Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ready for the Garage Sale

My sister and I have moved our cars to the driveway and have been loading up the garage in preparation for our mega garage sale.
I liked the way we were going about this–leisurely picking up things from each room as we wander around the house and depositing them into the garage. Saturday, we had to kick it into a higher gear, since we have two young men scheduled to arrive this afternoon to move some furniture to the garage, so drawers had to be emptied and table tops cleared.

I'm in the midst of revising one book and editing another, which is probably why this purge of the house reminds me of the writing process. After I write my first draft, I start cutting out superfluous words, flowery phrases, redundancy. My house is being decluttered a bit at a time, just as is my manuscript. If my house is anything like my writing, I'll need about twenty passes through a room before it's clear of clutter.

The beauty of all this is what I'm finding hidden away in those drawers and closets. Items long since forgotten are emerging. Little nuggets of beauty or nostalgia are literally coming out of the closet. And, since the house is being purged, these little things are being seen in a brand new, uncluttered light. Same goes with my writing. A little gem of a phrase suddenly comes to light once all the clutter leading up to it is removed.

I hope by doing all this, I can make a few bucks on the sale. And, I hope my decluttered and polished manuscript will attract the attention of an agent or publisher, and make me a few bucks, too.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Finding The Lemonade

As most of you who follow this blog are aware, I'm trying to sell my house in order to downsize to a two-bedroom place rather than the four I now have. The home has been on the market for three months now, with several nibbles but no bites.

Rather than panic at the delay, I've decided to look on the bright side. To make lemonade from the lemons. This delay gives me time to leisurely go through all my books, clothing and pictures and determine which I'll keep and which Goodwill will get. Second, I'm taking the time to research places to move to, weighing the options of not only the city and state, but rather to rent first, do I want a ranch or will one set of stairs be okay, will Mary still have a yard to play in, etc. And because I never know when someone will want to see the house, it stays clean.

I'm also trying to find the lemonade in my writing. The edits for my next book seem to be taking forever. As I looked over the latest round, I decided rather than complain about it, I'd accept the fact the book was to the halfway point in the editor's comments. So I'm half done with it. I'll go through the remaining pages and try to circumvent any other problems and send it back. Instead of having half the book to go, I'm halfway done. Glass half full rather than half empty.

So, the house is being gradually decluttered, the process of finding a new place is being winnowed down, my book is halfway through the editing process, and my new WIP is taking shape, 1000 words at a time. Summer's on its way, so it's a perfect time for lemonade.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Forever Friends

In our busy and portable lives, we meet a lot of people who become acquaintances. You know, the kind you send a Christmas card to each year. Then, there are the people who you might hear from via phone a couple of times each year. But there is no better friend than a forever friend. Like my friend, Linda. In the many decades of our friendship, we've been through a lot with each other, regardless of which state I happened to be living in. She knows me better than my sisters do. And she's the only person I wanted to visit after three years of medical issues.

My trip began with another trip–down memory lane. Shortly after we had moved to DC back in the day, Linda and I rented a house together. Or part of a house, anyway. We had the English basement and first floor of a townhouse on Capitol Hill. Two men shared the top two floors. We were very close to our old stomping grounds after visiting the National Arboretum, so we took a slight detour to see what the place looked like today. We loved living on the Hill. Our house was only a block from our favorite bar and the neighborhood was safe for those nights when we staggered home.

But, as an author of romance, and historical romance at that, I couldn't get this close without paying homage to the great Nora Roberts and touring a battlefield. We made a trip to Boonsboro, MD to her Turn The Page bookstore, where I spent way too much on books, of course. We saw but couldn't gain admittance to  the historic Boonsboro Inn featured in one of her trilogies, and had lunch at Dan's, the restaurant owned by one of her sons. The other restaurant in town, Vesta, is owned by her other son, Jason. 

And then, we were off to the Antietam battlefield. Bearing the distinction of being the bloodiest single day in the history of any American war, our ranger told us that bodies were falling at the rate of one per second during the height of the battle.

The battle ended in a draw and was the turning point of the war, since France and England were about to help fund the Confederates had they succeeded in trouncing the Union Army. Such a huge price to pay. We walked around the quiet fields that afternoon, walked on the Burnside Bridge, one of the major battle sites, and tried to imagine the horror and chaos that faced the men that day.

Having made the move from this part of the country back to Ohio, I realized this trip that, while I don't miss the congestion and traffic, I do miss the vibrancy and history of Virginia. That may be why I write historical romances today. 

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. And to everyone's forever friends, give them a special hug today.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Where To Start

Spring is typically contest season in the romance community. Nearly every RWA chapter runs a contest for unpublished authors to submit their work for consideration. I offered to judge a host of different contests this year, running the gamut of genres from YA to historical, fantasy and beyond, and selected the best of the bunch in each category I judged.

As icing on the cake, I attended a workshop last weekend where the first pages of the various authors in attendance were read and commented on by two literary agents and an industry speaker.

The results of my various critiques of the contest entries and the results of the panel last weekend were remarkably similar. It didn't matter if the work was science fiction, memoir, YA or traditional fiction, the overwhelming criticism was the book began in the wrong place. The author was trying to get all the backstory set in place, or 'walk the dog' by relaying every little thing going on in the scene instead of jumping in where the action started.

The best piece of advice about backstory I ever received was to pull out all the backstory and paste it on a page. Then, pretend the page was written on glass and drop it on the floor. As you pick up the splinters, use only that much at a time of the backstory and weave it into the storyline. Stephen King is even more succinct:

That's not to say backstory isn't important. Of course it is, and you, as an author, need to know what compelling forces happened to form your character, make them act and react in the way they do. But, as a reader, you don't want the whole story in the first chapter. Otherwise, why bother reading the rest of the book? The reader needs to develop a relationship with the character much the same way one does in person. You find out little nuggets of information about a person a bit at a time. 

So, my advice, as a result of all this passing of judgment, is to go back to the start of that manuscript you've been working on and look at it again. When does the action start? Have you written the first pages just to get your mindset in place about the character? If you answered yes to the second question, remove those pages and file them away in your character folder. Open with the action. I'm revising a work I started six months ago because, after sitting through one reading after another last weekend, I realized this particular work is guilty of the same thing. I start with description and backstory instead of getting right to the action. Which proves you're never too seasoned to learn something new.