The good, the bad, and the … disappointing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Nothing new under the sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Disaster preparedness

I love Nature as much as anybody: sunsets, beaches, mountain vistas …

But lately, Nature has been a little too upclose and personal. Ask anyone from Texas. Or Mexico.

If I had to pick between a hurricane and an earthquake, I’d pick neither, thank you very much.

It looks as if we’re getting something, though. A full-fledged hurricane or maybe some strong wind and rain. Not sure of Irma’s path. At one time predicted to roll over us, now maybe to the west, but wait, that could change.

So I went to Walmart yesterday to fill my gas tank, and get a few staples just in case. I remember Hurricane Hugo and the ensuing week without power. At that time we had a generator and lots of propane goodies like a lantern and stove. I no longer have any of those because I didn’t know how to use them and since Jim isn’t here to do it (or show me) I got rid of them, congratulating myself on the storage space I was saving.

I wish he were here now, not necessarily to fire up a propane lantern, but to talk me out of my misgivings about this storm. He was always  calm, but methodical. He knew how to get ready for an emergency without scaring me to death.

So anyway, I got the car gassed up and started looking for a battery for my heavy-duty lantern-type flashlight. I went to just about every store I could think of and finally went to an auto parts store. The clerk there told me they used to carry lantern batteries (the big, square 6-V kind) but now everyone had gone to LED lights.

So I bought one. And two packs of AAA batteries to back up the ones that came with it.

I also bought lamp oil for the two antique oil lamps in the den. I fired one up and it still works, so it’ll be all right if the smoke doesn’t drive me out of the house.

Food? Breakfast bars, some tinned meat, another loaf of bread, a big jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers. I figure I can pop up some corn ahead of time and put it in a bag. Won’t be able to brew coffee, but I can make cold-brewed tea.

And of course, wine. And books. Which I will read by the light of the new LED lamp or kerosene lamp or my flashlight. Because how else do you pass the time with no TV?

Of course, I am figuring some days without power if the wind is strong enough. If it is stronger than knocking down a few trees and takes my roof with it, all of the above is moot.

Maybe none of this will happen, but I’d rather be prepared. In 1999, Jim prepared for Y2K by stocking up on all the aforementioned things that I just got rid of. No electronic meltdown happened as predicted, but we did get 16 inches of snow New Year’s Day, almost unheard of in the N.C. Piedmont. And the power was out for a week. So it all came in handy and he couldn’t wipe the smirk off his face for a month.

So wherever Irma heads, be careful out there. And be prepared.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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