital file.

So, I need to set up a schedule. So many hours on paying work (I do have a job, even though I work at home), so many hours editing, so many hours for querying and marketing, and then -- so many hours for creating.

Let's see if I can stay with my plan. Maybe I need to get an alarm clock -- or set my computer to beep after working a for set time on one chore. Hmmm...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Escapism - Literally

One of the rules of blogging is that you must keep up with your posts.

So much for that -- I got in over my head and like any intelligent person, threw up my hands and called for a respite. I told my husband we were going to Pennsylania. He was surprised, but amenable, and we threw some things in a suitcase and began the 12-hour trip for a five-day visit with my sister.

The advantage was that there was no way I could keep up with my on-line class, my blog, my writing, or my (admittedly at-home) job. I didn't bring my laptop. I didn't even bring a notebook. I squelched my guilty conscience and had a great time.

Of course, when I came back, there was that backlog of work to be done. I think I have finally come to the end of the to-do list, but things keep getting added, so I am resigned that I will never quite finish.

I do have some priorities, though. And I am working through them. Job, yes, for the money comes in handy until I can earn enough from writing to quit. Oh wait, my job is writing. I meant writing books, not work-for-hire articles.

So I am simultaneously preparing my first book for self-publication, the contract having run out, and editing my fifth in preparation for sending it forth to find its fortune. Books two and three languish in that limbo known as "send the ms. and we'll look at it."

I also facilitate (teach) a class once a week so that takes some preparation. I am secretary of four organizations. I do a newsletter for a cancer support group. And, I am trying to market my novel.

Something obviously has to give. I refuse to stop writing and I can't easily get out of the other commitments, so the answer is: housework.

I may just write a book about how you can have your house look presentable by cleaning a half hour a day. Just don't look under the beds or in the closets.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Those darn hooks

I know, I know, I've been told often enough -- you need a hook. Never mind that I'm a fan of the slow opening, the getting to know the setting and the characters as an introduction to the story. Think James Michener.

That doesn't work for today's readers. Action must start in the first paragraph or they will slam the cover shut and go on to the next book on the shelf. Characterization and setting come later, almost as an afterthought.

Kathy Reichs has mastered the hook. Each chapter ends with a little twist, a dare, a come-on that makes you turn the page, eager to read what happens next . James Patterson's hooks have hooks.

I want to master this technique, because I want people to read my book with excitement and not yawns. I want people to tell me, "I couldn't put the book down."

So I am going through my WIP, checking my hooks as carefully as any fisherman checks his tackle box. I want my readers to be well and truly caught from the first sentence to the last.

I had a woman tell me years ago that she was trying to read my book (my first one), but every time she picked it up she fell asleep. She apologized immediately, explaining that it was on her bedside table and by the time she opened it she was already halfway to dreamland.

If I can come up with a beginning hook that would keep even her awake, I think I will be able to call myself a writer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

BookMarks Festival

A couple of friends and I attended the BookMarks Festival of Books in Winston-Salem yesterday (Sept. 11). My only complaint is that there were too many wonderful speakers and too little time.

The main reason I wanted to go was to see and hear one of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon (that's her in the photo). If you haven't heard of her enormous success with her Outlander series ... well, where have you been? I was hooked on the first one. Who knew you could mix paranormal, history and romance in one big volume?

I was fortunate to be able to attend two appearances. She gave a book talk right after lunch. I knew the seats would be taken early, so I hurried my companion to the tent where she was to speak. But -- on the way I had to stop and look at a book stall, and then again to talk to a writer who was handing out his cards to passersby. By the time we got there, there were no seats left under the tent, so we took two just outside.

Then it started to rain. I thought about my umbrella, still in my car -- in Monroe. I thought of getting up and seeking shelter. No way. I come all this distance, and I wasn't budging. My friend put the program over her head and hunkered down. I used my program to protect my camera.

It was totally worth getting damp. Ms. Gabaldon is delightful. She talked about writing her first novel in secret , even from her husband. She told how she landed an agent without having completed the first book. And shared that there might be one or two or even three more in the series. Everyone gave a cheer at that. Then she read a bit from her last book with a wicked grin. (For those of you who have read it, it was the passage wherein Jamie confronts Lord John after that gentleman and Claire comforted each other following Jamie's supposed demise and I won't go any further.)

Later on, she particpated in a panel discussion. I felt sorry for the other two presenters. Almost all the questions in the audience were directed at Ms. Gabaldon. And no wonder: her answers were candid and witty. Not that theirs might not have been, if they were given the chance.
There is something inspirational about seeing and hearing an author you admire. I am more determined than ever to finish my historical novel. It won't be nearly as good as hers, but it will be as good as I can make it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Making a list, checking it twice

As promised last week, I sat down and developed a timeline for my runaway novel. The action takes place over 10 years, so the character must grow in age as well as in wisdom. I found some chapters out of order and rearranged them -- something I might not have noticed until a final read-through, at which time I would have thought, "Oh no, back to the drawing board -- er, computer."

By checking page numbers, I also noticed that some chapters come close to 20 pages while others are around 10. The obvious solution is to lengthen the short ones or shorten the long ones. Remembering someone saying at a CRW meeting that any chapter over 20 pages is too long, I decided to cut the longer chapters in half. Now I need to put a hook at the end of these new chapters. More work.

The most important thing I did was to sign up for Eliza Knight's on-line workshop, "Edit Your Book in a Month." I spent most of yesterday afternoon using the "search" tool to see how many times I had used certain overused words. I used "just" 285 times in 400 pages, and quit counting after 33 pages when "as" showed up 100 times.

Asked to search for our favorite word, I chose "well" as in "Well, I just wanted to say ..." or "She knew very well that ..." Well turned up 194 times and I hadn't even realized I was using it!

I guess I have my work cut out for me eliminating useless words, weak verbs and words that end in "ly." It will be worth it if I end up with a stronger story that won't cause an editor to toss it aside after the first, "Well, I just..."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Always a Next Time

I spoke to a group at the library two weeks ago and had a Q&A session after my talk. One question was: If you write another book, what will you do differently?

I answered that this time I would have a plan before I started.

My first book began with a premise and went from there, evolving as ideas came to me. Some threads led to nowhere and I had to start over. Some led in new directions and I had to rewrite earlier chapters to account for the changes.

I started that novel more than six years ago (or maybe longer, I can't remember) and am still working on it. It has grown completely out of control, with twists and turns in the plot that even I, who should be in charge, am having trouble unraveling. My next step is to create a timeline and get all the action in some kind of order. I am not giving up; I think it's a good story. But in its present form, it is not publishable.

I have an idea for another story and this time, instead of sitting down and typing Chapter One and seeing where it takes me, I wrote a complete synopsis of what I thought the story should be and where it should go. I plan to write a description of each character: physical description, hopes, dreams, fears and desires. A timeline will tell me when each conflict and resolution should occur. This time I will know the ending instead of wondering where the story is going and letting the characters lead me.

Only then will I type Chapter One on my page.

Novel Number One is an adventure and I have enjoyed every minute of writing it. It also is too long, too convoluted and -- well, too messy. It needs organizing. It needs discipline.

Novel Number Two will start out disciplined and I have no doubt I will write it without being sidetracked by a stray thought that maybe this happens and the heroine reacts like this -- no, the heroine will stay on track and not lead me down any false paths. I should be able to complete it in less than a year.

I don't know yet if it will as much fun to write.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Things I Wish I'd Done

I earned a double major in college with credits in both fine art and education. About two years in, I knew my talents were not in painting and sculpture and contemplated switching my art major to English. This was after taking a creative writing class as an elective and knowing instinctively that this was what I was meant to do.

I didn't, however, as the subesquent loss of credits and the need to take a foreign language and a math course deterred me. I might have stumbled through beginning Spanish or French, but I knew I could never pass anything that had to do with numbers.

Years later I took a correspondence course in journalism and followed that with a stay at Duke University for a weeklong writers workshop. If I had had any doubts about my need to write up to that point, they were dispelled then. Notice I said need. Writing isn't something you want to do, it is something you have to do.

I started writing first for a newspaper, and then for magazines. I was thrilled every time I got an acceptance letter. And finally, The Book.

I do think the lack of a degree in creative writing has hindered me in many ways, but I also believe learning to write the facts while facing a deadline taught me something just as essential.

What I wish I had done was taken some courses in marketing. Writing is a piece of cake compared to getting the work out about the wonderful, compelling book you have written. Thank goodness for writer friends who are willing to share their tips. Some I have known personally for several years and some are new friends met on forums, blogs, websites and Facebook.

What I have learned is that I have to toss modesty to the winds; no one is going to toot my horn for me. And if I don't believe in my work, who will? So I blog and brag and sometimes pray that someone will pick up my book and like it well enough to tell someone else...

And try to do better on the next one.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Summer Slump

Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's the inevitable letdown that follows the attainment of a long-sought prize: what happens next?

At any rate, my energy levels have been so low I haven't accomplished much of anything since our vacation in July. I meant to have my current manuscript in publishable form by September; now it looks as if it may be much later than that, simply because I haven't looked at it in weeks. I have the germ of an idea for a new novel, but I've been too lazy to sit down and write the outline that exists, rather fuzzily, in my brain.

I have managed to keep up with work, and I can point to one rather complicated and long assignment that ate up a lot of my time and left my brain in a muddle.

But, I have ignored some other pressing obligations, such as typing up the minutes of a meeting (I seem to always be elected secretary) and getting my notes ready for a talk I am to give Monday. This is really urgent, and yet I plan on taking my granddaughter to a movie this afternoon. So maybe tomorrow ...

I could name a dozen other things that all cry out for my attention and I am figuratively stuffing my fingers in my ears and pretending not to hear.

This isn't writer's block, it is writer's slump. It's like looking at a basket overflowing with clothes that need to be ironed, and going to the closet to find something else to wear.

Sooner or later, the clothes will need to be ironed and that manuscript will need to be finished.

Maybe when it's cooler.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

This room is getting crowded

I know, both from reading and experience, that writing is a solitary occupation.

I suppose that is true enough. Only one person can sit in a chair and face that computer screen (or typewriter, or pencil and tablet if that is your preferred method of getting your thoughts into some kind of solid format).

And it's true no one else can get into your mind and help you come up with your ideas in the first place.

Nevertheless, I've discovered that there is a lot about writing that is done in and with the company of others.

For one thing, I have had support for over 20 years from the Anson County Writers' Club. The irony is that I started the club because of the very quote I used at the beginning of this blog -- I was lonely and wanted to meet other writers. Our meetings include Open Mic and I enjoy hearing what others have written as well as feedback on my efforts.

Then there is my e-mail critique group. Two I've met in person; the other lives on the west coast. We share our writing and help each other over the rough spots, cheer each other on and act as sounding boards for new ideas.

I also joined the Carolina Romance Writers. We meet in Charlotte once a month and enjoy a speaker or workshop that provides helpful knowledge as well as motivation. There is also the opportunity to talk to other writers and get advice.

To belong to this chapter group, you first have to belong to the national -- Romance Writers of America. The RWA just had a convention in Orlando. I couldn't go, but a CRW member posted a daily blog that made me feel as if I were there. And, the monthly magazine is filled with news and tidbits about writers I almost feel are friends.

Then there are the people who post blogs, newsletters, e-columns, Facebook pages and, I suppose, Tweets if I knew where to look for them. Sometimes this much "company" can get overwhelming. I have to shut down the voices clamoring for my attention and concentrate on getting my manuscript as perfect as possible before submitting it.

Yes, writing is solitary. but the business of writing doesn't have to be. Sometimes it can get downright crowded.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From Dream to Reality

I was walking on air the day I received my author copies. The next day I was brought forcibly back to reality as I considered the next step -- promotion. How many books should I order to have on hand when someone asks me if I have a book right there and then so they don't have to order one? Should I invest in promo materials? What ones work best? How could I make mine different and eye-catching?

Then there is the need to set up book signings. I called our local arts council and got on their highlighted artists program for September. I am looking at some other venues such as our library's monthly Brown Bag Book Club where they feature local authors; the writers club I have belonged to for over 20 years; even our cancer support group. I put a notice in the two local newspapers and on our church's Web site. I e-mailed every one I have an address for (for whom I have an address?). I need to find people who will write (hopefully good) reviews.

Frankly, I feel a little silly tooting my own horn like this. but I have learned that if you don't promote your own work, no one else will.

Maybe after I get all this done, I can start dreaming about my next book.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day Dreaming

Day dreaming, or more accurately, morning dreaming, is what I do when I walk. Our town just opened a new park with a walking trail. Since I can drive there in under five minutes, I no longer have an excuse not to walk every day.

The weather has been unbearably hot, so I walk as early as I can, usually between 6 and 7 a.m. If I'm early, I can watch the lampposts turn off, one by one. Some mornings the sunrise is breathtaking. And always, there is the birdsong.

As I walk, I think about what I'm going to write that day. Mostly now it is revision, so I go over that day's chapter in my mind. If I had a problem the day before, the answer often comes during my walk.

I also daydream about actually finishing the novel, sending it off and acquiring an agent and/or publisher. I firmly believe visualizing something makes it happen.

And, daydreams sometimes do come true. Today I received my author's copies of "Angels Unaware." As I held the book in my hands, I wondered if authors who have published countless books experience the same thrill every time or if they get jaded and toss the books aside with a "Ho-hum, another book."

Yes, I daydream about finding that out for myself.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Column or Blog, the Content's the Same

A few years ago I was working for a local newspaper. One of my assignments -- even before working full time-- was a column called "Confessions of a Yankee Housewife." People still come up to me and say, "You're the woman who wrote that thing about the housewife." Yep, that was me.

Little did I dream that later on the discipline of writing a weekly column (and trying to make it interesting) would turn into the discipline of writing a weekly blog -- and trying to make it interesting. I never thought I had an interesting life. As a child, my adventures were all in my head or between the covers of a book. And yes, I did read books under the bedcovers with a flashlight, innocently thinking Mom didn't know.

Still reading, still daydreaming ... but now I write the daydreams down and call them stories. Having them published is a dream come true.