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.



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