Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A New Take On An Old Tale

I love works that respect the oral story-telling tradition. They are few and far between. So when my friend Becky Mushko asked me to read her advance reader copy of Ferradiddledumday, I couldn't wait. This is an Appalachian retelling of the Russian folktale, Rumplestiltskin. Full of local plants, Appalachian names, and a real feeling for life in a mountain holler, Ferradiddledumday begs you to read it aloud. I read it first as printed matter, then retired to the basement and read it as it was meant to be read: out loud to a collection of very impressed stuffed animals.

Becky received a terrific cover blurb from Sharyn McCrumb, New York Times Best Selling Author and another Appalachian writer, who said, "Becky Mushko's retelling of the European folk tale Rumpelstiltskin brings a new world perspective to the old story, illuminating the frontier setting with a wealth of detail: plant names, folk traditions, and regional dialect. If the story had happened here, it would have happened like this."

High praise, and well deserved. The book comes out in January and includes a teaching guide. If you have children, or if you teach, or if you love the oral tradition, go out to Cedar Creek Publishing's distributor and pre-order this wonderful story. You won't be sorry.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Radio Silence

It's been nearly three weeks since my last post. Sounds like the start of an AA confession, doesn't it? In a way, it is.

I have several reasons, er, excuses, for my silence.

  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas decorating
  • My husband's surprise birthday party
  • Christmas cards
  • Christmas shopping

  • Check, check, check, check. Not the last one. I finished my shopping before Halloween.

    But there is a real-er reason. WRITER'S BLOCK.

    I couldn't write a thing for those weeks. Not the Christmas letter. Not a word of revision in a novel. Not a blog entry. NOTHING.

    Then I confessed the block to Edna Whittier, a fellow writer. She gave me a kick in the pants. The next morning, writer's block was gone.

    Snapped off the Christmas letter. Wrote a near-final essay for NPR. And am now digging into Max 1 (again! Sigh) to fix the problems an agent was kind enough to point out.

    And I'm working through the reading slush pile as well.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Promoting Your Book

    I was multitasking this morning -- reading my favorite blogs and listening to the Today show with half an ear.

    The Today show announced that Al Roker had written a novel. A mystery novel. So, okay, I thought. Then I listened to the story. Talk about promoting a debut novelist. The entire Today show team acted out the start of the mystery. It helps to have at least 60 seconds of air time, Matt, Meredith, Ann and the rest hamming it up and giving Roker a huge send up for his novel. Alas, all it takes is money, a big name, access to top morning show personalities, air time, etc. What the rest of us poor writers lack.

    I turned back to my blog reading. Rachelle Gardner noted a brilliant trick one author uses at her book signings.

    "Novelist Wanda Dyson puts yellow crime tape around her table when she does books signings. Do you think that attracts more readers than tables that have nothing interesting to draw a reader's attention?"

    I sent the idea to Sally Roseveare for her next signing. If she coupled crime scene tape with her large black lab (stuffed), everyone would stop to see what was going on.

    Whaddya think, huh? Crime scene tape for those of us who write mysteries and who don't have the access that Al Roker has?

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Faster Pastor, new comedy by Sharyn McCrumb

    On Tuesday, Nov. 17th, I went to a writers workshop led by Sharyn McCrumb and Adam Edwards. Everyone knows Sharyn. New York Times best seller. Author of 22 novels, including two in a NASCAR series. Great person who generously gives her time to people like me who want to write better.

    Here's the premise of the novel:

    Imagine what happens when an irresponsible young NASCAR driver crashes his car into a funeral in a blink-on-an-eye Tennessee mountain town and is forced to perform two weeks of community service by teaching the town’s ministers how to race stock cars. Camber Berkley, the hapless protagonist of Sharyn McCrumb’s new novel, Faster Pastor, can’t afford his fine and court costs, so he has no choice but to turn nine ministers into race drivers competing for a $2 million prize.

    This is Sharyn's third entry in her popular NASCAR series and the first one written with a collaborator, Adam Edwards, a NASCAR/ARCA driver. She and Adam is at her best in this laugh-out-loud comedy romp around a country short track.

    If you like Janet Evanovich's NASCAR series, you will love Sharyn and Adam's book. Why is it that women can write very funny comedies about a testosterone-dominated sport? Could it be that we don't take the drivers as seriously as they take themselves? After all, strip off the flashy fire suits and generally you have a short, scrawny guy. Not so with Adam, who is a NASCAR/ARCA driver, about oh, six two, lean, dark, very good looking. Um, what I think a real NASCAR driver should look like. . . .

    Vuy the book when it comes out in February 2010. I was lucky to get my hands on an advanced reader copy, stay up two nights in a row until way too late, and loved every laugh.

    Oh yes, I also learned that you can be successful with a collaborator -- if you are compatible to begin with, if both of you can write, if you have similar work ethics, and if you can meet deadlines without whining. Maybe that's why I failed with two previous collaborators. Didn't have any of the mix except that they could actually write coherent sentences.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Using the Tritest Opening Yet

    I have always wanted to use the oldest and tritest line to open a story. And I got my chance to do so in last week's Laker Weekly.

    "It really was a dark and stormy night when I joined my friend Karen Wrigley of Hardy and seven others for ghost hunting at Avenel, an historic museum home in Bedford."

    Yup, stole Bulwer-Lytton's line and used it in print. I couldn't help myself! Will somebody stop me!!!

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    WVTF Essay

    What fun I had recording this radio essay for WVTF. Called "You're Never Too Old," it's about a goofy summer birthday party when lots of adults forgot their ages and had way too much fun.
    Yup, that would be yours truly. Thought they'd crop the photo a bit, but . . . .

    Hope you enjoy the essay as much as I enjoyed the original party.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Reading and Signing

    Sally Roseveare had a wonderful turnout at the Westlake library last night and sold ten books. She read sections of both of her Smith Mountain Lake mysteries, told hysterical stories about doing reseach on stuffing a man into a porta-potty (No, it really can't be done), talked about how she names and creates her characters and answered a host of thoughtful and well-informed questions. Check her web site for signings and readings. Take it from me: her books make great Christmas presents, particularly when she personalizes her signature. Don't miss out.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Book Reading and Signing

    I'm honored to introduce my friend, Sally Roseveare, at the Westlake Library tonight at 6:30P. She'll be reading exerpts from her latest Smith Mountain Lake Mystery. Afterwards, she'll be signing books.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    James River Writers Conference

    Once again, the JRW conference sold out two weeks prior to the event. And the caliber of talent on panels surpassed even the great talent from last year. I continue to be amazed at how many writers reside in Virginia and don't publicize that fact. Makes me feel like I'm in the right state at the right time.

    Most helpful sessions were on marketing your work. I took tons of notes and need to sit down and refine my marketing guidelines for writers. Anyone know how much time (percentage of time) authors spend on marketing and how much time they spend on writing? I'd be interested in your experience.

    Sessions that will help improve my writing included ones on setting the scene, detailed character development (particularly putting flesh on secondary characters), dialogue development, serial characters, and point of view.

    Writers who shared their thoughts included:

  • Katherine Neville, NYT best seller who says she writes the oldest type of story in the world, the adventure-quest
  • Maggie Stiefvater, a wonderful YA writer who actually seduced me enough to buy Shiver
  • Meg Medina, a middle grade writer whose themes focus on multicultural experiences -- she's Cuban American
  • Dash Shaw, I only wish I loved graphic novels as he does. His Bottomless Bellybutton looked fantastic
  • Gigi Amateau, who got a bit of short shrift when her agent was stricken with the flu upon arrival and had to drop a panel on interaction between writers and their agents, moderated a good panel on the art of the ending.

    I walked away with so many nuggets that my brain felt squished. Unsquished my brain yesterday by not working. Today I'm sorting through the gray cells and putting some of the nuggets to work right away.

    I can't wait for next year's conference.
  • Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    Archaeological Dig

    When I write a first draft, I keep a list of CDs I listen to, often by chapter. As the mood of a chapter changes, so does the CD in the player. Sometimes all I listen to is a single song over and over, until the chapter is complete. Other times, I put on a CD and let it play.

    I like to edit and revise to the same music to see if it still sets the right tone. But when I reopened Shades of Pale, the second Mad Max manuscript, I couldn't find the play list. I dug through my various thumb drives, backed up CDs, my external hard drive and my three laptops to find it. I still couldn't find the play list. I dragged out shovels and dental picks, brooms and tiny brushes just like I did on a dig one summer back in college. And I nearly panicked. Eventually, I found a rather tattered CD tucked into the wrong physical file folder. Voila! The play list.

    I have now added the songs and CDs under the title of each chapter so that I don't lose it again.

    It will be interesting to see if the songs still inspire, or if they have lost their allure in the past few months since the manuscript rested in repose on a shelf. More on that as I get deeper into the editing.

    Monday, October 5, 2009


    Over the weekend I was reading an essay lamenting the loss of our ability to write crusive script. The writer said that the art of actually writing a letter is lost to Tweets, Facebook posts, texting, e-mails, etc. I was impressed that someone actually took time to pen an essay on this dying art form.

    Then I realized that he must have written the essay first in long hand, because had he used a computer program, his most annoying typo would have been caught. First, he lamented "correspondance" instead of "correspondence." Not once but four times. When I thought it was safe to keep reading came the better typo -- and the one which might really represent the writer's state of mind. Gone was "correspondance" and in its place was "correspondense." I leave it up to you to decide if the latter was more representative.

    Reminded me of a diligent student when I was teaching comparative literature at USC (the one in California). After reading an otherwise decent homework assignment, I was forced to write "heroin is not equal to heroine" on the board.

    Is it just me????? I know I have lost my sense of humor about not using a dictionary. Buy one. Use it. If you use spell check, check to be sure the word is actually right before accept its authenticity.

    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    Second Mad Max Draft

    I've polished my first Mad Max manuscript until it is as squeaky clean as I can make it. So, I've put the Fantastic, Scrubbing Bubbles, Mr. Clean and Swifter dusters back on the shelf.

    And now it's on to editing the second Mad Max, Shades of Pale. I finished the draft a few months ago and put it on the shelf. I had to get away from it so that I could approach it with clearer eyes. I've done a two-day read-through and see where I need to add the back story, flesh out characters, solidify the storyline and look at every sentence, every word to be certain that each is needed and drives the story forward. In other words, time for a detailed revision.

    As you can see, I'm not the only one rethinking or re-visioning a work. My friend Becky Mushko posted this entry on Monday. Great minds think alike??? Or maybe we are just at the same point in our respective drafts.

    I shared a chapter or two with my two critique groups and will share more in the upcoming weeks.

    I can't wait to get started!!

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Catching Up

    Sorry about being MIA for a couple of weeks. Nothing bad happened. Just too much work and too little time to do everything.

    So, what's happened in the last three weeks?

  • I recorded a radio essay for WVTF two weeks ago. It's called You're Never Too Old with a main theme of it's never too late to behave like a little kid. It has a smooshed cake in it.
  • My novel, Unintended Consequences, was selected as a finalist in the Smith Mountain Arts Council Unpublished Novel contest.
  • I sucked in my breath and sent a poem (!) called Three Weeks to a MAJOR national magazine. Three months wait to see if the editor is interested. Fingers are crossed, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing sprained.
  • I sent out six more query letters and collected three rejections (two form, one personalized and quite nice -- must be a new agent!!!) from the first batch. It's a dead heat between my short and long query letter.

  • I went back to Jeff Herman's Guide and was surprised at how many agents still want snail-mail. Some agencies have gone totally green, but many agents clearly said they gave more credence to snail-mail.

    I got to thinking about this and saw the rationale behind using USPS. Why? Because when you physically sign a letter, put it in an envelope, remember to put stamps on the SASE and march it out to the post box at the end of the drive, you give more thought to what you are doing.

    Even though we all know that an e-query must be as professional as a hard-copy query, and even though we know we have to check and double-check whether we are querying the right agent, it is somehow easier to pick an agent, tweak a letter slightly, cut and paste a chapter into the e-mail message (if requested) and hit the Send Key.

    Yes, I'm keeping track of snail- versus e-queries. More to report later.

    Friday, August 28, 2009

    Query Letter Hooks

    Two weeks ago I sent out a couple of e-mail queries. I know we need a hook at the beginning of the letter to rise in the slush pile. Mine was a wee tad different.

    I read about this agent in an interview on Chuck Sambuchino's blog. In the interview, the agent said she preferred to receive e-mail queries with the first chapter attached. I checked out the web site where I learned that the agency preferred snail mail, query and SASE only. There was an "if you must send e-mail. . . " statement. So my query letter began with:

    "I read your interview in Chuck Sambuchino's blog today and am submitting a query to ask you to consider representing UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES, a complete work of women's fiction. While the agency web site states a preference for snail-mail queries, I am following what you said in the interview and am submitting an e-mail query, plus the first chapter."

    And the response from the agent:

    "Thank you for being savvy enough to know to send an e-query--and for
    bringing this to my attention. You make a good point: I'll be sure to
    fix that on our site.

    Thank you for sending your query and sample chapter--I'll take a look."

    At least it was a response. And I wait. . . .

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Mixed messages

    Imagine that you have a novel coming out. Imagine Publishers Weekly giving you a review. Imagine it reads something like this (author, title and character names redacted):

    "[Author]'s debut introduces a likable if predictable hero, [Senior Detective], a white knight in the dark city of New York. Though pondering retirement after 27 years on the force, [Senior Detective] is content to nurture a new partner, [Junior Detective], a young NYPD detective who's quickly risen in the ranks through equal parts skill and political opportunity. . . The author excels at moving his plot forward and creating a realistic landscape that shows both the politics and practice of police work. A wonderful husband and dad, [Senior Detective] drops chestnuts of wisdom at every turn. [Junior Detective] . . . comes across as fawning and naive. Through several subplots [Author] lays the foundation for future entries, but their success may require a new dynamic for the syrupy monotony of the two main characters' relationship."

    Hmm, imagine your review likening your work to a root canal.

    The kicker? After less than a stellar review for a debut novel, this is a 100,000 first printing.

    There is no way to underestimate the desire of some agents/publishers to present dull characters that have no originality.


    Monday, August 17, 2009

    Another rejection

    Yes, another rejection. But not from a query letter this time.

    I entered a short story in the Sherwood Anderson contest for grins and giggles. It didn't win, but I did receive a very nice letter from the Bland Library, which puts on the contest. Snail mail, blue ink signature.

    Time to send out a query letter to replace the rejection. Must keep at least six in queue at all times.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    Query Letter Update

    My friend and fellow Valley Writer, Keith Martin, received his first rejection for a short story from a prestigious mag on April Fool's Day. He received his second for a different story today. His birthday! Happy flipping B'day, Keith.

    As Keith said, the mag will run out of holidays before he runs out of stories. Keep up the fight. It's the only way to win.

    I too received a form rejection on Monday. I sent out six queries in the past week. Within 24 hours, I had my first form rejection. A very nice form rejection, but a form rejection all the same.

    After checking the agent's site, and learning in advance that s/he was looking for books in my genre, I realized that there was one word missing. The agent wants new authors with original voices and who write women's fiction. The missing word was "blockbuster" women's fiction.

    No blockbuster from me, but could be the start of a solid midlist series.

    Onward. More agents await my attack!

    Thursday, August 6, 2009

    Querying is Hard Work

    Okay, I began my marketing research by sending the short query letter to three agents today.

    This is hard work. One wanted a letter only. One wanted a letter, a synopsis, and the first chapter, the synopsis and chapter as attachments. And the third used an e-form. Cut and paste chunks of the query letter into various boxes. Then add 50 pages in the final box. Only problem with the 50 pages is they had to be reformatted from Word into plain text.

    I copied the material from Word and pasted it into Notepad. I added all the line breaks and then pasted it into the form, only to have odd lines added in mid-sentence. So, I had to rework the 50 pages into plain, plain text, checking each line break to be sure it fell in the right place. And since I couldn't send it to my other e-mail address first, I have no idea what the final will look like when it arrives.

    Three agents for three said, "If you don't hear from us in X weeks, we aren't interested."

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    Query Letters

    Okay, I drafted and redrafted my query letter with the help of several friends.

    I reviewed Noah Lukeman's How to Write a Great Query Letter. I reread Chuck Sambuchino's advice on the three paragraph rule, which by the way is similar to Lukeman's but in a different order.

    I read Sambuchino's blog daily. He has a new feature - great query letters and why they are great.

    And I've read Query Shark faithfully.

    Guess what? They all disagree. Lukeman and Sambuchino favor the three paragraph approach: 1. why this agent, 2. description of the plot, and 3. a very brief but appropriate "why me" bio. The order may change, but the gist is the same.

    Sambuchino ran an example of a great query letter for a graphic novelist. Let's see, a paragraph providing author viability on the topic, second paragraph with more bio, third paragraph with more author background, fourth introduces the graphic novel (at last!), fifth about the work and plot, sixth about the author's publishing credits, seventh about the illustrator, and last the request to send a synopsis, etc. Hum, eight paragraphs. But the agent liked it.

    Why do I write this? Because I have two query letter formats: Lukeman/Sambuchino versus Janet Reid (a.k.a Query Shark) who frequently comments favorably on slightly less formulaic letters. Some agents will get one format; others a different format. I'm curious if either format will work. I will track who gets which letter.

    Nothing like a little market research, huh?

    Tuesday, August 4, 2009

    Querying for fun and profit

    After a wonderfully stimulating day on the water last Saturday, and a rainy Sunday, I dug into the query letter for Mad Max 1. The original query wasn't working. My fellow Lake Writer and boater Sue Coryell reviewed and made several comments. I revised, read aloud, tweaked, and am now ready to send it out.

    Why did I ask Sue? Because she is one friend who has actually published using an agent. Most of my published friends did the deed themselves.

    Thanks to Sue.

    Onward to testing this version. If anyone out there knows a good agent who handles contemporary women's fiction. . . . .

    Sunday, August 2, 2009

    Writing on a Rainy Sunday Morning

    I love rainy days when I can write and edit and rewrite to my heart's content. Today was one such day.

    I worked a bit more on tuning my first Mad Max novel, after a wee bit more feedback from one on my best friends. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have changed anything. Besides Mad Max 2 awaits in complete first draft.

    Yesterday, four women writers took off on our boat for an afternoon of wine, writing, talking about plot and characters, and other mischief on Smith Mountain Lake. We had hoped for three more, but Sally Roseveare was doing her first book signing for Secrets of Sweetwater Cover, Becky Mushko was over at the Hanover Bookfest, and Claudia Condiff was coughing and hacking and didn't feel at all well.

    We had a perfect day of relaxing on and in the water before heading home for a barbeque with our husbands. And then the rains came. And came. And came. Oh well, I was already wet. . . .

    So with yesterday's inspiration and today's rain to help, I tackled my query letter. And thanks to Sue Coryell, a fellow Lake Writer and YA novelist, I sent her the latest version for improvement.

    August is query letter month. No but firsts.

    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    First published article

    Giggle, my first freelance article appeared in the Laker Weekly on Jul. 24. A double-truck article, two photos, center spread. Giggle again. I'm now a paid writer! Giggle, giggle, giggle

    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    Entering writing contests and waiting

    Okay, today was filled with sending out essays, a short story and a poem to various contests. I felt like I was sitting still and my work was flying out to all parts of the U.S. by e- and snail-mail. I had put off several entries and realized that deadlines were approaching. In other cases, I entered early so that I didn't have to remember to check the dates.

    And now once again, I wait.

    In the meantime, I sent an essay to a glossy magazine to see if it would buy my work. Ditto with a poem to a different glossy.

    And now, I wait.

    Again in the meantime, query letters go forth to agents for Mad Max 1.

    And I wait. And I wait. And I wait.


    Saturday, July 11, 2009

    Shout Out to Sally Roseveare

    My fellow Lake Writer, Sally Roseveare, is publishing her second Smith Mountain Lake Mystery next week!!! I was at her house two weeks ago when the last proof copy came in. Imagine two mature (all right, immature) women fairly dancing around her living room.

    The book, SECRETS AT SWEETWATER COVE, is fantastic. It includes the same characters as her first book, SECRETS AT SPAWNING RUN. For those of us who live at Smith Mountain Lake, it's like a tour of local places with a whole lot of mystery and danger thrown in. Aurora Harris, the protagonist of the first book, once again has to solve a mystery and save innocent people. But she doesn't do it alone. She has King, her resourceful black Lab, and Little Guy, a neighbor's intrepid Jack Russell terrier, to help.

    If you are looking for something wonderful to read on the dock this summer, I strongly recommend both. I was honored to read the advanced copy and will definitely be at Sally's first public reading.

    Again, shameless promotion. Buy the book. You'll get hooked on the characters.

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    The Wisdom of Confucius

    Which piece of wisdom, you ask. "Be careful what you ask for. You may get it."

    I have completed a whydunit called UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES. At least three times.

    Two years ago, I thought I was done. I had written the best book I could and was ready for input. I gave copies to 10 friends, many of whom are published writers. And I gave 5 copies to one of my critique groups. I asked for honest feedback. And I got it.

    Of course, I reacted as any calm, rational person would. I got pissed off!

    Then, I sat back, thought about what I had requested, and read all of the comments without emotion. 15 people had 20 opinions. I sorted through the ones that worked for me and began a year-long rewrite. I also read about writing, contributed to two critique groups, and paid very careful attention to every piece of fiction I read.

    Then I let the book sit for a couple of months while I wrote down the bones of a second book.

    Finally I was ready to have my work reviewed again. Once more, more opinions, more suggestions, and more people trying to transform my style into theirs. I took all advice and considered every comment.

    And then rewrote sections. At last, I was done. Until one person in a critique group asked to read the first 50 pages. To be polite, I agreed. Stupid me!

    I got back 50 pages of totally marked up content. Many of the comments don't work. Some do. I never expected this particular group member to have much to offer. Turns out, she does.

    I'm considering a few of the comments that will not result in a complete rewrite. I plan to finish the current set of tweaks this month, begin the query process next month and see what happens.

    Another Confucian bit of wisdom sits on my desk: "Know where you are going. You are likely to get there." It's right between my Japanese sign for tranquility and a stuffed anteater.

    Sigh! Off to do some more editing.

    Monday, July 6, 2009

    A Shout-Out to Sheri Wright

    This is the first in an occasional series of shout-outs (shouts-out???) to writers of slim volumes, which may pass in the night without much acclaim, but which are very, very good. (Now that is a tortured sentence if I ever wrote one.)

    Let me set the scene. In May my husband and I were visiting friends in southern IN. The local steamboat museum what having a chautaugua and I cannot pass up a chautaugua. In the writers' area were several local Louisville and southern IN writers, publishers and poets. I browsed locally published novels, talked with a delightful man who had his own fledgling print-on-demand publishing house, and stopped dead still at one table.

    My eyes spotted a chapbook of poetry with the most outlandish title and cover design. NUNS SHOOTING GUNS. What's not to like with the title? It's outrageous, over the top, and sassy. I talked with the poet, Sheri Wright, for quite a while. She took her title from a 1957 photo of The Sisters of Divine Providence who were in habits and held guns. I bought the book for its title and cover art. (Who says cover art doesn't sell books??)

    I kept the book for the fine poetry inside. Several poems made me laugh, some made me cry, some did both. My favorite is "Cut Flowers" on breast cancer. The subject is a woman who underwent a double mastectomy and then had flowers tattooed where her breasts had been. And then went topless at the beach!

    So, buy Sheri's book. Yup, shameless promotion. You can reach her at She gave me permission to publish her e-mail, so please, please buy her book!

    Sheri, don't stop writing. I love your work and my two critique groups did too.

    Monday, June 29, 2009

    Contest Winner!

    Congratulations to three Lake Writers who won prizes at the 25th Annual Wytheville Writing Contest. It was the first time that three members of the same writers group won prizes.

    Bruce Rae (left) won second place for his essay Dare We Bail Out Bad Businesses?, a political essay wondering why corporate CEOs who led their companies into bankruptcy and government bailout keep their jobs. Becky Mushko (second from the left) won second place in the short story contest for her work Rat Killing, a story about an elderly woman, dying of pancreatic cancer, who crashes her truck into a local ne'er-do-well. And yes, that's me (at far right). I took third place in the essay contest for The Gift, a personal essay about life's lessons and growing up in a household with three women. Dr. Rhonda Catron-Wood, between Becky and me, is the chairman of the program.

    Congratulations to all of us -- even me.

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    From "Free"-lance to Freelance

    After a year of writing for local papers for free, I have finally made the quantum leap from a "free"-lance writer to a real freelance writer. I signed an agreement with one local paper to write a series of feature stories FOR PAY. I can now officially say I am a professional writer. My public relations efforts for two not-for-profits will continue without an ethical conflict. It was a long time coming, but I'm really legit!!

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    More Thoughts on Writing

    Last week, I went to a discussion on short writing by Kurt Rheinheimer, author of Little Criminals. Kurt led a discussion on how he writes his successful short fiction. He gave a good definition of life as a writer: "Writing is like losing weight and keeping it off. You have to work at every day."

    He's write, er, right. Time for me to get back to editing and rewriting. I made my deadlines for getting my articles ready for the local papers and now can spend several hours on my own stuff.

    Oh yes, and not overeat. I need to lose 10 more pounds. . . .

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    Ethical Dilemma

    I belong to two writers' groups. I often ask my peers to read my efforts, or listen when we meet and read aloud. I listen to my peers' efforts as well. It's an honor to share and be asked to review material.

    Recently, one member asked me to read the first section of a novel he's been working on, like, forever. I agreed. I have now reread his material twice. It has some errors -- grammatical, word usage, sentence style, typos. I struggled with the dilemma: Do I correct everything or let the writer's unique voice come through? Do I just fix the obvious typos and incorrect word choce?

    The voice is not semi-literate. It's just very different.

    Any suggestions?

    Sunday, June 14, 2009

    Submissions and Queries

    For the past few days, I've been polishing prose to send stories into various local and national contests. I grabbed the Spic 'n Span, Pledge, and Roget's Thesaurus to get the different pieces into the right shape. Two went north, one when to a contest in Virginia, one went out west to get a tan.

    And while I was on a roll, I also polished my query letter and slipped it into e-mails to three more agents. I felt strong and focused. And since I had put my hands in the Allstate Madonna, I was invincible.

    And then Stephen Pastis took on agents in his daily comic strip, Pearls Before Swine. The day of the first panel brought a form rejection from an agent. So much for the Allstate Madonna.

    Onward to waiting to hear if any of my spring submissions to contests won anything. Onward to continuing to polish my prose. Onward to sending off query letters.

    After all, nothing ventured, nothing sprained.

    Tuesday, June 2, 2009

    Publishing Alternatives

    Like many unpublished writers, I research ways to get published. The traditional one is to send out query letters, find an agent, have her find an editor who takes the book to a publisher, who agrees to publish and market the book. That can take years. I mean years. Not one or two, but ten or more. Nearly every major bestseller has a story behind it of the author collecting rejection after rejection before finally "hitting it big."

    Other ways are to use vanity publishers, small presses, print on demand, subsidized publishing, and more. If you read the statistics, it is true that alternative publishing surpassed traditional publishing in the number of titles last year. But dig deeper, and you find that statistics can always be spun to tell a story. It just might not be the story for you.

    When you add up the number of titles and the number of books sold (for those few "transparent" alternative publishers), you get between 50 and 150 copies per title. And except for the small press, few if any of these alternative publishers take returns, provide marketing, or placement in book stores. Small presses often do take returns, may provide limited marketing, but rely on the author to gain placement in bookstores.

    I looked into A best seller is 500 copies. One of my friends has published five titles with And he has purchased five copies each. No other sales. Why? He publishes specialized cookbooks for his family -- one per year for Christmas.

    Everyone should be aware of the pitfalls of alternative publishing. With no marketing, you should expect no sales. If you have a strong platform, and a strong marketing plan, you might do all right. It all depends on the numbers you want to hit.

    Sometimes an author starts with print on demand, for example, sells upwards of 1500 copies, does her own marketing, and develops a readership and demand for future works. At that point, the author is moving into the realm of a small press, even though she is not printing anything physically. My friend Sally Roseveare sold nearly 2000 copies of a novel set at Smith Mountain Lake. Her second novel is due out in July. With such a readership, she should be moving a lot of "product" in the next few months.

    One last point. Anyone going the alternative publishing route should pay close attention to costs. Amazon is promoting its Booksurge program. A 75,000-word book starts at $4,599. At least that was the cost on Friday.

    Bottom line: There are no right answers in publishing. The best advice I've received is to do thorough research before jumping onto one band wagon or another.

    And one observation: Didja ever think that some books should not be published?

    Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    Keeping One's Voice

    It's hard enough to capture your own voice on paper. It's harder yet to defend it when well-meaning readers tell you to change so much of what you wrote. Add in the books on the market and it's enough to make the most well-intentioned writer run screaming for the nearest exit.

    I've read tons of books about writing. Everything from Stephen King's On Writing to Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird to Natalie Goldburg's Writing Down the Bones. All these work in your initial drafts -- which all of us should and do keep private.

    There comes a day, however, when you want someone else's opinion. With my current
    work, I thought I was done, after five revisions, over a year ago. Then I asked half a dozen friends, both in my Lake Writers group and outside, to read the opus. I would have been better off if I had put on a diaper and ranted like Opus. Instead, I got back copies marked up for grammar (thanks to the three of you who took the time to find every typo and grammo) and five with major revision suggestions. Everything from changing the narrator to writing in a different voice to using a different point of view. I read each set of comments, set them all aside for a while, and let my friends' words ferment in the old brain stem.

    What eventually emerged was the realization that some of my readers were right -- the book had to be rewritten. A rewrite is harder than the initial draft. And then come the inevitable edits of the rewritten manuscript. Finally, when you think you've "got it," you put it out to half a dozen readers, three from the original set who were kind enough to offer go suffer through another draft, three "virgins" sacrificing our friendship in the pursuit of honesty.

    Two very loud -- and not incorrect -- sets of comments were: 1) if I were writing this, I would do it this way and 2) you need more drama.

    If I took the first comment literally, I would be writing like a Southern red neck. If I took the second comment literally, I would change the novel to a screenplay. Both had elements of how to improve the manuscript.

    And now I am in what must be the final tuning and tweaking before getting feedback from agents. (That does not include form rejections, one of which arrived this morning.) I will continue querying with the last -- or latest -- rewrite and see what happens. Until then, I'll make very few changes. Certainly not wholesale changes.

    On a different topic, did anyone see the Bookshelf article on POD topping traditional publishing in 2008 for the first time. Could be a sign of things to come. Could be that there are so few traditional editors, agents and publishers that people who believe in their work turn to self-promotion. Not yet time to revisit my marketing plan, but I do have one -- and it's a doozy.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    Alternative Publishing

    I went to a discussion on Monday on the pros and cons of self publishing, sponsored by the Valley Writers Chapter of Virginia Writers Club. Four members all had self-published, with varying degrees of success. The general consensus was that self-publishing works if you have something of local interest (Sally Roseavere's novel is set at Smith Mountain Lake), is non-fiction (memoir by Rodney Franklin and history by Jim Morrison) or humor (Becky Mushko). No one is getting rich slowly this way, but their words are being read.

    One prevailing theme was how involved a writer has to be in marketing his/her book. (To avoid this awkward construction, I will use "her" as the collective noun.) Hand selling at readings, out of the trunk of a car, or through local book stores and gift shops moves a few books. Not enough to garner interest from an agent, however.

    I didn't hear anyone talk about alternative publishing and alternative marketing. I would love comments about these topics:

  • Publishing to electronic books, i.e., Kindle
  • Podcasting to attract listenership
  • Using social networks, i.e., LinkedIn, Plaxo
  • Using FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.

  • I have nearly 4000 personal contacts on one of the social networks. When I posted a note that I was reading a particular book on marketing, my friend noticed a definite blip in sales.

    How else can we market our books? What are your experiences?

    Friday, May 8, 2009

    Genre Confusion

    This has been a week of extraordinary writing-related events. From beginning with that discussion on last Saturday by Rex Bowman to the completion and reading of two new short pieces, I'd say the week was productive. And very, very emotional. (I know, never use "very." Never, never use "very, very." So what.)

    I wrote a thank you essay for my cousin for a treasured gift. I used the essay to explain why the gift meant so much and why I would take care of it always. I don't know what to do with it. Perhaps enter it in an essay contest some time along the way.

    And then I wrote a piece that defies genres. Called Three Weeks, it's either an essay or a poem. I realize it's odd not to know which genre Three Weeks belongs to. Visually, it looks like a free-form poem. Orally, it reads like a short essay, but for the heartbeat of the refrain. I still don't know which it is.

    I asked my dear friend Donna Knox to do a cold read of the piece at Valley Writers Thursday night. Once we finished snuffling back tears, no one in the group could fit it into a genre. I took it with me to Lake Writers Friday morning but had no intention of reading until Jim Morrison asked if I had it with me. Another friend, Rodney Franklin, did me the honor of reading ot. Again, none of the writers in Lake Writers could definitively say to which genre it belonged.

    Maybe the heartbeat of the refrain and the subject were enough. Maybe it doesn't need to belong to a genre. I know the emotions it evokes are real. That's enough for me.

    I think it would be enough for my dear mother. It is about the last three weeks of her life. I hope I did her proud. Happy 87th birthday to the original Mini Mommy.

    Wednesday, May 6, 2009

    Writing Tips from Rex Bowman

    On Saturday, May 2, Virginia Writers Club hosted a discussion on writing with Rex Bowman at the Westlake Library at Smith Mountain Lake. Rex is a recently dismissed reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch. (Forget the fact that Rex has been nominated twice (!) for the Pulitzer Prize. He still got the axe with T-D downsized its staff. Little do they know what they lost.)

    Rex is the author of Blue Ridge Chronicles. He follows the lead of such great storytellers as Ernie Pyle, John Steinbeck with Travels with Charlie, and William Least Heat Moon with Blue Highways. Rex talked about writing. What he dubs his "great truths" reinforce what most of us who write try to achieve. In no particular order, here are some of the truths he discussed.

  • Landscapes don't become interesting until you put people in them. How many of us have read lengthy descriptions of landscapes, places, interiors, and have fallen asleep because nothing is happening??
  • Write about ordinary people. I'd add, write about ordinary people in original settings. I don't want stream of consciousness or gritty reality (Herman got up, peed, brushed his teeth, made toast and coffee -- well, you get the idea. Do write about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
  • Spend time listening to people. Everyone has a story. Listen carefully. Stories are material. Use what you hear shamelessly, but fictionalize the names, situations, etc. After all, you don't want your friends to say, "Hey, you're writing about me!" They will anyway, if the portrait is flattering. If it isn't, you don't want to be sued.
  • Use your own voice. It's what makes you unique. At the same time, let reflections of other voices come through. You can channel these other voices without losing the purity of your own.
  • Be a storyteller, not a writer. Enough said. If the story isn't compelling, no one will read it.
  • Use sensory details. This is a little more difficult. It's nearly impossible to describe a smell, but it's possible to use that smell to evoke emotion. Think the madeleine and Proust, but don't go on for pages about the smell of a cookie and the memories it brings to Proust's character.
  • The quality of language has to match the subject matter. This is esoteric. Imagine a thriller written by Jane Austen. It wouldn't work. Imagine a steamy romance written by Tom Clancy. It too wouldn't work.

    Overall, the meeting was excellent and well attended. I captured pictures for the local papers. Not all will make it into the paper, however. Keith, I did not send this along!
  • Thursday, April 30, 2009

    Can't We Be Correct When We Open Our Mouths?

    Occassionally I will be grabbing egregious errors in print or over the air -- even overheard, but there usually are too many overheard -- and ranting a bit about them here. Today's entry comes courtesy of the flu pandemic. Actually, there are two entries. The first is trying to change the media from saying "swine flu" rather than "H1N1." So not going to happen. Lots of poor pigs will suffer. . . .

    Next comes to us from none other than Janet Napolitano herself. She was asked why the US doesn't use thermal imaging devices at our borders or airports to identify people who are sick. She spoke correctly about people being contageous before symptoms appear, thereby rendering the thermal imaging devices less than perfect. She then went on to say that these devices don't always register "people who have temperatures."

    Um, if we have a pulse, we have a temperature. Or, do we have a previously unreported problem of dead people crossing our borders? What she meant to say was
    fever, I think.


    Wednesday, April 29, 2009


    I never know where inspiration -- or ideas for a story/poem/essay -- comes from. Usually when I least expect it, an idea grabs hold of gray cells and won't let go until I face it.

    So it was the other night when I was driving home from Jim Minick's poetry reading (see earlier post). I was deeply moved by his oral stories and poems about his aunt who has passed away. How lucky he was to know her. This got me to thinking about my dear relatives who have also passed.

    Missing my aunt, who was my second mother, led to me to finish an essay called The Gift. I polished it and submitted it to a writing contest. That wasn't enough to calm the twitchy gray cells, however.

    Now, I don't believe in automatic writing, but I do believe in channeling people's feelings and thoughts. I couldn't get my dear mother out of my mind. I began writing what I thought would be another essay. Right now, it looks more like free verse. Funny, neither my mother nor I like poetry all that much. I don't know why the feelings came out in poetic form. Maybe because I wanted to keep the words sparse. Tell the story with the least amount of words possible. Maybe I was too tired and lazy to form complete sentences for an essay. Maybe it came out the only way I could handle it.

    At any rate, I can thank Jim Minick for stirring up emotions that have, thus far, manifested themselves in a poem.

    Wonder where my next inspiration will come from.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    Spring Contests

    'tis the season for several contests.

    One is me against the oak pollen. Or, more precisely, the oak pollen against me. The oak pollen is winning. I relearned a lesson the hard way yesterday. My Velcro kitty, Nikki, wants to cuddle. She had been outside all day leaving roll-marks in the pollen on the driveway and deck. She hopped up in my lap, gave me a head butt, snuzzled a t-shirt, and jumped down, leaving yellow gunk all over me. Sneezing fit lasted 20 minutes. Maybe I won't cuddle with her for a while. Even brushing the gunk out of her no-longer-white-but-now-dingy-yellow fur brings on itchy eyes and ears, plus a fair number of explosive sneezes. Better check the tissue supply. Or use an old bed sheet.

    The next set of contests are writing contests. They seem to sprout along with the dandelions.

    I worked hard over the past several weeks on a short story, a poem (more as a joke, because I am really not a poet), and a personal essay. Each is targeted at specific contests. The short story already placed third in the Virginia Writers Club "Inside the Back Cover" contest (see blog entry below). I have entered it in another regional contest and am seriously considering entering a national contest.

    The poem? Actually, four haiku. More of a joke because a coordinator of a contest was complaining that she had very few entries. I sent one so that she'd at least have a wee bit of content. And then I decided it too could go to a regional contest.

    As for the personal essay, definitely targeted for the regional contest.

    We'll see what happens. Inspiration comes between sneezes, but at least it comes.

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    Poetry Reading

    Last night the Westlake Library hosted a poetry reading in honor of National Poetry Month. Four Lake Writers, Becky Mushko, Rodney Franklin, Bruce Rae and Franz Beisser, all read original works, as did Beatrice Iceman.

    The guest of honor, though, was Jim Minick, poet and literature professor at Radnor University. His readings from Her Secret Song, a collection about an aunt, were powerful and moving. If anyone wants to read more by a Southwest Virginia poet who captures the rhythm of life, check out Jim's work.

    I finished Her Secret Song last night. Twice.

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    A Contest Win

    I have to brag on myself. I won third place in the annual "Inside the Back Cover" fiction contest sponsored by the Virginia Writers Club for my short, short story TOAD. I am very pleased and not the least surprised. My thanks to the judges for selecting me.

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Classifying Fiction

    I have been agonizing over how to classify Unintended Consequences, my first Mad Max novel. (No, it's not a fiction novel! I know not to make that bone-head mistake.) Is this women's fiction? contemporary fiction? A mystery that doesn't follow the conventions for a mystery? A whydunit? Oh, the choices to make.

    Then last night, I was reading Publishers Weekly and came across this description of a new series launcher: "chicken-fried chick lit paranormal."

    Classifying fiction is ridiculous. See above.

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    On the Ball

    I'm on the ball today. Literally.

    I spent the entire, really the entire, day at my desk working on my own materials. Most of my friends don't believe me when I tell them I work on a balance ball. I've set up my office with my desk, two computers, two printers and a work space at right angles on the left. There is a bookcase out of view on the right loaded with reference material. So, today I was productive.

    First, I worked on a personal essay that I plan to submit to a couple of contests. It needs a bit more tweaking, but overall I'm satisfied I'm on the right track.

    Next, I finally couldn't put off writing the one-page synopsis for my first Mad Max novel. When someone tells you it's harder to write the synopsis than the entire novel, do not RPTFLOL! Believe them. Yes, there is a format to follow, but when every word counts, it's difficult to find le mot juste.

    I wrapped up a short story for another contest, after sending it to my cousin for her approval. After all, her older brother was my model, although I took many liberties with the plot.

    Lastly, I reviewed my query letter and all but trashed it. I now have four versions left on my laptop. I can't count how many I've already trashed. Then, I read entries for the query letter contest Nathan Barnsford is running. Some were better than mine, some were worse. Oops, I should have entered the contest, although my fellow writers were brutal in their rejections. Sigh. Where has the civility gone? One would-be-agent-for-a-day, the title of the contest had a terrific quote: "Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

    I have been revising the first chapter of Mad Max 2 and just pulled it up to work on it, when I was interrupted. Nikki, my CWA, who is NOT allowed to climb on the ball -- remember, she is armed and dangerous -- decided I needed to quit working and feed her.

    Guess that's my cue to stop for the night, think about the changes I made to the four projects above, and begin again just after dawn tomorrow.

    See ya!

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Plots and Schemes

    I love it when people ask writers where they get their ideas. Here's how I came up with my latest.

    Over the past week, I developed the idea for the fourth Mad Max mystery. It all started with a story in the Roanoke Times about a woman who died alone and no one found her body for 18 months. And that's where my plot began.

    What if Max lives near a recluse who dies and no one notices? I began fleshing out the plot in my head, wondering where it would lead. It led to thoughts of murder. Two murders. With Max, Alex, Emily and Manny trying to solve them.

    All of this was against two wonderful golf courses in Pinehurst, where my husband Terry and I play two rounds on the weekend. Perfect weather. Warm, sunny, green air. Green air??? Yup, pines were in full pollen release. It isn't called Pinehurst for nothing. Great, irritating green clouds of pollen blowing across fairways, coating cars, making noses sneeze. And in my brain stem, I kept thinking about killing people.

    Next, Terry and I drove down to Augusta to watch a practice round of the Masters. Don't we look like we are having fun?? We had checked the weather map before we left. It was supposed to be 60 degrees, so we rigged for 60. We did not rig for 40! It was so bloody cold that most of the top players stayed indoors and didn't practice. We'll see how they do.

    We sat at Amen Corner, a place which has probably heard as many prayers as the Sistine Chapel. It's also the Kodak hole at Augusta National. I looked out at the perfect azaeleas, dogwood, greens, white sand traps. And plots and schemes continuing to build in my head about murder. We fell into a conversation with two couples behind us. They turned out to be from Kentucky and as luck would have it, they arrived with a camera and a dead battery. (No, that's not the death I had in mind.)

    I agreed to take a couple of snaps of them and send the photos along. I wonder what they would have thought if they knew I was planning to murder a recluse by suffocation and a second man in a faked accident. You really can't believe what some people are thinking.

    At any rate, from the single article to a complete blueprint for a novel -- all in one week. And that's where I got the idea for Echoes of Silence. At least, that's the working title.

    Wednesday, April 1, 2009


    I needed to put the trauma of the demise of my corporate life behind me and get on with something I could control. I can control my writing, and the time I spend on it, whereas I cannot really have much of an impact on my company. Yes, I still do my job and help get ready for the ultimate break up of our intellectual property. That no longer gives me any true satisfaction, since I spent a lot of time building our intellectual property collection.

    I returned to a short story I've been working on for a few weeks. "Toad" is about 1100 words and features a ten-year-old boy spending a day on his own with two friends. I've read this at Lake Writers and Valley Writers, each time receiving excellent feedback to improve the tale.

    One criticism kept coming up. I don't identify one of Toad's friends as a burro until the last page. Why? Because it's clear from the beginning that the pal is an animal. Since the animal doesn't have any lines, I didn't see fit to say something as obvious as "Fatso was a burro."

    Then the question of a burro versus a donkey became a bone of contention. Some critics said they were identical. I maintain that the burro is slightly different from a donkey. A bit of research showed that I was right. I love being right.

    What's the difference? A burro is a feral descendant from Spanish donkeys, smaller that the donkeys brought over by the English later. Both are true donkeys, but come from different DNA sources.

    Fatso is a burro. Having grown up in the California desert, I saw enough of these shaggy feral beasts to know one when I see one. And in my mind's eye, Fatso is a fuzzy burro.

    To my friends who wanted me to explain this in the story, NOT going to happen. For those who read this blog, this might be the end of the conflict.

    Although, since another writer friend is on a quest to find out when mules first appeared in the Blue Ridge, this might not be the last word. If anyone has proof when mules came to the Blue Ridge, let me know.

    Whatever. At least I'm writing and enjoying every word.

    Tuesday, March 31, 2009

    Writing about Animals

    I had the honor last week of reviewing Karen Wrigley's manuscript Beyond Woofs and Whinnies. I began with a large degree of skepticism. I know Karen is an animal communicator and I fully believe such people have gifts I lack. I wasn't sure I could get into a book of vignettes about animals, or critters as she calls them, with whom she has communicated.

    She captured me on about the third vignette when she wrote about her old horse Jake. She could have been writing about my high school quarter horse, Flaxie. Same demeanor, same quiet nature around children. I have never forgotten this mare, not because she threw me on asphalt and broke my back/hip/knee. I put her in the wrong place, in jeopardy, so the fact that she threw me was due to "operator error." I remember that she didn't step on me when I fell under her hooves. I remember coming to and seeing a sturdy hoof on either side of my head. And I remember not being able to move because said hooves were on my braids.

    But enough about me. I loved Karen's book. For skeptics out there who don't know if animal communication is real, read this. If you still don't know, at least you will have learned something from someone who does believe. Karen's book will be out in the next few months. I suggest you check into her web site for the announcement. Remember, it's called Beyond Woofs and Whinnies by Karen Wrigley.

    Monday, March 23, 2009

    Editing 101 -- Or Don't Be Afraid to Kill Your Darlings

    Yes, I brought out the dreaded red pen and began editing -- or rewriting -- the raw draft of Max 2. Hemingway rewrote A Farewell to Arms 39 times because he wanted to get the words right. It's axiomatic that you don't really begin to write until you begin to rewrite.

    I wrote the bones of Max 2 down and then I took a month off to let the draft settle. I picked it up again last weekend and read the book cover to cover, red pen in hand. I was trying to answer six questions. And these questions can be applied to a sentence, paragraph, chapter, or the whole damned book. They are:

    • Does this sentence/paragraph/chapter advance the plot line?
    • Does this sentence/paragraph/chapter advance character development?
    • Can I shorten the sentence/paragraph/chapter without losing essential elements of plot or character development?
    • Do I need this word or phrase, or was I in love with the written word when I wrote it?
    • What does my character want when she does or says something?
    • Why does my character need to do something?

    I read looking for concept errors, plot omissions, and characters that were introduced but not developed. I was not doing a line edit or a copy edit for grammos and typos. That comes later.

    What I learned didn't surprise me. I have a lot of work to do. This time, I wrote a blueprint for Max 2. This saved countless errors in names and motives, because I thought that stuff out in advance.

    Now, I have to do a very close rewrite. I bled red all over the draft, and I used about a pack and a half of sticky notes. Sigh.

    But, I think of this as the fun part. It's my private time with my words, working on it to improve it, before sharing it with my two writing groups, Lake Writers and Valley Writers.

    And yes, I engaged in a teeny weeny "but first" and wrote a short story that I want to submit to the Wytheville Festival in June. It too needs polishing, so I work on it when I can no longer see what's working or not working with Max 2.

    I continue plowing ahead. Anything else would lead to mental stultification.

    Monday, March 16, 2009

    Enough "But Firsts"

    All y'all know what "but firsts" are, don't you? It's what you do when you know you have to do something but keep putting it off. Like, I know I have to clean the house, "but first" I have to re-read War and Peace .

    I but firsted my way through reading two friends' manuscripts, commenting on another friend's play, writing a sketch/short story for a contest, and an essay for another contest. And now, I have to address what I really want to do. Talk about writing and what I'm working on.

    This is the first of many, many posts on writing. How I go about it. Why I am compelled to write. How I get my ideas.

    I have written five complete novels in recent years. (This does not count earlier output, all of which have been destroyed to protect the guilty. Me.) My first was erotica. Had to get it out of my system. The second one is actually a trilogy -- Venn diagrams of women from high school, through college, career, marriage, and motherhood. And now, the first Mad Max book, Unintended Consequences, is complete and the second is in very rough draft.

    Generally, I'm happiest when I have three books going simultaneously. That's both for reading and writing. I continue to tweak Mad Max 1, although I think it is about as complete and polished as I can make it. I am now querying agents for MM 1. Thick skin required.

    Next, following the example of Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones, I have finished the bones of MM 2. It's about 70,000 words already, needs whole chunks rewritten, other chunks moved around, secondary characters fleshed out. When I begin a story, I have the main characters in mind, a general story line, the main themes, and little else. Because I write character-driven stories, I let the characters take me where they will.

    After finishing the draft, I let it sit for four to six weeks. Kinda took a break. Now, I've just reread it. The first thing I look for is inconsistencies in plot. I circle them, move on, fill the margins with copious notes, and mark things for deletion or moving. I love Post-It Notes, because I decorate page after page with them. And at this cut, I look for those wonderful freedoms of creation that Anne Lamott writes about in Bird by Bird. She allows herself to call characters names like Mr. Poopy Pants (if you'll pardon what might be a paraphrase). I need to rename Honkin' Fat Dodge Boy to Sheriff Lester Hardy. Thank God for search and replace.

    I started the first revision this weekend. It was rainy and a perfect time to dig into 70,000 words. Now that the manuscript is covered in red ink, it's time to start moving chunks around.

    This step can take weeks or months, depending on how many "but firsts" I find along the way.

    And what about MM 3? Doing the research, because I want to learn about gene-splicing and viruses. (Viri??)

    So, tomorrow I start moving chunks. Stay tuned for updates.

    Sunday, March 15, 2009

    Jane Rosen's Alice

    My dear friend, Jane Rosen, has written a play that is a semi-finalist at the 7th Annual Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto. Entitled Alice, it's a real tour de force. I can't wait to see how well she does.

    Jane has a history of success. An Emmy winner as producer for the PBS show for Austin City Limits, Jane has written a book on women mentoring women, that propelled her into a series of speaking engagements across the country. It's called My Life as a Corporate Goddess. And yes, I'm one of her goddesses. She most recently coauthored a book, Convergence Marketing with Richard Rosen. Yes, she confesses to having slept with the author, "but hey, she's married to him."

    So Jane has a broad-based platform. I encourage any of you who are interested in a different world view to check out her web site and get to know her. You won't be disappointed.

    Writing News from Lake Writers

    I have recently had the honor of working closely on manuscripts by two writers in Lake Writers. For the past several months, I have been an avid reader and concept editor for Don Fink, whose Escape to the Sky, is shaping up to a very good historical novel. He still has a couple of hundred pages left to write, but the plot is solid and the characters are very compelling.

    I just concluded a line edit of Sally Roseveare's second novel. Her first, Secrets of Spawning Run, has a devoted readership, which partially belies the idea that self-published fiction doesn't sell. I think the next one will do as well, if not better. You can read more about Sally at her web site.

    Now, we need Becky Mushko, with her middle grade novel, and Sue Coryell, with a young adult work, both picked up quickly by agents. I wish my fellow writers the best of good luck.

    My fingers are crossed, although it makes typing very difficult jf;ljsd;lfjsd;l.

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    A Terrific Writers Conference

    Over the past weekend, I participated in the annual Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. I didn't know what to expect, so I was pleasantly surprised at how well attended it was. There were probably over 100 attendees, all of whom had a love of writing, the foibles of the language, and worked in a variety of different genres.

    We had poets, newspaper publishers, journalists, novelists, essayists, humorists, and others who just wanted to write whatever moved them.

    For me, networking was the best part of the conference. I got to spend time with Dan Smith, a prolific business writer in the area; Gene Marrano, news producer for WVTF; and Janis Jaquith, an essayist whose materials are often heard on NPR. I picked up Janis's book of radio essays, Birdseed Cookies, and finished it in one night. I recommend it highly. I spoke with writers as diverse as Lorie Long and Sharyn McCrumb.

    I did come away with an idea for an essay. I'll have to think about it, but leave it to say that the metaphor of vast to shrinking horizons can be seen as life itself. Who knows if or where the essay will go. Stay tuned.