Cover reveal and other accomplishments

During this period of social distancing I have accomplished several things. One is that my kitchen cupboards and drawers are much cleaner and neater.

I could not believe the things I found while organizing. For example, a perfectly good coffee grinder. I purchased one not so long ago after receiving a bag of coffee beans.  I mused that this is what I got for not checking to see if I already had one.

I also found a waffle maker I didn’t know I had. I cleaned it up and bought some waffle mix and syrup. I am looking forward to a Sunday morning treat.

Along with the usual housework (and I am still ignoring that full ironing basket), yard work, and crafts  — why, oh why, did I think it would be fun to do a cross stitch of a black cat? — I finished my book!

Yes, it was written, edited, and critiqued. But then there was the formatting to do, and then uploading the cover. For some reason, KDP kept telling me it didn’t meet their criteria. It seems the cover width was  — picture me pinching my thumb and forefinger together — this much too short.

I couldn’t figure it out. I was using their template, so shouldn’t it be the proper width? After several unsuccessful attempts, I took the darn template itself and changed its dimensions by the veriest smidgen.

Yep, that worked. So I ordered a proof copy, and if all looks good, I may have the book for sale by May 15.

I am happy that is something I can check off my list.

Now, let’s see if I can complete that cross stitch cat!

 

 

When yours is the book under discussion

I belong to two book clubs. They are polar opposites.

One is serious about discussion and books are chosen by recommendation — that is, if someone has read a book and think it worthy of discussion, it goes on the list. Not all of us like every book. I have struggled through some, and been blown away by others. It’s a way of getting us out of our comfort zone to consider genres we might not read otherwise. This group meets at different homes for a pot-luck lunch and  little wine may occasionally be served.

All right, wine is always served. And, we can get a little bawdy. We laugh a lot. Sometimes if a member is going through a hard time, we call an emergency meeting and offer sympathy, tea, and hugs.

The other is African-American and accepted me as a member after inviting me to talk about one of my books. This group is spiritually-based and even if we don’t get around to talking about the assigned book, I come home feeling uplifted and at peace. They share amazing stories themselves — we don’t need a book to get the conversation started! We meet for breakfast at a restaurant and while people may stare and wonder what this disparate group of women is doing at that back table, it doesn’t stop us from laughing and interrupting each other, everyone as eager to be heard as to listen.

This week, the latter group decided to read my latest novel, “Morven.” I was a little apprehensive, since it is set in the South on a large plantation. I wrote about slavery and its evils, and how the protagonist’s life is changed when she sees a slave being abused. How would these women, descendants of slaves, see this book? Was I being presumptuous?

They discussed the first few chapters, and I was amazed at their insight. They saw things in the characters that I hadn’t seen. They searched for motivation. Was the main character really guilty of murder by failure to act? The question became: What would you have done? Then they began to defend their positions.

As I listened, I realized how powerful a story can be. I explained why I wrote a certain passage, admitted I wish I had not written some things, and explained things that I perhaps had not made clear in the narrative.

I did not feel that I was on trial. Loving friends can point out flaws without making you weep with shame. It’s called constructive criticism.

Although they had nothing but praise for “Morven,” because of them, my next book will be better because I will keep their comments in mind.

Two groups, different as night and day, but alike in their love of books.

And their love for each other.

 

 

I

 

 

Pratfalls and pitfalls

For the past two Friday mornings, I have joined a group of like-minded crafters in a local coffee shop to work on pine needle baskets. I had the idea of extending my skill by adding beads to my basket. I thought I had it all figured out.

When I finished the round, I discovered that my beads were on in inside of the basket, not the outside where they belonged.

My companions assured me that they thought it looked fine. I did not agree.

When I got home, I ripped out three rounds of weaving. This was not easy, as I had to pick out every loop. The whole, knotty business reminded me of the Gordian Knot. I wished I could just cut all the threads, but I was just mad enough and determined enough that I sought to save the thread and pine needles and re-use them. (That’s a Great Depression lesson learned at my mother’s knee.)

I then re-did the whole thing. This time the pesky beads stayed where I meant them to stay.

Gordian Knot

Why I’m telling you this is because I ran across the same thing in my story. For reasons I can’t (or won’t) disclose, one of my characters has to have her baby due in July. I counted on my fingers, the time-honored way to check the length of a pregnancy, and discovered that she would in fact be due sometime in March. That wouldn’t work.

I back-tracked and moved the scene where she announces her pregnancy further long in the book. This had the domino effect of making every previous and subsequent scene out of kilter.

I was so upset when I discovered this that I quit and spent way too much time tracking long-dead relatives on ancestry.com.

So now I have to cut each scene, place it in a separate file, and then replace it in the correct order in my timeline.

Even the thought makes my head ache. But it has to be done before I can move forward.

Sorta like my basket. I could ignore the mistake, continue on, and make an even worse muddle, or grit my teeth and do the unraveling called for.

This is what it’s like to be a writer. No one in their right mind would choose such a frustrating career. Frankly, it chooses them.

On the other hand, you don’t see a lot of people deciding to make baskets of pine needles and raffia, either.

 

 

A Little Side Trip

Me at Churchill Downs

Like the rest of you, I can’t believe summer is flying by so quickly. I had so many plans!

Three weeks ago, my sister came down from Pennsylvania for a visit. Sister time is so special, and we made the most of it, including a “side trip” to Kentucky.

We both had complete sets of china that needed a new home, so we  asked our grown children if they wanted the dishes before taking them to a thrift store or trying to sell them  on eBay. Nancy had Mom’s good company china, and I had my kids’ great-grandma’s set. (My ex-husband’s grandmother, not mine.) One of my sons asked for both sets. He and his wife run an air B&B in California, so they would be used and not stuck in a closet. None of our other offspring showed any interest, so he got them.

So, how do we get all those dishes to California from Pennsylvania and North Carolina?

Nancy brought hers with her, and we loaded her boxes and mine into the trunk of my car and set out for Louisville, where my ex-sister-in-law lives.  We often joke that I divorced her brother, but not her, and we have remained good friends. Meanwhile, my son flew into Louisville to meet us. Obviously, he  could not fly back with various-sized boxes of two sets of antique china, but his plan was to take them to his mother-in-law’s house until she and her husband drove to California some time this fall.

A round-about answer to the problem …

We had a lovely time in Kentucky, including a tour of downtown Louisville and Churchill Downs. I was amazed at the display of Derby hats, including one worn by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

We also toured a couple wineries. I tried Java Vino, a coffee-flavored wine. It was so good I bought a bottle. I may wish I had bought more.

Meanwhile, I plan to fly to California some time this fall. I have never been, so I am excited. It will be a way to celebrate the release of my latest historical novel, “Morven.”

 

 

 

Growing a book

I have been on a roll, waking every morning for the past six days to roll  out of bed  and walk two laps around the park. Then home for coffee and to read the newspaper, after which I sit down and write.

Yes, I have also been writing every day. I’m pleased with my progress and how the story is developing. Maybe I feel just a little smug as I pat myself on the back.

I fully intended to follow that routine today, but so far the walk is the only goal I can check off. It’s been hot (have I said that before?) and because it hasn’t rained in a few days, my plants started drooping. So after my walk and checking the news, I decided to water them. Then I needed to pick off the dead blossoms.

I remembered I had purchased new clippers the day before, so it seemed like a good time to try them out while it was comparatively cool. Noticing that the grass and weeds around some of the larger shrubs had grown, I got out my

I wish my astilbe looked like these!

weed-whacker and  whacked away, accidentally decapitating one lily plant. Oops.

That done, I clipped around some plants and pulled some weeds. One weed was wrapped around an astilbe, and I accidentally (not a good day) pulled out part of the plant. So I dug a hole and replanted the separated plant and while I was at it, dug up and re-planted another that had unexpectedly popped up several feet from the parent plant. So now they are all in a nice row.

Swept the sidewalk, washed my tools, and washed my knees which were muddy from kneeling on the ground.

Gardening is a little like writing. You start with an idea, and it grows. Then you need to weed out the parts that don’t belong. Sometimes a scene needs to be moved from one chapter to another to make the story flow more clearly. As you write, time slips away until you realize you have accomplished more than you had planned.

It’s a good feeling, either way. My flowers are happy and now I am off to work on my novel.

 

 

 

 

 

Judge not…?

The thing about contests is that someone has to judge them. Not many people clamor to do this job, hence a little arm-twisting might be necessary to urge people to volunteer.

I volunteered along with three other members of my writing group to judge a neighboring county’s contest entries. It’s been a long-standing agreement that their club judge our contest entries and our club judge theirs.

So there we were, sitting around a kitchen table sipping water, tea, or diet soda, passing the pages around as each “judge” read and made notes. You may think we were in agreement on our choices, but that wasn’t the case. Some gave one story high marks while another called it average. We were divided on the poetry as well. We discussed our reasons for our decisions. No minds were changed, however.

Then we voted. The results were probably as fair as they could be. The only thing we agreed on was that some of the entries were categorized incorrectly. We could tell creative non-fiction from a short story, but somehow the writers could not.

I don’t like judging for the simple fact that 90 percent of it is subjective.  When I judge I weigh the merits of the story, its flow, the pacing. I want to care about the characters. I ignore typos and give some leeway on grammar. These things can be fixed. A story that goes off the tracks can’t. Yet others will leap gleefully on a misplaced comma and lower the rating accordingly.

I’ve entered contests and had my work returned with judge’s comments. Some were constructive, some not so much. Having been a judge myself, I know how impossible it is to be completely impartial. Our prejudices creep in. We like one genre better than another; we like one tense better than another. We try to be fair and push our preconceived notions aside. Sometimes we can.

Contests are important and often help the writer to become stronger, give her direction, help her see and overcome her weak points. If the writer enters in order to get this valuable feedback, she has won even if she doesn’t get to claim the prize.

Contests can provide confirmation to the winner. My hope is those who don’t place resolve not to give up, but to try again. Because it is’t the aim of contests to crush the writer who “failed.” Nor is it the aim of the judges to send a message “you’re not good enough” to these folks.

I’ve judged and been judged. Neither is easy. But in both cases, it helps us to grow as writers.

 

 

 

 

Just the facts, Ma’am

I am trying to not get involved in politics. It’s pretty tough.

Today, at  birthday luncheon, someone mentioned the Republican Convention. Now, these are all gray-haired old ladies. Does the fact that we were celebrating one of our member’s  94th birthday tell you our approximate age? (Okay, I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I wasn’t born yesterday.)

Immediately, someone said…well, never mind. Then someone disagreed. Then a third person suggested we not talk about politics during what was a celebration.

Silence reigned. Then someone said…

You know how it goes. Everyone has a opinion and no one is willing to listen to anyone else.

I’ve been keeping my head down and writing. But it’s hard not to pay attention to what is going on. In fact, we should all be paying attention.

One thing you learn fairly quickly if you are a writer is to check the facts. This is especially important when you write historical fiction, but it’s true in any genre. Get a fact wrong and some alert reader will be sure to fire off an e-mail pointing out your error.

Yet facts seem to go flying off the page this electoral season. Yes, there are fact checkers who try to keep us all on the straight and narrow, but it seems to me the only people reading the results are the few whose minds are not so closed that any fact that disagrees with their mindset rolls off them like butter off a hot biscuit.

At least in my crowd we are trying to be civil and not throw a punch (not that any of us could without seriously injuring ourselves). A sniff and an eye-roll suffice.

My hope is that once the election is over, we can step back and accept victory or defeat gracefully and join together to address the real problems that face this nation–inequality, poverty, health care, a crumbling infrastructure, and the price of e-books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What time is it, anyway?

A question I am frequently asked is “What time of day do you set aside for writing?”

I know some writers who have a set time and woe betide anyone — spouse, child or telemarketer — who interrupts them.

But I don’t have a set time. I probably should, but lately I can’t seem to settle on any kind of schedule. I flit from typesetting our club’s anthology to laying out the ads for our Carolinas Writers Conference booklet to writing up the minutes of the church leadership team. All important, and all taking up time I should be writing.

Can you spot the big, fat lie in the above paragraph?

The important fact I omitted is that if I wanted to find time, I could. I could get up in the morning when I first wake up, feed the cats, get a cup of coffee and sit down and write before most people’s day begins. Because I wake up early. And lie in bed daydreaming.

I could stop spending time on Facebook because frankly I scroll past the recipes and what-I-had-for-dinner and political rants anyway. I could live without seeing the latest adorable kitten or finding out who my Mafia team is. Why do I let the videos suck me in? Could it be possible I am using Facebook to avoid writing?

Scary thought.

With spring coming on fast, I know I have to paint the deck and rake sweet gum balls and begin the never-ending chore of mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges and weeding flowerbeds. Never mind trying to keep the house clean and the laundry caught up. I could tell myself that I have no time to write.

I used to think my writing time came after all the above mentioned chores were done. What I have discovered is, I was making up chores to keep from sitting down at my computer.

But do you know what? I am going to carve out that time. I need to quit making excuses and wasting what time I have. You would think I’d know by now that time is a rare and precious commodity.

It’s time to stop wasting it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One, two, three…Goal!

My RWA chapter is stressing setting goals for the upcoming year.

I’m all about goal setting. It gets you off your duff and in front of  the keyboard.

Lately, though, my goal has been getting through one day at a time as my husband recovers from a broken hip. That isn’t to say that I don’t intend to finish my historical novel as soon as my time is my own again.

We set goals all the time, but do we think about ways to accomplish what we have vowed to do?

When we face an exam, we get out the text books and class notes and study.

When we apply for a job, we  make sure we are dressed appropriately, have our credentials in hand, and remember our manners.

So saying, “My goal is to finish my book by January 3o” isn’t exactly all there is to it. It’s how you plan to reach that goal that counts.

Have you carved out time in your day to write? A definite time period that your family understands is your time and no interruptions?

Do you have your tools at hand? You should at least have a dictionary and thesaurus. Don’t depend on Word Check for spelling. It doesn’t know the difference between there and their. Oh, and coffee. And chocolate. And music, if you like setting the mood.

Do you know your genre? This is a tough one for me, having published a trilogy involving shape shifters, alternate history, and time travel. My other books are pretty straightforward women’s fiction and I hope, when this crisis is over, a historical.

Do you know your audience? Obviously my women’s fiction audience is a given, but my trilogy got put under new adult. Which I hadn’t considered at all when writing it. Thank goodness my publisher is smarter than I am.

Then, when you start writing, set smaller goals: first chapter, first 100 pages, first … well, you name it. Reward yourself for each milestone accomplished with something you really want such as the latest book by your favorite author, a trip to a spa, or some other treat.

When you get going, you won’t need rewards. I read a study once where children were given M&Ms each time they hit a goal. Before long they were striving to hit the goals for their own satisfaction. The M&Ms were forgotten.

So it is with us. The more we write, the more we understand that hitting the goal is its own reward.

But chocolate is still a nice way to recognize our accomplishments.

 

 

The joy of discovery

I was feeling a little down. My husband’s “short stay” in rehab after a fall is now entering a second month. An automatic payment was denied by the bank (not from lack of funds, but from the failure to update an expiration date) and my attempt to log in Overdrive, an e-book lending library, was denied because of “too many overdue books” at the local branch. What?

It turned out that I had overlooked one of Jim’s books because it was deep inside his man cave. When I went to the library to correct the situation, it made sense to me to check the shelves to see if there was something I hadn’t yet read. Yes, I love ebooks and print books equally. The best of both worlds.

I was delighted to see a new Louise Penny novel and grabbed it. I was introduced to this author by a friend some months ago and have tried to read everything she’s written: a magical combination of the astute Chief Inspector Armand Ganache and the wacky residents of the mystical village of Three Pines in Quebec Province. I checked out the book, looking forward to delving into a new read much like meeting an old friend on the street and going to a coffee shop for a long, cozy chat.

I love being introduced to new writers…well, new to me. Lately I have been reading Scandinavian authors, the first being the late Stig Larsson. Then I met Camilla Lackberg and Jo Nesbo. Most recently I rummaged through a pile of used books and discovered Henning Markell.

Maybe it is the long, hot summer that directed me to stories set in cold, Northern climes. Or maybe it is the excitement of a well-written mystery that takes me out of my world with its annoyances and occasional major setbacks to a world of mystery, adventure, and romance.

And isn’t that why we love books? And why we are constantly on the search for both familiar and new authors?

Do you have a favorite author that I might want to meet? Please introduce us! I’ll put the coffee on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What can go wrong, will.

I got up feeling happy. My book, A Question of Time, is due to be released Oct. 13. All my hard work finally seeing fruition.

Then I opened my email.

My publisher wrote: Where are your galley edits? We can’t release the book until we get them.AQuestionofTime200x300

I said some unladylike words because I had sent the changes days ago! Shortly after I received the galleys! Are they still floating around in the ether somewhere?

Not only that, but I had sent info for a teaser video, but the videographer wrote also this morning that the form I had sent in was blank.

No, no, I filled it in! Where did the words go?

Is there a word thief hidden in the bowels of my computer?

I hastily re-sent the material, keeping my fingers crossed. Which makes it difficult to type, by the way.

Novice writers think that once they write “The End” their work is finished.

I know better. The road to publication is never smooth. There are bumps on the road right up to release day.

I was too happy when I got up. Now I’m going to wait to celebrate when I actually see the book on Amazon.

 

 

Book clubs and sharing stories

Writers love book clubs. We are frequently asked to speak to book clubs, and occasionally a club will pick one of our books to study. This both enables us to sell books and to promote our books by word of mouth.

But how many writers belong to book  club? I suspect it is more than you’d think.

I belonged to a book club in New York State long before I even contemplated a writing career. Then we moved and I was unable to find another.  Correction, I found some that existed but they had a closed membership. Apparently once you get in, you are in until you die and only then will they replace the vacancy with a new member.

Not wishing an early demise on anyone, I bided my time.

Then, a few years ago I was asked to speak at a newly-formed club. I am a writer, but I am first and foremost a reader, so I asked if they were still adding members. They said yes. I asked if I could join Again yes.

Yay!

I love this group of savvy women. They include teachers, administrators and a couple of pastors. As you can imagine, we take quite a while getting through a book because each paragraph stimulates a  lively discussion. We digress. We share personal anecdotes that may or may not relate to the story. Often the discussion takes on a spiritual tone and I leave as revived and refreshed as if I’d heard a powerful sermon.

We are currently reading a book about a young chef’s journey from India to France. The book is filled with vivid and colorful descriptions of food–Indian and French cuisine–from the selection of the vegetables, fish, and meat to their preparation and serving.

Because of the book’s subject, we held our last meeting at a local ministry where the emphasis in on mind-body-spirit wholeness. There we were treated to a demonstration of how to prepare healthy meals. Our lunch consisted only of things grown on God’s Earth. It was delicious.

We ate on a deck overlooking a serene pond ringed with flowering plants and trees garbed with the soft green  of early Spring. The sky overhead was a clear Carolina blue. Songbirds supplied a musical accompaniment as we talked about the book.  The section we studied told about a woman’s transformation from greed and envy to a desire to help the young chef.

Description. Internal conflict and change. Two essential tools a writer needs in her kit. But my friends weren’t reading the book to analyze why it worked, as a craft class might have done.  They just loved the story.

Every writer knows the joy is in the story. And what greater joy is there than sharing it?

Do you belong to a book club? How has it helped or changed you as a writer?

Leave a comment and I will pick one at random at the end of the week. The winner will receive a free copy of  his or her choice of “Angels Unaware,” “The Lunch Club” or “The Almost Bride.”

 

 

 

Day 4, post Halloween reflections

I am writing this on Halloween. I spent 2 hours this morning blowing leaves off my driveway and thinking of the upcoming NaNoWriMo 2013. Growing up in New Hampshire, fall was amazing foliage and long rides on my best friend, Nutmeg, my Appaloosa gelding. I’m putting him in my new book, a contemporary romance called the Widow’s Appaloosa. When I lived in Boston, leaf removal was a matter of sweeping leaves off my condo’s deck; then going for walks with my dog and various dog-park friends and tapas bar-hopping on Newbury St with friends, dressed in wool plaids and boots. In Washington, I didn’t touch the falling leaves, my apartment complex handled it; Halloween was roping an unwilling cranky person into being designated driver as we descended on coworkers’ houses with empty wine glasses.

But my move to the Foothills of Northwest, North Carolina changed the dynamics of autumn. Four acres of trees all seem to drop (congregate) on my 200 foot driveway (Let’s not even think about shoveling snow!). I ignore the crunching colored droppings until I realize that I should make sure the few trick or treaters we get, don’t fall into a creek or our pond! Knowing where the driveway is will help with that. So, I untangle 150 feet of extension cords, yup 50 feet short, so the street-end of the driveway gets swept, raked or ignored. I try to stay focused on those long trail rides of my teenage years and one ill-conceived Halloween on horseback. Little kids in costumes coupled with fresh manure doesn’t make for happy campers.

After ten minutes, I realize the whole damned morning is a good metaphor for my next NaNoWriMo. There are so many commonalities. The biggest being, all is so much easier if you do a little each day. Waiting too long and you are moving an amazing volume of work or leaves. There is also the prep work. The cords are always a big tangle since DH uses them for Christmas lights, I coil, he bunches, so today DH stands for ‘damn husband’.

Also,  keeping healthy, taking vitamins and avoiding viral contagions like other humans. I am not able to take flu vaccines. My new doctor happily said Carry On, Avoid Humans! It is irritating to me how many people stagger into the public sniffling, coughing and touching the things that I need to touch like door knobs. Or wander around complaining about how bad they feel, want sympathy? Go online and whine! But, I felt good today and rewarded myself with an amazing creamy black cherry greek yogurt and an expresso.

That said, I wish I had blown the leaves a few times over the last few weeks. It was tough, at four inches deep, I calculated 450 cubic feet of leaves. (Sorry, scientist do this, even for former scientists, math is an awesome time-wasting activity.) I considered putting all the leaves in one spot, so the dogs could play in them but there is a particular density that is nearly impossible to blow. So, it was easier to blow them into several locations.

So, as I blow leaves, I think: a minimum of 2,000 words each morning will get me to 50K by Nov 26th, in time for the arrival of in-laws. This should also enable me to write and edit my other book for my last contest of 2013 in December. And to make it even more fun, I have three medical procedures, two in November and one St Barbara’s feast day, which should be a real PIA. So, just like the knotted cables, the wheel barrel and ladder that needed to be put away, one must be prepared for the occasional setback.

November 4th, when this post goes live, I will be smiling at my laptop with a large bowl of cappuccino and a piece of raisin toast, preparing to write my daily outline and starting word 6001 and ending with at least 8,000 words. Later, I’ll be hopping on the treadmill to work off that electric buzz of residual energy.

Whatever your goals or method or process, I wish you a wonderful Monday!

UPDATE:

Yeah, forgot about daylight savings ending, so 5 am is the old 6. No cappuccino, but a cup of ice cold Starbucks vanilla latté and no treadmill, since I fell flat on my face three times on Saturday (Meniere’s Drop Attacks) and the last time was face first onto a large granite rocks in a stream-bed -so, too bruised to tread mill or to do yoga. But, I did manage to pump out 6,893 words over the last three days and I enjoyed returning to the world of horses, if only in my mind. The way this Meniere’s is going I may have to trade the vehicle in for a horse! So, smiling at the keyboard, yup! Awaiting sunrise, check! Listening to BFF husky snoring at my feet -score!

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