In praise of beta readers

A few weeks ago, I put out a request for beta readers. I had “finished” my latest novel and needed some feedback. I explained that I had an editor working away on the manuscript and that I didn’t need them to search for typos or grammar errors. What I wanted them to concentrate on was readability, flow, world building, dialogue, and character development.

I put the word “finished” in quotes above because when I got the results, I discovered I was far from done.

One reader pointed out a comment  made by a main character and said it was uncharacteristically cruel. My thought was that we all say things in anger or fear that are uncharacteristic, but her feeling was that the comment showed a meanness in him that had come to the fore.

I deleted it.

Another reader questioned words or phrases they didn’t understand. I felt the words reflected the period (early 19th century). This reader does not normally read regency or historical novels, but I decided those who did would recognize the words. I let them stay.

However, this same reader caught a grave mistake on my part. I had totally overestimated what a horse cost in 1820. When he asked if the price was realistic, I did some fact checking and saw that where I had priced the horse at a thousand dollars, the actual cost for a horse with impeccable bloodlines was about two hundred dollars. An average horse went for about twenty-five dollars. I priced “my” horse at a hundred and had another character exclaim it was surely too much! So thanks to that reader for bringing this to my attention.

Still another pointed out that I had one poor woman pregnant for almost a year. A farmer, he said the gestation period seemed long to him. I agreed, and changed the dates.

Some beta readers responded with only a few spot-on comments; others made detailed comments in red ink that took me back to my school days.

I have yet to hear from a few who are either busy, slow readers, or are making line-by-line edits. But I do have enough feedback to prove to me that beta readers are necessary to any author. They know the characters and swiftly react when something seems wrong. They check facts. They question timelines. All things that the writer, caught up in the story, may miss.

This is entirely different from editing. I expect to hear from my editor soon and will go through another round of corrections. These will be the details that trip us all up.

After that, formatting and back cover blurb. I had hoped for a March release date, but that isn’t going to happen. Still, I had rather my novel be as good as it can be before putting it before the public.

Beta readers help me do this.

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

When yours is the book under discussion

I belong to two book clubs. They are polar opposites.

One is serious about discussion and books are chosen by recommendation — that is, if someone has read a book and think it worthy of discussion, it goes on the list. Not all of us like every book. I have struggled through some, and been blown away by others. It’s a way of getting us out of our comfort zone to consider genres we might not read otherwise. This group meets at different homes for a pot-luck lunch and  little wine may occasionally be served.

All right, wine is always served. And, we can get a little bawdy. We laugh a lot. Sometimes if a member is going through a hard time, we call an emergency meeting and offer sympathy, tea, and hugs.

The other is African-American and accepted me as a member after inviting me to talk about one of my books. This group is spiritually-based and even if we don’t get around to talking about the assigned book, I come home feeling uplifted and at peace. They share amazing stories themselves — we don’t need a book to get the conversation started! We meet for breakfast at a restaurant and while people may stare and wonder what this disparate group of women is doing at that back table, it doesn’t stop us from laughing and interrupting each other, everyone as eager to be heard as to listen.

This week, the latter group decided to read my latest novel, “Morven.” I was a little apprehensive, since it is set in the South on a large plantation. I wrote about slavery and its evils, and how the protagonist’s life is changed when she sees a slave being abused. How would these women, descendants of slaves, see this book? Was I being presumptuous?

They discussed the first few chapters, and I was amazed at their insight. They saw things in the characters that I hadn’t seen. They searched for motivation. Was the main character really guilty of murder by failure to act? The question became: What would you have done? Then they began to defend their positions.

As I listened, I realized how powerful a story can be. I explained why I wrote a certain passage, admitted I wish I had not written some things, and explained things that I perhaps had not made clear in the narrative.

I did not feel that I was on trial. Loving friends can point out flaws without making you weep with shame. It’s called constructive criticism.

Although they had nothing but praise for “Morven,” because of them, my next book will be better because I will keep their comments in mind.

Two groups, different as night and day, but alike in their love of books.

And their love for each other.

 

 

I

 

 

Pratfalls and pitfalls

For the past two Friday mornings, I have joined a group of like-minded crafters in a local coffee shop to work on pine needle baskets. I had the idea of extending my skill by adding beads to my basket. I thought I had it all figured out.

When I finished the round, I discovered that my beads were on in inside of the basket, not the outside where they belonged.

My companions assured me that they thought it looked fine. I did not agree.

When I got home, I ripped out three rounds of weaving. This was not easy, as I had to pick out every loop. The whole, knotty business reminded me of the Gordian Knot. I wished I could just cut all the threads, but I was just mad enough and determined enough that I sought to save the thread and pine needles and re-use them. (That’s a Great Depression lesson learned at my mother’s knee.)

I then re-did the whole thing. This time the pesky beads stayed where I meant them to stay.

Gordian Knot

Why I’m telling you this is because I ran across the same thing in my story. For reasons I can’t (or won’t) disclose, one of my characters has to have her baby due in July. I counted on my fingers, the time-honored way to check the length of a pregnancy, and discovered that she would in fact be due sometime in March. That wouldn’t work.

I back-tracked and moved the scene where she announces her pregnancy further long in the book. This had the domino effect of making every previous and subsequent scene out of kilter.

I was so upset when I discovered this that I quit and spent way too much time tracking long-dead relatives on ancestry.com.

So now I have to cut each scene, place it in a separate file, and then replace it in the correct order in my timeline.

Even the thought makes my head ache. But it has to be done before I can move forward.

Sorta like my basket. I could ignore the mistake, continue on, and make an even worse muddle, or grit my teeth and do the unraveling called for.

This is what it’s like to be a writer. No one in their right mind would choose such a frustrating career. Frankly, it chooses them.

On the other hand, you don’t see a lot of people deciding to make baskets of pine needles and raffia, either.

 

 

A little rant and some advice

This is a world in which one has to be very aware and, need I say, suspicious of everything. You can’t believe half of what you hear, and even reliable sources can be wrong.

People  make a living from scamming others, preying on the most vulnerable. I watch the evening news in amazement as people recount how they willingly gave hundreds of dollars to strangers who tricked them over the telephone.

Today I have had (so far) four calls from “Apple” telling me there has been suspicious activity on my iCloud account.

I don’t have an iCloud account.

I think I am canny, but some day I suppose I will fall for a line. The caller would have to be a living human being, however. I don’t react well to mechanical, monotone voices telling me the IRS is out to get me. Or that my Microsoft account is 1) past due or 2) owes me a refund. (Refund for what?)

The thing is, I am very wary about handing over money. It goes fast enough paying bills I am sure about, and I’m not about to pay for something I’m not 100 percent positive I actually owe.

Several years ago, I almost fell for a call from my “grandson” saying he needed money because he and some friends had been arrested in Canada for possession of marijuana. The voice sound just like him. The tip off was that he called me “Grandma” which he never has. The grandkids have another name for me. And, after I got over my shock, I realized there was no way on Earth his parents would have let him go to Canada with friends no matter how much he pleaded.

So I know how easy it is to be scammed when it comes to family. We all have our weak points, and these people know how to reach them.

Even writers get fooled. I got a very nice comment on this blog. I was flattered and decided to reply and thank the person. Thank goodness I had some errands to run, so put it off until later. When I returned and clicked on the email, there was a huge red banner across it , telling me that this was a dangerous email and not to click on any links. I deleted it immediately, feeling a little sad that I didn’t have an adoring fan after all. Yep, flattery will get you in a whole lot of hot water.

We are aware of the most popular scams, and most of us know enough not to give out personal information, i.e. bank account or credit account numbers, over the phone unless we initiated the call. But every week, it seems, we hear of a new, clever scam. And every week, some poor man or woman loses their life savings.

So be careful out there. Remember, you can’t win a lottery if you never bought a ticket. That money dangled before you by an unknown caller is just a lure to relieve you of your savings.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Cringe-worthy confession

I started this blog as a way to share my writing journey and hopefully help my readers avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made.  You know what they are: genre-hopping, revising a story so much I killed it …

Alas, the list goes on.

But one mistake I made very early on is one I seldom talk about because it makes me want to hide my head in shame. I should have known better, and yet hope makes fools of us all.

I had written a story I thought was very good. (It wasn’t, trust me.) I didn’t seek beta readers, I didn’t seek an editor. I was arrogant and thought I knew it all. Hadn’t I read every book on writing that Writer’s Digest had to offer?

I sent out a query and was thrilled when the phone rang and I had an offer of representation. The woman on the line had a cultured British accent and she seemed thrilled with my book.

Now, I thought I was no fool. Earlier on, another publisher acted thrilled with my submission, but when he quoted some lines from the book, praising them highly, I grew suspicious. I knew those weren’t the best lines and that he’d selected them randomly, which I took to mean he hadn’t even read the manuscript. I laughed and passed on the offer.

But this seemed legitimate. For a certain some of money, her company would send my story to X number of publishers. She almost guaranteed acceptance. She sent a contract which I took to an attorney to look over.

He said it looked good.

So I sent the money. It was a lot at that time, but I talked it over with my  husband and he agreed I should make the investment.

A month or so later, she called again. No one had responded but she had a new list of contacts and for an additional sum …

I asked which publishers she had sent the manuscript to. She said she couldn’t reveal that.

I thought long and hard and declined to pursue submissions with her company. Later, I came to the conclusion that she had never sent anything at all, anywhere, any time.

Lesson learned. Don’t be over eager. I makes you ripe for scams like this, and believe me, they are out there.

First, even thought the contract looked good, it never guaranteed a publisher.

Second, never ever send money to an agent. Ever. If they ask for even a modest fee, they are not your friend. Your book should stand on its own. It should be so good that they are thrilled to represent you because that means they will make money from the book and not from you.

Lots of italics, but I can’t emphasis it enough.

I am wiser now. I still make mistakes, but my hope is that I never make the same one twice.

I hope none of you make this one.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheers! As I Pour A New Mimosa

Where have I been? MIA…

IMG_5058

Coffee sunrise Wilmington

In January, of this year, 2018, I was optimistic about the future, our future and my future –more so than I’d been in decades. I’d spent 2017 wrapping up loose ends. I’d finished healing from health issues, ready to move forward and get back on track. I’d finished 18 months of therapy for c-PTSD. Learned it was a ghost that would be with me forever; but, I’d acquired the tools to deal with my triggers. I eagerly anticipated the hard work and path I’d chosen!

I suppose, like many women, in America now, I could (but won’t) thank 45 for being the biggest trigger, since my childhood and forcing me to face my past. My WIP’s first draft was finally done, after a complete A-Z rewrite. I had a plan for the edits, which I set a deadline of September 2018. I had my house cleaned, my office organized and I felt an effervescence in my soul. In Wver the holidays, I’d mended bridges with my in-laws and poured my soul out to my poor Father-in-law after two large glasses of wine. (Yes, I am a light-weight) We even willingly hugged farewell as they headed back north. More

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enter Title Here

I’ve been involved in a round-robin of editing. I’m editing a friend’s new book and another friend is editing my latest endeavor. If she ever writes a book and asks friend #1 to edit it, we will come full circle.

I feel it important to ask another pair of eyes to look over any manuscript. My years as a newspaper reporter and editor taught me that our own mistakes often go unnoticed because we “see” what ought to be there.  The friend I mentioned is good at catching misspellings and typos. I am going to ask another friend to read for clarity, flow, plot holes, etc.

And of course, I ran spellcheck and took its advice 90% of the time. It has no sense of humor and doesn’t catch dialect.

Meanwhile … oh, meanwhile. I was asked for a full back in June and have been checking every day for the verdict. And, I am still sending another work out and getting really nice rejections, even a suggestion of another publisher that might take a look. I don’t want to give up hope, so I keep sending it out. I got to thinking lately that the title might be part of the problem (although I have heard editors reserve the right to change a title, I never have had one to do that).

Anyway, on reflection, it doesn’t really say what the story is about. So I brainstormed and came up with about ten alternate titles.

Here’s where I need your help.

The blurb:

Marcie Wicker is the only person, including the police, who doesn’t believe her husband, Stan, is sunning himself on a tropical beach somewhere after withdrawing every cent from their joint savings account. She refuses her father’s advice to seek a divorce and her mother’s advice to move on, and grieves that her college-age twins are letting their anger sully the memory of their father.

With the arrival of the new pastor, Adam Shepherd, Marcie realizes that she is ready to love again, but as neither wife nor widow, she is torn between accepting that Stan left her or stubbornly clinging to her belief that he has come to harm. Adam, a divorcee,  is struggling with regaining the confidence of his rebellious 13-year-old daughter and wonders if he is ready for another relationship.

When the truth is finally revealed, families are not only turned upside down, but also are made stronger.

The working title is “Wherever You May Be.”

Her are my alternates:

Missing, Presumed Alive

When He said Goodbye

When He Disappeared

Without a Word

Looking for Answers

Holding On/ Letting Go

Maybe Today

Gut Instinct

A Wife’s Heart

No One is Listening

The Stubborn Wife

Okay, no none of the above are stellar. Any suggestions?

I’d love your input! And if I choose your title, I will give your name to one of the characters in the 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.

 

 

 

Drastic surgery

Once upon a time, I wrote a long, rambling book that I was so in love with that I couldn’t see its flaws.

Its many, fatal flaws.

I revised it several times, but I still couldn’t get anyone interested. At 180,000 words, I now know why. I love, big books. I’ve actually read “War and Peace.” Ken Follett is one of my favorite authors and I just finished “The Punishment She Deserves” by Elizabeth George which  is 690 pages long.

But Follett and George have something I did not: a established following. By that I mean readers who will follow them anywhere, even if it means reading a book that could double as a doorstop.

More to the point, most readers prefer something shorter and editors strive to give them what they want

Back to my book. It concerned two girls, Damaris and Morven, whose lives intertwine although they take different paths. It was a story of friendship and loyalty and a lot of other lovely things. I had to put aside my fondness for the story and do as doctors do when presented with conjoined twins and decide how best to separate them.

I carefully cut and pasted and managed to get Damaris’ story free of all entanglements. The result was “Riverbend,” which came out in May 2017.

Now I’m working on Morven’s story. Like Damaris, she’s a young girl alone in the world. Unlike Damaris, she doesn’t marry the first man to offer and suffer the consequences. Instead, she manages to build a family for herself and only then find true love and her HEA.

It’s a little trickier. I’m cutting entire chapters and eliminating any distracting side plots that don’t move the story along.

 I wrote this book almost 20 years ago, so as I read I am both amused and appalled by my naivety.

But I’ve learned along the way. I can (hopefully) correct my earlier mistakes. And, by letting it “sit” for awhile, I can be a little ruthless and throw away those passages I loved then but question now.

Writing isn’t always just sitting down and putting words on a page, although that seems to work for some authors. For me, it’s revision and cutting and revision and rewriting, and then revising again. Maybe that’s why I don’t publish a book every three months or even every year.

But like the tortoise, I somehow manage to get to the finish line.

 

 

Book fairs — are they worth it?

First, thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for “Riverbend” in the InD’Tale contest. Today is the last day to vote, just sayin’.

But it is time to move on. As I’ve said before, writing isn’t just about putting words on paper–or in Word file nowadays, although I do know some authors who still write with a pen and legal pad. If I did that, I would never be able to decipher my handwriting!

Me at a book fair. I believe the book I was selling then was “The Lunch Club.”

So coming up is a two-day book fair at a local library. Now here is where a writer has to make tough decisions. I’ve attended some book fairs and did very well. I’ve attended others and sold zero to one book. The trouble is, you never can tell. Do people come to browse and enjoy the free coffee or do they come with intent to buy? And how do you entice them to buy? I’ve offered free candy, book marks, half-price deals, pens, and other freebies. In my experience, people with gladly accept anything free and then walk away without making a purchase. Or they will buy more than one book.

So now I have to make an order from Amazon so I will have books to sell. How many? As Hamlet famously said, “That is the question.”

I guess I just have to go by instinct. No one wants to live with a garage filled with unsold books, but on the other hand, you don’t want to tell a prospective customer that you are out of the book she wants to buy.

Putting money matters aside, book fairs are a great way to meet people. Even if they don’t buy that day, if you’ve made a good impression — a connection — they may well buy your book while they next go  online to choose something to read. And, you get to meet fellow authors and exchange tips and advice.  And make connections.

So in my mind, that is almost as important as selling books. If I break even in expenses, I’m happy.

 

 

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.

 

If not now, when?

Do you read about authors who write for eight to twelve hours straight or until they produce  certain number of pages or word count, and decide that if that is what it takes, you will never accomplish your goal of writing a book because you can’t carve out that block of time in your day?

Just remember that these people are the ones who made it to the goal of being a full-time writer. It is their profession, so spending eight hours or more working on their next book is not so unreasonable.

Jack is wondering why you haven’t worked on your manuscript lately.

But for each member of this elite group, there are hundreds more who haven’t yet attained that elusive goal. They don’t have the luxury of an eight-hour block of time with no interruptions. They are raising children, holding down full-time jobs, enjoying hobbies such as painting landscapes, sky diving, or Tai Chi. They are active in their church, synagogue, or mosque. They take time to participate in community events. Yet they still manage to publish their books.

I’m not saying full-time authors don’t also do all of these things ( except the full-time job, because writing is their full-time job) that give them inspiration and satisfaction. After hours of doing research that may yield one paragraph in their story, they also need to take a break and … bake cookies. Time out refreshes the brain, body, and soul.

My point is, most of these full-time writers started out like the hundreds of aspiring writers who look up to them and envy their position. They, too, just managed to fit writing into all their daily tasks and obligations. Maybe it was after the kids were asleep. They bypassed Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and went directly to their writing spot, be it a well-equipped office or a corner of the kitchen. Maybe they got up an hour early in the morning, before they went to work. They didn’t whine that they couldn’t find the time. They found the time. And it paid off.

And, perhaps surprisingly, many big-name writers also hold down jobs in universities, or hospitals, or other professions along with their writing career. Have you ever noticed how many doctors have written books? Where on Earth do they find the time?

And if they can, why can’t you?

So don’t tell me  you haven’t time to write that masterpiece you’ve been daydreaming about for years.  I know I’ve written on this theme before, but it’s worth saying again. To borrow a phrase, Just Do It!

And if you still can’t get started, join a writing group near you or join one on line. Being around other writers can give you the push you need to begin.

After all, if the assignment is to bring in three pages of your manuscript, what better incentive is there to write them? No one wants to be the only kid in class who didn’t do their homework. Especially if that kid is you.

Those three pages can lead to 300 pages, and then to publication if you are determined enough to follow through with the query letters, revisions, and all the rest.

Not everyone who writes a book will be discovered and land on the NY Times best-seller list. You may never achieve that enviable position of being a full-time writer because publishers are demanding more books from you. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing you achieved your dream of being an author.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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