Thursday, December 8, 2011

History and Family Records

A few years after my grandmother passed away and my grandfather decided to move in with my aunt and uncle, I was given a large box containing Grandma's belongings.  In the box were several binders and papers in loose folders containing her writing. Grandma loved to write.  

Grandma was a woman strong in what she believed, grounded in her Christian faith, and never afraid to speak up when she thought someone was doing something to hurt themselves.  One of the things I loved most about her was her love of life and her ability to make delicious lemonade out of the rotten lemons that life sometimes delivered. 

This week while on vacation, I have had the opportunity to archive Grandma’s writings, all 500 or so pages.  One volume contains her typewritten memoirs about growing up in the twenties and thirties.  Her biological father died when she was eleven months old, leaving her mother to try and raise Grandma and her siblings on her own.  In Memories of Past Times, my Grandmother wrote:   

My father built the house we lived in, which sat near the river in Georgetown, Illinois.  He was a carpenter and also worked on the railroad repairing tracks.  He made all the furniture in the home.  Each piece was done with tender loving care and finished just right, as it was a gift to his family.  He also made the cradles we slept in as babies.

When my father passed away, my mother lost the house my father had built because of back taxes, and had to go to work in a second hand store to provide food, clothing and shelter for her family. 

In addition to pages of her memories, my grandmother left behind two wonderful treasures.  The first is an undated handwritten letter titled To all our Grandchildren.  Even though I had perused these same writings when I was first given her writings, this was the first time I actually saw this soul-revealing letter.  She talked about the difficulty of her own life and her spiritual journey and then provided her own advice to living a good life. I transcribed this letter and today sent it to all my cousins. 

The second treasure has to do with a story my grandmother told her children while they were growing up.  From what I understand, it was a serial story that she spread over several nights, maybe even months.  My aunts all loved to listen to Grandma's adventure and were disappointed that she never wrote it down.  Well, just yesterday I found a faded handwritten copy of Leilani in the Jungle. It is difficult to read but I think I can transcribe it for future generations.

When I was asked to be the family historian, I was not sure how to organize our family history.  Now, I have created a small library containing stories, poetry, and Grandma’s genealogical research, as well as other things that were special to her.  I hope that my family will find as much joy from reading her memoirs as I do.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fall and Writing

Today was beautiful with dark skies and intermittent rain.  Wind sent the wind chimes hanging from my eaves into a musical dance.  My therapy today was sweeping the yellowed maple leaves from my deck and carport.  As soon as I had the driveway cleared, a gust of wind came along and sprinkled more leaves on the concrete.  Such is life with so many things out of my control.

I have been working with diligence on my query letter for my novel The Man and the Mandolin, but I have been having great trouble getting it down to the bread on top, the bread on the bottom, and then all the story-meat in the middle.  I have posted numerous versions of my query letter at the Absolute Write forums.  Their feedback has been helpful and informative. 

Right now, I am fine-tooth reviewing my manuscript to make sure it is as error free as I can get it. One fellow member of Absolute Write suggested I write out lists of (1) ten places where the reader might not be able to put my book down, (2) ten places where my protagonist’s mind is messed with (because I have deemed my novel’s genre as psychological thriller), (3) ten problems my protagonist has to overcome, (4) ten problems and why they are obstacles, and (5) what the protagonist must do to solve the problems.  Once I have these lists, I choose the strongest ones and build my query.  I will also have all the main points in which to construct my synopsis.

I have also been working on my other work in progress, which is a paranormal mystery.   I have written about 20,000 words, which means it is about one-quarter completed.  My goal is to write this as an 80,000 word novel.  

My fiftieth birthday was yesterday, which I celebrated with the man I love.  It’s amazing that I have reached a half-century of life.  I as if I have acquired some kind of wisdom from being on this earth so long, yet I feel as young as I have always felt.  I am not willing to put up with stuff that I tolerate when I was younger. Maybe these are all lessons about growing up.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  This will be one of the first Thanksgivings I have not spent with my aunts and uncle and at least once grandparent since the passing of my grandfather in April.  I miss him every single day.  I also understand the need of my family to do something different on Thanksgiving.  Change is inevitable. 

My goals for this fall are to write as much as I can and to get that query letter out the door to more agents.  I want to complete my synopsis.  I want to be completely prepared in case for when agents request my synopsis and full manuscript. 

In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I will try and not go so long between blog entries.  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Writing World

When you sit down to write, what is the place you write from?  I don’t mean the physical place, such as the office, coffee shop, or library, but the place within yourself.  Do you write from your external world living in your mind, or from that secret garden in your soul where nobody else has been?  Or, maybe you even write from the in-between with one foot in your head and the other in your heart. 

For me, writing from the external world means I look for my subject matter in magazines, newspaper articles, and the life experiences of other people.  It means research, learning new things, and creating stories from experiences that I have never been through. 

When writing from that secret garden, I go deep within myself for the almost forgotten memory or a universal feeling to create a story.  This is not the same as a memoir, which is writing about the truth as you remember it during a certain time period.  It means taking a fact, such as a childhood experience or something that happened yesterday, and creating a story around that one thing.  It means remembering that feeling of abandonment, which we have all felt at some time in our life, and using it as a story theme.  

The in-between is where I write from both worlds.  For example, I read an article about someone who has been kidnapped only to live and tell the story.  This inspires me to write a novel about a woman who has been kidnapped by a stranger and must fight to survive in order to reunite with her children.  While I have not been kidnapped, I do know that universal feeling of fear and the need to survive. 

What do these worlds look like to you?  Which one(s) do you write from? 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Finding Time to Write

I work 37.5 hours in a law office where my brain often spins into the vast outer space of the legal world.  I run and weight train four times a week, spend quality time with those I love, give lots of attention to my cats who think they own me, and just live life in general.  With my love of writing added into my busy schedule, I am a busy girl!

With all that I do, it is often challenging to find time to write.  At the writers’ forums I frequent, I understand many writers who do not write for a living also have to carefully maneuver their time with the pen and paper (or computer).  It is not easy to find the extra time, but it is essential if you want to finish anything.

For awhile, I was working on two novels:  revisions on one, the other a work in progress.  I divided my time equally between the two in hopes of finishing revisions first, and then going full force on novel two.  This did not work well for me. 

Now, I have decided to finish the revisions on novel one so that I can start sending out query letters again.  Once the revised work has been edited and is ready for submission, I will start sending out query letters again.  During the “novel one in drawer process,” which comes before hard editing, as well as during the query process, I will continue writing on my second novel.

Oh yes, I have not told you how I find time to write.  I allot at least an hour during the weekdays and anywhere from one to four hours on weekends.  I try to write something every single day (email, responses at writers forums, and Facebook postings do not count, but my blog does).  I have made creative writing my priority during my off-work hours.

If you want to publish, you must make time to write.  You must stick to a certain schedule, and perhaps even create guidelines and deadlines for yourself.  Finally, pay attention to rules Robert A. Heinlein created

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Meanwhile, when you have a break in your writing schedule, read what Mark Twain has to say on writing.  

Now, I would love to hear how other busy people make time to write or, if you make a living, what your writing time is like for you. 

Happy writing!




Thursday, May 12, 2011

Stuff and Editing

These last several weeks have been difficult.  My grandfather became very ill and passed away. Grandpa lived one month and four days past his 95th birthday.  On March 26, we gave him a bang-out birthday party where family and friends came from far and wide to celebrate.  Grandpa died exactly one month later.  I felt blessed to have lived close enough to visit him once a month.  He was one of my dearest friends, and I miss him very much.

When tending to personal matters, something usually is put on the back burner.  In my case, I was not able to keep up with my blog.  However, I am back now and thinking about the many aspects of writing.  Some of the writer’s forums I frequent have long and heated discussions on editing and the pros and cons of hiring professional editors prior to publication.

Some writers say you must always send your manuscript to a professional editor before submitting to an agent or publisher.  Others say you must forget about professional assistance and learn how to edit your own work.  In these discussions, I have seen more members teeter on either side of the fence than tread the gray area in between. I, of course, have my own opinion.

Freelance editors are expensive, charging anywhere from $300 to $1,500 or more to edit a manuscript.  In the editing business, experience, expertise, and success rate cost even more.  We all want our manuscripts to be in pristine condition before we start the submission process.  I don’t know many writers who have the money to spend on freelance editing.  Besides, the cardinal rule in writing is that money flows to the writer, not away.

Editors are invaluable.  When an agent chooses to work for you, then somewhere in that process is an editor.  It is part of the package of landing an agent, or at least having one interested in your work.  However, I believe there is one situation where retaining a freelance editor prior to publication can work for a writer. 

For example, if you want hands-on assistance to learn how to edit properly, a freelance editor might be the right professional for you.  If you utilize this experience properly and pay someone who has a good track record with editing, then your money has been spent well.  Once you know how to edit, whether you learned it from a freelance editor or a book such as Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, you have skills necessary for a writer. 

Please do not hire a freelance editor if you just want someone to edit your work.  You are wasting your money.  Think of it this way.  Say you hire someone to do this work for you, and then you submit it to agents and publishers,  Said agent or publisher asks for changes, but you don't know how to properly edit, because you had the freelance editor do it for you.  Face it, you are stuck. If you don’t understand the principles of successful editing, how can you make a decision on which changes to make and which to leave alone? 

As mentioned earlier Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Brown and Dave King is an excellent resource.  I also like Strunk and White and good old fashioned books on grammar.   
Get to work on that editing now and.....

Happy writing!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Query Halt


Screech!

I have halted the query process based on feedback from my beta reader and a critique group colleague.  While I feel secure that my typos and spelling errors have been cleaned up, I have learned that I have problems with characterization. 

My beta reader told me she would love to hang out with my main character but cannot connect with him.  “Can you give him something outside of work to do?” She asked.  “Maybe make him a dog lover or something?”

My critique colleague said my main character did not seem to have much depth, that things seemed a little too easy for him. 

When I put this feedback side-by-side with what two prior agents said in wonderful rejection letters, I instantly knew I had written a cardboard character.  I had the choice to either trunk the novel or do a rewrite.

I chose to fatten up my paper-doll, because I am a firm believer in finishing what I start.  Therefore, I have stopped the query process while I rewrite to give my main character more substance and depth. 

I am also working on a second novel, which my critique group seems to like.  I have never worked on two large projects at the same time.  I am learning how to prioritize my time so I do not get behind on one or the other.  Believe me, working on two novels can be challenging. 

This is it for now.  Happy writing!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Query Rounds Again (Lessons Learned)


I have learned some hard lessons over these last few months.

Number one is that it often takes several editing sessions for a novel to be polished. Late last year, I printed my novel out, edited it by hand and made changes to my Word document, and then conducted a spell and grammar check. I sent out my polished query, received request for two partials, and rejections on the rest. I made sure my partials were squeaky clean.

Number two lesson is that if your novel is still going through the critique process, even if on the last few chapters, it is not ready for submission to agents. How do I know this? Because, as my group talked about the last few chapters of my novel, they all said the climax was not strong enough. My character had to be more involved in the outcome. I had sent out queries for my novel, thinking my work was fine. It as not, which took me back to the drawing board.

I reworked the last three chapters and added to the first chapter. Once additions were completed, I once again printed out the manuscripts for a hard edit. I made the changes on my Word documents, and then thought I was done. After this, I sent out four more queries. Imagine my horror when I noticed a paragraph on page five that I had hard-edited but somehow missed making changes to in my Word version! Luckily, only one query went out this way before I caught the errors.

Lesson number three is that too much editing can kill voice, but not enough can kill your chances of publication. I am sure agents do not expect perfection, but they have a right to see something professional and polished. After all, they work on commission only and do not make any money until my book is sold. They must choose their projects carefully.

For my own edification, here is a recap of these important lessons: 

  • It usually takes more than one editing session to create a polished manuscript.
  • Your novel is not ready if you are still going through the editing or critique process (or if it is still out to beta readers).
  • Too much editing can kill a manuscript, but not enough can kill your chances of publication.  

Now that my novel has been edited, there will be no more changes unless under editorial direction (once an agent asks for changes). I have received one rejection from the four queries I recently sent out.  I have three more responses to receive. Soon, I will send out another round.

In the writing business, patience is a virtue. Thorough editing is a must.  

I have a writing acquaintance who says to submit to agents until there are no more agents left, and then submit to publishers. I am ready and willing to continue traveling this road toward publication.

Two websites which have been invaluable in my writing process are Writers Digest Forums and Absolute Write Water Cooler. For anyone who has never been to either website, you are missing interaction with those who have successfully published and are willing to share their experience. Information in the writing business is knowledge, and knowledge is power (to coin a cliché). We can always learn from those who have traveled the publishing path before us.

Happy writing to all!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Night to Remember

To properly welcome 2011, I have decided on a different blog entry.  My next entry will be back on track with news about my queries and writing experience.  

Don and I had an adventuresome New Years weekend filled with many surprises.  It all started around 8:00 p.m. on New Years Eve. When we left around 8:00 p.m. to go a party, a light snow was falling.  When we started home after midnight, the snow had become heavier.  The drive from the party to his house is normally around twenty minutes.  This night, due to the heavy snow and unplowed roads, we traveled at a snail’s pace.  Even in his four-wheel drive, we started to slide every now and then.  A small car on the other side of the road was half over the side of an embankment.  A truck behind us skid sideways.  Despite our nervousness, we got home safely.  

On Saturday, we were scheduled to attend a New Year's breakfast with our pals in a neighboring town.  However, when we got up, it was still snowing.  The mountains behind his house and the roads below were blankets of pure white.  We all stayed inside (except Don drove the 2 miles to the store to get some necessities) and watched the snow continue throughout the day.



On Saturday night when we turned in, the snow had become intermittent.  In the wee hours of the morning, I heard strange animal sounds close to the house, which I cannot even begin to describe.  Around the same time I heard the sounds, Don got out of bed and started getting dressed.  He was going to check and, if necessary, replace a small propane tank because the house was cold.  That was around six a.m.  I talked him into waiting until daylight.

Don’s housemate, Paul, works the graveyard shift and returns around seven in the morning.  On July 2, Paul said he needed to show us something weird.  His private entrance into his room is sliding glass door which leads to a back deck.  The deck had a lot of snow with animal tracks embedded.  We thought they might have been Great Dane tracks from the dog up the street, but he's kept in at night and does not roam.  Since Don's house is in the country, we also wondered if they were mountain lion or coyote tracks.

This morning, we attended our New Year’s breakfast.  The host is an avid hunter.  One other person at the party lives in the boondocks and has come across many wild animals.  After looking at photos of normal range and close up photos of the tracks, they concurred that the tracks most likely came from a bear.





Meanwhile, I've started working on a new novel as I prepare to send out more query letters.  Happy Writing to all!

P.S.: the latest consensus is possible wolf tracks rather than bear tracks.  This makes me feel a little safer!

To Go Oxford....or Not

Do you use the Oxford comma or do you omit it? Some grammar sages say to either keep it or omit it, unless omitting the Oxford comma will...