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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ready, Set … Goal!

Having made the statement that I was going to revisit an old manuscript and revise it because I know now more than I did then, I had several people respond that they couldn’t wait to read the story.

Not only that, but in my writing group I set my next month’s goal to finish at least four chapters. We each put in 25 cents and write down our goal for the next meeting. These slips of paper are put in a pot and drawn. If your name is drawn and you have accomplished your goal, you win. If not, the pot rolls over to next time.

It isn’t about the money. The last person who won walked off with a whopping $5.00. It’s about setting that goal and reaching it. No one wants to admit that, for whatever reason, they didn’t do what they vowed to do. It’s not only  embarrassing, but shows a lack of commitment.

So I set both a short-range and a long-range goal to revise and finish this story. I’m excited. For one thing, in the past 10 years or more since I started it, I’ve learned more about pacing and structure. I’ve changed from pure pantser to more of a plotter, because I’ve discovered that if you go down a  road without checking a map first, you could very well find yourself at a dead end, or almost as bad, someplace you never intended to go and no way to get back on course.

I would most likely finish the story without having made my intention public. But now I feel a responsibility not only to myself but to my few but loyal fans.

Setting a goal is good and we all do it. Sometimes the only person aware of the goal is yourself, and if you fail you are the only one who knows it.

However, if you set a goal and talk about it to friends and write about it, you  have a lot more riding on its completion. And if that doesn’t make you sit down and start writing, I don’t know what will.

 

 

 

Drastic surgery

Once upon a time, I wrote a long, rambling book that I was so in love with that I couldn’t see its flaws.

Its many, fatal flaws.

I revised it several times, but I still couldn’t get anyone interested. At 180,000 words, I now know why. I love, big books. I’ve actually read “War and Peace.” Ken Follett is one of my favorite authors and I just finished “The Punishment She Deserves” by Elizabeth George which  is 690 pages long.

But Follett and George have something I did not: a established following. By that I mean readers who will follow them anywhere, even if it means reading a book that could double as a doorstop.

More to the point, most readers prefer something shorter and editors strive to give them what they want

Back to my book. It concerned two girls, Damaris and Morven, whose lives intertwine although they take different paths. It was a story of friendship and loyalty and a lot of other lovely things. I had to put aside my fondness for the story and do as doctors do when presented with conjoined twins and decide how best to separate them.

I carefully cut and pasted and managed to get Damaris’ story free of all entanglements. The result was “Riverbend,” which came out in May 2017.

Now I’m working on Morven’s story. Like Damaris, she’s a young girl alone in the world. Unlike Damaris, she doesn’t marry the first man to offer and suffer the consequences. Instead, she manages to build a family for herself and only then find true love and her HEA.

It’s a little trickier. I’m cutting entire chapters and eliminating any distracting side plots that don’t move the story along.

 I wrote this book almost 20 years ago, so as I read I am both amused and appalled by my naivety.

But I’ve learned along the way. I can (hopefully) correct my earlier mistakes. And, by letting it “sit” for awhile, I can be a little ruthless and throw away those passages I loved then but question now.

Writing isn’t always just sitting down and putting words on a page, although that seems to work for some authors. For me, it’s revision and cutting and revision and rewriting, and then revising again. Maybe that’s why I don’t publish a book every three months or even every year.

But like the tortoise, I somehow manage to get to the finish line.

 

 

a’s and b’s of contests

I’ve entered a few contests in my time and have been a) mortified or b) uplifted by the judges’ comments.  I have had entries returned with angry lines scrawled across my hard-written efforts and I have had very nice remarks that almost made me feel good that I had lost. Judging is difficult, but it is akin to critiquing. You try to point out flaws gently and kindly.

Gently and kindly is best.

So when I judge, I try to keep in mind how I would want to be treated. Maybe there are issues. How best to tell the would-be writer that maybe, just maybe, they might want to take a teeny-tiny revisit and oh, say change a word or two here or there to make the sentence more coherent?

You almost have to choose your words as carefully as if you were writing a query letter, which everyone knows is the hardest writing of all. And a contest all its own, of sorts.

Because the last thing a judge wants to do is discourage a writer just as she is starting out her career. You don’t slap their hands with a ruler because they made a little error in spelling.

Spelling is the least of it. Spelling can be corrected. But when the writer makes a great big error in plotting, or in pacing, it’s a little more difficult to point it out. I can say, “I got a little lost here…” or “a bridge paragraph might work at this point” and go on my way.

That said, the beginning chapters of the three manuscripts I read made me eager to read more. The opening sentences were spot-on to rouse my interest. The unfolding plot lines kept me guessing.

If these authors are amateurs in the sense that they are not yet published, the established authors had better look out.

Or not. There is always room in the world for a good, fast-paced, and interesting novel. One thing I have learned about writers is that they do not feel as if they are in competition. They are always eager to help one another.

What I take away from judging is that a) I can see other writers’ mistakes more easily than I can see my own and b) I look forward to reading more from these talented ladies.

 

Ain’t nothing easy

Formatting is such a frightening word. When I hear it, I think of some guy in his room, window shades down, typing away on his computer and generating strings of mysterious code.

I recently formated Riverbend for submission to Smashwords. In case you don’t know it, Smashwords sells books in every available format so readers can download their purchased book on a Kindle, iPad, Nook, telephone, or even, I suppose, their watch if they like to read books on their wrist. Moreover, Smashwords uploads your book to other outlets such as Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Scribd, Overdrive, and I don’t know where else, saving the author the trouble of individually uploading each book in a different format.  You only have to do it once and they do the rest.Image result for hacker images

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is. I spent two entire days formatting my book. But, and here is the kicker, all I had to do was follow the instructions in Mark Coker’s guidebook. And the book is free and very user-friendly. If you follow it precisely, your book will be readable with no deep paragraph indents or inches of white space. I’ve read other books with a table of contents and buy links at the back and wondered how they did it. Now I know! Never too old to learn new tricks.

The other thing I’ve been working  on is converting Riverbend to Audible. I put up the info and a script, but so far no one has auditioned. I’m not very hopeful as an experienced reader can charge up to $500 an hour to read a book and ACX calculated it wold take 7.9 hours to read my book. That isn’t just reading, but editing. I can’t afford that, so I went the second route, which is to share royalties 50-50 with the reader.  Because I don’t have a large “platform” or following, I really can’t expect anyone to take the chance that their hours of work will pay off.

I thought of reading it aloud myself and making a file to upload. I like reading aloud and am told I have a pleasant, if soft, voice. That might be just right for Riverbend, whose main character is a genteel Southern woman. But where would I go to record? I’m afraid any recording I made would be interrupted by barking dogs, meowing cats, cars honking, birdsong, and me coughing when my throat gets dry. The birdsong might be a nice touch if I knew how to edit everything else out.

So that’s what I worked on this week. And you thought writing was only about thinking up a plot and inventing characters to act out the story.

I did too, once upon a time.

Commercial: If you want to read an excerpt from Riverbend, here’s the link: www.sandrazbruney.com

 

 

 

 

 

The good, the bad, and the … disappointing

Have you ever had a let-down that left you sobbing in your pillow?

I’m sure you have, way back in your angst-driven teenage years. But we get older and learn to ride these disappointments into the sunset with a brave grin on our faces, hiding the fact that we don’t know where we are going from here.Image result for woman crying cartoon

I have spent the last couple of months back and forth with an editor with a pretty well-known publishing house. Not one of the big 5, but respectable. She loved the story but hesitated on the ending. If I would re-write it, she’d take another look.

So I sweated out an alternate ending and got–a rejection. It was a very nice rejection and she gave me some invaluable advice on further revisions. But I guess it came down to that she lost faith in my ability to give her what she was looking for.

I can totally see it. I plan to take her advice and revise yet again, and submit elsewhere. And if you are a beginning writer and just now sending queries, you should know that getting a personal, two-paragraph reply is relatively unheard of. Any rejection that isn’t a form letter with one impersonal sentence, is gold.  The sender isn’t just saying no–she is telling you that you have a good story, it just needs work.

On to the other book in progress. I submitted the first 500 words to a workshop in mid-January. The idea was that other participants critiqued my entry and I critiqued several others. It was very worthwhile in that I got some great suggestions as to how to make my beginning stronger. The first 500 words are critical to engage the reader, as writers have been told from the get-go.

So now I have two books I need to work on before I submit (again!)

The moral of the story is that disappointing news can become the platform from which you leap to greater things. And when people gently point out what you’ve done wrong and suggest how to make it work, you don’t sob into your pillow.

You get busy and use the advice you’ve been given because you know, deep down, that you are not perfect. And the only way to get there is to be humble and accept this help, which was freely given, as opposed to arguing that your book is publishable as is and those editors and other writers in the workshop don’t know anything.

I have to admit that the person who doesn’t know everything is me. But I’m learning.

 

 

Nothing new under the sun

Every writer likes to think her ideas are unique. We try to come up with plots that are original, or at least a new twist on old ones.

I was reading a book yesterday and the heroine, orphaned and on her way to live with an aunt she barely knows, stops at an inn. She decides to go no farther, but to marry the older, dour innkeeper in order to gain a home of her own.

Well, deja vu all over again. My latest release, Riverbend, has an orphaned heroine who  marries an older dour man in order to escape having to throw herself on the mercies of a distant relative. And both heroines fall in love with their husbands.

There is also a witch who has all the other slaves terrified of her. I have a witch who terrifies all the other slaves.  In the book, the witch is old and ugly, while mine is young and beautiful, so there the similarities diverge.

I haven’t finished the book I am reading to see if it parallels mine in any other ways, but I’ve read enough to realize my idea wasn’t so original after all.

Then I was watching the TV show, The Good Doctor, and in the story, conjoined twins are separated, but one’s heart was working for both her and her twin, unknown to the doctors until they were separated.

Umm … yeah. In my as-yet unpublished book, there is a scene where conjoined twins are in danger because, you guessed it, one’s heart was working for the other unknown to the doctors until they get too far into the operation to stop.

It just goes to prove that there are no plots that haven’t been written over and over again. The trick is to give them a fresh look.  I once had an acquisition editor send me a scathing reply to a query because I used the old “secret baby” plot line. Overdone! She was tired of  this stale and unbelievable story. And yet I read books with this very same, or variation of, the secret baby.  It works for some because they know how to give it that original twist (while I obviously did not).

So, don’t worry if you find yourself reading a book with an uncanny resemblance to your own. Just figure out what they did that was different.

As a footnote, Frenchy is much recovered. So much so that I am having a hard time catching her to give her her twice-daily dose of antibiotic in her ears. And she has gained at least a pound because she is eating like a little gray pig.

 

 

 

 

 

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