That “Oh, no” moment

I got my proof copy of Riverbend from Amazon last week. I started to look through it, and —

Yes, you guessed it. I saw a typo. Then another.

To make matters worse, when I began reading it more carefully, I noticed places where I could have chosen a better word or phrase. Oh, the beauty of hindsight.

When I think about ordering a book online, I read the reviews. If readers complain of poor editing or too many typos, I usually pass.

I do not want that to happen to me!

So one more time, I went through it page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by … You get the idea.

I followed some advice I heard at a workshop and started at the last page and worked my way to the beginning. When sentences are taken out of context, it is much easier to see errors.

And now I see my back cover blurb doesn’t really tell what the story is about, so I need to work on that as well.

At this rate, I’ll never be ready to let go, but I have a firm publication date of May 1.

I remember reading about an author who  wasn’t satisfied with the ending of his book, so every time he was giving a reading or lecture in a new city he’d visit the library and cross out the last paragraphs and write in the new ending.

I don’t intend to go to that extreme. But I am going to make sure this book is as ready as it can be for its debut.

There are people, and I used to be one them, who think writing a book is easy. You just sit down and begin typing.

They don’t  know the whole story.

Pun intended.

 

 

Writers retreat and beach memories

Home again!

I’m home after a week away. It was a fantastic week: sunrise over the ocean, the sky tinted pink and baby blue with whitecaps rolling against the shore.  Coffee, drifting to our self-appointed stations, everyone working on her project from a published writer meeting deadline to a novice working on her first draft. Ice cream breaks, walking along the beach, feet crunching over  broken shells or seeking balance on softly shifting sand, claiming the reward of sweet, cold strawberry or salty caramel. Silent afternoons, then laughter as eight women work together to prepare an evening meal.

It was a fantastic week in the company of women who got me, who understood what it is to create a story from nothing but our imaginations, what it means to select the right word, to bring a character to life.

They say writing is a lonely life. It is. It is the nature of the profession. Oh, we have critique partners, beta readers, editors, and hopefully, publishers, who help us along the way.  But the essential work is done inside our heads.

That’s why writer’s retreats, such as the one I just completed, are important. We remember we are not alone on our journey, that others are traveling the road with us. Some are a little ahead, and they look back and hold out a hand to help us along. And we do the same for those behind us.

I confess I was a little reluctant to go.  Live with strangers for a week? How did this work?

But I’m glad I did.  Within 24 hours, the doubts had fled. The strangers became friends. When the week was over we hugged goodbye with real emotion and pledged to meet again next year.

Did I accomplish the goal I had set? Yes, I did. I finished my edits. Others finished their drafts or met their deadlines. We all did what we came for, but for me, it was more than that.

It was realizing I was in good company. That I was not alone. That I was a part of a sisterhood of writers.

Of course I was glad to get home and accept the welcome meows of Spooky, Jack and Frenchie. There was mail, telephone messages, and the inevitable dirt to be swept up because my cats love to dig in the houseplants. Bags had to be unpacked, laundry done. Every vacation — even working vacations —  end.

But the memories remain.

 

 

 

Enter the dog (or cat)

I had a book rejected by a publisher once because the main character wasn’t “likable.” Well, to be honest, she wasn’t. My goal was to have her become more likable over the course of the story, when her inner “niceness” came out.

I learned a lesson then that was reinforced during a workshop when the speaker talked about the need to have your reader connect with (like) the main character. One way to do this, he said, was to give your hero a pet, preferably a dog. People who have dogs, apparently, are instantly likable.

I never thought to add animals to a book. No pets show up in my previously published works. The book I am writing now does have a dog, but it is a minor character’s pet and not mentioned very often. I do have the heroine trust the hero early on because she notes he is gentle with his horse. My editor says she is not “strong,” i.e., someone the reader will cheer for during her struggles and be happy for when she finally achieves her goal.

I am wondering if I shouldn’t give her a pet. Maybe a little dog that annoys everyone else but she loves it dearly. Hmmm.

I can’t think why I haven’t had animals in any of my stories before. I’ve always had both cats and dogs, and usually more than

Bubbie, the shelter cat

Bubbie, the shelter cat

one of each. Right now I have two rescue cats. One just showed up, so I guess she adopted me. The other I got at the shelter where I volunteer one morning a week. It’s dirty work, dumping out litter boxes and washing them, cleaning the cages, and seeing that the cats and kittens have fresh food and water. But I feel that I am doing a little something to make their lives better while they wait to find new homes (the preferred outlook). This week I took home a cat that had been in the shelter too long and was slated to be euthanized. I’m fostering her until I can get her to her forever home (and yes, I found an adoptive family). My two aren’t happy with the newcomer, but I tell them it’s only temporary.

So, since animals are such a big part of my life, I think I might be wise to make them a part of my heroine’s life, too. Maybe being a pet owner hasn’t made me more likable, but I have been assured it will work for my fictional characters.

(The photo  is of my foster cat. She is so sweet. I hate to give her up except I know she will have a wonderful new family to love her.)

 

 

 

Getting my money’s worth: Part Two

Today I am posting some more tidbits of wisdom garnered at the Carolinas Writers Conference. Chris Roerden is an editor and this was her second appearance at the annual conference. Chris knows more about editing than most people I know (including editors) and is happy to share her expertise. Some of what she told us was what we all learn when we start writing, but here are a few things I didn’t know.

  • Attitude: The main character should have an attitude–that is, her world view, how she approaches her environment.
  • We’ve all heard “show, don’t tell.” The character’s emotions are critically important. Don’t say, “She cried.” Show the reader how she cried. (If I showed the reader how I cried, I’d have to say “and snot came out of her nose.” Because I don’t cry pretty.) Showing is judgmental on the part of the author.
  • Read the book you love twice, first for enjoyment and second to figure out how the author did it.

Author Michelle Buckman also made her second appearance at the conference. When we find someone who is good, we tend to ask them back. Here’s what I took away from her workshop:

  • Show the protagonist’s characteristics in the opening page. The opening pages create a sympathetic character or situation.
  • There has to be a reason for everything the character does. Things in the past affect the now and project into the future. (Here is where we can sow little clues in the beginning of the book that bear fruition when we come to the climax.)
  • History is backstory and is necessary for depth but it doesn’t go up front. Your characters must have a history, but scatter it throughout the story. Avoid the dreaded “information dump.”
  • Tie your characters together as closely as possible, but not in the way readers expect. Make the unlikely one step up. Surprise the reader to keep her interest.
  • Create sympathetic characters and intriguing situations or a situation that  relates to the reader’s life.
  • Add enough layers to the character and plot  so both are intriguing.
  • What is her greatest fear? Why? What caused it? Have her face this fear.
  • Who does he love most? Who does he hate? Reverse roles for a new dimension.
  • Who is blocking the main character from achieving her goal? Who is her mentor?
  • Have the lead character do something he would never do. Do the same thing with a secondary character.
  • Find something about your secondary character that ties him to the main character.

You’ve probably heard all this before, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. I’ve been taking a long, hard look at my WIP to see if I’ve created as many layers in my characters as I could.

Because there is nothing worse than a shallow, cardboard cut-out hero or heroine.

 

 

Getting my money’s worth

Like Christmas, after a period of frenzied preparation the day of our writers’ club’s annual conference has come and gone. Some of us counted success in the number of attendees, others in the  comments of those who came away with renewed purpose and a clearer goal.

I sat in on Robert Macomber’s workshop on “Planning Your Writing Career.”  I, like many others, went into writing with high hopes and little knowledge of the real work behind the books I love to read. Among those books are Macomber’s “Honor” series, richly detailed and meticulously researched novels about a fictional officer in the U.S. Navy from the Civil War through the early 2oth century. Here’s what he had to say:

  • Think of yourself as a professional writer, even if you are not yet published. Attitude is everything. Be positive minded and professional at all times.
  • Understand your story and understand your genre. Tell your story in a different way. Pick a niche that hasn’t been done.
  • Know your audience.
  • Learn, learn, learn. Know the rules and when to break them. Be an expert in your subject. Learn your competition: read their books. Talk to libraries, booksellers, editors to learn what readers want. Learn about the business of writing.
  • Bring your family on board. Have one area of the home that is your oasis and find a minimum of three hours a day when they know you are not to be disturbed. They need to know this is your second job. (Your first job earns the money so you can do the second.)
  • Decide before you start on point of view, past or present tense, and your title. A title should be concise, vivid, evocative, and memorable. Plan a storyboard or visual road map. (And here’s a kicker) write your synopsis first to keep your story on track. Decide the size of your chapters up front. Chapter titles and sub-titles intrigue the reader and help pacing.
  • Set a daily goal of draft words or finished words. Read your work aloud. The reader “hears” the words he reads inside his brain.
  • Consider the visual aspect of your words on the page, i.e., white space.
  • Set reasonable dates for interim goals to be met. Have your family celebrate these goals with you.
  •  Invite people to help you with research and be sure to name them in your acknowledgements.
  • Your first three pages are the most important in engaging the reader. The end of your story should leave the reader with a feeling of accomplishment and wondering what comes next.
  • Everybody needs one to three critical reader and an editor. Critical readers are friends who are widely read, who know grammar, can give you advice, and keep their mouth shut.
  • Your readers should learn something, be entertained, and not feel they have wasted their money.

Some of these things I knew before. Some I knew but hadn’t put into practice. And some are things I had never thought of, so of Macomber’s workshop I can say I learned something, was entertained (Macomber is as engaging a speaker as he is a writer), and I certainly didn’t feel I wasted my money. His workshop alone was worth the registration fee.

Next week I’ll share what I learned in the other workshops I attended.

You are welcome.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a name?

A fellow writer and I attended the annual Book ‘Em literary festival at Robeson Community College on Saturday. It was my third time to go and the first time I was on a panel. Our topic was romance and as expected we all had differing views of exactly what romance is. I guess that is why there  are so many sub-genres, from sweet (think Amish) to erotic (think 50 Shades).

The goal is to sell books and support literacy efforts at the same time as part of the sales profit is donated back to the people who organize the event who then donate the funds to various literacy programs.

That’s their goal. Mine is meet other authors and potential new readers. While chatting with one author, she said someone had picked up her book and mused, “Murder on the Mississippi, huh.” Then she said, laughing but still a little indignant, “He looked at me said ‘What’s it about?'”

Duh.

But it got me thinking. Do our titles really tell what the story is about, like a condensed elevator pitch? (If the term is new to you, it’s what you say to an agent or publisher if you are in an elevator and they ask what your book is about. You have 30 seconds to pitch it to them before they reach their floor.)

Authors spend hours composing their elevator pitch. It isn’t easy. Think of a favorite book or one you just finished reading and try to explain it to a friend in one or two sentences.

Authors also agonize over a title. A woman politely informed me as she flipped through my book that Dale Evans had written a book called Angels Unaware years ago. I do, but I discovered the fact after my book had been published. Or take A Question of Time. Google that, and a dozen books with the same or similar title pop up.

Titles are not copyrighted, thank goodness. But it might be wise for an author to research their title before settling on it. And to try and make it hint at what the story is about. The title and cover are what make the reader pick up the book. Only then do they read the description on the back cover.

The title doesn’t have to be a two- or three-word book report. Sometimes a story can’t be shortened to two or even five words. So your title needs to get attention, like Gone with the Wind or Love in the Time of Cholera. What do you think when you read them? Are they enough to make you want to read the blurb?

Does your title?

So the title is important. It has to grab the reader, make her curious enough to think, “Oh, this sounds interesting,” and pick up the book.

Maybe they still won’t get it, as the person who asked what Murder on the Mississippi was about.

But you can bet the farm I will be thinking more seriously about my titles from now on. If I am fishing for readers, I had better make sure the bait is alluring.

 

 

 

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