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.

 

 

 

What century is it?

I had a phone call this morning. It took me a minute to understand what the caller wanted.

“I’m sorry,” I said contritely. “I had to get my head out of the 19th century.” I’m not sure she knew what I meant, but if you’ve ever been reading an engrossing story, only to jerked back to the real world by an interruption such as a phone call or a child crying, you will understand the disconnect. It’s the same with writing.

I had been working on my novel, which takes place in 1820, and at the moment the phone rang I was wondering just what a person back then would put on a bruise and a nasty gash. After I answered the caller’s question, I went back to work.

Unfortunately, Google could not solve my problem. I’m sure people without access to the Mayo Clinic or its 200-year-old equivalent had plenty of home remedies, but it will take more research to find out.

I think some writers do all the research they will need before beginning their novel. Others may do research when and as they need it. I like to finish the story and then go back and fill in the gaps if I can’t find what I need right away. Stopping to look up a cure or a fashion detail can lead to hours spent musing over different websites, each one leading me down another path until I realize I’ve wasted hours reading information that, while fascinating, will never find a place in my story.

Distractions such as phone calls or enticing detours are the pitfalls of writing from home. I could take the phone off the hook (at least my landline, which most of my friends use). But then they would simply call my cell phone. If I managed to ignore that, they would worry and come knocking on the door to see if I was all right, so that wouldn’t work.

As for getting lost in research, that is my own fault and I know I need to be more disciplined. It’s too easy to type in a few words and see the wealth of information that pops up.  Back when the world and I were younger, finding out an elusive fact meant getting into the car and going to the library, filling out a slip of paper to hand to the librarian, waiting for her to bring you a book, taking the volume to a table, and then copying what you needed into a notebook.

There are days when I think I need to rent a cabin for a week and take with me only a couple of pens and some paper. No phone, no Internet, no books or television. I’d be forced to write without interruption.

But honestly, I don’t think I’d last a day.  There are only so many hours you can spend in a book whether you are reading it or writing it.  You have to come back to the real world eventually.

We just want our return to be on our terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The (He)art of Journaling

Some years ago, my daughter-in-law presented me with a blank journal. I was pleased with the gift and vowed to use it to record only happy thoughts and experiences. I realized I had been a little negative lately (had she picked up on this?) and that I needed to change my perspective. Focusing on at least one good thing that happened each day would, I thought, condition me to look for the good rather than the bad.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. There were days where nothing good seemed to happen at all. I learned that if I  wanted to write something positive, I had to look for it.

Then the unthinkable happened. Jim died unexpectedly and my world was torn apart. For weeks, months, I howled my grief and despair on the pages. I blamed the doctors who didn’t think his infection was important enough to follow up  on. I blamed myself for not making an issue of it. I blamed everyone and everything until I realized that blame was worthless and not helping me heal.

Then I started writing about all the little things I had to do, a check list of sorts. Insurance, deeds, titles, credit accounts, all had to be sorted and reassigned. Every time I accomplished something on my list, I made a note of it. Sometimes it was easy, and more often it was hard and complicated and frustrating. The more difficult it was, the more satisfaction I took in recording the task’s completion.

When everything was sorted out, I began recording the little (and big) jumps I made out of my safety zone. There was the first time I ate in a restaurant alone. I was on my way home from an appointment. It was noon, and I was hungry. I said, “Why not?”

Afterward, I wondered what had taken me so long.

I learned to drive the riding mower, something Jim had never wanted me to do. I guess he was afraid I’d turn it over or something. Now I use it all the time.

I learned to pump my own gas. Can you believe that?

There were many little and big things I had to do for the first time, and I managed to do them all. Not that I’m asking for a pat on the back, but it is surprising how we let our partners take sole responsibility for certain chores. I know of husbands who couldn’t for the life of them figure out the checking account or which bills are paid when when their wives died. Or who couldn’t cook a simple meal or figure out the washing machine. So don’t you men shake your heads at me!

I think all marriages should do a little cross-training, like companies do with their employees.

Now when I journal, I write down things I have done for the simple reason that I like reading back over the entries and remembering the visit, the trip, or the fun luncheon with friends. I also write down when I’m feeling blue or lonely, because those days still come. Not as often, but still … And writing about my feelings helps me understand them and accept them.

Many people journal for many different reasons. I think those reasons can change with life circumstances, as mine did. No reason is better or worse than another.

If you are a writer, you might want to try keeping a journal. You can start with writing down one good thing that happened today.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basket weaving 101

I gave up knitting long ago, don’t ask me why. I guess too many dropped stitches and losing track of the pattern discouraged me. Still, I recently decided I wanted something to do with my hands.

So I took up basketry. Afraid that that weaving baskets might be as daunting as knitting, I took a one-day course on making pine-needle baskets. Sounded easy. All you need are pine needles, a (steel) needle, and raffia. And then you go round and round, somewhat like making a clay coil pot.

 I should have known better Nothing is easy. But the movement is soothing, so I’ve kept at it. I think each little basket is just a smidgen improved over the one before it. And I’ve learned something with each one.

You need a good foundation. Unless you get those first, crucial rounds right, nothing you can do will make the rest come out the way you want it.

You need to maintain the coils of pine needles so they are of an even thickness throughout. Otherwise, your basket will will come out lopsided. Same with the width between rows of stitches. You can see where I have some too close together and some too far apart.

You need to be careful whenever you add a new length of raffia. If you weave in the loose ends carelessly, your basket will have lumpy places or stitches where you don’t want them.

So,  in the end, I am still losing the pattern and dropping (or adding) stitches. I’m not discouraged, though. I can see progress, and I feel  the next basket will come out the way I want it.

I work on the my baskets when I need a respite from editing. I had ordered a proof copy of “When He Said Goodbye” and found, to my dismay, some typos that had escaped detection. And, to be honest, there were places I felt a another word would be better. Or where a sentence simply wasn’t necessary.

So that I would not gloss over the same mistakes that had eluded me earlier, I started at the back of the book and read each sentence in reverse order.  Its a tedious process, but it works. Errors become clear. But reading backwards tires the eyes more than just reading, so I needed frequent breaks.

Maybe writing and weaving baskets aren’t so different.  Start out without a plan and you will soon find your story off course with no prayer of getting it back. Dialogue, action, and narrative need to be balanced. Introduce new plot lines carefully or you will lose track of the main story. You should have an idea of where the story is going and what the end result will look like.

I hope to have the book published within the next few weeks. I need to finish it (although to be honest, I could keep fining ways to improve it every time I read it) because I am eager to start on the next book that is now taking up space in my head.

My ambition is to have it be an improvement over my last book, just as the next basket will be better than the one before it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Good news — I guess

I am so near completing my work in progress that I can envision myself writing “The End” and sitting back with a happy sigh.

But I also know it isn’t finished. As every writer has discovered, there is more to the process. I still have to do the final edits, send it off to Beta readers, and then make any corrections they suggest (and that I agree with). And after that, decide whether to make the round of submissions or to self-publish.

So the good news is, I am almost there as far as one goal is concerned, tempered by the fact that there are more goals to reach before the process is complete.

As of this writing, I have two novels in the submission process. One publisher asked for the full manuscript, so I am biting

Jack is ready to go outside if someone will just open the door

my nails waiting for the verdict. So in between working on my current novel and researching unsuspecting agents willing to take on new clients, my mood and expectations have been as up and down as a Ferris wheel.

And of course, aside from writing, I have the usual stuff going on. No one can write 24/7, because in addition to my imaginary lives, I also have to cope with my real one.

I decided to get a security system and talked to reps from two different companies. I decided on the second and now every time I open a door to let a cat in or out, a disembodied voice says “Back door open.” At first, on hearing it, the cats refused to come inside.

Now they ignore it, just as most pets learn to ignore the radio or TV as not being real, therefore not requiring their attention.

And so it goes. I will post when and if I hear anything about my submissions, that is, if one of them gets accepted. No one wants to hear about rejections, least of all me.

Hope you are having a great summer as we slide into August. Let’s hope it is not as hot as July has been.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer … bugs or books?

I don’t know what the temperature is your way, but here  in North Carolina it is hot! I mean, in the nineties hot.

Too hot to work outdoors, which I love doing in the summer.  But after a bout with both poison ivy and an allergic reaction to a couple of mosquito bites, I don’t plan on doing much yard work without a hazmat suit.

As you all know, the really best thing about summer is reading. And when the weather is hot and humid, I like to find a cool corner, a glass of iced tea, and a book. Doesn’t matter if it is an e-book or print. I am like a voter who refuses to pledge allegiance to either party.

I like getting messages in my inbox every morning from BookBub and Ereader News Today. I read the blurbs and sometimes click on the book to read more on Amazon — in particular, the reviews. You can also read a few pages of the book to get a sense of the author’s style.  I like the free books, naturally, but I do buy some. I’ve found a lot of great, new authors this way.

But, I do love to visit the library and peruse the shelves to see what’s been added since my last visit. Sometimes I score with a new book from a favorite writer. The librarians are helpful in telling me what other people thought of a book (reviews!) and often ask me what my opinion is. I come home with my tote bag full and settle in, usually with one of the cats on my lap.

Another place to find books are used book stores. We don’t have one near me, but when I visit one of my kids (who all live in bigger cities) that is one place we can mutually agree on making a stop.

And, when a really, really favorite author comes out with a new book I buy it simply because I want to a) support them and b) because I like owning a book I know I will read again. When my shelves get full, I go through and pick out those I know I won’t re-read or maybe didn’t love all that much after I read it, or were given and told to share after I finished reading them. These go to the senior center bookshelf, which is like a Little Free Library.

I know people who think summer is for swimming, hiking, boating, and other physical activities. Good for them and I hope they remember their sunscreen and bug repellent.

I’ll take a comfy chair and a good book any time.

 

 

 

Why I don’t use my desk and other excuses

Writers often share photos of their work space:  organized desks with computer, printer, and file folders neatly aligned.

Mine is not like that. I am not even going to take a photo of my messy, disorganized and paper-strewn table (yes, a gate-leg table that may or may not be an antique because I  can’t remember where or when I acquired it). It gets progressively worse when I am working on a book because I don’t have the patience to put things back where they belong.  At any given moment, it holds the printer and computer, a stack of CDs I seldom play, a

calendar, phone, several 5 x 8 yellow tablets for notes, a coffee cup filled with pens, my camera, and and a glass of iced tea, a church bulletin, a flashlight, and my external hard drive because I learned the Lesson of the Lost Files the hard way.

 

I do have a desk. It is bare. I add this picture to show the reason why it is bare. I have three cats and during the day one or two of them are draped across its surface. I don’t put anything on the desk because within minutes of said cat(s) jumping on top, objects are swiped off and onto the floor.

They don’t jump on my table either because there is no room for them or because (my favorite reason) they see all the stuff on it and realize they are too inherently lazy to push it all off.  Also, the desk faces the windows and gets the afternoon sun.

In my last post, I mentioned that I was busy formatting my book. That has been accomplished, and now I am trying to come up with an alternate ending for the one that was rejected. So I am not so much writing as thinking. I don’t believe non-writers realize that when writers are sitting gazing off into space that they are actually working.  My hope is if I turn the story over in my mind often enough I will come to an Aha! moment and visualize the perfect ending.

And, I have been sending out my completed ms. to agents. I am by turns either hopelessly optimistic or bleakly despairing of ever again publishing another book. But nothing ventured, nothing gained and if I don’t at least try, the result will be a big, fat nothing. It’s hard to have faith in yourself and your story-telling ability, which is why I occasionally re-read my reviews so I can tell myself that somebody out there likes my books.

I don’t know if all authors are this neurotic. I suspect most are. What other professions depends so much on someone else’s opinion, which may or may not be objective?

Meanwhile, there are days I just wish I were a cat. Basking in the sun and thinking of absolutely nothing.

 

 

Looking for joy

This little visitor to my deck brought me joy this morning.

 

It’s easy to be pessimistic about life. Sad things happen. We lose family members and friends. Our jobs have gradually ceased to bring us satisfaction, but have become a chore. Children grow up and move away, leaving us more alone that we ever imagined. Our bodies age and we reluctantly agree there are some things that we just can’t do any more, much as we want to.

Sometimes our minds get set on our losses and sorrows, and we can’t seem to find our way out.

But there is a way to change that mindset. It really is simple. Bear me out.

In our NETworX program, as we support people overcoming generation poverty we ask that each participant tell us something good that happened to them that week.

In our monthly church leadership team meetings, we ask people to share “glory sightings”–something that brought them joy and gratitude.

We don’t have to wait until someone prods us during a meeting to come up with something positive in our lives. We can look for it every day.  I wake in the morning and remind myself that today  I am going to find something that makes me happy.

It doesn’t have to be a winning lottery ticket. Once I went to pay my check for lunch, only to be told someone had already paid it.  That was huge! Another time, I found a flower blooming in a spot no plant could possibly grow–yet it did. And one day I went to the library and found not one, but three books by three of my favorite authors! What a dilemma to decide which one to read first!

Sometime it’s an unexpected call from a friend, just when I need it, or maybe turning on the radio and hearing a song I love and haven’t heard in many years.

As you look for these “glory sightings” or “joys” or whatever you choose to call them, they will appear more and more frequently. And you begin to realize that your outlook on life has slowly changed.

At this point, you will start to wonder how you can bring joy to someone else.  Maybe you pay the charge at the fast-food drive-in for the family behind you. Or ease up on the gas pedal to let that person trying to merge get off the ramp and onto the highway. Smile and thank the cashier at the grocery story or the teller at the bank. Swallow that snarky remark that may seem funny to you, but may be hurtful to the recipient.

As you look for ways to spread joy as well as finding it, I think your life will be better … both for you  and for your loved ones.

I read in a newspaper column that the writer’s one resolution for 2018 was to be kinder.

If all of us made that resolution, wouldn’t it truly be a wonderful world!

Best wishes for you and yours in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To this point, I’ve considered historical fiction as beginning with Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and ending with All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read all of Auel’s books, but confess I never read the World War I classic.

However, I notice a change creeping up on me like gray hair and arthritic knees. The big thing now is World War II novels, such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Kristin Hanna’s The Nightingale. If you haven’t read these two novels, stop right now and get them from your library, download them on your Kindle, or do whatever you have to do. I’ll wait.

These are both marvelous books that take you right into the war and its effects on those who lived through it … or didn’t. But as I read them, I wondered, “How is it that these are labeled historical fiction?”

Isn’t history events that happened before you were born?

I haven’t been coy about my age, but evidently I am older than I thought. You see, I remember World War II. Not as a historian would view it, but through a child’s eyes. I knew there was a war going on, I just didn’t exactly know what a war was.

Thank God for that.

To me, war meant Victory gardens, and a scarcity of certain commodities like sugar. I knew sugar was scarce because my mother complained bitterly when she was ready to make jam from the berries she grew along the side of our vegetable garden and couldn’t buy any, even with her ration book.

War meant saving bacon grease in a tin can, and rolling string into balls. It meant carefully peeling the tin foil from its paper backing after unwrapping a stick of chewing gum and saving it.

War meant seeing beautiful wrought iron fences disappear from the lawns of stately homes and drawing the shades down at night so not one glimmer of light could escape.

These were minor and forgettable things compared to what others went through. But we didn’t know about the others. Not then. We didn’t know how blessedly safe we were.

But war  touched many other children: children shot, starved, gassed. The novels I mentioned brought this home to me. We know war is evil, but until a skilled writer brings our emotions to the fore, we can’t really understand what it is like. Hanna and Doerr put us in the picture, and after reading their novels, we can’t say we don’t understand any longer.

And still it goes on. And on. Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria…

I would love some day to know that all wars belong in the historical category. I know I won’t live to see it, but I hope my great-grandchildren will.

And they will read the stories and thank God such madness has ended.

 

 

 

 

An island never cries

I didn’t expect the response I received after posting last week, both here and on Facebook. My goal was to say that we can turn our emotions, even such raw ones as grief, to  make our writing more authentic.

I didn’t intend to imply that my grief was somehow more deep or valid than anyone else’s. The truth is, at some point we are all going to hit that wall head-on and stagger into a new and confusing reality. And it hurts. There is no “more than” or “less than.” It just hurts.

We will lose those we love. There is no way to sugar coat this fact or turn it  into a euphemism. We will eventually lose our parents. We will lose siblings. Of the three of us, my brother, the youngest, was the first to go. My sister and I couldn’t understand it. We still can’t.

We will lose dear friends and people we admire but don’t know in spite of feeling a close connection to them.

Each loss is another blow, another chipping away at a heart already wounded.

How can you avoid this pain? It isn’t easy, but you can close yourself off. You can be like the subject of Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “I Am a Rock” and tell yourself a rock feels no pain … and an island never cries.Related image

You can distance yourself and avoid intimacy. You can turn your heart to stone.

But is it worth it in the end?

Wouldn’t you rather have had your parents, your spouse, your friend, in spite of the loss? Isn’t the memory of their love dearer than an island’s isolation?

Life hurts, my friends. If it doesn’t, you aren’t living.

But life also holds great joy and grace.

Hold on to that instead of your grief. Grief will diminish (although it never goes away), but joy and grace only increase if you let them.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 

 

How am I doing?

I have been a widow now for a year and a half. I’m not sure if this means I should be “used to it” by now or if I should be still actively grieving. There aren’t any rules to follow, so I’m not sure what is normal. People say I’m “handling it well” so I guess I’m doing all right.

I’m reading On Second Thought by Kristin Higgins. One of the characters, Kate, is suddenly widowed when her husband of less than a year trips and hits his head. Her reactions are funny and poignant, and I see myself in her, even to the morbid humor when she thinks at least now she has more closet space. I never went to the store and realized I’d forgotten to put on shoes, but I did do some very strange things that first year. I look back now and wonder what I was thinking.

Of course, I wasn’t thinking. I was on auto-pilot.

I still make  decisions and wonder if Jim would approve. (Or I make a decision knowing full well he wouldn’t approve, such as painting the living room walls, with a sense of defiance and yes, a little guilt.)  Or I accomplish something and exult aloud, “Look there! See what I did?” as if he would suddenly appear and give me that approving grin.

But, I did manage to finish two novels, one published in May and one looking for a home. People handle their grief in different ways  and mine was to lose myself in someone else’s world and someone else’s problems. Neither are not about being a widow. I’m not sure I could write about that, but then…

I already did. Long before Jim died, I wrote a story about a woman who is struggling after the death of her husband. I re-read it now and realize I didn’t know a thing. I’m going to re-write it and hope the story will reveal some true things that I have learned the hard way.

So we go on and the people we loved and lost are still a part of our lives. I pretend sometimes Jim is just in another room, or outside working and will come in and ask if I want to go get lunch.

I know it’s pretense, but that’s what I do. It helps get me through the day.

Maybe, just maybe, it will help me get through the next novel.

 

 

The necessary break

This past week, I was at the beach … St. Simons Island, to be exact. Shopping, eating sea food, walking on the beach, floating in the pool, exploring historic sites, and enjoying the company of my oldest son and daughter-on-law. Also the three granddogs.

And not even thinking of writing.

Bruno loves the beach. So many new friends to meet, so many birds to chase, and lovely water to wade in.

I didn’t check my sales, do any  searches for publishers or agents, or even plan out my next book.

Nope, I relaxed. Read a little, talked, walked the dogs.

And I didn’t feel even a little bit guilty.

We all need to take a break once in awhile. I’m pretty sure even those writers who stay at their desks for 8-10 hours a day, seven days a week, take a break.

Otherwise we would stagnate. We can live in our imaginations only so long before we need to refuel, and we do that by re-entering the real world.

We see things that spark our creativity, see people who could be characters in our book (and  maybe we don’t  jot the details down, but that hairdo, or tattoo, or outfit may just find itself in a description), and overhear conversations that pique our curiosity.

And don’t forget the wonderful sounds and scents we encounter. The tang of salt air, the fragrance of roses, the gentle roll of the surf … all add grist to our mill.

I am home now, ready to get to work. I’m energized when only a week ago I was busy finding excuses not to move my project forward.

If you find yourself bogged down and can’t find the time for a week or even a few days away from your WIP, you can take a mini-break by going for a walk, seeing a movie, or calling a friend and meeting her (or him) for  a glass of tea and conversation. A few hours away from your desk (or wherever you write best) won’t detract from your work.

It might even make it better.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The week that was

As weeks go, this one can best be described as … There are no words strong enough. I want to say it sucked, but long ago I forbade my sons to use that expression, so I can hardly use it now, in case they read this and say, “But Mom…”, dragging it out in a moan like they did when they were teenagers.

First, the weather.

I hate wind. Always have. Wind makes me break out in nerves. I keep thinking a tree will fall on the house. In fact, trees fell on several houses in the area, but mine was spared. So far. It’s still windy.

Then, a dear friend died unexpectedly. We are all still reeling. He was so much a part of our community and especially our local writers’ club. Where do we go from here without his guidance and leadership?

And, I’m having trouble with my book cover. I keep uploading it, only to discover CreateSpace has cropped off part of the title or some other essential copy. I thought I knew how to do this. I couldn’t remember how to make a .pdf from a .jpg. I finally figured it out, but it shouldn’t have taken so long. Maybe my mind is going. Something else to worry about.

Then Thursday, when I got home from paying bills and grocery shopping, Frenchy got on my lap. I looked down to pet her and discovered she had dug her ears raw. I called the vet and was told I could bring her in if I could be there in 15 minutes. I’ll just say I drove home at the speed limit.

So now she needs drops in her ears twice a day for two weeks. It’s a struggle, as she is certain the drops and/or I am out to kill her. First, I have to corner her, then somehow capture her and wrap her in a towel to prevent scratches (I already have enough battle scars from previous attempts). Then spend time calming her down and getting her to forgive me.

Most of these complaints are trivial, except for the loss of our friend. That’s major. All else falls away. My heart goes out to his wife, also a dear friend. I know what it is to be suddenly widowed. You aren’t ready. You’re never ready, but here it is, and you have to learn how to play the new role convincingly. So say a prayer for her.

Her week really sucked.

And I realize my petty concerns mean nothing at all.

Let the wind blow.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Judge not…?

The thing about contests is that someone has to judge them. Not many people clamor to do this job, hence a little arm-twisting might be necessary to urge people to volunteer.

I volunteered along with three other members of my writing group to judge a neighboring county’s contest entries. It’s been a long-standing agreement that their club judge our contest entries and our club judge theirs.

So there we were, sitting around a kitchen table sipping water, tea, or diet soda, passing the pages around as each “judge” read and made notes. You may think we were in agreement on our choices, but that wasn’t the case. Some gave one story high marks while another called it average. We were divided on the poetry as well. We discussed our reasons for our decisions. No minds were changed, however.

Then we voted. The results were probably as fair as they could be. The only thing we agreed on was that some of the entries were categorized incorrectly. We could tell creative non-fiction from a short story, but somehow the writers could not.

I don’t like judging for the simple fact that 90 percent of it is subjective.  When I judge I weigh the merits of the story, its flow, the pacing. I want to care about the characters. I ignore typos and give some leeway on grammar. These things can be fixed. A story that goes off the tracks can’t. Yet others will leap gleefully on a misplaced comma and lower the rating accordingly.

I’ve entered contests and had my work returned with judge’s comments. Some were constructive, some not so much. Having been a judge myself, I know how impossible it is to be completely impartial. Our prejudices creep in. We like one genre better than another; we like one tense better than another. We try to be fair and push our preconceived notions aside. Sometimes we can.

Contests are important and often help the writer to become stronger, give her direction, help her see and overcome her weak points. If the writer enters in order to get this valuable feedback, she has won even if she doesn’t get to claim the prize.

Contests can provide confirmation to the winner. My hope is those who don’t place resolve not to give up, but to try again. Because it is’t the aim of contests to crush the writer who “failed.” Nor is it the aim of the judges to send a message “you’re not good enough” to these folks.

I’ve judged and been judged. Neither is easy. But in both cases, it helps us to grow as writers.

 

 

 

 

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