The finish line

Thanksgiving is over for another year. I hope sincerely hope you all had a great day with family and didn’t eat too much!

I didn’t travel this year, having just run down to Atlanta to watch UGA beat Kentucky at Athens with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. The other grandson is in the band, so I was excited to watch the half-time show. We all had  dinner after and it was fun to see the older grandson’s house that he shares with three roommates before we ate. We drove home and got caught by a cloudburst. I was proud that my 17-year-old younger grandson, who was driving, handled the car so competently that no one worried about an accident. I thought to myself that they are growing up to be fine young men, and felt a little sad that the childhood stage of their development has ended.

And I watched the implosion of the Georgia Dome on Monday before I headed home. We had excellent seats in the conference room at my son’s office. What we did not expect was how LOUD it was! And lots of dust, like a mushroom cloud. So the dome is finished and a nice park will arise in its place.

There are other things finished this week. I finished my rewrite of “Wherever You May Be.” While much of the story stayed the same, I had to change the basic premise, which meant re-working  a lot of fiddly little details.

I sent it to a beta reader and am awaiting her comments, especially since she read the first version and can compare.

I have finished my Christmas shopping. I can’t believe I just typed that. Every year I get down to the wire, hoping my orders will be delivered in time. Who wants an IOU in their Christmas stocking? But the gifts are in the spare bedroom, just waiting to be wrapped.

The one thing I haven’t finished is the pumpkin pie. There is one piece left, and if I eat it I will have to admit I ate a whole pie. So therein lies a dilemma. Do I finish it and let the extra calories settle around my middle, or ignore it and pat myself on the back for my restraint?

Not telling.

 

 

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Book talks and things that go boom!

Lately, I feel as if I am being pulled in several different directions. I’m not complaining because I love to be busy. I love company. I love going places.

I was relieved when a health scare turned out to be nothing (but a week of anxiety) and was happy when I learned of back-to-back family visits. Truly a time for celebration. But I forgot that my family were coming to see me and not my house, so I spent a week cleaning and scouring and mopping which wore me out. The good thing is that my fall housecleaning is now accomplished!

All of you know that when family comes, you drop everything going on in your life to be with them. But sometimes this can’t be done. I had an obligation at the church on Sunday: lay reader and assistant to the pastor for communion. I told my kids I had to be at church and invited them to come. They did, and I had the very great and meaningful pleasure of serving the communion cup to my two sons and daughter-in-law.

They left and I had one day to wash sheets and towels and re-make the beds before another branch of the family arrived.  Again, I had an obligation I couldn’t back out of. I had promised a book club in another town that I would come and talk. I called and asked if I could bring my two guests along, and the hostess graciously said “Yes.”

There are all kinds of book clubs and I thought I knew how they worked, but this club was different. They each buy one book, and at their meeting they put the books on a table and the members choose one to read during the next month.

“Don’t you discuss them?” I asked.

“No, we never talk about the books,” was the answer.

Well, I talked about MY books and my road to publication, which is what they wanted to hear. My guests said they enjoyed it as they hadn’t realized how I got started writing or how many books I had written.

Which reminds me, one of the questions I was asked was about my schedule. I think they were disappointed when I said I didn’t have one. Anything, I said, from a load of laundry to a dirty floor, can keep me from writing. They were surprised that I had to make myself sit down and write. I keep vowing to write first, then do my chores, but like all good intentions I gradually slip back into old habits. This past week has shown me how far down I have slipped.

Another question was if I ever worked on more than one book at a time. I said yes, I’m currently revising one and re-writing the end of another. When I get tired of one project I switch to the other. It’s a race to see which gets finished first!

Am I going to get back on schedule now that my visitors have headed home? I hope so, but I do have plans for the rest of the month. One item on my list is to see the Georgia Dome get blown up on Nov. 20. We’ll have to get up early in the morning to see that, but who would miss a big explosion? Not me.

Maybe I can somehow work it into one of my books.

And if I get pictures I will share!

 

 

A day in the life

I’ve had my rear end planted firmly in my chair this past week, facing my computer. My fingers have been busy, my mind more so.

Yes, I’ve been writing. More than I have all summer. There are two incentives: one, yard work has slowed down and two, I have novels to finish.

I’d planned on revising a story I started a couple of years ago. My beta readers liked it, but I wasn’t satisfied. Nor could I get even a nibble from publishers. I decided I needed to twist the basic plot. I think it’s stronger, more believable, but I need some feedback before I publish. (For many reasons, I decided to self-publish this one.)

Second, I sent out a query for another book and got the response that if I made the last chapters stronger the editor was willing to take another look. This is a reversal of my first submissions where I was told the throw out the first chapters and start in the middle of the story (which was where it really began). So I’ve been working on that, too.

And,  my friends/fans have asked for a sequel to “Riverbend.” I have an idea in the back of my head, but that means writing two books, not one, to make the sequel(s) work. It looks like a busy winter.

And, it’s more than writing. If I self-publish, I need to create my own cover. I’ve been going through sites like Flickr Commons, Dreamstime, Free Range Stock, etc., to find a picture that matched the idea in my head. I found the perfect one, but it was copyrighted, and there was no contact information so I could ask the artist for permission, or to pay, to use it. Sigh. I will keep looking or I may have to find a commercial cover artist to do it, which is expensive. However, I’m told the cover makes the book, even though we are warned not to judge a book by its cover. The world is filled with conflicting advice.

Oh, and a title. That’s another hurdle, trying to think of a few words that instantly let the reader know what the book is about. I’ve been playing with that, too. Sometimes titles come instantly, ready to go, and sometimes, as with this book, it’s elusive and needs to be teased into being.

And so it goes. As any writer will tell you, it’s more than putting words on paper. I won’t even get into the submission process, editing, and promotion.

And meanwhile, I will need to rake leaves pretty soon. That’s all right, I do my best thinking while working on a physical task. There must be a relationship between muscle and brain. Exercise one and you stimulate the other.

So, right now I’m getting ready to attend a workshop on writing the short story. I don’t write short stories often, but I’m sure I”ll learn more about writing in general.

And that, my friends, is the writing life. Filled with ups and downs, rejections and offers of a contract, decisions, details, and all the other mundane activities that in no way decrease the joy of seeing your story come to life.

 

 

 

And then…

I attended our local community theater’s presentation of “To Kill  Mockingbird” this week. Although I had read the book and seen the movie, the story still gripped me. The acting was dynamic, the sets were clever, and all in all it was a great evening. There is just something about a live performance that brings a story to life.

I got to thinking about what makes a great story. We are told over and over about “the hook.” Gotta get the read (or agent, or publisher) with the first sentence … the first paragraph … the first page.

But what happens after that?

I think it is the same whether it is print, film, or stage–we want our audience to wonder what happens next.

Remember sitting around the campfire while someone told a ghost story? The shivers of anticipation mounted with each new sentence: “And then …” until the climax when we all screamed in relief.

It’s great to get the reader hooked, but can we keep the fish–er, reader–on the line?

When we read a great book we say, “I couldn’t put it down.”

The author knew how to keep the suspense churning. Each page, each chapter, tempted us into “just one more” until parents, partner, or just plain realization that tomorrow is a work day made us put the book down.

My mother had a crafty way to getting us to read. She’d start a story, then put slap the book closed and say, “If you want to see what happens next, you need to read it yourself.”

And we did.

You can talk about the craft of writing all you want, but the rules are simple. One, get the reader interested in the characters and their problems (plot) and two,  keep the action going by constantly tempting them with “what’s next?”

I guarantee you’ll have a winner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The longest week

I wasn’t going to write about this, but because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I decided to share anyway.

Like many woman, I get an annual mammogram. I may be past the recommended age range, but I remember my first husband’s Aunt Estelle dying of breast cancer 50 years ago. She had a total mastectomy, but the cancer got her anyway. She was  in her eighties.

So I two weeks ago, I had a screening mammogram. I always feel a little apprehensive, but in the past 15 years the only result was a letter telling me all was fine.

I went immediately in panic mode when, just three days later, I got a phone call. The caller ID was Charlotte Radiology.

I'd Rather Go to California by [Bruney, Sandra]

I wrote about my journey back in 2014 in “I’d Rather Go to California.Many people have told me it helped them, a friend, or a relative, which was my purpose in sharing my story.

I knew it would not be good news. They send a letter for that.

The very nice voice on the other end told me I had to schedule a diagnostic mammogram and a ultrasound. The only reason given was that the first mammogram was “incomplete.” I figured that was a code word for “We found something disturbing and it may or may not be cancer so we’ll take another look.”

Friends, the week until I went back was the longest week of my life. If this were the first time this had happened, I’d have been scared but ignorant. This time I was scared and fully aware of what might be ahead. It may have been 16 years ago, but I still remember the pain of surgery, the sickness of the chemo, during which I lost nearly 30 pounds because I couldn’t eat, and then the exhaustion following radiation. It took me a year to recover.

I had the diagnostic mammogram and was taken to the ultrasound room. I waited there alone for about five minutes, with everything going through my mind from how to tell the kids and what this meant for my planned trip to Ireland in 2019.

Then the doctor came in. “Everything looks good,” he said. No need for an ultrasound. Come back in a year.

I felt that burden I’d been carrying lift right off. I thanked him and hugged the  nurse. I thanked God for His goodness all the way home.

I hadn’t told anyone about this except for two friends I knew would stay mum while offering up prayers. When I told them the news, they were as happy as I was.

Not every woman going for her annual mammogram has such good results. Remember them in your prayers. Support whatever organization you prefer in continued research and hope for a cure.

And ladies, schedule your mammogram.

 

 

 

 

And here we go again…

I don’t normally rant on this space. It’s supposed to be about my writing journey, not politics.

Let me start by saying I am not against guns. My Dad hunted when I was young to put meat on the table. It was the tail end of the Great Depression and we were happy to eat rabbit, squirrel, venison, quail or what ever else he shot. Mom drew the line at cooking ground hog or ‘possum.

After Jim died, I found six guns in the house, from his grandfather’s rabbit gun to a Kruger pistol. I got rid of all of them. I don’t hunt and if I shot at a burglar I most probably would shoot my big toe off before I hit him. I took a rifle course in college, but had to drop out because of my poor eyesight.

I don’t care if you have a gun in the house as long as it is safely locked up away from curious little hands.

But I do have some questions. I read The Charlotte Observer, which recently reported its 70th homicide for 2017. Most of these are committed by young kids in their teens or early twenties. The victims are also teens, or even children. Why do these kids have guns? We know their brains are not yet fully mature and that this age range acts on impulse. I recall reading about one victim who said in the ambulance taking him to the hospital that he didn’t know being shot HURT! Why would he? Movies, TV, and video games show people getting shot, but they don’t convey the pain of the victim, the anguish of the victim’s family, the horror of something done that can never be undone.

We want the government to act, but they are bought and paid for by the NRA. In a perfect world, Congress would listen to the people who elected them and not their pocketbooks and enact some sensible legislation. We can’t get all the guns off the street, but we can make it harder for them to be used when some kid feels he is being dissed and wants to show that sucker not to mess with him.

  1. Make the person who sold the gun equally responsible for the crime committed. We hold bartenders responsible when they sell alcohol to a minor, why not gun sellers? Make it illegal for anyone under 21 to own a gun except a hunting gun. Most kids know who they bought the gun from.
  2.  Make it harder to buy ammunition. Same as above for the seller.
  3. Outlaw rapid-fire automatic weapons for anyone not in the military. You don’t hunt with them, you don’t target practice with them. So why have one? If you need one to feel macho, try another venue like running a marathon. It will also help relieve that anger and stress that makes you want such a weapon.
  4. Make would-be gun buyers complete a course in gun safety before purchase just as young hunters must take a course in hunting safety before they get a hunting license.  Double the penalty for a crime committed using a gun if the shooter can’t show his certificate.

Yes, I know none of the above protects us from crazy people. Our mental health system is working overtime. And even those professionals can’t do anything if a person suddenly breaks. That person isn’t in the system.

I don’t believe any of this will happen any time soon until the public takes a united stand. But that would take unity, and those who claim second amendment rights have to realize their rights end when our lives are in danger. I want to be able to go to a movie, a night club, an outdoor concert without wondering if I’m going to be a victim of someone’s misplaced rage. I know there is no way to eliminate that possibility, but we can make sure the chances of it happening are lower than they are now.

And it will only happen if two things change. Congress should not let the NRA keep their hands tied when it comes to enacting common sense gun laws. And the NRA should admit its culpability and acknowledge that those laws will not keep you from target shooting or hunting or protecting your home instead of screaming that their “rights” are being violated.

And sadly, pigs will fly before any of this happens.

Rant over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson re-learned

When my first two non-fiction books were published, I was elated. A real publisher had accepted my submissions. It was a small, indie press, but to me it was a first step. Never mind that the company went out of business a few years later and I had to re-publish the books on my own. The experience was invaluable in that I realized I was no longer a wannabe, but a professional writer.

The second lesson I learned was during the editing process. Each book (Angels Unaware and The Lunch Club) elicited the same directive from the editor: Lose the first chapter.

It’s good advice. Many writers, including me, think that everything has to be explained in the first pages. We throw in too much back story, we put in too much detail about the characters and their lives, and we never get to the point of the story until chapter two. It’s not until then that the action begins to gain momentum.

I tried to follow that advice with my next books, published by a different small press. I started out with the problem and the story accelerated from there.

But I must have forgotten with my current work in progress. Like the tablecloth I mentioned in my last post, I kept starting and stopping, knowing something was wrong, but just not getting it. The first chapter limped along like a dog with a sand spur in his paw. Aggravating and painful.

Then one evening the answer came to me. The first chapter is boring because it doesn’t state the problem in the first page. It drones on until about mid-chapter, and then we discover the dilemma the protagonist faces. By then, most readers would have yawned and tossed the book aside.

Yep, I needed to lose that first chapter. So I highlighted and deleted the whole thing  and rewrote the second chapter (now first) so that the reader knows immediately what the heroine faces.

The lesson here is that we continue learning, but sometimes we forget what we learned. That’s why it’s so important to keep reading craft books and magazines, to attend workshops, and to work with a critique group.  I submitted that now-gone first chapter to a critique partner who said succinctly that she wasn’t sure if the protagonist was 13 or 30. I re-read it and realized in an effort to make the heroine young, I had essentially made her a teenager. More cuts and revisions.

But now that I’m aware of the red flags that I’d ignored in my blithe assumption that as a published author I knew what I was doing, I am eager to tackle the story again.

And I’m still eager to learn. On October 28, Joseph Bathanti will lead an intensive short story workshop in Wadesboro. I don’t write short stories very often, but I believe that what I  learn from a master writer can be applied to longer works.

If you live in the Charlotte area, check it out at Carolinas Writers Conference. Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

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