The time between

I sold two books Friday morning. Not a big deal, but I love delivering a book to someone who really wants to read it. So far the feedback has been very favorable. Of course, no one is going to tell me to my face they hated the story, but you can tell if the response is lukewarm.

After dropping off the books, I went to our local library, which has finally opened. Masks are required, and someone is at the door to write down your name (I’m guessing for tracking purposes), and there is a screen between you and the check-out person. I  was told no new books had been ordered during the shut-down, so I donated a copy each of Morven and Bethann to the library. I figured I could at least help them out with a new book or two.

So, the book is written, published, and available. I mailed copies to my beta readers as a thank-you for their help. I submitted a copy for review. I know better than to keep checking the sales records as that leads to thoughts of “why do I bother!”

Yes, I know the next step is marketing. In fact, marketing should have been on the agenda all along. Alas, although I have read all the articles and books on the subject, I just don’t have the energy it requires. But I will keep on dropping hints on Instagram and Facebook. I should Tweet more often but I have never gotten the hang of it.

Instead of tending to business, I have been working outside. Both the front and back decks received a new coat of paint. I had to throw away the shirt I wore during this project as I am a very sloppy painter. But the job is done, checked off my list of home improvements I mean to do this summer.

Miss Daisy waiting for the early bird breakfast. Luckily for the wrens, I chased her inside.

And, I have been relaxing on said back deck, which I have adorned with flowers and plants. The wrens are raising a family in the birdhouse I tacked on the post where I put my hanging baskets. It was supposed to be decorative, but hey … I watched the male wren try to entice his lady love into taking up housekeeping there, but she inspected the premises and refused. Either he got another mate (but someone said they mate for life) or another pair decided to move in. The cats, naturally, are mesmerized by the activity and I have had the dickens of a time keeping them indoors.

And so it goes until that old devil gets in my mind and tells me I have to write another book. I have no plans at present, and could be content just to market the ones I have written, but once that idea gets in your head, writing it down is the only way to get rid of it. I don’t know when or if this will happen, but meanwhile I am content.

If you are curious about my books, please visit my website http://www.sandrazbruney.com for descriptions and excerpts. And if you’d like a signed copy of any book (except the three paranormals, which are ebooks only) just put it in a comment or message me on Facebook.

There. I’ve done my marketing for today, and I can go back to my reading with a clear conscience.

 

 

 

My Life’s Bat Tornado

Last weekend, we sat at my mother-in-law’s table and my husband looked up from his phone bewildered and announced: “A town in Australia is being plagued by a ‘bat tornado’ – and it’s growing!”

©2020 cjgasser

I mean, really –how appropriate –this is our world now, with environmental and cataclysmic activity served up hourly on our handhelds. But, a bat tornado suited me perfectly. With a poet’s frugal love of the perfect word or phrase, Bat Tornado fit the bill. I’d been struggling to find a way to describe the last two years of my life. It’s been tragic, awe-inspiring, stumbling, terrifying and magical in its bits and pieces, with moments of calm creativity.

Two years ago, during January of 2018, I put together ‘the plan’ for the rest of the year, –five years, in fact. I started the editing of my book with forensic delight. Like an autopsy, I cut open my WIP and dissected it’s form and structure -I laid out a path with sticky notes. I outlined and highlighted where I’d gone astray. A few vital stickies alerted me to important fixes and additions, new scenes to add or cut, characters to develop, birth or die. I studied the valuable notes a friend (thank you, Ashantay) shared after reading my rough draft. I struggled over the parts I loved but needed surgical removal. How does one love a WIP tumor? More

And now … drum roll, please

Almost there! Well, not quite, but close.

I did my revisions, then my self-edits. Now the manuscript is in the hands of my very able editor, who will find every typo and grammatical error I missed. I think he has the original fine-toothed comb.

Then I sent out a request for beta readers. To my amazement, I had six offers in as many minutes. I sent them all a copy (with fingers crossed). Some are friends, some are members of my writer’s club, and some are members of a professional writers’ group I have never met. So it should be a good mix. I have no fear my friends will be biased, I asked them because I know they will read with an open mind. They are avid readers and know what they like and don’t like and they won’t be afraid to tell me.

I still need to work on the title and the blurb. I do believe those two chores are more difficult than writing the story. The title should hint at what the story is about, right?  This book is the third in my historical series, and the first two have one-word titles. I should do the same for this one, but I am having a hard time coming up with one.

As for blurbs … how do you condense a book into a couple paragraphs meant to entice someone into buying it? You can’t tell too much and give it all away or why would anyone bother buying the book? Yet too little and the prospective reader won’t know what the story is about. It gives me a headache just contemplating it.

And, I  need to do more about publicizing the first two books, something that I have sadly neglected. Maybe now I will have time to do that. My Facebook feed is inundated with ads telling me how if I take this course or sign up for that service, my sales will skyrocket. I’m wondering what is the biggest bang for my buck — I mean, return on investment.

All this with an author appearance coming up. I had hoped to have the book ready to offer but better it be delayed and done right than to put a sloppily-done book in my readers’ hands. So I will do some reading from the book and take orders. I had another offer to do a book-signing this morning, so it may be ready by the time that is finalized. Who knows?

This all takes time. Honestly, if I had known how much work was involved after writing “The End” I might never have started writing.

Now I will share some good news. I compared my tax forms from my publishers from last year to this year’s, and was pleasantly surprised to see my royalties had gone up by a considerable percentage.  They won’t put me in another tax bracket, but it is nice to see that there have been steadily increasing sales. I guess the old adage is right: don’t worry about publicity as word of mouth is still the best advertisement. And a second piece of advice I have read: just keep writing and as your book numbers increase, so will your readership. I hope that is happening in my case.

No matter where you are in your writing career, I wish you the best. It’s a long and rocky road, but worth all the pain and yes, the disappointments, when someone comes up to you and says, “I loved your book.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

What rules do you follow?

Here are four things writers should do:

  • Read outside your genre
  • Study your craft
  • Write every day
  • Set goals

There are many more you can add, but these are what popped into my head. Do I do them?

Surely, you jest (makes frowny face).

But I do read every day, and I enjoy many different genres: historical, biography, science fiction, fantasy (no, they are not the same), thrillers , and mystery.  I read books from the library and books on my Kindle app. I read magazines and newspapers and cereal boxes and directions on detergent bottles. I am one of those people who panic when there isn’t a book in the house I haven’t read and the library is closed.

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and study the articles, even if they don’t apply to me. Last weekend, I attended a workshop on writing narrative poetry with former NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti. I don’t intend to write a narrative poem, but there was so much more I learned that I can use.

Do I write every day? I know this is the rule that sets professionals apart from wannabes, but truthfully, it just isn’t possible. Life gets in the way. This week, I had meetings six of seven days. But I did manage to write most of those days. I believe setting up a goal to write every single day without fail is  setting yourself up to fail. Sometimes we need a breather.

Conversely, writing every day is like going to church. You miss one Sunday, then another, and pretty soon you aren’t going at all.

You see where I am heading with this.

Goals are good, though. I made my goal of writing 30 pages before our next writers’ club meeting. Then, since we don’t meet in December, I vowed I would finish my first draft before the January 26 meeting.

I think I will make it. I am near enough the end that I am eager to get it all put together. Today I wrote a crucial scene. It needs tweaking, but the bones are there.

I also did something I have never done before. I am a straight-line writer. I start at point A and end at point Z. But the ending of the story was so strong in my head that I went bravely forward and wrote it down before the impetus and excitement faded. Yes, excitement. I feel exhilarated when I can literally feel the story come alive.

So I guess thing number five would be, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

Happy Thanksgiving all, and don’t forget to skip that second helping of candied yams to leave room for the pumpkin pie.

 

 

 

 

 

No NaNoWriMo — this year

So it is here: National Novel Writing Month. And for the upteenth time in as many years, I am not joining in.

I have the same, well-worn excuse: I am already in the middle of writing a novel and refuse to drop it to start another, no matter how tempting the challenge. Maybe some year I will be in between novels and will welcome the chance to jump-start a new one. But not this year.

Still, writers often need such a challenge to keep them on course. I admit I have been goofing off this past week. The weather has been too beautiful to ignore, and it is pruning season.

Image result for drawing a name from a hat

At our writers’ club, we also have a little challenge going on. Nothing as ambitious as churning out an entire novel in a month. We set a monthly goal and at the next meeting are forced to admit, not unlike Weight Watchers, if we have met our goal or not. It could be completing a poem you have worked on for weeks (or years), a page count on that ongoing short story, bravely submitting a piece to a magazine or contest, or whatever.

Winners occasionally net the lump sum of $7 or $8, because we only put a quarter in the pot. But as you have surmised, it isn’t the monetary goal that is — well, the goal — but the satisfaction of knowing you accomplished something you set out to do.

That, and the applause and congratulations from fellow members.

So at the last meeting I set a goal to move on with my manuscript. I tried to pick a number of pages that would be doable, but not too easy. It’s not a challenge if you set a goal you know you can reach without much effort. On the other hand, setting a goal too high results in burnout and giving up, with the subsequent feelings of failure and inadequacy.

Achieving my goal doesn’t mean I will win. My name will be put in a pot along with all the other members, whether they reached their goal or not, and someone will draw out a slip of paper and read a name. If that person didn’t make their goal, or is absent, the pot is moved on to another month, with the addition of several more quarters. Exciting times! We may never get to Las Vegas, but we do know how to gamble … on ourselves.

I guess we could call our challenge JuWriMoMo.*

So I need to get busy, ignore the enticing outdoors or the dusty furniture or the laundry piled up and start writing.

*Just Write More Month

 

 

 

Squirrels, Mark Twain, and pelisses

Well, that was fast!

One day I am sweating like a sumo wrestler just by walking to the mailbox, and the next I am rummaging through the closet for my sweater.

One thing about the cooler weather, I don’t have as much yard work to do. The grass  isn’t growing as fast, and the hedges and shrubs have slowed down in their efforts to add new little green leaves. So I have had time to get back to my book.

I feel pretty good about my writing this week. I’ve added pages and I can see where I am heading. I’ve gone over the last scene in the book so often that I’m now eager to get there.

The abrupt change in the weather reminded me of something, though. No, not Twain’s comment that everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. (Fact check: It might not be Twain who said it, but Charles Dudley Warner, who was an editor at the Hartford Courant in the late 1800s. There, now we’ve both learned something new.)

Image result for pelisse

A reader asked me what a pelisse was. It’s outerwear, essentially a long cape with sleeves.

I  try to be cognizant of the passage of time in my stories, noting the passing of one season and the advent of another by describing the weather as sit affects the protagonist. She might be glad for her straw bonnet on a hot day, or the the warmth of her wool pelisse on a cold one.  Candles must be brought out in the long, dark evenings while a rooster’s crow might wake her early on a summer morning.

If a story takes place in a short period of time, such as a few months or a year, it’s pretty easy. It’s more difficult if it spans a decade or more, which happens in the first two books of my historical series. In “Riverbend” and “Morven,” I solved it by jumping ahead a few years, hoping my readers would catch on without my explaining, “Now, 10 years have passed …”

I must get my present protagonist from seventeen to her mid-twenties without dragging the story out by describing each birthday. I don’t want to make a sudden leap, but had the idea of showing the passage of time by the dates on her correspondence. Whether that will work or not remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, I have a little success to report. I have complained about the squirrels eating the bird feed, no matter where I place the feeders. When one dragged a songbird feeder from the deck to where I found it in the yard, empty, I had had enough. I rigged a line from the persimmon tree to the post that holds the sun-flower feeder (that particular feeder is squirrel-proof, by the way) and hung my finch and chickadee feeders from it. It’s too high for the squirrels to jump up, and the line is too thin for them to crawl along it.

I thought I had the last laugh when I saw a squirrel attempt to reach the finch feeder. He made it, but the tube is glass, and he slid down it like a fireman on a pole, and fell to the ground. Several times.

Or has he simply figured out a way to spill the seed to the ground where he can eat it as his leisure?

You decide.

 

 

 

 

 

Tall mountains, big fears

It is a truth universally acknowledged that once you have faced something you feared and conquered it, you wonder why you were afraid in the first place.

I put off going to California to visit my middle son, Scott, and his wife, Dana, for three years. I considered driving there, or taking a train. Anything but flying.

But flying made the most sense.

It’s not that I haven’t flown before, and it isn’t that I’ve not flown by myself.  I took the three boys, the youngest not even potty-trained yet, from Pittsburgh to Tampa without a qualm. In the months after 9-11, I flew from Pittsburgh to Greenville, N.C., with a stopover in Detroit. Didn’t ruffle a hair.

I’ve flown from Atlanta to Frankfurt and to Rome, and from Charlotte to London. Nothing to it. The caveat is, my overseas flights were with a group and I didn’t have to worry. Just follow the crowd.

So why was I hesitant to fly solo to Los Angeles?

The answer in one word: the airport.

This was the view out my window that greeted me every morning  when I finally got to California.

I didn’t think I could navigate the huge, confusing airports without someone to guide me.

When Scott said I could skip LAX and fly into Ontario, a much smaller airport, I began to think it might be possible. I didn’t know that in trying to book a flight to Ontario, CA, the site read the “CA” as Canada and routed me to Toronto, Ontario. After three attempts, I finally typed in ONTARIO, CALIFORNIA. Bingo. And, Scott suggested I should leave from Atlanta so I could park my car at my oldest son Rob’s house for the week and not have to fight Charlotte traffic.

I drove to Atlanta and Rob drove me to the airport and came inside to show me how to use the check-in kiosk. Things had changed, and I grumbled, cranky old lady style, that I had tucked away enough cash to pay the baggage fee and hadn’t planned on charging it to my card. I was pointed toward my gate and arrived just in time to board.

I won’t dwell on the flight itself. If you’ve flown, you know all about it. If you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil your illusions.

All through the trip I feared I would, indeed, land in Canada. Needless to say, I was spellbound when I stepped out  of the terminal in Ontario, California, and had my first glimpse of the mountains.  Scott met me and we set off for their home which was very, very high up the mountain. The road was a succession of hair-pin curves, and when I dared look out the window to see the valley below — far below — my remarks were reduced to “Oh! How high are we? Has anyone ever driven off? How high are we?” 

I took this from the car window. It’s hard to tell, but that valley is waaaay down there.

We were very high, indeed. More than a mile above the Pacific Ocean.

 

I had a lovely visit, and then it was time to go home. I dreaded arriving in Atlanta and navigating the airport. Something told me it would be different from my previous experience.

I got off the plane and dutifully called Rob. Then I followed the crowd: moving sidewalk, check. Mile-high (or so it seemed) escalator, check. All the while following signs that pointed to Baggage Claim. At one point I couldn’t figure out what the next  step was, then realized I was supposed to get on the plane train, which looked suspiciously like an underground transit to me. Well, I had learned how to ride that  in London, so I got aboard when the doors opened and grabbed a bar as, just like London, no seats were available.

The next stop was Baggage Claim. I looked at a board to see what carousel my flight’s bags were  on, found it, and immediately saw my little green bag. I grabbed it, went outside, and there was Rob. We had timed it perfectly.

“How was your trip?” he asked as we pulled away.

“Wonderful!” I replied, and I meant it. I may have been preening just a little. Maybe all my fears were unfounded, but I had overcome them anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing with joy

When I saw that Canadian author Louise Penny, author of the Three Pines mystery series, would be in North Carolina to kick off her book tour, I knew that I would go, no matter what. I immediately signed up for tickets, thinking the venue would be crowded. (It was.)

I, along with some friends who are also big fans, drove the two-and-a-half hours to Fearrington Village, where Penny was to speak. The  event was held in a building aptly called The Barn which can hold 500 people. We went in early to get good seats. So did 500 other people.

The wait was worth it. Penny is delightfully candid, humorous, and forthcoming. But there was one thing she said that drove everything else from my mind.

She had suffered from writer’s block after the publication of her first book. She eventually sought help from a therapist who told her she should not worry about editors, publishers, reviews, her family, or anything else, but write simply for the joy of writing.

Louise Penny

I haven’t got writer’s block — or do I? I dutifully put words on the page, but all the time I am thinking, why bother?

I haven’t got a nibble on the book that precedes the one I am writing. If it doesn’t get  published, the sequel is useless.

I could self-publish, which I have done, but I am of two minds about this. If it isn’t good enough for an agent to jump on, maybe it isn’t good enough to self-publish.

Then I read about authors who only self-publish and are doing very well, thank you.

So I got to thinking about why I am writing in the first place. To be rich and famous? Maybe, when I was younger, but it doesn’t appeal to me now. I have a good life and I’m content.

I have fans, and I cherish them. But I’m not writing just for them, either.

I think back to my first books, and how much fun it was to create my stories. Of course it was validation to get a contract from a publisher, or a good review from a reader. But the real joy was in the writing.

I need to get back to that and finish my book because it brings me joy to see it grow and develop. And yes, I want to share it once it is finished, not for praise or money, but because a story isn’t really complete until it is read. So I will look at other options for publication while knowing that this isn’t the reason for writing, but the final step on the creative journey.

So now that Louise Penny has, by a few words, changed my entire outlook, I say thank you. Thank you for seeing clearly what I failed to see: that you aren’t going to want to write if your writing fails to bring you joy.

 

 

 

My Secret Garden

Lawn maintenance has become a problem as I get older. I have not yet finished raking the winter accumulation of pine straw, pine cones, sweet gum balls,  and fallen twigs and branches from the periphery of the back yard. One reason is that I have been gone a lot this spring, and the other is that every time I think I have some part of it cleaned up, a heavy rain or wind gusts bring more debris down and I have to do it all over again.

One day I decided that I needed something less labor intensive. I decided to take out some of the ancient bushes along the front of the house that seem to need trimming about every other week. This wasn’t something I could do  by myself, so I called on Number Three Son to come up with his chainsaw.

Three of the five bushes gave up easily, but  remaining two had apparently petrified into stone. The chainsaw motor burned out before the job could be done. leaving two unsightly stumps.

“Never mind,” I said. We replaced the two shrubs that flanked the steps to the den with cypress that won’t need to be trimmed. Then, in the space between the ramp and the house where the other three were, I sprayed weedkiller. A week later, I raked  out the dead weeds and laid crushed brick. My palette was ready

I drilled a hole in the smaller stump to hold my bottle tree, and then cut the bottom off a planter and fitted it around the bigger stump. I filled it with some white pebbles Jim had bought years ago for an  ill-fated rock garden in the back yard (ill-fated because I had to  lug a watering can down there to keep the plants happy and I kept forgetting or going away for a week, and the plants always died).

Then I put in some yard art. Some I already had out back and moved to the front, and some I bought on a whim. I may add more, but I have to be aware of the hose because I do have some  live plants in the little patch between the brick and the steps. I have plans for this later, like moving the lily bulbs to the back because they are too tall. Which they weren’t when that bush was behind them. Such is perspective. I call new area my secret garden because it can’t be seen from the road. Only someone coming up the walk can see it.

But right now, a certain amount of work has been eliminated, leaving me time to concentrate on other things. I am looking forward to a picnic with my writers’ club friends today, and then on Tuesday, a trip to Fearrington Village in Pittsboro to hear Louise Penny talk about her newest book in the Three Pines series.

All much more fun than raking and mowing.

 

Are you a Wakian yet?

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood … cooler, bright blue sky, birds singing. Not the wren family, however. The little ones flew off on the one day I was gone, so I missed seeing the parents coax them from their nest. I sorta miss the constant chirping, but on the other hand, the quiet is nice, too. Except for that mockingbird who simply won’t shut up.

Thursday I drove to Durham to meet one of my favorite authors, Robert Macomber, who was a frequent guest presenter at our writers’ club’s annual writing conference.  Bob writes naval histories whose fictional protagonist is Peter Wake. We see the rise of the United States Navy from the Civil War to the  Spanish-American War through his eyes. His travels and adventures take him from Cuba to Central and South America, the West Indies, French Indochina and Samoa.

Bob has meticulously researched every fact presented in his books. If you haven’t read them and are interested in the “behind the scenes” story of the United States’ involvement in maritime history peppered with little-known events and well-known people such as Theodore Roosevelt, you will enjoy this series.  I just got the latest book (autographed!), “Honoring the Enemy.”

Robert Macomber, third from left, hoists a toast to friends and fans

Bob not only pens a great story, he lectures, sails, and hosts dinners for his friends using  the exotic recipes he has discovered on his research trips, accompanied by the appropriate wines, music, and scents. He is also a delightful conversationalist.

So I was more than excited to have the chance to meet Bob and Nancy, his wife, along with a few other “Wakians” as his fans are called, while he was between stops on his book-signing tour. We met for lunch, commandeered a large table and proceeded to eat, talk, drink, and laugh and cry, for five and a half hours.

It was a great afternoon in the neighborhood.

Finding balance

I have been writing a little every day. The story is taking shape, although I realize that I don’t like my leading character all that much. She is turning out to be willful, spoiled, and lacking in grace.

In other words, she’s a teenager.

I raised three sons, but never a daughter, so I’m having to pull out some of my own youthful actions and thoughts to build on. Looking back, I wasn’t all that pleasant to live with, either. Luckily, my parents had patience. Lots and lots of patience.

Writers form a kind of attachment to their characters that other people can’t understand. (I wish there was a word for “non-writers” such as muggles for non-magic folks. Oh, wait, they’re called readers.)

Anyway, I see Bethann as a work in progress as much as my book is. I’m tossing a lot of problems in her path, but also giving her the intelligence and courage to solve them. She seems to blocking me at very turn, though. She says things I didn’t plan on writing and does things I didn’t foresee. I had thought her relationship with her guardian’s new husband would be a happy one, but Bethann doesn’t see it that way. She resents having a man in her life after living seventeen years with two older women. He laughs too much, takes up too much space in the house, and worse, tries to act as her father.

You can’t really enjoy a book without a cat on your lap

Wouldn’t you rebel, too?

I’m enjoying getting to know this young lady and finding out what she plans to do next. Yes, I had a outline and thought I  knew exactly how the story would take shape. So much for that.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten involved in more outside activities. I realize that I need to get out of my office once in awhile and talk to real, living breathing people. My book clubs do this for me, and I can’t emphasize enough how these ladies make me laugh and cry and feel part of a community. And I recently joined a service club. Their big fundraiser for the year to raise money for scholarships is the annual soup and sandwich luncheon. So I’ve been helping with that, dumping industrial-size cans of veggies into giant pots. I’ve been amazed at  how organized chaos can be.

So its a balance between a quiet, internal life and an external, sometimes confusing one. I think writers need a little of both. We can be in our own heads so much we wouldn’t know reality if it hit us in the face. On the other hand, we can get so busy with dashing here and there, doing this and that, that there is no time for writing.

Or reading.

Somehow, I always find time to curl up with a good book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gadgets: necessities or luxuries?

I treated myself to a new iPad for Christmas. My old one would no longer update and I was missing out on some apps I really wanted/needed. This is my third one, and I realized they were piling up. So I thought I would reset the two old ones to factory settings and give them to someone who wouldn’t care how new it was as long as they could play games and get email.

My oldest  one — and the very first one that came out — obligingly reset itself and says Hello! when you open it.

The second one doesn’t seem to recognize my passcode which I have used steadfastly on everything for the past 10 years. Yes, I know I should have different codes for each device, just like I should have different passwords for each account, but I am forgetful and/or lazy, take your pick.

So what to do? I  need a handy grandkid to help me out on this.

In other news, I didn’t keep the pregnant cat. In the end, I was persuaded to let her go to rescue where she and the kittens (unborn when last I saw her) would be fostered and then given good homes in Connecticut, of all places. Seems they are as scarce on cats there as we are suffering an over abundance here. I regretted it almost immediately, but as the shelter director told me, “You already have three cats.”

Well yes, and what does that have to do with anything?

I had to look twice to see that is an armadillo, not a cat. It should be a cat.

And I have been working  on my query. When I say working,  I mean I am trying different approaches in my mind. What best expresses the story? What will catch an agent’s or editor’s eye and prompt them to ask for more?

Why do I feel as if I am back in high school preparing for the final exam in English composition?

I suppose I will eventually stumble on the right combination of words and then I will gather up my courage and send them off, going down a list of agents who have expressed an interest in historical novels.

My goal is to have the first two come together in the third, to create a trilogy. Number one is already published; number two is the one I am trying to sell; and the third is three chapters in and my mind is once again going into overdrive with imagined scenes and plot twists.

To let  you now how distracted I’ve been, when the woman cleaning my teeth asked if I had any trips planned for this year I said maybe a trip to Louisville, and completely forgot that I am going to London this spring! How could I forget that!

Only another writer will understand how completely a new book takes over your mind, to the exclusion of everything else. Luckily, I have learned how to add dates to my iPhone calendar so it can remind me of upcoming events.  What would we do without these convenient toys/tools?

I still haven’t decided if an iPhone or iPad is a luxury or a necessity. I just know I don’t want to do without mine.

Unless I am stranded on a desert island. Then I want books with me. Lots of books.

Because there is no Internet on a desert island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The journey continues

My hope is that everyone had a very enjoyable holiday week — or however long you celebrate Christmas, New Year’s or Hannaukkah

— and didn’t even notice that I hadn’t posted in two weeks.

I decided to go to Pennsylvania to visit my sister over Christmas. We are close in spite of the distance between us — 600 miles from my home in North Carolina to hers. I broke up the drive by staying midway in West Virginia.

I have made the trip many times since we moved south in 1977. Jim always drove while I admired the scenery. In those days, we made the trip in one day, with our kids and dogs in tow. Then it was just us. And then just me.

The first time I made the trip alone I was filled with trepidation. Or in non-literary terms, scared to death. I took steep mountain inclines (and declines) and hairpin curves at something like 40 mph, my knuckles on the steering wheel white with tension. It took me hours to relax once I got to my destination, my neck and shoulders seemingly frozen in that fear-filled posture.

This time, however, I was almost to Pittsburgh before I realized I had kept to the 70 mph speed limit, passing more cautious drivers. I had learned to trust that the highway authority wouldn’t have posted such a high speed limit if it wasn’t safe. I had learned to trust that my Malibu wouldn’t fly off the road and plunge me to my death on the valley floor. I learned to trust myself.

Here is my chance to post something clever about how the writing journey is like my trip: filled with unexpected curves, breath-taking mountain tops and frightening descents into doubt and despair. But I’m sure you already figured that out.

I’m starting a new novel and querying another.  I’ve self-published several books, out of sheer laziness. And fear of rejection. But like my driving, I need to over come that fear an begin the search for a publisher who believes in me.

I’ve gotten good feedback on “Riverbend” and “When He said Goodbye.” The first is historical and the second is contemporary, which shows you how I leap from genre to genre. I was feeling badly about that, but then decided that the stories come to me, not me to them, and I have no choice except not to write at all. Which isn’t really a choice.

Unfortunately, the comments are verbal and not on Amazon or Nook or Smashwords. I beg them to send their nice words to the universe so others can read them, but for some reason, people are reluctant to post online. I have not yet figured out the magic words that will convince them to break out of their comfort zone and post a review.

So that is where I am now. Back from my trip, facing  new year filled with possibilities, and eager to continue my writing journey.

I hope you are feeling the same.

www.sandrazbruney.com

 

 

 

 

 

Memoir continued

Last week I attended a day-long workshop on writing the memoir.  Our teacher was fantastic, to say the least: Joseph Bathanti, Writer-in-Residence at Appalachian State University. Bathanti hails from Pittsburgh, which is near where I spent many years of my life before I, like him, found  my way to North Carolina. I won’t list all his honors and publications, but rest assured, the man knows his subject, loves writing, and enjoys imparting what he knows. I’m now reading Bathanti’s memoir, “Half of What I Say is Meaningless.”

Why do we write memoirs? Many of us want to or plan to, attested by the number of people who signed up for the workshop. Some have stories they need to share because of the lessons they learned and want to pass on. Some use memoir as a sort of catharsis. Me, I just want my grandkids to know how different life was when I was growing up.

Jack is more interested in getting a treat than hearing me talk about my writing.

One thing that kept me from starting, as I mentioned before, was revealing family secrets. Bathanti assured us that we didn’t need to tell everything, but if it is hurtful or painful, we can leave it out. “If you leave things out, you’re not lying,” he said.

That reminded me of another workshop leader who told our class, “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.” She was talking about fiction, but memoir writing is essentially creative non-fiction. It is subjective, and you can insert your opinion about events which you can’t do in journalism or non-fiction.

There are two things about the workshop that I’d like to point out. One is that as writers, we need to keep learning. Even if I never write a memoir, I took away a valuable tool that I can use in my fiction, which is to dig deep into my subconscious and bring up the emotion I need to make a scene live. The other is more prosaic: We are never too old to learn. I learn something new every day. Never mind that most of it I learn from watching Jeopardy!

And, I just thought of a third thing. Do we need to start with “I was born…” and end with some earthshaking conclusion about What It All Meant?

Bathanti’s book is a series of essays. I had already started writing a few essays on different themes, such as comparing play when I was a kid and what my grandkids do for fun. So now assured that I’m on the right track, I can continue.

Have  you ever considered writing a memoir? If so, what has kept you from starting? Or are you working on one now? I’d love to know how it’s going and what format you are writing it in — straight narrative, essays, humor, confession …?

Me, I’ll stick to short essays and hope it all comes together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weeding and writing

I am trying to write this with one eye covered by a patch. I put a wet tea bag on it  in hopes it would reduce the swelling of poison ivy.

Yep, I did it again. Thought I was pulling out English ivy vines. And yes, I know the difference (after repeated bouts with the poisonous vine) but there were no leaves on them so …here I am again, itching and miserable.

Summer is winding down, though, and soon enough my only yard work will be raking leaves. Time to start on something new. Or maybe something old. I have some manuscripts that are (gasp!) typed on paper. I wrote them before the advent of computers, that is to say very early in my career.

Now, have I learned anything since I wrote those stories? Or am I going to keep making the same mistakes, as I do with pulling vines?

Delia Owens and David Joy at McIntyres Books.

My hope and belief is that I have honed my craft enough so that I will be able to look at these old stories and spot trouble points. I need to be sure there is theme, not just a plot; that my characters are identifiable and relatable; that I balance narrative and dialogue; and most of all, that the story is not boring.

So there is that. And somehow I plan to finish that memoir I started for the grandkids, who are now adults and maybe more interested in their shared history. Our writers’ club is holding a workshop on writing the memoir in November, and  I’m looking forward to learning just how to approach this.  It is a great opportunity, and timely.

Opportunities to learn abound. Last weekend a friend and I drove two hours to hear two novelists (David Joy and Delia Owens) read from their works and talk about writing. Well worth the trip. What I learned: it is okay if your first book is crap. Keep writing.

I hope you all take every chance you get whether it is attending author talks, reading, going to workshops or conferences, or just getting together with other writers to share your dreams.

And if someone out there is trying to deter you ( and there are naysayers whose mission in life is to pull you down) just carefully root them out of your life. They are poison ivy.

What’s your process?

I had just wakened when the phone rang. It wasn’t too early to call, but I’d slept late because of binge-watching “Longmire” the night before. So the question took me by surprise.

“What process do you use when you write?”

“Huh?”

My mind clicked into gear and I said, “Well, I don’t outline. I tried it once and it didn’t work for me.”

So what do  you do when you first start writing, the caller asked. Do you begin with dialogue? Narrative? Action?

I had to think a minute. How do I start a new work? A song went through my addled brain: “…start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…”*

I just start writing I said. I tried to explain that before I sat down to write, the entire story is laid out in my head. I have spent months going over it at odd times, three a.m when I can’t sleep, standing in line, driving … the scenes get worked out, I imagine what the characters will say, I know what’s going to happen and how it ends. I don’t worry about jotting down fragments on stray sheets of paper or in a notebook (although I carry one because I read somewhere that’s what writers do).

It’s as if the entire novel is already written in my mind and when I sit down at the computer I am not writing so much as taking dictation. I begin by setting the scene in a specific time and place, introducing the main character, and describing the goal or problem that must be reached or solved.

Then I tell the story. I try to limit narrative as being a “tell” rather than “show.” Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I’d rather let the reader find out through action and dialogue. Narrative is limited to describing the scene where the action takes place. I’ve been told dialogue is my strong point, so I use it more often than narrative.

My caller asked how I handed the second, third, and consecutive drafts.

I stumbled over that, being still only half awake. What I should  have said was that I look for problems in pacing (using shorter sentences and paragraphs when the action heats up), flow, plot holes, repetitive narration or description, and other stumbling blocks that might make a reader stop and scratch her head in confusion. I also believe it is important to pay attention to white space on the page. Dense paragraphs are off-putting. Again, crisp dialogue helps balance the longer, necessary descriptions.

Then I edit for grammar and construction. And finally, look for typos.

When I’ve done all I can, I ask trusted beta readers to read the manuscript. I take their feedback and make any changes I find applicable.

Only then does it get submitted to a publisher, where an entirely new process begins.

So that’s my process. What’s yours? How do you begin your story?

We all want to know.

* “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music

 

What are you reading?

What are you reading? This question was posed in a  comment on an earlier blog, and I promised to respond. As I told her, I’m an eclectic reader — which only means I will read anything, even the back of a cereal box if nothing else is handy.

It’s a tough question, so I went to my bag o’ books that I toted home from my last library visit. Here’s what I found:

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (almost finished)

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison (recommended!)

To Die But Once by Jacqeuline Winspear (yes, I’m a fan of Maisie Dobbs)

That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Cooper

Circe by Madeline Miller

I haven’t read the last two yet, so no comments.

Then there are the two books on my schedule for my book clubs. One club is reading The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe. I have it on order. The other club is reading See Me by Nicholas Sparks. I may take this one to the beach with me next week.

Speaking of the beach, my favorite beach read authors are Nancy Thayer, Mary Kay Andrews, Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Alice Monroe, Elin Hilderbrand, Barbara Delinsky, Susan Mallery, and Debbie Macomber. I have probably left out a few.

I also love big, sweeping historical novels by Ken Follett, Edward Rutherford, Philippa Gregory, Colleen McCullough, and Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon is my all-time favorite. History, romance and paranormal all in one. My kind of book. The TV series is the only one I ever felt compelled to buy. I could watch them over and over, and no, it’s not all Jamie.

As for mysteries, give me Anne Perry or Elizabeth George any time. If I see their name on the spine of a book on the library shelf, it’s in my hands immediately.

Of course there are many others. And, I like to try new authors by browsing Book Bub and Ereader News Today. (I like the solid feel of print books, but also the convenience and portability of my Kindle.)

I also read biographies and other non-fiction. My son let me borrow SPQR by Mary Beard. It isn’t a book you read all in once sitting. But I am slowly getting through it.

And where do I put Anne Rice, Anne Lamott, and Pat Conroy? Also favorites.

After The Prince of Tides, I wrote Conroy a gushing letter telling him how much I loved it. I had never written a fan letter before and didn’t expect an answer. But he sent me a postcard from Rome where he and his family were staying while he worked on his second book. It was a picture of the hotel where they were staying and he even marked the window of the room they were staying in. I still have it somewhere.

So that’s what I read. Anything, even the history of ancient Rome, which is interesting enough to keep me reading, but not so interesting that I won’t put it down in favor of something a little (ahem!) sexier.

And, in parting, if you are looking for something to read this summer, hop on over to my place and browse the shelves. You may find something you like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Finding your people

Many years ago, when I was flush with the success of being a finalist in a state-wide writing contest, I signed up for a week-long writers retreat at Duke University.

I’d never done anything like this before. I took vacation days from work, kissed my husband goodbye, and set off with high hopes and not a little trepidation. I had no idea what to expect and knew no one there.

We were settled in one of the old brick dorms next to the Duke Chapel. That alone would have made me happy, even if I’d stayed in my third-floor room for the duration. But I’d paid to learn, so I conquered my fears and set out for the evening mixer. 

The dorm I stayed in is on the left.

And after that, everything went up hill. I met, ate, sat in class with, and talked to writers from all over the country, beginners and published. I met authors such as the late Reynolds Price and Josephine Humphreys. Ms. Humphreys sat down at  the lunch table I shared with several other neophytes and showed us the souvenir shirts she’d purchased for her two boys.  I remember thinking, she’s a real person! a mom! and famous!

I called my husband and told him I’d found my people. I’m not sure he understood, but I knew I had found kindred spirits. I felt at home.

If you haven’t found your people, I suggest you find the nearest writing group, or failing that, do as I did and start one. The club I founded with a few other like-minded people has been going for almost 30 years now. We’ve done a lot of things — organized writers conferences, held contests, published anthologies, even produced an outdoor drama for 10 years — but mostly we’ve supported each other in our journeys.

I was reminded of that at our last meeting when we took the subject for discussion, how to handle writer’s block, and wandered off topic to describing our work places and sharing what inspired us. Everyone had something to add and I hope everyone brought something helpful away with them. I know I did. Some of us went to dinner after and continued the discussion.

That’s why I belong to a writer’s club and why I urge you to join one, too. You will find that it’s more than a club. You’ll find your tribe, your family, your people.

 

 

Good advice/bad advice

 

Image result for tooting own horn gif

 

Our local writers’ club is again sponsoring an event. We held a writers conference for several years, but lately we are focusing on more intimate workshops. BUT we are still sponsoring a story-telling event. This will be our sixth year for that.

So I find myself once again doing the publicity: designing fliers and posters, writing articles for the newspapers, posting on websites and social media, sending out email messages …

I don’t mind. It’s what I do. The question is: Why don’t I do the same for my books?

Good question.

I know once a book is published, the author cannot write “The End” and relax, waiting for royalties to roll in. No one will buy a book if they don’t know about it.

I guess it comes from not wanting to be “pushy.” You know, that writer that posts “Buy my book” a zillion times a day on every outlet known to the Internet. Mom always cautioned me not to be a showoff or smart a$$. Well, she didn’t say a$$ but she meant it. We were told to be modest and unassuming. In other words, hide your light under a basket. Don’t bring attention to yourself.

Good advice then when I was a mouthy, attention-seeking preteen. Bad advice now when I really want to gather new readers.

I know I need to toot my own horn and at the same time, not be so annoying people hit “block” on my posts. It’s a fine line and I haven’t found a way to walk it yet.

I really need to sit down and plan a campaign just like I do for our writers club events. It isn’t that difficult.

I just need to  convince myself it’s okay.

 

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