The finish line

Thanksgiving is over for another year. I hope sincerely hope you all had a great day with family and didn’t eat too much!

I didn’t travel this year, having just run down to Atlanta to watch UGA beat Kentucky at Athens with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. The other grandson is in the band, so I was excited to watch the half-time show. We all had  dinner after and it was fun to see the older grandson’s house that he shares with three roommates before we ate. We drove home and got caught by a cloudburst. I was proud that my 17-year-old younger grandson, who was driving, handled the car so competently that no one worried about an accident. I thought to myself that they are growing up to be fine young men, and felt a little sad that the childhood stage of their development has ended.

And I watched the implosion of the Georgia Dome on Monday before I headed home. We had excellent seats in the conference room at my son’s office. What we did not expect was how LOUD it was! And lots of dust, like a mushroom cloud. So the dome is finished and a nice park will arise in its place.

There are other things finished this week. I finished my rewrite of “Wherever You May Be.” While much of the story stayed the same, I had to change the basic premise, which meant re-working  a lot of fiddly little details.

I sent it to a beta reader and am awaiting her comments, especially since she read the first version and can compare.

I have finished my Christmas shopping. I can’t believe I just typed that. Every year I get down to the wire, hoping my orders will be delivered in time. Who wants an IOU in their Christmas stocking? But the gifts are in the spare bedroom, just waiting to be wrapped.

The one thing I haven’t finished is the pumpkin pie. There is one piece left, and if I eat it I will have to admit I ate a whole pie. So therein lies a dilemma. Do I finish it and let the extra calories settle around my middle, or ignore it and pat myself on the back for my restraint?

Not telling.

 

 

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Book talks and things that go boom!

Lately, I feel as if I am being pulled in several different directions. I’m not complaining because I love to be busy. I love company. I love going places.

I was relieved when a health scare turned out to be nothing (but a week of anxiety) and was happy when I learned of back-to-back family visits. Truly a time for celebration. But I forgot that my family were coming to see me and not my house, so I spent a week cleaning and scouring and mopping which wore me out. The good thing is that my fall housecleaning is now accomplished!

All of you know that when family comes, you drop everything going on in your life to be with them. But sometimes this can’t be done. I had an obligation at the church on Sunday: lay reader and assistant to the pastor for communion. I told my kids I had to be at church and invited them to come. They did, and I had the very great and meaningful pleasure of serving the communion cup to my two sons and daughter-in-law.

They left and I had one day to wash sheets and towels and re-make the beds before another branch of the family arrived.  Again, I had an obligation I couldn’t back out of. I had promised a book club in another town that I would come and talk. I called and asked if I could bring my two guests along, and the hostess graciously said “Yes.”

There are all kinds of book clubs and I thought I knew how they worked, but this club was different. They each buy one book, and at their meeting they put the books on a table and the members choose one to read during the next month.

“Don’t you discuss them?” I asked.

“No, we never talk about the books,” was the answer.

Well, I talked about MY books and my road to publication, which is what they wanted to hear. My guests said they enjoyed it as they hadn’t realized how I got started writing or how many books I had written.

Which reminds me, one of the questions I was asked was about my schedule. I think they were disappointed when I said I didn’t have one. Anything, I said, from a load of laundry to a dirty floor, can keep me from writing. They were surprised that I had to make myself sit down and write. I keep vowing to write first, then do my chores, but like all good intentions I gradually slip back into old habits. This past week has shown me how far down I have slipped.

Another question was if I ever worked on more than one book at a time. I said yes, I’m currently revising one and re-writing the end of another. When I get tired of one project I switch to the other. It’s a race to see which gets finished first!

Am I going to get back on schedule now that my visitors have headed home? I hope so, but I do have plans for the rest of the month. One item on my list is to see the Georgia Dome get blown up on Nov. 20. We’ll have to get up early in the morning to see that, but who would miss a big explosion? Not me.

Maybe I can somehow work it into one of my books.

And if I get pictures I will share!

 

 

A day in the life

I’ve had my rear end planted firmly in my chair this past week, facing my computer. My fingers have been busy, my mind more so.

Yes, I’ve been writing. More than I have all summer. There are two incentives: one, yard work has slowed down and two, I have novels to finish.

I’d planned on revising a story I started a couple of years ago. My beta readers liked it, but I wasn’t satisfied. Nor could I get even a nibble from publishers. I decided I needed to twist the basic plot. I think it’s stronger, more believable, but I need some feedback before I publish. (For many reasons, I decided to self-publish this one.)

Second, I sent out a query for another book and got the response that if I made the last chapters stronger the editor was willing to take another look. This is a reversal of my first submissions where I was told the throw out the first chapters and start in the middle of the story (which was where it really began). So I’ve been working on that, too.

And,  my friends/fans have asked for a sequel to “Riverbend.” I have an idea in the back of my head, but that means writing two books, not one, to make the sequel(s) work. It looks like a busy winter.

And, it’s more than writing. If I self-publish, I need to create my own cover. I’ve been going through sites like Flickr Commons, Dreamstime, Free Range Stock, etc., to find a picture that matched the idea in my head. I found the perfect one, but it was copyrighted, and there was no contact information so I could ask the artist for permission, or to pay, to use it. Sigh. I will keep looking or I may have to find a commercial cover artist to do it, which is expensive. However, I’m told the cover makes the book, even though we are warned not to judge a book by its cover. The world is filled with conflicting advice.

Oh, and a title. That’s another hurdle, trying to think of a few words that instantly let the reader know what the book is about. I’ve been playing with that, too. Sometimes titles come instantly, ready to go, and sometimes, as with this book, it’s elusive and needs to be teased into being.

And so it goes. As any writer will tell you, it’s more than putting words on paper. I won’t even get into the submission process, editing, and promotion.

And meanwhile, I will need to rake leaves pretty soon. That’s all right, I do my best thinking while working on a physical task. There must be a relationship between muscle and brain. Exercise one and you stimulate the other.

So, right now I’m getting ready to attend a workshop on writing the short story. I don’t write short stories often, but I’m sure I”ll learn more about writing in general.

And that, my friends, is the writing life. Filled with ups and downs, rejections and offers of a contract, decisions, details, and all the other mundane activities that in no way decrease the joy of seeing your story come to life.

 

 

 

Lesson re-learned

When my first two non-fiction books were published, I was elated. A real publisher had accepted my submissions. It was a small, indie press, but to me it was a first step. Never mind that the company went out of business a few years later and I had to re-publish the books on my own. The experience was invaluable in that I realized I was no longer a wannabe, but a professional writer.

The second lesson I learned was during the editing process. Each book (Angels Unaware and The Lunch Club) elicited the same directive from the editor: Lose the first chapter.

It’s good advice. Many writers, including me, think that everything has to be explained in the first pages. We throw in too much back story, we put in too much detail about the characters and their lives, and we never get to the point of the story until chapter two. It’s not until then that the action begins to gain momentum.

I tried to follow that advice with my next books, published by a different small press. I started out with the problem and the story accelerated from there.

But I must have forgotten with my current work in progress. Like the tablecloth I mentioned in my last post, I kept starting and stopping, knowing something was wrong, but just not getting it. The first chapter limped along like a dog with a sand spur in his paw. Aggravating and painful.

Then one evening the answer came to me. The first chapter is boring because it doesn’t state the problem in the first page. It drones on until about mid-chapter, and then we discover the dilemma the protagonist faces. By then, most readers would have yawned and tossed the book aside.

Yep, I needed to lose that first chapter. So I highlighted and deleted the whole thing  and rewrote the second chapter (now first) so that the reader knows immediately what the heroine faces.

The lesson here is that we continue learning, but sometimes we forget what we learned. That’s why it’s so important to keep reading craft books and magazines, to attend workshops, and to work with a critique group.  I submitted that now-gone first chapter to a critique partner who said succinctly that she wasn’t sure if the protagonist was 13 or 30. I re-read it and realized in an effort to make the heroine young, I had essentially made her a teenager. More cuts and revisions.

But now that I’m aware of the red flags that I’d ignored in my blithe assumption that as a published author I knew what I was doing, I am eager to tackle the story again.

And I’m still eager to learn. On October 28, Joseph Bathanti will lead an intensive short story workshop in Wadesboro. I don’t write short stories very often, but I believe that what I  learn from a master writer can be applied to longer works.

If you live in the Charlotte area, check it out at Carolinas Writers Conference. Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

I finally completed a tablecloth I started embroidering 60 years ago. It is a stamped cross-stitch. Counted cross-stitch didn’t become a “thing” until much later.

I forget now why I bought the cloth and embroidery silk. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I wanted something for my “hope chest.” I do remember Mom buying it for me and I lugged it off to college. And forgot about it.

Then I graduated and got married. I dug it out and worked on it a little, but then the babies came and I put it up again.

It survived several moves. Every few years I’d “discover” it and add a few more stitches until something more interesting came up.

And so it went. Until I cleaned closets last Spring and found it again. I’d used some of the thread for other projects and almost threw it away. But then I searched online for thread and found the very same company I’d bought from all those decades ago and the colors still matched. So I ordered the skeins I needed. When I received my little package, I sat down and started embroidering. (And binge-watching “Ozark”.)

This week I tied off the last stitch.

 

Yes,  I hear you saying, “What has this to do with writing?”

The answer is: Perseverance.

Do you have a story you started years ago and stuck in the back of a desk drawer or in a box under your bed? Do you bring it out every once in awhile and decide it’s too much trouble, it will take too long to finish, you’ve run out of words? And put it back again?

Maybe it needs revision. (I had to pick out some areas and start again because I’d used the wrong color.) Maybe the pattern isn’t clear and you don’t know what it’s going to look like at the end. Maybe you’re just too busy living life to sit down and pick up the needle–I mean, pen.

But it nags at you and you can’t quite let it go. So you work on it for awhile and then you put it away.

And then one day you decide to just finish the d**n thing. And when you do…you’ve become a writer. You persevered.

Congratulations!

 

 

 

 

Feeling validated

Well, whoop-de-do! My latest book, “Riverbend,” got a 5-star review in the September issue of Ind’Tale magazine. Naturally, I want to exploit this in the nicest way possible, which is to say putting it on Facebook.

But Facebook reaches only so many people. I’m sure that you (if you are a serious author) are always seeking ways to promote your book because frankly, we are the only ones who will.

I wanted the world (or those who don’t subscribe to Ind’Tale, which is a great on-line magazine, by the way) or follow me on Facebook to see the good news. But how?

I have often wondered how authors get those glowing editorial reviews on their Amazon book pages. Did the magazines and newspapers submit them? Common sense told me the New York Times has better things to do.

So like all curious people the world over, I Googled my question. And duh, you can do it yourself. Go to Author Central, click on the book page you want the review to appear on, and lo, there is a form you can fill out.  Look on the left side where it says “editorial” and click on “add.” You have to do it for both Kindle and print editions.

I didn’t copy-past the entire review as it was too long, and the rules say if you are copying another’s words, you should limit it to two sentences. So I picked the most glowing.

If you are not on Author Central at Amazon, why on Earth are you not? It’s another tool in your kit. Maybe not everybody visiting your book page will click on your link, but those who do get to see every book you’ve written, links to your bio, blogs, videos, or anything else you want to add.

I promised long ago to share any insights I have into the writing game, and sadly to say, promotion is a big part of it. Some of us are not good at self-promotion as we think it is tantamount to the bragging or parents scolded us for. We need to get over that notion.

You wrote a book. Now get out there and sell it.

 

 

Family secrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s much easier to write fiction.

 

 

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