Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Seriously Dry Spell

Okay, so I haven't written in weeks. I know. I'm the one who keeps saying, "Write. Write. Write." But nowdays, I can't. I want to, but nothing I write makes it past that lovely, little key called 'delete'.

I've written rougly 5000 words within the last two weeks, all of which are now floating somewhere in the digital cosmos of the forgotten and deleted. Nothing works for me. No short story. No poem, and certainly, no novel. :( Woe is me, to coin a phrase.

I am now seeking encouragement. I need a writer's-soul hug, a kind word, or maybe an agent. Anyone listening?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Working, Working, Thinking, Thinking

All right. So, I said I had two books. Everyone said I had two books in the one manuscript. As I write, I'm not so sure. I've made a fateful decision, one of those make or break kind of decisions.

I can't figure out how to break the book in two. I know where it should break...I think, but I can't figure out how to do it and make each book distinctly its own country. Know what I mean? Sooo...I decided to write one long book, a hellishly long book. When I get the flow right, make everything move quickly and effortlessly, finish the book with every section driving toward the next, then I'll think about the break. Good idea? You tell me.

Gone with the Wind, Silence of the Lambs, The Client, The Firm, Hawaii...they were all long books...really long books. Well, maybe Silence of the Lambs wasn't that long, but it wasn't short. There's Tolkien. He wrote long books. In fact, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was written as one long book. Tolkien's publishers decided it was three books, not Tolkien, himself. Tolkien wrote it all in one continuous volumn. I'm certainly no Tolkien, but...I've got one long continuous volumn. See what I mean?

I really don't know what else to do, but I'm certainly up for suggestions. I've toiled these past weeks. I need help. Any (and I mean ANY) idea is welcome, barring wrapping the manuscript around a stick of dynamite. I can't help feeling that this one...this troublesome THE one, the one that might prick the conscience of the agent! HELP!

Monday, August 24, 2009


Okay. So, book number two has suffered through the beta read. Verdict? I've got twins! Not babies (God forbid. Having twins must be an absolute nightmare requiring far more organizational skills than I have!) No, not babies....books. It seems the mega project is really two books. It's either make it into a series of two or try to peddle a 200,000 word novel. Maybe...if I were John Grisham, but not as an unpublished novelist seeking representation for her first book.

Oh, well. (she sighs) This is good and bad. Good news first! (I always choose the good news first :D!) The good news is that most of both books is written. Book one? Starts when the heroine is around twelve and takes her through to adulthood and slightly beyond. With the division, I can flesh out characters that need fleshing and add chapters that need adding. The second half, or rather, the second book needs a little more work. I suppose the epic was getting a little long, and subconsciously, I rushed, barreled toward the end and left out a lot that needed to be said. I'm not thrilled that the betas didn't love it completely, but I am grateful for guidance. I tend to turn on the ignition before I check the road map. Know what I mean?

Bad news? Trying to exercise patience, not one of my primary character components. The new timeline for submission is longer, but I can prove my worth as a writer by having two books ready and a third in the wings should a might-be-my agent wonders if this old girl can write another novel. "Sure," I'll say. "I've got the sequel and another piece itching to get out of that trunk."

Well, back to the drawing board or "keyboard" in this case. I'm at it again fellow writers. With a vengeance!

See you when I've got two books in the can.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Back in the Saddle?

I'm having a rare night at home. Relatives are staying with Mother and I'm joyously sitting in my big green chair and (glory of glories) writing. Of course, I should be finishing up the grading of the 1200 writing assessments, but time at home is so unusual, well, you know.

I once asked the question, "Are you a writer if no one reads your work?" Tonight I had an epiphany. The answer is a resounding, "Yes." My great moment came when I felt the need to rush to my keyboard and pound out a few words. I am a writer, whether a good one or a bad one. I need to spend time weaving intricate plot lines just like I need to breathe. That must mean that I AM a writer, no matter how many doubts I've had in the past.

Time away from the thing you love does make the heart grow fonder, at least in my case. The absence of writing made me irritable. A psychological study of that long ago case of the railroad spike that somehow ended up in a man's head said that the spike made him irritable, so I guess he and I have something in common. Not being able to write gave me the same symptoms. Go figure.

Although this particular blog has been touted by some, it's sort of fallen by the wayside. That is, it has fallen by the wayside since I've been unable to update frequently. I choose to believe the sparing entries are the cause rather than think my muse has slipped away and I've become uninteresting and boring. The multiple visitors that I once enjoyed with each entry have found other blogs to visit and I seldom get many hits these days. This doesn't stop me, however. I write. I write on this blog and a couple more. I comment on the blogs of friends and ,sometimes, strangers. I am a writer, whether I have the means to write or not. Undaunted by disinterest, I keep on plugging...writing away, commenting on the joy of the written word.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Alas, poor Yorik.

I've been spending my downtime working. Not writing, unfortunately, but grading 1200 papers for the university writing assessment. Although tedious, I've found what the students have to say about writing very interesting. For example, almost all of the papers I've read so far say something to the effect that writing would be fun if there weren't so many "rules." I suppose that's true. If we never had to stop to insert a comma or indent a paragraph, if we could just keep going and ignore spelling and mechanics, everyone would enjoy writing. Alas, we cannot. We cannot ignore the basic rules of composition.

When I'm teaching, I try to explain that the rules of grammar are in place for a purpose. I use this analogy:

You've been invited to the party of the year and you've been given written directions: turn right at the second stop light, left onto Elm, go the the third stop sign, make a left onto Bird's Eye Ave, and the party's at the third house on the right. You put on your best duds, jump into the car and start out. Suddenly, you realize that there are no stop lights, no street signs. How do you find the party? You're hopelessly lost with no way to find the party of the year.

I tell them that grammar and mechanics are like those roadsigns. They help the reader interpret the writer's work. Without those rules of grammar, no one would understand anything that's ever been written.

There are rules, some can be broken by the wants/desires of the agenting and publishing community like that "single space between sentences" thing that's all the rage. Cormac McCarthy seldom if ever uses quotation marks during dialogue (but then he's Cormac McCarthy). The comma preceding a conjunction in a compound sentence is now dust on the publishing house floor. BUT (big but) most of us still cling to the rules, those grammatical roadsigns we so desperately need. To write, the would-be author must not only be good at spinning that fascinating yarn. He/she must be good at the craft of writing, the rules, the mechanics.

Well, there's my two-cents worth, but then again, I'm an English teacher by avocation. Those rules of grammar work and they've provided me with one more semester of work as a member of adjunct faculty.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hello Again!

It's been quite a while since I had time to post. My mother's injury requires that she have care 24/7, and for the most part, that's me. As for writing, it's in my head mostly. I seldom have time to spend concocting a storyline or adding to the WIP.

As for the novel that's with my betas, still no word. I don't know whether they've just given up on me, it's so bad they can't find the words, or if they haven't even opened the file. That's the way it goes. Abscence, my friends, does not make the heart grow fonder. All I have to work with when it comes to edits is the new crit partner. She rocks, btw. She has given me a few suggestions as to how I might better develop some characters and she's pointed out a few grammar gaffs. If and when I get time, I'll work on those elements, all the while hoping that the Dawg Pack is chewing on my latest offering.

I may write something about my recent experience with my mother. I'm not sure whether it will be a short or a novel length story. I've been mulling over lots of things. For example, when my late husband and father were involved in hospice care, one of the nurses told me a story, a story that corroborated an experience I'd had with both. My conversation with that nurse has sparked many a sigh and many long periods of deep thought. Now and again, it still pops to the forefront of my brain, and for some reason, I think my hind brain is formulating something, a book or maybe just an essay on the event. Whatever is happening back there in the recesses has been bubbling up lately, maybe because I am once more a caretaker and maybe because it's almost completed percolating. Who knows?

At this point, I'm just so tired I can't think straight. Ever been there?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Life Rears Its Ugly Head

A little less than two weeks ago, I received that phone call, the one you never want to receive. My eighty-two-year-old mother had fallen from her front porch and broken her back. Not just her back, but both bones in her left arm and her left thumb. Needless to say, I dropped everything and went to her side.

It's funny how things work out. We become so involved in our own lives that we often forget how many lives are entwined with ours. Our parents. Our children. Our friends. We laugh and say we don't like people. We chuckle at the 'idiots' on the road, but we forget that we're on the road and we are people, too. John Donne once proclaimed that "no man is an island." I've never been more certain that Donne is correct.

Before I knew God had ordained that I be a writer, I knew I was a daughter. I looked into my mother's hazel eyes, asking for comfort or guidance. Now, I'm her comfort. Life is truly a circle.

As Justice of the Peace, I've performed thousands of wedding ceremonies. In each ceremony, I raise the wedding rings and note that they are in the form of a circle with no ending and no beginning. I smile and say, "This circle, the symbol of commitment, stands as a reminder that love has no end." That's the way it is with a parent. They shed their love like nourishing rain, hoping to water the healthy emotional growth of a child. Now, it's my turn, I suppose. Now, I can return the favor of love my mother granted me over the years.

As she lays trapped inside the back and neck brace, I can show her what I have become. Although I wish it had happened in a less painful way, I have the opportunity to let her see what that nourishing flood of love she offered during my life has sparked. I have the opportunity to be kind and loving, to be supportive and encouraging. I hope I'm woman enough to catch hold of the opportunity.

Mother's recovery will be long and painful, but in the end, the doctors say she will recover but not without scars. The active life she once enjoyed will be hindered by chronic back pain. Her garden and yard work, the things she most enjoys during warm weather, are completely gone from this summer and possibly from the few summers she has left on this earth. I ask my readers for their prayers and, for those who do not pray to send good thoughts our way.

My life is temporarily on hold. I have little time to write, but in not writing, I have ample time to think about what family relationships should be: the continuation of emotional nourishment. My mother's fall is a learning experience, and I pray that I can take advantage of this new opportunity for education.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Once more into the Breach

Okay. The new WIP is not working for me. I write. I delete. I write, and then I delete what I've written. I just can't seem to get where I want to go from where I am. What does that mean?

It could mean that I'm too close, that I've included too much of me and not enough of my characters. I'm not letting them live, letting them become their own creatures. It could mean that I'm completely off track, that the world I've created isn't capable of carrying the storyline. It could mean that I'm writing crap and don't realize it. Anything's possible.

Solution? Oh, yeah. There's always a solution. Trunk it. Wait a few weeks and go at it once again. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. What will I do in between, you ask. Well...since I had to open the trunk, I noticed a fully formed being lying right there in the bottom. The first book. The one that prompted an agent to suggest some changes. What changes? (my secret.)

What I'm going to do is start from scratch, change the POV, pump up the back story and make the plot a true tale of discovery. Vague, you say? Yes, maybe, but I can't stop writing. The creative muscle atrophies if you don't exercise it, just like any other muscle in the body. The more you exercise that creativity, the stronger it becomes. That's just how it works.

I'm not a quitter. Never have been. I've fought my way through three marriages: a philanderer, a batterer, and a psychologist (my best move. I got better at picking partners as time went on.) I've fought through the death of my youngest child. I fought to finish my education even when I became what the university calls a "non-traditional" student, and now, I teach at that same university. I fought to become a poet, and I've become a pretty damn good poet, if I do say so myself. (Read some of my stuff on Raphael's Village, then you decide.)

I won't quit, even though the current WIP has beaten me for the moment. When I finish my rewrite of the first book, whether it sparks a flame in an agent's eye or not, I'll open my trunk again. That's the way it works. I'll keep flexing my creative muscle until it's strong enough to lift that soon-to-become-my agent right out of his/her socks! (I also keep believing. Faith takes you a long way.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A member of my writing group tells a long-winded story about a jackass and his master trudging through the desert. She keeps repeating the same lines over and over as a test of her listener's ability to wait for the punch line. Even the most polite member of her audience finally gets itchy and tries to hurry her toward the finish, and of course, that listener IS the punchline when he or she has the repeated line pointed toward him/her: "Patience, Jackass, patience."

I try. I really try to be patient, to wait humbly and silently for the group to finish their individual read through of novel number two. I work on other projects, read, or considering the season, garden. So far, I've planted ten oak trees (mostly because they were gifts from the forest service), two dozen Impatience, an Astrbilis, three Azaleas, twelve tomatoes, an equal number of pepper plants, four rows of beans (Blue Lake to be precise), and six rows of potatoes. I've read four short stories, all rather lengthy, and now I'm starting on a Stephen J. Cannell mystery (I won the book in a poetry contest. First place). Tomorrow? I'm dying my hair red....again.

See....patience isn't easy even when your brain keeps telling you it's all part of the process. Some time ago, I blogged about how the writer is very much like the hero in Shawshank Redemption, how we've all got our little rock hammer pounding against that concrete wall. I thought myself very wise when I wrote that, and now, I have to return to my words over and over again in order to reaffirm my own advice.

Only one pack of cigarettes remains in my carton, a carton that I promised myself would be the last. I'm sweating. After I plant the rest of my Impatience tomorrow and dye my hair, I'm sure I'll head off to the tobacco store to get the next "last" carton.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, is immune from worry. Although 'worry' is totally non-productive and, to the best of my knowledge, has never resulted in one, single accomplishment, we all do it. I worry about people who claim they never worry. I worry about the length of my dog's toe nails. I worry about the cat, the garden, the grandchildren, my truck. Now, I worry about that 120,000 or so words of mine that rest in the hands of my writing group.

The late Rita Riddle, my friend and fellow poet, once confided that she worried, too. She said that her poems were like her children and submitting one of them was like putting her five-year-old on the school bus for the first day of kindergarten. She knew what she had when she put the child on the bus, but she never knew what she'd have when the child got off the bus at the end of the day. Editors edit, and so do members of a writing group. It's all about trust. I trust my group, and I must trust that they will all operate in my best interests. They haven't failed me so far, so I've got the hair dye waiting in the bathroom and the shovel and gardening can are already by the flower bed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's been a while, a long while since I was here. I tell my students that if life were a highway and each living individual was traveling down that highway, eighty-five percent of us would be in the passenger seat, letting someone else drive our vehicle. When we're unwell (if that's a word), invariably, someone or something else slips into the drivers seat of our life-vehicle. For a few weeks, I'm afraid I joined the statistics and moved over to my passenger seat. I didn't like it there, so I bumped the driver and took control again. So's working out all right.

Last night, I returned to the third novel. As always, I read what I had written earlier, performed some surgical incisions, removed a bump here and a scar there, and I think I might have something. I added another 500 or so words (Hey, I didn't start until like 10:00 PM, so don't fault me on word count), and I'm liking where it's going.

Problem? Of course, there's a problem. Research. I hate research, viewing it as a sort of cross between that proverbial sharp stick in the eye and constipation. I know what I want my main character to do, but I have to find out if it's really possible for someone to do that particular deed.

"But this is fiction," you say.

"Yep! This is fiction, but whatever the task you want your characters to perform, it must be possible. Without some measure of reality, the whole book might die of spontaneous combustion."

"Hey, don't give me that. What about that old 'suspension of disbelief' thing? If you're such a good writer, why can't you make the reader BELIEVE the impossible is possible," you scoff smugly.

It's true. Every writer must spin the tale in such a way that the reader believes that the consumption of mercury actually can create a mutant, twelve foot monster that eats babies for breakfast; however, the good writer must throw in just enough truth about genetic mutations, the long-term effects of mercury, and how and in what quantities mercury might be ingested in order to create the illusion that he/she knows what the hell they're talking about. Most people know it isn't nice to eat mercury, that it causes some pretty severe birth defects, so the writer must take that info and expand on it to build a bridge between reality and what might be possible. Research, therefore, is an essential part of any novelist's work.

Snake bites, for instance. In my first novel, I needed to have a character die from a snake bite. Through my research into how that might happen, I discovered I had the wrong snake. In the eastern US, we have a snake called a 'copperhead.' It's a beautiful creature but one to be avoided at all times. Copperhead's have short fuses, often attacking before they're really threatened, and I'd always heard they were deadly. Not so, or so says my research. Copperhead venom won't kill an adult, but it can make you wish you were dead, offering up a variety of symptoms which, although painful, do not usually result in death. I discovered that I needed an eastern diamondback, a purveyor of hemo-toxin. When left unfettered by anti-venom, the hemo-toxin races through the bloodstream of a victim and slowly dissolves internal organs, causing swelling, internal bleeding often characterized by large blood pools forming just beneath the dermis, delirium and then, you guessed it, death. Research. Without it, anyone who really knew anything about snakes would have thrown my novel into the fireplace, laughing heartily about my misinformed presentation.

I don't know why the word 'research' conjures up so many demons in the back of a writer's (or really anyone's) mind. We do research everyday without ever including the word in conversation. We look up phone numbers. We check recipes. We study the winning lottery numbers for previous weeks as we fill in the dots on our tickets, hoping we're choosing the numbers most frequently called. We research names for our unborn children. We research prospective colleges and universities. We ask questions about the new neighbors.

Researching the possibilities is just as important as writing the novel. Don't write about Paris if you've never been there. Lots of people have been to Paris, and they will recognize false information resulting in market loss, defined in this case as lost readers. As a would-be published writer, I can't afford to lose readers. I need everyone who can read to pick up my novel and 'ooh' and 'ahh' over the darned thing.

Well, that's it. I've put it off long enough. I need to find out how a hacker can hack, develop a cult following, and not be readily caught by the powers that be. Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


When I began this blog, I told myself I would never deviate from the process of writing, that I would devote these pages to my struggle to be heard. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try to remain within self-imposed parameters, we must move outside those boundaries. This, my friends, is one of those times.

In the past few days, I've been hearing chatter about a Scottish woman, Susan Boyle. A contestant on one of the myriad of television programs that echo the format of Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour from 1950's America, Ms. Boyle took the plunge. She gathered her courage and auditioned for Britain's Got Talent. For the first time in her life, she faced more than her church's congregation. At forty-seven years of age and unemployed, she faced the sobering visage of Simon Cowell.

Ms. Boyle's nervousness gave the impression that she was just another addle-brained housewife looking for an opportunity to be on television. When Cowell asked, "What is the dream?", she responded, "I'm trying to become a professional singer." The audience roared with laughter, as did the judges, with Cowell rolling his eyes.

"What will you be singing for us?" was Cowell's next question.

"I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables," Ms. Boyle said as she gave the high sign to the audio engineer and he pushed the button to start the soundtrack. The rich music swelled and the dowdy little woman began. Within the first two bars, the audience rose to its feet as the purity of the voice brought many to tears. The soundtrack began to fade and Ms. Boyle almost whispered the last line, "Life has killed the dream I dreamed." The laughter with which she had been greeted was lost in the roar of the crowd and its standing ovation.

I can only imagine what Susan Boyle's life has been. Here, I give way to conjecture. Imagine spending nearly half a century with a dream. Imagine having heard the accolades of fellow choir members or from family. Imagine the times she's sung to herself and wondered if she was really any good. Imagine the one or two voices who dampened her dream. Think of the voice that whispered, "Actresses are beautiful. Take a look in the mirror if you think you can make it." Think of that voice that warned, "Showbiz is tough. You're good, but..." Think of the courage it required for her to stand on that stage.

Like Ms. Boyle, I have a dream. Like Ms. Boyle, I'm making the effort to realize my dream rather late in life, and I, too, have endured those discouraging voices. I can only hope that what I believe about myself is true. I can only hope that I'm not too late, that I'll have a moment in the spotlight and that, like Ms. Boyle, I can prove to myself and all those voices that talent transcends time.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


The third of my attempts at becoming a novelist is slowly forming within my word processing unit. I've just rounded chapter six. Given illness and a death in the family, I suppose I should be happy that I've made it this far. I'm not. I'm beginning to get that nagging feeling that I should, as they say, 'get a move on.'

Why? Because, as always, I'm impatient. I keep telling myself that by now I should be working on revision rather than first draft. And believe me! This is a first draft. A friend of mine finishes her first draft and sends it to beta right away. She can. She's been at this longer, she's managed to snatch an agent and a publisher, and she knows who she is as a writer. She's not exactly Father Time, but compared to me, she's an ancient, wizened writer. I'm still a toddler while she's got the writing biz down to a science. Can she make mistakes? Sure, but she's far less likely to do so than this babe in swaddling clothes. What's she got that I ain't got? Patience.

I'm reminded of Shawshank Redemption, of the hero spending decades pounding through the concrete with his little rock hammer. The whole escape process from the movie is very much a metaphor for becoming a writer. We hammer at our keyboards instead of concrete but getting the agent and publisher we need is equally difficult. The main character in Shawshank never gave up, no matter what obstacles he came across or what voice told him it was impossible. He didn't rush the process. He looked at each segment of concrete powder, grinned, and kept on pushing until, one layer at a time, he managed to reach his goal.

That's what it's all about, I suppose. We just have to keep on pushing, pounding away at the concrete wall that separates us from success. The powder will drop to the floor each time we made headway, and then finally....poof! Goal reached.

I'll try to keep Shawshank's hero in mind as I struggle with the WIP. BTW, I'm feeling better already!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Back to the Beta

Well, I've finished my edits on novel number two and it's back to the betas. Yep. Another round of "Why did you do that's" and "What were you thinkings." At least, I brace myself for those comments. Hopefully, I won't hear those words of despair. Hopefully, I've worked long enough and hard enough to squash those things before they're even a gleam in the betas eyes. But...

Sometimes "the best laid plans", as Burns said. If the Dog Pack finds fault, it's because fault exists. If fault exists, fault must be eradicated. I'm searching for an agent, someone who believes in me and my work. If the might-be agent has a faulty representation of my work, then the words "might-be" will be eradicated and he/she becomes the not-interested agent.

Long ago, publishing houses accepted books directly. For example, Forest Carter, an old cowboy from the plains, wrote a book called Gone to Texas. Mr. Carter went to the library, looked into western novels, found potential publishing houses, and sent his novel off to the house he found most interesting. The publishing house accepted his work, published his book, and a very famous director discovered it in the stacks. The book became the movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales. When Carter was interviewed about his new-found success, Barbara Walters asked what he was going to do. His response? "I think I'll buy a new pick-up truck."

Cute story, but...publishing houses don't do that very often. Nowadays, practically not at all. For some time, Algonquin Press would review the first thirty pages of a novel. I'm not sure if they still do that. Random House? St. Martins? DAW? Nope. They rely on the voice and the filtering of agents. That way the publishers can avoid the tedium of reading three-hundred badly written novels to get to the one good piece in the slush pile. Ergo: no agent/no publisher.

I need my betas to be tough. I need them to point out ALL the rough spots, the failed spelling (even an English major makes mistakes), the character flaws, ALL of it. If the Dog Pack approves, then I query, not one agent at a time but ten at a time. If I get the agent, I may be published.

Lots of ifs. Lots of maybes. Lots of hopes. The dream. Oh! One more 'if.'
If I get published, I'm definitely buying a new pick-up truck.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bits and Snatches

It's 4:51 AM. I'm up. Can't sleep. What to do? Write, of course. At this hour, the house is quiet, the children sleeping, and even the dog's unlikely to seek a trip around the block. There's time now.

The average writer has a day job, gets about ten percent of what he/she writes published, and frets over finance on a regular basis. I'm an average writer.

One of the problems with having that day job, that family, and those financial woes is time. Ideally, a writer should spend at least four hours per day at the keyboard, banging out whatever he/she bangs out. In the real world, those four hours are hard to come by. The writer sits down and suddenly, little Susie needs some help, a drink of water, assitance with homework. Then the phone rings, and Grandma can't get her remote to work. The clock's ticking. The sudden realization that the milk is running low sends our writer to the supermarket or the growling stomachs of the family demand dinner. It's almost as if the fates are against the dream being realized, and let's face it. Becoming a successful writer is THE dream.

An author doesn't become an author by his/herself. It takes the village, so to speak. The family of any would-be writer should understand the dream. The writer must make the dream clear to the people who surround him/her. Seek their support. In my case, I've promised my six-year-old granddaughter that if Nana becomes a full-time writer and sells books, then we, as a family, can buy a farm. She's already picked out the kind of animals she wants: a pony, some cattle, and some pigs. Thank God, she hasn't asked for any sheep yet. (For those of you who don't know, sheep are the stupidest of God's creatures, they require excessive care, and they smell to high-heaven! Yep, they're worse than pigs.)

Whatever course you chose to chart in life, support is an issue. Some can brave the seas alone and reach that final destination, but not me. Unfortunately, I require support. I need alone-time to write. I can't work through the chaos of normal living. My family must give me space and quiet so that I can focus on the task, or in this case plot-line, at hand. So far (knock on wood), the other members of my household have been relatively understanding. Oh, I've kissed a few boo-boos and answered a few questions, but all in all, they've given the support I require.

I don't get high accolades from them. In fact, I avoid having them read my work. I recently took a copy of my second novel to my mother. She read it. Her response to my effort? She said, "It feels like something a real author wrote." :D

I guess that's high praise, but somehow, it doesn't give me goosebumps. Know what I mean?

Monday, March 16, 2009


Have I slipped under the radar, moved to Mazoula, been lost in the Amazon and eaten by cannibals? No. I had a stroke. In fact, I had three mini-strokes within as many weeks. Tough? Kind of, but not deadly thank God. I'm back, slowly rising from the ashes of my clogged arteries like the Phoenix. I'm not as attractive as that legendary bird, but I'm certainly as tenacious.

Writing? Not much right now. My mind still has a few dents and scratches, but they're slowly disappearing. I'll be up to full force in no time, but in the meantime, I'm regrouping and finishing those final edits on novel number two. As my previous post indicated, I'm almost finished. I don't think I'll trunk it for as long as was previously planned. These minor health interruptions have had it trunked for three weeks already, so sometime within the next three weeks, I'll open the trunk lid and have at it again.

The third novel is coming along nicely now. It was also inadvertently trunked due to the health crisis. Crisis breeds opportunity. At least, it certainly has in my case. I've taken a fourteenth look at those first pages and already found some things that can be improved.

As most of you know, the first five or so pages of any novel are the most important. The unwritten rule is that an author must grab the reader's interest within those pages or lose that interest forever. Something has to happen in that first chapter, something important to the story and something that tends to pique the curiosity in such a way as to lead the reader onward. By onward, I mean straight toward the cashier at the local bookstore.

Yep! How you begin is equally as important as how you end. The story must begin to race early. Oh, sometime after you've caught hold of the reader's imagination, there's room for character development and subplots, but those first events on those first pages should be tied directly to the main storyline.

A test: Go back. Read the first five pages of your work. Wrinkle your brow, tap your fingers, then ask yourself, "What happened in those pages?" If your answer is related to introduction of characters, description of setting and only to those things, you've probably started the story too early. If those things are there but hidden in the background of the main event, then keep on trucking or, in this case, writing.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Well, novel number two is almost ready for the trunk, so it's on to number three. Will it be less likely to contain the newbie errors I've been making? I certainly hope so.

According to the Big Dawg, it's all about the word count, not the actual word count of any individual piece but my personal, overall word count.

"You see," says Big Dawg, "the more words you write, the more short stories and novels you have under your belt, the more you learn. The more you learn? Well, the fewer newbie mistakes you make."

Makes sense to me. Essentially, the more you write, the better you get at it. If I were a carpenter, the third house I built would inevitably be better than the first. The same is true for any profession. Sooo...I have high hopes for novel number three. Practice makes perfect, or so they say.

The third book? The main character is female. That's all I'm going to give up, so hang in there and hope that the new one is the second part of a two book deal negotiated by my fabulous agent. Then you can pick it up at your neighborhood bookstore.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Funny Valentine?

Okay. So it's 10:15 on Valentine's night and I'm updating my writer's blog. Tell you anything about my life?:D

That's right. My life is wrapped around the idea that one day I'll get this writing thing right. I have hopes. High hopes. But 'hope' must be tempered with a strong grip on reality. Unless a writer is visited by the 'miracle fairy' it's very unlikely that that first novel will ever see the published light of day. Some first novelists do so well as to catch an agent's attention and still that novel is never published. Reality bites.

My first novel is currently 'trunked' for a year. What does that mean? Well, for one thing, that means I've written, re-written, re-vised, and re-visioned so often that I can't stand it anymore. Even an author can tire of their own work. For another thing, 'trunked' means that even with all that re-writing and editing, it's still not up to snuff. Someday, it might be sitting on a shelf at the local Barnes & Noble, but I have to separate myself from it long enough to make it feel 'new' when I fish it out of the trunk. That way when I start its next round of re-writes, I'll be more likely to find the way to make it work.

As for the second novel, it's much better. I can almost see it growing by leaps and bounds as I prune its pages. Pretty soon, I'll see the words 'the end' pop up on my computer screen. When that happens, the second book gets to visit the first. Yes, it goes in the trunk for a month or so. When the time is right, I'll go fishing, pull it up on my line, and read it again. While reading, I'll get out my writer's wrench and tighten up some things that are loose. I'll make sure that it doesn't fall apart at one place or another, then I'll send it back to the Dawg Pack and see if they chew it up.
The great hope is that they'll carry it back, wagging their tails, and say, "Hey! This is pretty good. Time to query."

"Time to query." Time for that nail-biting, heart-wrenching, nauseating period when I send out my lovely product and wait to see if some agent might be interested. I may get a few requests for partials or maybe even some requests for the full manuscript. But if the past holds true, mostly, I'll get silence or form letters that say things like: "This is just not right for me," or "I can't seem to muster enough enthusiasm to represent your book." I may not remember the lines exactly as they're written, but you get the gist of it.

My hopes are still high, and if my patience holds out, you might just be passing a bookstore someday and see something interesting by a great, new author: W. K. Everhart.

Friday, February 6, 2009


That's right. I'm almost there. The revision process is taking longer this time, partially because of the stops and starts due to the new grandson's arrival and partially because I'm getting better at it. Yep. Better.

As my word-count rises (the number of words I've written in my efforts to become a novelist) and as my betas keep coming back with questions and those big purple marks, I'm beginning to notice errors on my own. I have some bad habits that I'm trying desperately to break.

For example: dialogue tags. For some reason (mostly attributed to those creative writing courses I took while in college), I tend to force a position on the speaker. Joe banged on the fireplace mantle. "Get out," he yelled! In reality, it should read something like this: "Get out!" Joe shouted, his fist pounding the mantle. The second presentation makes the words ring louder in the reader's mind and it gives old Joe an opportunity to emphasize the language. See? I am getting better.

Like all writers, my bad habits don't stop there. Because my work falls under the title "literary," I tend to wax eloquent when eloquence is unnecessary. You see, I love words and the images words produce in the mind. I use a lot of them, too many sometimes. The writers of the New Testament knew best. The shortest verse in the Bible is the most powerful. "Jesus wept." Two words. The Messiah weeping over the city of Jerusalem, looking down at the corruption in the streets, seeing the dim and bloody future. "Jesus wept." Instead of the long winded explanation, the writer chose to leave it to the two word, simple sentence. Those two words leave a lingering image in the mind of the reader. They're all that's necessary to get the point across.

Me? Well, I might have mentioned that it was dusk, that the sun had colored the sky a royal purple, or I might have noted the clouds grown red in the dying light of the sun. See? I'd have mucked it up. Never use eleven words when two will do. No matter how beautiful the passage, no matter how glorious the image, simplicity is best in dress and in writing. Words should never be measured by their beauty. They should be measured by their power to get the message across. They should be measured by their ability to advance the story. "Jesus wept" is powerful enough to make any believer hang their head in shame. That's what the author wanted. That was the point of the passage.

Now, I'm off to slice and dice, to remove those wonderful words I love so well. The Big Dawg calls it 'killing your darlings.' In many ways, she's right. I love words, images, metaphors. They are my darlings, and so, I must learn to kill them. True, I keep some passages in special files, leaving them only injured as I remove them from my work. Some 'darlings' simply must be remembered, saved for a day when, with a tiny tweak, they can be resurrected, reused some place where they leave the mark this author intends.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Once More into the Breach!

Well, the excitement is dying down. "Little Man" is home from the hospital. He's taking his formula, crying and fussy around four to six in the afternoons, and sleeping in four to five hour stretches at night. That leaves Nana time to work on her writing, and work it is, my friend.

I started the way I always start, from the beginning. I re-read what I'd done so far. Not bad, but I did give a little tweak here and there. Now I'm moving into the bulk of the work, attacking the main problem as I see it: transitioning time. I find that my section headings, those lovely dates at the top of one page or the other, aren't quite enough. As Big Dawg said, "The reader gets lost as to which year it is."

As the writer, I've created this community, these characters, and their living conditions. I've given them jobs, and I understand their motivations. My omnipotence when it comes to the story is unquestionable. I know the outcome from the beginning. I stand God-like above the words. No so for the reader.

The reader stumbles on the story cold, as if meeting a few people at a bar. The characters are introduced slowly, their life stories are a mystery yet to unfold, and their families, connections, and attitudes yet to be discovered. As the writer, I must forget my prior knowledge and magically become the reader. As I re-read my work, my goal is to see through the eyes of a hypothetical reader. If I come across an event, a time frame, a character that doesn't quite hit the mark, something or someone that might give the reader pause, it's time to do some word addition and subtraction.

The 'be-the-reader' segment of editing and revising is the most difficult. Wearing two hats, that reader/writer thing, causes problems because one hat often drops off without notice and it's usually the 'reader hat' that slips onto the floor. I keep picking it up and putting it back on, but alas, I look down and there it is again.

Beta readers, writing groups, crit partners: they're all important, no doubt about it. However, before a manuscript reaches those wonderful people, the writer should do their level best to eliminate as much of the interference as possible. I'm getting better at it, I hope, but after a beta reads a novel for the hundreth time, they tire of it. I'd prefer not to tire my betas, wouldn't you?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Just a Note

I haven't updated this week. There's a reason. I've been on baby-watch. That's right. Baby-watch.

After a difficult week of starts and stops, I became a grandmother for the second time this morning at 2:20 AM. My grandson weighed 7 lbs and 10 ozs. Mother and child are doing fine.

I'll be back to writing, revising, beta-ing, and all that jazz soon...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

More feedback from my second novel. And, I'm afraid, it's more of the same. The first feedback I received was about 'naming' from the perspective of point of view. The point of view in the novel is that of a main character, a woman. The story begins when the woman is still a child.

Big Dawg, the infamous leader of The Dawg Pack, has *ur-um* strongly suggested that I hit the lines one more time. You see, I've elevated my child, something common in dysfunctional families. However, my child hasn't been elevated to the head of household or overseer of all children within the household as have some of America's children. I've given her, in some cases, the perspective of an adult while she was still only twelve. Not good, so Big Dawg says. I'm back at it, my tail tucked between my legs.

However, my tail not withstanding, the repeated returns to my manuscript does more than perfect this particular book. That perfection has side effects just like that horrible 'fat pill' that's supposed to cause uncontrollable diarrhea. Instead of that horrible add-on to the general beneficial process, my writer's add-on is that since I've worked so hard to correct POV issues in this novel, I'm unlikely to make the same mistakes again.

When I'm teaching at the university, I require multiple revisions of a single paper because, like the Big Dawg, I believe we learn, not so much from all the things we read or study but from the correction of our own mistakes. If my students come out better writers (which I'm proud to say, they do) from multiple efforts at correction, then I can't help but do the same. I'll be better with the issue of POV when I finish the revisions and therefore when I re-vision the current WIP. Yes, that's what it's all about really.

The process of beta or critique isn't to allow the crit partner to release the frustration built up on the job or to exact revenge for some perceived insult. The first priority is always to create a product worthy of publication. The second priority, that side-effect I talked about, is to improve the writer's ability to perfect their own work.

Perfection. Well, maybe not perfection, but as close to it as possible. That's what the newbie is looking for when they send a promising manuscript to an agent. Without a close-to-perfect piece of work, the prospective agent will toss that promising manuscript back on the slush pile from which it came. If the piece is not too far from perfect, the agent may request revisions and resubmissions, but most of the time, he/she doesn't. They don't because they're looking for a writer who knows perfection.

In today's volatile literary markets, it's particularly difficult to make that initial breakthrough. It's difficult for an unpublished writer to become published. If said writer isn't willing to polish and prune, to listen to the voices of others, to be the reader instead of the writer, then the hopes of seeing his/her name on a book jacket diminish, become that infinitesimal chance, that one in seventy-seven million. Assuming your work will stand without crit partner comments and subsequent revision is like assuming you'll win the mega-millions with only one set of numbers.

Writing a book isn't a simple process. It's hard, demanding, and sometimes humiliating work. Yes. It's work. Exhausting work. This work is not for the faint-hearted. Many would-be novelists shrink, slink back into the woodwork. Only the courageous writer makes his/her way to the words 'The End.'

I've never fancied myself courageous. I tell my students that beneath my nine dollar shirt beats the heart of a coward, that if the shooting starts they shouldn't expect me to take the bullet while they scamper to safety. However, pursuit of the dream changes hearts. I'm close. I can feel it. I'm willing to work toward it, to take my mental machete and hack away at the vines and brambles that separate my book from perfection.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thick Skin

Whew! That round's over. I've completed the requested revisions regarding point of view in my second novel. I've even managed to add around one thousand words to the current work in progress. All in all, a rather productive week. Provided my patience holds out, I might actually come up with something publish-worthy.

I know. I know. I talk a lot about patience, a virtue much desired but especially difficult for me to master. When my children were very young, they heard about patience. "Patience is a virtue," I'd chide each time they tried to stomp their little feet or asked "Are we there yet?" Too bad I really wasn't practicing what I preached.

Big Dawg preaches. She does a far better job than I do. She points backwards to illustrate her point. When I finished the first novel, I thought any agent would read the first fifty pages, begin to drool in that eager-agent way, and voila! Within the year, a publishing contract would be mine. I suppose most first-time novelists feel the same way. From the moment the words 'The End' appear on a manuscript, each of us find it difficult to believe that what we have before us isn't the great American novel we all want to write. Or maybe the best Bristish, French, German, etc. novel ever published. Ninety-eight percent of us are wrong.

What really rests in that envelope being mailed to a prospective agent is promise. That's it, with maybe a touch of possibility. Nothing more. Heinlein once said that only about one percent of all those people who wistfully announce they're going to write a novel actually finish one, the envelope holds promise that there is a writer in there somewhere. The possibility that the writer might be published lies there, too. The characteristic that separates the wannabe writer from the published author is the patience and perserverance to see the process through to the bitter end.

Patience is important, but another component must be added, a physical component. Good skin. How so, you ask? The skin of that wannabe writer must be thick. The wannabe must be able to take criticism on the chin without flinching. Bravely hiding his/her tears, the wannabe must be able to delete that beautiful passage that a crit partner thinks distracting. He/she must be able to add, substract, or change the appearance of their manuscript without woeful gnashing of teeth. If the crit partner or writing group feels that some element of the story deviates from the plotline, Wannabe must change that element without quarreling.

Crit partners and writing groups represent the reading public. What's more, they represent the educated reading public, the people who know what it takes to make a good book. Wannabe wants to be read. If any element of the story causes someone to put the book down, the desire to be read will never be fulfilled.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hard at It!

I've talked a bit about my second effort as a novelist. Well, I've had some feedback from The Dawg Pack. POV. Point of View issues are lurking within my text. Ouch!

Yes, it's painful to realize that old Susie can't really see her own face unless she's looking in a mirror. That's right. Something we understand by the time we're two or three. However, sometimes we forget, especially so when writing. In our mind's eye, we see Susie standing over the dead body. We see her raise her hand to stifle a scream. We see her face drain of all color and her eyes grow wide in horror, but old Susie? She can't see a thing. She's staring down at that dead body, the lifeless eyes gone dark, and the head tilted to the side with its mouth oozing the last vestiges of body fluids. Horrible isn't it?

We see her, but she can't see herself. We sometimes forget that when we're in the throes of our writing efforts. I did. Not often, but often enough to lift the eyebrows of the Big Dawg. She howled her discontent, and scratched out a quick critique. I yelped and scurried to my computer, forced once more into the act of revision. It's painful, but hey! That's the process, the long, agonizing process of creating my product: fiction.

After months of vision and revision, there's more. Once I get that agent (from these pages to God's ears), I can expect nine to eighteen months of work on the agent's part in order to find a publisher. Then, depending on how rapidly my editor works, there's another four to six months of edits on demand. In this world of instant gratification, you won't find it as a writer.

Writing is exhausting work with little reward for most of what an author produces. As I write these words, even I am asking myself why? Why do I continue to put words on the page? The truth? It's my calling. Some people are born teachers. Some born to work with their hands, to build and design. I was born to write. I feel it in my blood. It takes that--the ultimate desire--to become what you're born to become. I am becoming through all my revisions, all my yelps and whines.

My advice to you? BECOME. Everything in life is a process from brushing your teeth to finding a job to chosing a mate. Process is always difficult, always exhausting, but to be what you're meant to be is what life's really all about. Nothing more. Nothing less. Become, my friends. Become.