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."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Romance" vs. "romantic elements"

I heard the news this week that RWA (Romance Writers of America) is tightening its membership qualifications and has deleted the category of "novels with strong romantic elements" in its contests. I wonder if they are no longer accepting members who write novels with strong romantic elements as opposed to the conventional romance genres (historical, paranormal, etc.) In which case, do I have to turn in my "Pro" pin and membership card?

My books deal with what happens after the "happily ever after" requirements of a romantic novel: After the champagne has been drunk, the bridal gown packed away and the real stuff of living commences. And, they take place twenty-thirty years after the "happy ever after"  (HEA) ending requirement that leaves readers free to imagine decades of wedded bliss.

There is romance, of course. I can't picture a story without some element of romance because it is so much a part of life. In "Angels Unaware," Kat's happy ever after didn't work out as she'd dreamed, but when a new love comes along, she is stronger and more sure of herself--and able to embrace it.

In "The Lunch Club,"  each of the four women is touched by romance. Jane Anne is as in love with Larry as she was the day she married him. Beth and Dan have their problems, but love prevails. Harriet and Melody, both widows, find new loves when they thought romance was in their past, not their future. But the romance is secondary to the main plot. 

I'm aiming for more romance in my WIP. Marcie and Adam are attracted to each other, but each has a reason not to believe it will work out. Of course, we know it will. And they will achieve the HEA that RWA requires of its authors.

I don't know if it will be strong enough to pass muster. But I have to write the books that are in my head. So, no Alpha Males and Saucy, Sexy Heroines will take shape on my computer. Just characters who have been there, done that, and are wiser for the experience.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Trimming and pruning

Picked the last of the blueberries and now the figs are coming on strong. I sent some of each home with our youngest when he left after the weekend. We've been freezing the berries and I've been eating the figs as fast as they ripen. Don't you just love summer?

It's been a season of changes as far as our landscaping goes. First, the power company came and trimmed some trees in our back yard. Their idea of triming and mine don't go hand-in-hand; I would say they were cut in half, straight down the middle.

Then a humongous limb fell off the sweet gum in the front yard. We decided to have the tree removed before more limbs--or the tree itself--fell on the house. The front yard looks woefully bare, but I will not miss stepping on a sweet gum ball while in my bare feet on my way to get the newspaper in the mornings.

After that, we noticed one of the trees in the back that had been trimmed was dying. We called the power company and their rep said it wasn't stress from the cutting, as we had thought, but bugs. He said they'd take it down anyway. I don't think he was just being nice; I think he looked at the height of the tree and the distance from the power line and thought "Better now than after it falls and takes out the line."

I'v'e been doing some trimming and pruning of my own on my WIP after getting responses from my beta readers, and now my chapter-by-chapter comments from my critique group. The landscape of the book is taking on a different look as I lop pages off here and prune paragraphs there.

Like our yard, it looks better without the deadwood and easier to navigate without the prickly little errors scattered about.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Or I might go back to snail mail

My Tuesday blog on Wednesday--story of my week so far.

What has eaten up my time? For one thing, you may notice the pictures on my pages have been removed, except for the ones I took with my very own camera. Seems it's not a good idea to grab pictures from Google images as they could be copyrighted. Yep, someone might see it and say, "Hey that's my picture you used without permission" and sue me for a gazillion bucks. Which I don't have. So I went back and hit delete,  blog by blog.

Then I look at my list of submissions and realized that I hadn't heard back from several sent three months ago. I don't mean I expected an immediate answer, as that would be unrealistic, but most publishers and agents have an automatic response that tells you they received your query letter. I blame my computer. For some reason, gmail doesn't send to everybody I write to. Oh, it says "e-mail sent" but too many people have sworn up and down they never got the message. I have a list of those and make sure I use another service when I need to reach them.

So I re-sent via Yahoo! and have yet to get a response, automatic or otherwise. Someone told me once that this service doesn't allow for long e-mails or attachments. I don't know if this is true or not, but I have to assume some kind of glitch.

It takes months to get a reply under the best of circumstances, so this is frustrating to say the least. My next best bet is to a) use my husband's computer as he claims he doesn't have this problem or b) fire up my old laptop which can't do much, but can send e-mails to people who otherwise doen't receive them.

The down side is that if these people did receive my queries that my re-sending them  will result in annoying the receiver to the point of automatic rejection.

It's a chance I have to take.

Oh, the picture has nothing to do with the subject. The kitties are, from top, Smokey, Harry (Heironymous) and Bonnie Blue. 


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Scaredy Cat

I read with horror about the riders stranded 35 feet above the ground at Carowinds when a ride malfunctioned.

"I would have died of fright," I told my husband. This may or may not be literally true, but I am terrified of heights. I don't mean mildly frightened; I mean "my body won't move" terrified.

Then I realized I would never have gotten on the ride in the first place.

I can't remember exactly when this fear began, but I recall when I knew for sure it had taken over. A few summers ago I was paralyzed at Grandfather Mountain when the rest of my group crossed the swinging bridge as if it were a footpath across the beach. I could get just so far and then my feet refused to budge--except in retreat.

I believe everyone has a secret (or not-so-secret) fear. So do our characters, and part of the fun of writing is getting them to overcome it.

Maybe it is a physical fear, like heights or water or open spaces.

It could be a fear of dogs, cats, bats or rats.

Maybe they're afraid of non-physical things such as speaking in public, being embarrassed or humilated.

Maybe they're afraid some sordid event in their past will be revealed.

How does this work into the story? Can the hero or heroine face his or her fear and conquer it? What would motivate them? Love for another person? A lost treasure that, if found, will change her life? An inner need?

In "Angels Unaware," Kat was afraid of being on her own.

In "The Lunch Club," Harriet, Jane Anne, Beth and Melody all fear an uncertain future when the "Golden Years" turn out to be fools gold.

What are your characters afraid of?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Getting to Know You

How well do we really know anybody? I confess I am frequently surprised when someone I feel I know well does something out of character: a normally optimistic person suddenly bursts into tears over a trifle; a thrifty woman splurges on a dress she knows she will only wear one time...

My reaction is to find out why--maybe to offer a shoulder to cry on in the first instance, and congratulations, if they are in order, in the second.

At the RWA chapter meeting (Carolinas Romance Writers) last Saturday, we did a writing exercise after lunch with the purpose of seeing how well we really knew our character. Frankly, I was less than enthusiastic, but I got out my pen and borrowed a sheet of notebook paper from my neighbor.

The assignment was to write a monologue expressing our character's emotions after a traumatic event. This was my response:

He just left. Paid the bill and said he wasn't coming back. I didn't believe him at first, but Stan didn't play jokes. I guess I kept hoping he'd meet us at the house. The kids really took it hard when the night wore on and they realized their dad had really gone. Blamed themselves and still do--God, they still hurt so much, even two years later. But they never had a chance to say goodbye. At least I had that.

I am willing to admit the piece doesn't really explore Marcie's emotions except for her concern for her kids. But that concern is a big part of the story as Marcie moves on and looks back to see her twins still stuck somewhere between anger and grief.

And it isn't true the twins didn't have a chance to say goodbye, so I don't know why I wrote that. They had a chance and refused it. And their anger includes their mother, who took Stan back after the divorce. Of course, she had a good reason....even if none of her family and friends accept it.

No, this isn't from one of my published books. It's from my new work in progress, tentatively titled "The Appointment." More about that later.

As for "A Question of Boundaries" (thanks for asking!) it is still awaiting judgment. I'm hoping to find a home for it somewhere. Please keep your fingers crossed.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Moving Day

The hot weather reminds me of when we moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina  some 35 years ago with three kids, a dog, a cat and a bird in a cage. It was hot then, too--105 degrees as we unpacked the van and tried to decide where to put things.

I wanted to go back home, but we'd made the decision and had to stick by it. I've never regretted it.

Many people move in the summer because they want their kids to get settled before school starts. And this month, all over the world United Methodist pastors and their families are moving to new appointments. For those who don't know, our pastors are appointed, not chosen, and their tenure lasts about four years. We were fortunate to have ours for eight, but the time has come to say goodbye and welcome a new face in the pulpit.

It's hard to leave familiarity behind and begin the process of making new friends, new memories. I am reminded of a story I will share, updated for a more modern audience:

A man stops at a gas station just outside of town. In the car are a woman and two children. He pumps his gas and goes inside the convenience store to pay.

"We're moving here," he says to the propietor. "My company transferred me and we're not very impressed so far with what we've seen. We were wondering what the people are  like."

"What were they like were you came from?"

The man sighs, takes his change. "Nosy, rude and insufferable."

"I'm sorry, but you'll probably find the people here are about the same."

A week later, another family stops. Seeing the U-Haul hitched behind the car, the gas station owner asks, "Moving in?"

"Yes," says the man across the counter. "We think it's a pretty town and I feel lucky to have found work here. What are the people like?"

"What were they like where you came from?"

"They were great folks," the man says, handing over his credit card. "Friendly, generous and caring."

The owner swipes the card and hands it back. "I believe you'll find the same kind of people here," he says.

I've moved enough in my lifetime to know that people are really the same no matter where you go. It's the attitude you bring with you that makes all the difference.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When is Enough?

Now that Release Day for "The Lunch Club" is only two days away I am wondering how much more excitement my friends and family can take. I have Tweeted the news, put it on Facebook and e-mailed everyone on my list. I even had number one son create a book trailer for me and told everyone I knew about it. I can imagine them saying, "Enough already with the book! So you wrote a book--what else is new?"

I know you have to be your own publicist and blow your own horn and all that. But how much is enough?

With my first book, "Angels Unaware," I went all out: ordered business cards and mugs, gave books away to clubs and libraries, and generally did anything I could think of to draw attention to the novel. Although I sold very well locally, I actually barely broke even.

Rookie mistake.

There is a line between acting as your own publicist and becoming an annoying pest that people begin to avoid. I am reminded of the New Yorker cartoon where two men are talking at a cocktail party. One says to the other, "But enough about me. Let me tell you about my book."

I am hoping that the readers who liked "Angels" will be willing to take a chance on its successor without my having to plead with them to buy it. But I do have to let them know it's available.

So--when is enough? Do any of you having trouble walking this fine line? How much horn-blowing can you do before people start covering their ears? 


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tanya Michaels' Thoughts on the Writing Life

Last week I talked about the three pathways to publication as presented by Trish Milburn at the June meeting of Carolina Romance Writers.

This week I will share what I learned from Tanya Michaels , whose presentation, "Military School for the Unruly Muse," followed Trish's morning workshop and a delicious lunch at Red Rocks Cafe.

Okay, that's enough links, but I hope you will check out each of them.

Tanya juggles a prolific writing career with running a home and caring for her family. She has two young children, so how in the world, we ask, does she find time to write all those award-winning books?

Her advice is to structure your life and follow a schedule. We all know that if you have children, sometimes schedules get thrown out the window. What then?  Well, said Tanya, if you have been reliable in submitting your work to your publisher in the past, they won't quail when you have a genuine excuse for being late. Your reputation will allow you that little bit of slack when times get tough.

You also (and I know we've heard this before, but it bears repeating) need to treat your writing as your job. Let friends and family know you will be at work between certain hours, and then don't pick up the phone or answer your e-mail during that time. If you worked at a bank or taught school, they wouldn't call to chat during working hours, would they?

A writer needs a little nurturing, too. Get away from your desk periodically to read a book, take in a movie or concert and feed your imagination. Take time for on-going classes and workshops to enhance your skills and further your career. Nurture your self-confidence so that "not every snarky contest judge or random Amazon review sends your muse hiding under the bed."

Even if you are a "pantser*" you need to write an outline or synopsis so you know where you are going. This can be one typed page to an Excel spreadsheet to a storyboard filled with photos, quotes and maps. It doesn't matter how elaborate it is, the purpose to to keep you on course so you don't waste time on dead-end plot twists, no matter how enticing.

Tanya recommends honing your senses and using them while writing to bring the reader into your story as they smell, see, hear, feel and taste along with your characters.

Last, Tanya urged us soldier on, no matter how impossible it seems. Instead of throwing up your hands and saying, "I can't," be persistent in writing something and one day you will finish your manuscript. And then you can sit back and say, "I can."

*A pantser is a reference to those brave early pilots who flew without controls, or "by the seat of their pants." This is opposed to a plotter, who has every scene plotted out before she sits down to write the first line of the first  chapter.

Check out the July workshop at CRW. We welcome guests!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Three Paths to Publication

Our power provider sent a crew over this morning to trim the trees in our back yard. While doing this, they asked if we wanted them to remove some dead branches that have been hanging menacingly since the last big storm. We said yes, because who wants to walk around the back yard with the threat of a huge limb falling on your head? 

I could segue this observation into a metaphor on trimming dead wood from your manuscript in order to save it, but I had other plans.

I attended a wonderful workshop at the Carolinas Romance Writers in Charlotte last Saturday. Trish Milburn talked about not putting all your literary eggs in one basket. No, she didn't mean you should write novels, poetry and op ed pieces in the local newspaper in order to increase your chances of publication. Nor did she tell us we needed to write in several different genres, although that has worked well for others.

Trish was comparing the three tracks of publishing: large (read New York) publishers, small independent publishers and self-publishing.

With a large publisher, an author gets the prestige, professional editing, cover art and promotion with distribution to book stores, book clubs and all the perks one could want. There's also an advance, and who doesn't like money up front? The catch is, it's very difficult to get on with a big publisher if you are an unknown or are writing something that doesn't blend in with the current trends.

I read an article lately describing how an author deliberately submitted a best selling novel to the big houses and was rejected every time--even by the house that had originally published the book. He was told that his writing had certain resemblances to the authentic author, but wasn't something they could take a chance on.

That's how hard it is.

It isn't easy to get accepted by a small publishing house, but it is doable if you believe in yourself enough to be persistent and keep sending out that query letter. With a smaller house, you have more imput in cover design and they will put more effort in promoting a niche book than the big houses will. It also doesn't take as long from acceptance to holding the book in your hand.

But--you are less likely to see your book in a bookstore window display. This is a drawback, because authors are still being discovered by people browsing the shelves and thumbing through books with a cover that screams, "Open me!" 

In self-publishing, you do have complete control of your book--and all the responsibility. Trish recommended spending the money for a professional editor and professional cover design. Your book should be comparable in quality to a book released by Random House or Simon and Schuster. Because, guess what? If a reader buys a sloppily plotted and edited book, she will never buy a book written by that author again.

I've been delighted with my small, independent publisher, Draumr Publishing. They published "Angels Unaware" in the summer of 2010, and "The Lunch Club" will be released June 30 of this year.

If that isn't a definition of a dream come true, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What's in a Name?

We all know that names are important. We love our name or hate it enough to change it once we reach legal age. Women are less willing than their grandmothers to change their last names when they marry, hence the advent of the hyphenated surname. 

I have told people that I don't name my cats, they tell me what their name is. On occasion I've named a cat only to change it later when the cat subtly let me know his displeasure.

It's the same with characters in books. Sometimes the name comes into my head immediately. Other times I have had to search long and hard for the right name. One of my favorite places to find an unusual but apt name is in the obituaries. Of course, I don't take the entire name and plop it in my book, I am as averse to being sued as the next writer. I mix and match.

Baby name sites in the Internet are good because they give you the meaning of the name. Do you want your character to be manly? a leader? wise and good? You can find appropriate names here.

And, at a pinch, I turn to the telephone book.

The lead character in my current WIP is named Marcie. I wanted her to be kind and sympathetic, almost to a fault. Mercy would be too obvious, but Marcie--I hope--leads the reader to subconsciously translate this quality from her actions. The male hero is Adam Shepherd. He's a minister. 'Nough said.

A secondary character is named Moon. It isn't a nickname, Moon was born in the sixties of a Flower Child mother named Light. She called her three daughters Sun, Moon and Star. When Moon complains that Sunny and Star got the best of the deal, while she was always subject to teasing, she is asked why she doesn't change it.

"Because it's my name," she says incredulously.

That's one that popped in my head. Maybe as I revise it will be abandoned. Or maybe not.

One name I had to change was Beth's husband, Dan, in "The Lunch Club". I originally called him Dave. Then I  realized that was the name of the main character in Linda Evan's Book, "Jobless Recovery." Both Daves are out of work. My Dave was older and married, but I still felt badly about stealing her name. So I changed it. Dan will always be Dave to me, though.

How do you come up with names for your characters? Do they pop into your head or do you spend hours finding just the right one?

Remember, Margaret Mitchell originally called Scarlett O'Hara "Pansy." Would a Pansy have sailed virtually unscathed through the Civil War?

I think not. And neither did Mitchell.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Meet Beth

Introducing Beth, the fourth member of "The Lunch Club." Dan's refusal to face the reality of the job market has led to yet another fight.

 “When are you going to stop being mad at me—and everything else?”
“What makes you think I’m angry?” His tone was level, but his eyes told another story.

“You are. And you know what? I don’t want to live like this anymore.”

After a long silence, Dan asked, “What are you going to do?”

“Oh God, I don’t know. Get a job, like Bobbi said. At least I’d be out of the house.”

Dan snorted. “Like getting a job would be easy. Haven’t you seen how hard I’ve been trying? Your degree is in library science and you haven’t worked since we moved to North Carolina. Good luck with that.”

Beth drew a long breath. “First of all, I’d be realistic. I’ll search for something available, like a sales clerk or receptionist. And I won’t make the mistake of turning my nose up at a job because it doesn’t have the cachet of say, a plant manager.”

“So you think some perverted kind of snobbery is my problem? I won’t take available jobs because they’re below my dignity?” He spoke without inflection, which frightened her a little.

“That’s what I think, yes.”

“So—I should go into the nearest pizza place with a sign out front saying they need drivers and go in and apply?”

“Why not?”

“You know what they pay?” He sounded both amused and incredulous.

The danger past, she relaxed and essayed a joke. “No, but I bet you’d get lots of free pizza.”

When Dan didn’t reply, Beth stood. “I’m going to bed now.” She left without waiting for him to follow.

After a few minutes, she heard him pad down the hallway. She continued dabbing on her night cream. Dan’s face loomed behind her in the mirror, like a rising moon. He watched her for a few minutes, his face devoid of expression as an egg, and then backed out, leaving her alone.

She hadn’t expected an apology—Dan never apologized—but he could at least have offered a civil “Good night,” Beth thought. She felt her eyes sting with tears. It had been so long since he had kissed her goodnight or even offered a hug. Sex wasn’t even on the horizon.

She picked up her brush drew the plastic bristles through her hair, hoping to prevent the inevitable snarls that appeared during the night. She tried to understand Dan’s reaction to her revelation that she had enjoyed her night out. He not only acted like he didn’t care, he acted like he would have been happy if she said she was leaving him. Are you going to see him again? A few months ago, the statement would have been ludicrous. Now, it showed how far they’d drifted apart.

Maybe he was tired of her. Maybe she was the symbol of his failure, and he hated looking at her, reminded of the man he’d been. Feeling old, ugly and unloved, she threw the brush down on the sink edge, not caring if the handle cracked.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Meet Melody

You have met Harriet and Jane Anne of "The Lunch Club". Today you will meet the third member of the group, Melody. As the scene opens, Melody now feels comfortable with the man she met on the Internet  and has invited Tony to her home for dinner. They have enjoyed a home-cooked meal and are settling down to watch a movie.

The book cover you see is the mock-up of the proposed cover for "The Lunch Club." What do you think? I love the colors. 
They cleared away the remnants before starting the movie Melody picked out, Leatherheads. Melody assumed Tony would like the sports theme, and she liked George Clooney. But she didn’t have to tell Tony that.

As the movie neared its finale and the approach of the second hurdle of the evening, Melody got more and more nervous. She’d planned what to say over and over during the last few days, but now the time was here, she wasn’t sure how her proposal would be received. She forgot her fears when Tony’s arms slipped around her shoulders and his lips met hers. After a few kisses, his fingers touched her breast. Melody’s hands found their way to his shoulders, and then his body melded into hers, legs entwined. Somehow, his hand now touched bare flesh. They realized they were on the edge of a precipice. Tony pulled away first.

“I guess I’d better go,” he said, his dark eyes shadowed with desire.

“You don’t have to,” Melody said, knowing the same longing was reflected in her eyes. “It’s a long drive back to Charlotte and it’s late. You should stay here and go in the morning.”

Tony looked at her for what felt like an eternity, but was in reality a few ticks of the clock on the mantel over the fake fireplace. “You have a spare bedroom?” he asked.

“Yes. But that’s not what I’m saying.”

“You’re sure?” Both knew what he was asking.

“Very sure,” Melody said. “I keep a fresh toothbrush in Charlie’s bathroom, and toothpaste. And Charles’ shaving kit is there, too. And towels,” she added, remembering another inducement.

 “All right, then.”

She smiled. “I’ll go and put on my nightgown while you change. There’s a robe, there, too.”After he left, Melody allowed herself to sag in relief. He hadn’t acted as if she were some kind of wanton woman, throwing herself at him. He’d been the gentleman she’d come to expect. Then she smiled. There was one more thing she’d placed in the small bathroom. She hoped he’d notice the condom. She hadn’t fallen off the turnip truck yesterday. She knew if she slept with Tony tonight, she’d be sleeping with every woman he’d ever slept with, and their partners, too.

By the time she’d changed into a simple sleeveless cotton gown, Tony stepped into the bedroom, wearing Charlie’s old blue robe. He smiled and shook his head at her. “Everything a man could need,” he said. She laughed and held out her arms.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"The Lunch Club" -- Jane Anne

A few weeks ago I introudced Harriet, a member of  "The Lunch Club" (coming soon from Draumr Publishing). Today, I would like you to meet Jane Anne. In this excerpt, Larry and Jane Anne are in the car when Larry almost has an accident. Jane Anne wonders how she can insist on taking the wheel without causing a scene:

To her relief, when they reached the car he got in on the passenger side. “I’m not driving anymore,” he said. He handed her his keys. “Here. Throw them away or something.”

She took them and dropped them in her purse. Thank you, God, she prayed. She’d thought she’d have to get Kris and Karen together and talk him out of driving, but he had seen for himself he wasn’t responsible. Of course, he might forget by tomorrow and want his keys back, but she’d handle that when and if the situation arose. She started for home, wondering how a day that started out so promising could go bad in a few short hours. Larry sat and stared out of the window. She didn’t know what he was thinking.

Once home, she shooed Larry into the living room so she could put away the groceries and start supper. When she put her casserole in the oven, she sat at the kitchen table, not wanting to join him yet.

She thought back to when they met. Larry taught a required course in Romance poets and she decided three weeks into the semester she was going to marry him. She was a junior with two years to go before she graduated. There were rules against a professor dating a student, so she bided her time, garnering every scrap of gossip about the handsome bachelor professor. Every time his name was linked with this or that woman her heart sunk. But then, weeks or months later, the rumor would go around they had broken up, and Larry would be free once more.

On the day of her graduation, she excused herself from her parents, who had driven over a hundred miles to see their only child receive her diploma, and gone to Larry’s office.

“I want to take you to dinner tonight,” she’d said.

He’d looked up in bewilderment. Then he’d shrugged. “Why not?”

Later, she decided Larry was too unmotivated to court any of his lady friends with any serious intent and so they gave up hope and moved on. Her daring pursuit had intrigued him.

She’d marched back to her bewildered parents and told them instead of following them home in her tiny VW she was going to stay and find a job near the college. She’d soon found out a degree in English literature opened no doors, so she took a job waiting on tables at O’Hanrahan’s, a bad imitation of an Irish pub. She and Larry married in the fall.

She quit her job and enrolled at Remount Community College where she earned an associate degree in medical record keeping. Upon graduation, she’d taken a position at Remount Community Hospital and gotten pregnant with Karen, in that order.

Surprisingly—not to Jane Anne, but to everyone else—they had been very happy. Every year on their anniversary he thanked her for yanking him out of his academic rut and showing him what life could be. He adored his children, and he adored her. Now, she had to ask herself if it had been worth it.

She sat there until the timer buzzed, jolting her out of her reverie. Then she walked into the living room to call her husband for dinner.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In Good Company

Our Carolinas Writers Conference is now in the past. It took a year of planning to set up the event and like most milestones, it was over too quickly. We are already in the planning stage for 2013. (You can see photos of the event at ansoncountywriters'club.org

My writing partner, Elbert Marshall, and I were asked to do a session on "How to Co-Write a Book Without Committing Homicide." We are the authors of "Plotz," a pyschological suspense novel.

In addition to being a presenter, I also had the opportunity to attend a couple of sessions. I especially enjoyed Marjorie Hudson, author of "Accidental Birds of the Carolinas." After reading her book, the committee unanimously decided to ask her to talk about using the five senses in writing. She writes wonderfully descriptive stories and her workshop made me determined to describe more accurately what my characters are tasting, smelling and touching along with seeing and hearing.

Tony Abbott's presentation was a joy. I had met him eons ago at a workshop at Duke University and purchased "The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat" then. What a pleasure to hear that poem again, and some of his more recent poems. Those who attended his workshop are still talking about it. Only a few lucky ones were able to have him critique their poems, but they all said it was one of the best workshops they'd attended. Ever.

I really enjoyed Margaret Maron's talk. I could relate to Ms. Maron in so many ways. Like me, she wrote short stories and poetry before writing a novel. She admitted that it took her a long time to start writing because she didn't feel as if she had anything to say. I almost jumped up and yelled, "Me, too!" And, like me, her novels are set in an imaginary North Carolina town. Her books are mysteries; mine are not, but both our works are character driven.

The highlight for me was when I was told I was sit in on the panel discussion. I didn't feel I belonged in a group of distinguished authors and publishers, but took a seat anyway. It was a lot of fun and made me feel that I had "arrived" even though I can claim only two books published, and one coming up.

Oh -- the photo? That's my cat, Spooky. She lives under the computer desk. Every writer needs a cat and she graciously agreed to be mine.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Importance of being Accurate

Whew! It's been a busy few weeks, but I'm back. The 4th annual Carolinas Writers Conference is now history. It began Friday evening with Back Porch Stories: ghost stories, Native American stories and just plain "growin' up Southern" stories.

On Saturday, Margaret Maron gave the morning address, with another talk by poet Anthony Abbot after lunch. In between were sessions on any aspect of writing you could wish to attend. I learned a lot about the craft of writing and I think other people did as well.

Then, a complete change of pace on Monday. I am a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). We have a small chapter because, frankly, younger women don't seem to have the passion for history that my generation does.

Years ago, in 1928, the original two Anson County chapters got together and placed a bronze plaque on "Execution Rock" to mark the grave of Wadesboro's founder, Col. Thomas Wade. Execution Rock is where the Catawaba Indians beheaded their enemies and was said to weep blood every time it rained.

This rock is 50 yards from the the site of the first courthouse in Anson County. Perhaps Col. Wade wanted to be buried there because, being a local point of interest, the site would always be easily identified.

Some 160 years later, people were beginning to forget the rock's significance
and it was necessary to add a cast bronze plaque to remind them of its historical importance.

Fast forward another 80 years and the site is now farmland, and privately owned. Even if you know about Execution Rock, you can't just go see it; you have to get permission from the owner and then you have to find it.

The rock was largely forgotten until a local historian visited the site and discovered that the numbers for the date of death had been transposed. Instead of 1786, the marker read 1768. He came to the DAR and strongly suggested we fix it. After all, it was our error. Not that any of us were around then.

The members consulted a funeral home -- we figured they would know about plaques and monuments -- and found that to either recast the original bronze plaque or order a new one was prohibitively expensive. An alternative was suggested: add a new marker with the correct date. This, being more in line with our treasury, was the route we took. The new stone says simply, "“Corrected Date of Thomas Wade’s Death is 1786. Placed by Craighead-Wade Chapter DAR 2012.”

Several of us went to the site to see the new marker placed beside Execution Rock. We drove a long, bumpy dirt road, met the man who could open the gate, and followed his pickup along another bumpy, dirt road. Then we walked across the field, weaving our way through brittle cotton stalks with bits and pieces of cotton still clinging to them.

We kept a wary eye out for snakes. The area is said to be a favorite haunt of rattlers. We didn't see any, but I'm willing to bet some were there, wondering why all these humans were disturbing their afternoon sunbath.

We took pictures to commemorate the event and the new, laser-engraved slab was placed in a bed of concrete. Satisfied that history had been served, we retraced our path and went home.

Now, I know that very few people remember where this boulder is. If I didn't have directions written down, I'd never find the place again. Moreover, you need permission from the owner to go there. So the likelihood of anyone seeing the new plaque is as remote as the site itself.

Why did we do it? Because we wanted the wording to be accurate. Too much of our history is being distorted, lost or ignored. Both markers are constructed to last for years, if not centuries. That field may not always be farmland. In the event that years down the road the marker is rediscovered, we wanted the finders to know that long ago, there was a group of women -- and one determined man -- who wanted our history be recorded accurately.

In stone.