Sunday, July 24, 2016

Editing, Round 2

I got my second round of edits this week for the Christmas novella. Which immediately made me reach for my chain saw.

This unusual gut reaction to editing really does make sense. Let me explain. Editing an entire manuscript can be overwhelming, but if you approach it a chapter at a time, it's doable. Same thing with a tree branch. It can be bulky and heavy to start with, but when it gets cut into sizable chunks, it's easy to maneuver.

I cut some words from a chapter, and then cut some logs. I'm making my manuscript tidy at the same time I'm cleaning up my woodpile. I once dated a man from Vermont, where wood fires are common. He told me you should never put a Vermonter in front of an unstacked pile of wood, because they wouldn't come inside until it was arranged in a logical, neat order. It's the same with editing. You're not done until you can read through your entire document with your fingers off the keyboard.

Since this is a novella, there aren't that many chapters to get through, so it should take no longer than a couple days to do the work. Which is good, since I only have three more branches to chop up.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Keeping It All Together

This past week has been challenging on several fronts. I'm despondent at not being able to go to Nationals, and have been glued to Facebook and the RWA site, trying to live vicariously. I elected not to go because my sister had major heart surgery scheduled this summer. It turned out to be more complicated than anticipated, and was touch and go for a time. She's on the mend now, and should come home next week.

Which leads me to my next challenge. My basement is filled with mold, and has resulted in a sick house. The previous owner decided to finish off half of the basement, and put up drywall and laid carpet without taking the first essential step and waterproofing what was being covered up. I've lived here for seven years now and it's taken this long for the mold to seep through to the point where I could see it. Now, the carpet and drywall will be ripped up and removed before the scrubbing of the mold can take place.

While all this chaos is going on in my life, I'm still trying to write something every day, even if it's only an outline of a story. And, of course, I'm coming up with all kinds of analogies between my life and writing. Such as: Sometimes a story veers off in a totally different direction than you thought it would go when you planned it out in your head and you make adjustments. Sometimes you can't quite put your finger on what's wrong with a story line until it smacks you in the face and you have to remove what's making your story suck.
Sometimes you should stop and write an outline instead of jumping in unprepared and throwing something together.


The mold will be removed next week, just in time for my sister's return from the hospital. All will get back to normal in my world, and I'll be able to sit at my desk and be creative. My second round of edits are due next week, too, which should settle me down and make me focus.  And I'll chat with my friends who did make the trek to San Diego and regale in the stories they'll bring home.

The remainder of the summer will be spent helping Sis out, like she did for me last year, finding an agent for my middle-grade historical, and getting my contemporary, in which I've left my h/h in a precarious situation, finished and polished up.

How about you? What's on your agenda for the rest of the summer?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Showing Versus Telling

Any author can tell you a workshop discussing the merits of showing vs. telling is usually on the agenda of every major conference in the romance world. It's a big deal for getting across deep POV. You want the reader to feel the emotions in the same way as the hero/heroine. I've struggled for years to add emotion to my work, to make the reader tear up the same way the heroine is doing. I love it when a reviewer says she needed a whole box of tissues to get to the end. That means I've done my job. Here's an example of what I mean, courtesy of Colorado State University: http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/rst/pop5c.cfm

Telling: He was an attractive man. 
Showing: He had Paul Newman's eyes, Robert Redford's smile, Sylvester Stallone's body, and Bill Gates's money.


I'm working with a new editor now, and she's taken the show vs. tell to a whole new extreme. Rather than go through my whole manuscript, righting my wrongs and have me click on the comment box that I accept her changes, she only commented on the first part of the book. Then, she sent me a lengthy email pointing out what I needed to fix throughout the remainder of the story. Her comments showed me the mistake I kept making, her email showed me how to fix it, and then I was on my own. Since I learn better by doing than by simply clicking "accept"on a comment box, I have been able to go through the remainder of the manuscript and make the changes myself. Showing vs. telling.

In going through the manuscript and focusing on those elements the editor wanted changed, I noticed I've developed a new crutch word.
I have a list of words already that I check, so I've now added another to the list. And the movements between my characters was somewhat stilted, so I've fixed it.

I'm going to read through the manuscript one final time today, to see if I still have any glaring errors to take care of. If I can get through a couple pages without typing anything, I'll consider it clean enough to send back. Then, I'll see what the editor comments on next. A work is never done until it's published, and even then, most of us would love the chance to go back and fix the errors we've made in telling our tales.

Every book I write makes me a better author. Every editor I work with gives me a different perspective on my writing. I hope I never stop learning. Thank you, new editor, for all your hard work. I can see where your suggested changes have made this a much stronger story. Stay tuned. My Christmas novella, Love's In The Cards, should be released in November or December. I think you'll like Penny Lane and Abbey Road Beedle, and Penny's third-grade crush, Del Madison.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Backstory

Backstory. By definition, at least according to Wikipedia, it is the history of characters and other elements that underlie the situation existing at the main narrative's start. Its purpose is to give our characters dimension, to have some idea of what's happened in their past to form the people they are now, to have the reader root for the guy  or girl. 

Writers who have taken enough workshops know that you can't dump a bunch of backstory into the first few chapters. Rather, it must be woven in throughout the course of the story, a strand at a time. Otherwise, why turn the page?


Lately, it seems every reality show out there is loaded with backstory. It doesn't matter if it's The Voice or The Bachelor, everyone puts together a backstory segment before they begin. It might be a promise made to a dying parent or sibling, it might be overcoming an alcohol or drug dependency, it might be having a child and realizing you're no longer a kid yourself. Whatever it is, it's the reason people get up in the morning and hone their craft. Whatever that craft may be. 

I confess I'm a closet fan of American Ninja Warrior. Totally buff men and women compete over a course of amazingly difficult obstacles to the finish line–the warped wall, a 14-1/2 foot tall wall they must scale and hit the buzzer.  Everyone starts out on equal footing, and there are no judges clouding the performance with their subjective ideas. The idea is very simple. If at any point along the way the person running the course can't complete an obstacle, they fall into the water below. 


I think that's the appeal to me. I listen to the backstories on all the contestants, and, if I like their story, I'll root for them to scale the warped wall. There's no one else making the decision for me, or holding their stories and their performance to a subjective standard other than my own. Some of the backstories among this group are wonderful, but, and it's probably due to the fact these are people who spend a lot of time honing their bodies, there seems to be excessive attention paid to their facial features, hair and bodies. If the only reason they have for participating is because they think they look good, I want to see them hit the water before the second obstacle. It doesn't matter how hard you've been training all year, one bad step can land you in the drink. It's fast-paced and quick to judgment, like me with these backstory segments. The course doesn't care. You bring your 'A' game or you go home wet. 

I'm like that in reading, too. If I get bogged down in too much backstory at the start of a book, I'll set it aside and move along to something else. There's so much out there that's good, why waste my time on something that has no appeal? Into the water it goes and I'm on to the next contestant. Maybe in this one, the backstory is handled better, giving the reader a glimpse of the impending conflict, but the conflict, when it is finally unveiled, isn't anything earth-shattering. The book made it over the first few obstacles, but still, it will end up in the drink. 

Recently, I served as a judge for the RONE awards and had to read seven books in short order. Only one of them made it up the warped wall and hit the buzzer for me. I thought about the story for days after I finished it, which is the mark (at least for me) of a great book. Now, my challenge is to write one equally as good. To have one of my own books make it up someone else's warped wall standard of excellence. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dreams


The Summer Olympics are just around the corner and I started watching the selection process for the women's gymnastics team this weekend. A sign in the Karolyi gym caught my eye.





The same holds true for any kind of artistic endeavor. Maybe, as authors, we don't have the rock hard bodies of those tiny jumping machines, but if you could peer inside our minds...

Like most everyone else, I have dreams and goals, updated with each milestone I hit. With books 14 and 15 coming out this year, my new goal is to reach the 25-book mark at RWA, for which I'll get a pin. The pin doesn't matter, it's the goal that counts.

When I take a moment to look back, I can't believe how far I've come in such a short time. Admittedly, it hasn't been an overnight success, since every dime I make goes back into advancing my career, but someday soon, I hope to give myself a paycheck. But where would I be if I'd let my dreams of becoming a published author scare me? Since 2012, when my first book came out, my career has been a snowball, starting off slowly and getting a little bigger each year, with each book. I've made some really good friends, I've figured out that there's no such thing as being a complete author, since there's always more to learn, but you do your best and make each new book better than the last. And I've finally found an outlet for all those voices that have been rolling around in my head for years.

Yes, my dreams back when I began this journey scared me, but I decided to face the fear and forge ahead. I'm so glad I did, since my life since has been filled with the highest of highs as well as some not so fun lows. A lot of people say they want to write a book, but few actually finish one and send it out for people to critique, or offer a contract. At least I can say I did it.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Character Study

As authors, we're given a lot of advice on how to write compelling characters, even to the point where we should take hours, days and even weeks before we begin writing to determine their characteristics, traits, birth order, number of siblings, etc. All these are things that help shape that character's personality.

I prefer to draw on my family for inspiration.

For instance, my brother, John, or Buzz, as we call him, is the only boy in a family of five children. When people hear that, they ask if he was a spoiled child, with all these girls taking care of him. Not only is he the only boy, he and my sister are twins and are the babies of the family. I can hear the 'awws' even now.

To set the record straight–we did not coddle our brother, even though he had to have major surgery when he was only six months old. He was all boy, playing sports throughout school, riding his bike all over Ohio, spending time with his guy friends rather than playing dolls with his sisters. We each had our own interests when we were growing up. Some of us learned homebuilding from our father, others spent time in the garden, growing produce which helped feed our large family. What Buzz did learn from growing up with girls is that girls are every bit as strong as boys and we can be as intelligent as boys. As a result, my brother is one of the most sensitive and caring men I've ever met. If that's the result of being raised in a family of girls, all men should be so lucky.

Photo courtesy of Barb Daisher
This was proven again during our latest get-together. We manage to get all of us in one place only once every three or four years, and it happened last week. One of my sisters, my brother, and I are considering buying a condo together, and spent a day with a realtor, also a female, examining several places. This realtor directed all her remarks to my brother, as though my sister and I were not there. As we were leaving, after an unsuccessful afternoon, this unenlightened realtor asked my brother if he would let her know when we were going to list my house. I was standing right there, alongside her, and she was aware I was the one with the house to sell, yet her remarks were directed to my brother.

Buzz grinned broadly, and said, "It's entirely up to Becky, if and when she will sell her house, and who she'll list it with." He nodded in my direction and I took it from there. Just as a strong, intelligent woman would.

So, when I'm writing a strong male character, who has a tender side and is able to relate to women, I don't need to come up with a long list of character attributes. I simply draw on my brother's personality. That's all I need to know.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

As most of you are aware, I'm branching out and beginning to work with different publishers. Each publisher I've worked with has a different way of doing things, including editing, which is where I'm at now in the process.


Over the years, I've developed my own list of words to not use ever, along with words to not overuse. I carefully go through my checklist of things to watch for as I finish up each manuscript. It's tedious work to do a "Find and Replace" for each of the "no-no" words, but no one said this was easy. I thought I had a pretty good system going, but as I was going through the editing guidelines for this new publisher, I came across more words to add to the list. This is why I prefer to work with multiple publishers. Not only do you widen your circle of author friends, you also pick up new ideas and tricks, all of which help make a difference in your work. 


The difference can be subtle. A word placed at a different point in a sentence, a weak word replaced with a stronger one, an extra word eliminated altogether to tighten the story line. Little things that make our work stronger. That's what we authors have to strive for in every sentence we write. Strong images, strong characters, strong writing.  You can teach an old dog a new trick.


And, as with everything, there are exceptions. There are some times when the "no-no" word has to stay in the finished version. But each time you make an exception, you'd better have a really good reason for it. 


I hope to finish up this round of edits later today and ship them off to the publisher. Then, I will turn my attention back to my YA historical, adding new "no-no" words to the list.