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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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.

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Family secrets

Secrets and lies. Every family has them. Events are omitted purposefully from the family history, questionable relatives are white-washed, stories are half-told or not at all.

This makes for great reading. We want to know why and who and how. We cheer the plucky heroine as she unravels the mysteries of the past to explain the present.

I’ve been playing with writing our family history. I say playing because, like the tablecloth I’ve been cross-stitching for 50 years or more, I pick it up and put it down again, leaving it for months at a time. I could tell the story with no trouble. It’s what I put in and what I leave out that makes me give up and go to something else.

There are amusing anecdotes that come easily. But how do I write the sometimes horrendous events that also make our family who we are? Does posterity really want to know? Do they need to know? Or should some secrets stay buried until they are pushed so deep that no one remembers?

It’s easier when you are writing about fictitious characters. They can be as angelic or evil as our imaginations can paint them. Their stories hurt no one except other fictitious characters. And as the author of their imaginary lives, we can heal them with our words.

But in real life, the truth can hurt. It changes how we feel about not just our forebears, but about ourselves. If they are not who we thought they were, then we are not who we thought we were.

So I write a few pages and then come to a stopping point when I realize I don’t really want to include some things. I wrestle with the necessity for telling the whole truth or not telling the story at all. I hope some day I will be brave enough to include the ugly as well as the noble.

It’s much easier to write fiction.

 

 

The journey to “the end”

Our writers’ club instituted a new challenge about a year ago. We make goal for the next month and throw in 25 cents each. Winner of the draw, if he or she accomplished their goal, takes the pot.

No one has won in the last six months. Maybe our goals are too lofty. I’ve had to confess I missed my goal (but I don’t confess by how much) the last few times.

Image result for goals, the end

In May, I wrote that my goal was to finish the edits on my WIP.  I was fairly confident I would be able to do this. I’m pleased to announce I did.

I will be even more pleased to announce it when we meet this afternoon.

It seems that when I begin a a story I procrastinate. I can find more excuses to do something else — anything else –than sit down and write. It’s achingly slow. I delete more words than I write. I moan and groan and decide this story was a mistake and I will never finish.

But somehow, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, chapter by chapter, it grinds its way to the end.

Then I start the second draft process. The bare bones of the story take on a new life. I add conflict, flesh out the characters’ backstory, add a few twists just for the fun of it.

I’m not creating the story any more. I’m just hanging on for the ride. Instead of forcing myself to sit down at my desk, I am looking forward to it. Phone calls are no longer a welcome interruption, but a distraction. I love how my characters lead me down new paths of discovery.

I know this is the opposite of what I hear from other writers. For them, it is the first draft that comes easily, and the re-writing that becomes the chore.

The trick is not to become so engrossed in re-writing that I spend the next 10 years rearranging paragraphs and adding and subtracting plots and characters. I have to know when I’m done.

So when I’m asked if I reached my goal, I can say yes. But the truth is, the goal was never the point.

It was the journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve come a long way, baby

Among a box of goodies I received for Mother’s Day was a book: The McGraw Hill Author’s Book, copyright 1955.  I think it was intended as a curiosity from my daughter-in-law, who is an antique/collectibles dealer and who comes across curious items in her search for treasures at flea markets, yard and garage sales, and estate sales.

Just reading the “Foreword to the Author,” I realized how far we’ve come since the mid-2oth century. We are all familiar with galley proofs and making changes. To us, this is minor. Back then, revisions were (and I quote) something “we devoutly hope to avoid, for after-thought is time-consuming and very costly.” Evidently it took the work of 4-5 “highly skilled and commensurately paid” printers to make changes, even small ones.

I guess all those printers are retired, or as the British say, redundant, now. I hope they got commensurate retirement benefits.

The book was written so the hopeful writers submitting their work to McGraw-Hill would know exactly what was expected of them. Clean copy is not a new thing, every publisher hopes to see it. But back then it was more of a necessity than a courtesy.

The first chapter, Preparing the Manuscript, tells us that the submitted copy will be handled by as many as 25-30 people, and so must be printed on good quality paper, and a black noneradciable ribbon should be used on the typewriter–a ribbon that should be replaced often to ensure a good impression.

This brought me back to the days when I had to write term papers and that stricken moment when I realized I’d made a mistake, and the work had to be painstakingly re-typed on a fresh sheet of paper.

Then Betty Nesmith Graham invented a typewriter correction fluid she first called “Mistake Out” in 1956. The name was later changed to Liquid Paper. I know I am not the only one who kept a bottle handy on my desk…and said a daily prayer of thanks to our benefactor.

The chapter goes on to admonish the writer not to use mimeographed, ditto, or photostatic copy “which cannot be corrected with ink.”

I haven’t seen a mimeograph machine in ages. We had one in the school office and I recall running off copies of  worksheets for my elementary age students. Purple goo that got all over your clothes and hands…ugh.  And ink? Can you even buy ink in a bottle any more? I still have–somewhere–a pen with a refillable cartridge, but I’m pretty sure it’s an antique.

Then the writer is advised to be sure and make a carbon copy of her work. Oh yes, I remember trying to line up the carbon paper with my white typing paper, only to have to it go awry when I rolled it in the cartridge. And again, the purple ink on my fingers, ink I had to be sure not to smudge on the paper. Carbon paper, like the typewriter ribbon, had to be replaced often. I suppose someone somewhere still uses it.  I simply hit hit “copy” and “save” on my computer. No mess, no waste.

I’m eager to continue my walk down memory lane, reading this book chock-full of antiquated advice. It makes me realize how much easier we have it today. I’m sure some of the  advice still holds. Some things never change.

But thank goodness the mechanics have.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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