Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Word Counts Don't Work For Me (motivationally speaking)

I think I have NaNoWriMo hangover, and I didn't even participate in it. What's with the word count obsession? And why have I gotten sucked into the belief that I have to write a certain amount of words each day, no matter how cruddy they are, or I'm not going to ever finish this stinkin' book??

I'll admit my dark, dirty secret. I don't write fast, and I want it to be perfect the first time around. I know it isn't going to be. I know I will need to revise many times. But I want it to be as right as humanly possible. I can't continue to spew out utter poo and feel good enough about my book to keep at it. And better writing the first time around is less to revise later.

So what that means is that sometimes I have to stop and reevaluate. And make the hard decisions. Decisions that put that precious word count in a reverse mode.

Several months ago, one of my dear, dear writing partners decided to change her entire book from third person point of view, to first person. Don't get me wrong, her book was good. Her writing is fantastic because she is one of those truly gifted writers who probably is incapeable of utter poo. But still, she felt like she was lacking something – some uumph – and she decided to try the book in first person.

Word counts went spinning and spiralling rapidly backwards so fast we were almost sucked into a time warp. To have all that work done, and then essentially start over... BRAVE!!!

But this month she sent out her first chapters and they are AWESOME!!  The beautifully written, gripping first draft pales like a ghost in comparison with how this story and it's main character now jump off the page. It may have been depressing and frustrating to start at square one again, but she gritted her teeth and did it, and it was so worth it!

She's my inspiration. Because this week I've gotten bored with my story. Not the writing it. I like writing it. I love my main characters. They're so cool and fun and I can't wait to spend time with them. But then I look back at what I wrote and one character comes off so boring. The narration is pretty, and lyrical, but there is no sense of voice in it, and as a result it's weak. And definitely not befitting my character.

So this week I turned back the word counts (oh so painfully) and tried it in first person. WaLA!! There was my feisty character!! There was her voice! There was her personality!

I'm keeping the male half in third person because his narrator is very good, and I think when the two story lines merge it will work better. So essentially I only have half to rewrite. But I'm going to keep at it for a while to see where it goes.

And I'm ignoring the word counts. Because all that really matters is that I'm writing a good story. And it will get done when I am done.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How History Plays a Role in the Value of a Book

That sounds like an impressive title, doesn't it? One that likely will be followed by something intelligent and researched. Alas, this blog is still written by me, and will likely end up mostly just musing aloud about something I recently read.

So I've been playing around with my new Nook. Turns out, if you want to actually read something on an e-reader, you have to download books on it. Don't you think something that masquerades as a book would actually COME with books to read? Like, $200 worth of them?  Yeah, me too.

But it doesn't. So I had to go cruising the internet for things to download, and I thought the best way to start would be FREE books. After all, I didn't want to pour another $75 into it by buying books and then discover I actually HATE reading on a gadget. And then, isn't one of the great things about e-readers that you have at your fingertips free copies of everything written that's now in public domain? And what better a way to get back into reading the classics?

So my first few minutes after plugging it in and turning it on (and maybe there was some kissing of the smooth white plastic shell, but I'll never admit that), I was browsing free books.

One of the first I came across was Nellie Bly's 10 Days in a Madhouse. I stopped because just that morning my daughter and I had been talking about a movie we'd seen at the Newseum in Washington D.C., and in particular the fact that Nellie Bly and her reporting stint in the New York insane asylum had led to this very book.

Without hesitation (after all, it was FREE), I downloaded it and instantly had it sitting in my lap. My very first e-book.

If you don't know the premise of this book, it's more of a rather long expose than a book, written by a female reporter who took on an assignment in 1887 to masquerade as an insane women in order to get committed to  Blackwell Island's Women's Lunatic Asylum. The book's graphic depiction of the horrid conditions caused a sudden spotlight on state-funded asylums, brought her personal fame, and propelled the state to increase the budget and care of the indigent and insane.

Both Nellie Bly and this book have achieved a lasting recognition and applause, and so as I sat to read, I expected great writing.

What I got was what felt like skeletal writing only interrupted by dramatic flourishes, as if the author couldn't decide whether to make a big deal out of her ordeal, or to downplay it. She spoke calmly and methodically about the way the guards held people under freezing water until they thought they'd drown, but speaks indignantly about how the women are forced to eat on a wooden table without even the common niceties of a tablecloth.

She feigns her way into being committed as an insane woman by staring off into space in a boarding house, and insisting someone would be coming soon with her bags. It took less than 24 hours for her to draw a home of women into belief that she was insane and potentially dangerous by refusing to go to sleep when everyone else did but sitting upright on her bed instead. In quick order she was turned over to a doctor who declared her insane and sent her to the asylum.

I couldn't read this without my own current world interrupting hers, wondering how one could be so equally appalled at the extent to which the piano in the asylum was out of tune as with the chains they had to wear on walks. I was bothered by how simple it was to be considered insane, when there are truly, truly insane people on the streets today that couldn't get a judge to declare that.

In short, I think if this book were presented today, even as a feature story in a news magazine, it would never have been published. Not that the story didn't have merit on it's own, but that the writing itself nearly undermined the power of the story. As horrid as the conditions were, I felt nearly nothing as I read it, more as if I were reading a badly written horror story than a true, real-to-life report.

I wondered why this book has lasted. Is it because Nellie Bly was one of the first women reporters to do anything so brave and undercover? Was it because this book blasted open the secrets of a dark, dark place and made a difference from that day on in the lives of every woman that would find herself at Blackwell's Island?

If this book were fiction, it would have long since gone out of print and faded from everyone's thoughts. If it were submitted today, I can't imagine it would ever be published as it is. It keeps its power and its prestige based on the history out of which it came. It's valuable, not as a great piece of writing, but as a historic document, one which was innovative and change-inducing in its day.

Certainly there are other books published more recently that fall into this category as well. Memoirs and books about famous trials and "I was there when" type of books. But in light of books like Dave Cullen's Columbine, it's a shame more of these couldn't have been written in the kind of book like that: one that will stand the test of time not just because of it's subject but because of how well it's written.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Meditations from the Middle of the Night

This is my very first blog post. I don't think anyone ever read it... I wrote it, and it tooks months to write another. Months before I learned how the blogging community works. But I loved it, so I kept it. And this weekend, my littlest got the stomach flu again, and while delirious with exhaustion in the middle of the night, I thought about what I wrote here, and thought I'd share it with you.

Regular writing schedule will continue tomorrow... or when I'm not so tired I can't see straight.

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him..." Romans 8:28

Last night my youngest daughter came down with the stomach flu. I wonder sometimes why the stomach flu always hits our house at midnight: after the kids are well asleep and too groggy to help themselves, but before I have gotten any shutteye. The heavings seemed to come like contractions: every ten to fifteen minutes from midnight until after six in the morning and I spent the entire night doing laundry and laying next to her on the very cold floor and praying.

I have been studying Romans in my Bible study and this verse was fresh in my mind. I had much time to meditate on it as I prayed and I tried hard to listen to God speak in the darkness.

I prayed, of course, that God would heal my little one, that she would miraculously get well. I knew that this was unlikely, which was not to say I didn't believe God could do it. God can do anything, and a little stomach flu would be nothing to Him to cure. But I also know God doesn't always do our bidding. not because He doesn't care or because He is not actively involved in our lives, but because these things which are hard on us are of use to us, and because, for reasons I do not always understand, God allows suffering, even for those who love Him.

I have grappled with this long and hard, this idea that God will allow bad things to happen to people. Can good always come out of bad? There are so many questions to deal with, like cancer and car accidents and starvation and poverty and terrorist regimes, I won't touch. I don't have all the answers, and last night wasn't about these things. It was about a little girl who was sick, and a very tired and delirious mom who was trying to survive the night.

I used to think that "work together for good" meant God would make even the bad circumstances to become good in the long run, but I have come to realize this isn't at all what God means. Sometimes He will do this, and things that are awful can give birth to great happenings. Joni Erickson Tada is a great example of this. A woman who became paralyzed in a terrible diving accident, who has lost the use of her legs and arms, has found great power in her new life. She has become a world-renowned artist, drawing with a pen in her teeth (surely a talent she would not have found without the accident!), and writing inspirational books, giving lectures that give hope and open the doors of faith to countless people, singing and inspiring. Her life is so much more powerful because of her paralysis. I might argue, though, that the best result of this accident is what God has done IN Joni, and not just through her. The good Paul mentions in this verse is the good God is doing IN us. It does not mean God will change our circumstances to good, but that He will use the circumstances we find ourselves in to mold us more like Him. Which is why, in the dark of the night, holding the little body of my sick child, I prayed that God would take away her sickness, but if He chose not to, that my daughter and I might have strength to get through the night, and that God would grant me the gentleness and patience and love needed but so scarce when I am tired. And that prayer He most definitely answered.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I've Gone To The Dark Side (I've Got A Nook)

There was a time, not so long ago, that I voted in a poll on Nathan Bransford's blog about e-readers, voting squarely in the "You'll have to pry my paper books from my cold dead hands."

Then four of my writing group members finished their WIPs and sent them to me and I spent a few blurry-eyed months reading manuscripts on the computer, 400 pages at a time. It took ten times longer than it should have because it was just hard to read that much on the computer. And I started thinking... maybe. Maybe I could do this e-reader thing.

Then I saw an advertisement for the new Barnes & Noble Nook and I fell in love. It's hard to admit this... I have a tiny problem with technology. An obsessive love affair type problem.

I thought books were the one area I would remain faithful to the original. I love paper books. I love the smell of them, the feel of the smooth cover and the sound of the rustle as you turn the page. I love seeing them lined up on my shelves. The colors! The fonts! The photos!

And then along came the Nook.

I can't explain why I fell for the Nook. It's a visceral thing. A combination of that mac-white shell, the covers all lined neatly at the bottom to scroll through, the thought of being able to take with me my writer peep's books as I'm waiting for the dentist to call me back to the torture chamber.
It might have somethimg to do with the name. I like the name Nook. It's cozy. It conjures images so much warmer than the bonfire-induced, book burning images I get with the other one.

This isn't a post about why you should buy a Nook, though, or why a Nook is better than a Kindle, or vice versa. There are lots of great websites that do that in depth. Here is just one of them. (And sorry Sony, but you sort of got left out of all the comparisons all over the internet... I think it's because you couldn't come up with a better name than Sony e-reader. We want originality. Creativity. We really do judge a book by it's title, and an e-reader by it's name. We are just that shallow.)

I'm pretty fair, and I will say in all honesty that the Kindle probably does outperform in some areas. It's all about what you're looking for, or – in my case – what swings you from paper books over to the dark side.

But to start with, let's be clear. I have not given up my love of paper books. I can't even begin to fathom a future in which I don't walk around dizzy with lust in a book store and walk out with a stack, nose stuck in them to smell the heady smell of printer's ink and paper.

But my Nook has it's own stack of merits.

For one, it's head and shoulders above reading on a computer screen. It's not just the scrolling effect that drove my eyes nuts, but the light. At first, the e-ink screen on the Nook bugged me a little. I hunted around trying to see if I could increase the light behind it because it felt dark. Then I realized there really wasn't any light. Like a book, it is what it is. And the contrast was just fine. Not readable in the dark, but perfectly readable in daylight. And after hours with it, my eyes didn't hurt. Not even a little bit.  Once I got used to the idea that it was meant to be read like a book rather than an electronic device, I loved that aspect of it.

Secondly, my fears that one couldn't get lost in an e-book the same as a paper book were completely unfounded. That fear persisted until about two pages into my first book. Ask my family. I've been utterly unavailable the last five days. Sucked in. Consumed. It turns out, a good story is a good story, no matter how it comes. This is the one that surprised me the most.

The Nook, unlike the Kindle, can utilize an SD card, which means it's nearly limitless in how many books you can read on it. And it can read several formats of books, including ePub and PDF, which opens the range of books to the entire Google library of public domain books (which download for free) as well as any .doc files that I can convert to PDF. I can't type on them, the way I use Word Tracker when I typically critique, but for larger pieces, it definitely helps the reading go faster.

The Nook doesn't have internet browsing, which I've heard the Kindle does. This wasn't a big deal to me for two reasons. One, most people have phones that do that now, so I imagine if you really want to browse the internet anywhere, you probably already can.  I don't. I don't because I don't need to be sucked into web browsing and email checking 24 hours a day. And if it was available to me, I would. It's an addiction I definitely don't need to feed. When I leave the house, I leave internet behind. I'm a better mom and wife for that.

I do have the mental block that it's electronic technology rather than a book, which adds a level of guilt to the reading I don't have with paper books. This is probably just me, but I'm on technology all day. If I'm not on the computer, I'm on my itouch. And I feel guilty about this around my family. And where I'd feel perfectly fine reading a book while my kids play Wii next to me, I feel less social interacting with my own electronics instead of playing with them. I find myself telling them all the time, "I'm reading a book... I'm not catching up on emails." I think this will fade as time passes and we all get used to it. (I've also downloaded a bunch of books for my kids... free books like Treasure Island and Anne of Green Gables).

I like, to some degree, that I can read a book privately. That is to say, without someone judging me by what book I'm holding. I say this because this week I started reading a book I probably wouldn't have been dragging along to dentist appointments and basketball games. I finally succumbed to the phenomenon that is Twilight. Hey - don't judge. I got tired of being the only one on the planet that hadn't read it, and didn't have the foggiest idea of whether or not I belonged squarely in Team Jacob or Team Edward camp. And yet... I didn't really want to admit to anyone I was reading it, either. (Don't ask why. I have no idea. Because I'm not a vampire kind of gal? Because it's seen as a teen girl thing? Because it's so controversial? I have no idea...) And the Nook gave me that anonymity.

I like the fact that the Nook allows you to bookmark your place, and if you aren't fooling around on it, every time you wake it up, it remembers where you were. Unfortunately, and I learned this the hard way, you have to physically put the bookmark in if you plan on turning off the device, update it, add new books, or in any other way deviate from the page you were on. Or you start at the beginning again. So twice I ended up pushing the turn-the-page button 218 times to get to where I left off.

The one thing I can say that does really bug me is that I tend to be a page flipper, and I can't do that with e-books. I read, and as I read, I'll flip back to what I've read before to catch something I might have missed, or double check what happened. For instance, in reading Twilight I totally missed the details of the car careening into Bella in the school parking lot. Fifteen pages later there was a discussion about it that confused me (because I had my facts all screwed up), and I tried to flip back to find the scene and reread it, and to do that you have to turn the pages one at a time. Really, really annoying.

The balance is this, though: I left for DC today and all I carried was my purse, the Nook tucked inside. In the midst of the day, I finished the book and was bummed I was done. Until I realized I had the next one on my Nook as well. Or 25 other books I could start. All at my fingertips. All tucked inside my purse.

While I can't imagine taking this to the beach, where I love to read but can imagine would be a hostile environment to the electronics of an e-reader, I can imagine taking it on a train, or plane. Or up to bed to read while tucked under electric blankets on a cold, cold night.

And on that note... I think I'll do just that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why You Need an Elevator Pitch (even if you're published)

The short, sweet and simple answer: because it will help you sell books.

Now I'm done with the blog and look at that! I have a half hour of free time now to go play with the pup, read a few more pages of a book and get another cup of coffee!!

Okay, I'm kidding. About the second part. The first part is true. You need an elevator pitch to sell your book.

An elevator pitch is a quick overview of your fiction book designed to entice someone to find out more about it.

The first time I ever heard of it was in relation to chance meetings with an agent. For instance, you're standing in an elevator in a hotel after a grueling day at a writer's conference, hoping just to get one of the agents there interested enough to take and read your query, and maybe even request pages. You've resisted following them into the bathroom and sliding pages under the door, or stalking them into the bar and buying them enough drinks to get them tipsy enough to beg for your manuscript, but you haven't found a way to talk to them that doesn't seem on the verge of desperate. Just as you push the button for your floor to go freshen up for dinner, that dream agent steps into the elevator, smiles, and asks the question you have always wanted an agent to ask you:

"Do you write?"

followed closely by, "What's your book about?"

Oh yeah. I rolled my eyes the first time I heard that, because honestly, what were the chances of that happening??

But it does happen, I take it. I've heard stories. Urban legends, maybe, but all the same, a girl can dream. But since I wasn't very many places where I would have happened to run into an agent, I didn't work too hard on perfecting one.  I did the most cursory of research and thought: this looks exactly like the pitch in a query! I've got this down pat!

What I neglected to see was the difference between sending something for an agent to read and actually having a conversation.

Because, as it turns out, my query pitch, which morphed into a back cover blurb, sounds much better on paper than it does as a conversation starter.

And how did I find this out?

I was sitting in a coffee shop last weekend blissfully typing away at my new manuscript when a girl sat down next to me and said, "You working?"


"Yes," I said, glancing up and then trying my best to ignore her and go back to work. One would think the earphones and the frantic typing would have keyed her into the fact that I was perfectly happy being alone.

"Oh. Do you work from home? Do you have your own business?"

Sigh. I took off the earphones.  "I'm a writer."  I can actually say this now. And I'm not afraid of the question which almost always comes next, which did indeed come next.

"Oh. Do you have anything published?"

"YES!!"  Oops. I may have screamed that.

"Really? What's it about?"


It's not like this is the first time I've been asked the question. The thing is, it hasn't really gotten easier to answer because I've never sat down and tried to figure out how to answer it. After all, I wrote the book, right? I've pitched it all over the US. I've sent out queries, talked to publishers, explained to family and friends.  Really, I do know what my book is about.

But here in front of me was a stranger, completely and utterly interested in the fact that she was talking to someone who had written a book, and she wanted to know what it was about. All I had to do was tell her.

It didn't need to be a summary of the book. All it needed to be was a few sentences - maybe not even more than one or two - that might get her to ask questions that could lead us into a great discussion about the book. If only I could think of something that didn't sound... stilted. Prepared. Back of the book-ish.

Luckily for me, she had nothing better to do than sit and talk, and she'd somehow targeted me to engage, so even though I stumbled through the first answer, she asked more questions, and the more we talked the more easily I communicated what the book was about and my passion for it.

Sometimes, though, you don't have that much time, or a person asking who is doing it for more than just being polite.

This weekend I ran into an acquaintance in the movie theatre who had friend in tow. She introduced us and said, "Heidi's a writer. She just had her first book published."  The friend, only mildly interested and probably more just out of niceties, asked, "What's it about?"

This time I was a little better prepared. I gave my one minute conversational elevator pitch. "It's about a mom who's daughter is dying of diabetes. Even though the doctors say she's terminal, the mom finds a risky stem cell trial that might work if it doesn't kill her daughter first. Unfortunately, all the people who have been supporting her during the illness turn against her because they think the stem cell treatment is morally wrong. The tagline of the book is: How far would you go to save someone you love?"

It's not the best... I'm still working on it... but in the two minutes we had to talk before the movie started, I'd given enough information to entice her. And I didn't sound like the back of a book. She asked a bunch of questions that I enthusiastically answered. She bought one right then and there.

Why should YOU have an elevator pitch? Because maybe you'll run into an agent in an elevator someday and she'll ask what your book is about. Or maybe because you've written a book you want people to buy, and out of the blue you'll have a chance to sell it to someone.

Even a stranger in a coffee shop.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Body Finder Book Trailer

The Body Finder, by Kimberly Derting, is only 58 days away from hitting shelves!!

The book trailer, by VCL Photo Productions, just went public. How awesome is that?? Take a look, then pop over to Kim's if you haven't already and let her know how great it is!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Every Word Counts

I usually try to do a gratitude post on Fridays... things that I've noticed and appreciated during the week. But with the earthquake in Haiti... wow. How can I even begin? During last night's prayers with my children, we thanked God for such simple things as food and water and a roof over our heads that wasn't falling down, and for knowing all of us were safe and in the same place.

It's grim and overwhelmingly sad to turn on the TV or the internet.

So instead of my usual, I'm passing on something that showed up in my email today from someone in one of my writing groups. It made me laugh on this bleak morning. I hope it makes you laugh too!


Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says

No, really?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

Now that's taking things a bit far!

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over

What a guy!

Miners Refuse to Work after Death

No-good-for- nothing' lazy so-and-so's!

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

See if that works any better than a fair trial!

War Dims Hope for Peace

I can see where it might have that effect!

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile

Ya think?!

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures

Who would have thought!

Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide

They may be on to something!

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?!

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge

He probably IS the battery charge

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group

Weren't they fat enough?!

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

That's what he gets for eating those beans!

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Do they taste like chicken?

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half

Chainsaw Massacre all over again!

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

Boy, are they tall!

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Did I read that right?

Happy Friday, y'all!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Tale of Two Tomes

Last January I made one of my favoritest resolutions ever: to go to bed a little earlier and read. No matter what the day entailed, no matter how much "to do" was left on my list, no matter how many emails were buzzing around in my inbox and how much blank page yawned at me from my Word document. No matter. To bed early and read.

It worked, too. I love it when I make resolutions that are actually good for me AND that I can keep!

I started with a Michael Crichton novel, I think. Then moved on to Dan Brown. Then a little YA that led to some chick lit. In between fluffy fun books I read literary and acclaimed books, like the Time Traveler's Wife and Vinegar Hill. I never counted the books I read, but it was a fair amount, especially considering I was writing, querying, editing, revising, marketing along the way.

Then came December and things got harder. Busier. We got a puppy for one. A puppy that liked to wake up at 5:30 and demanded attention all day long. Less got done during the day. More had to get done at night.

I discovered I don't do well with only four hours of sleep a night. I don't remember being this tired... well... ever. Maybe when I was pregnant in the first three months. But other than that - never. I fall asleep as soon as I stop moving. Which means when I'm sitting at the bus stop, listening to the pastor in church, pondering what the next sentence should be in my wip... and when I'm reading. Especially at night.

Lately I've tried to get back to it. This past summer I bought my son the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordin, which he devoured in a week or two. When the ads came out about the movie, he wanted me to take him to go see it, and since I don't see movies adapted from books without reading the book first, I started my re-dedication to reading at night with Percy Jackson. Only it's gone very slowly, since I tend to fall asleep before I get two pages into it.

Which isn't to say it wasn't a great book! It was thoroughly entertaining and fun, and a great book for boys, and a great conversation piece for not only my son and I, but for me and a carload of middle school kids I drive two hours to an all-state choir competition.

Yesterday, though, I finished it, and rather than start on the next one in the series, I picked up a book given to me for Christmas in preparation for our family trip to Germany this summer. It's called The Bitter Road to Dachau, and it's about a pastor who gets put into the concentration camp for standing up to the Nazi's during World War II.

I'm not very far into it yet, but let me tell you – I stopped complaining about being cold in my house and having to go to the dentist. It's not an easy read by far; the story itself moves along at a quick clip and the writing flows pretty fast, but the subject matter is anything but fluff. It's a huge reminder of all I have to be thankful for... including my four hours of sleep in a warm bed with the family I love all tucked in under one roof.

So I'm plugging away at reading, even if it is only a few pages at a time.

Tell me, what are you reading these days?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

10 Questions To Never Ask A Writer

I didn't write it.  Writer Lauren B. Davis wrote it.  But I sooooo wished I had!!

10 Questions Never To Ask A Writer.

Go. Read it. Thank me later.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is it worth the uphill heartache?

Fifteen years ago I was teaching middle school English. I learned this:

It is not enough to love office supplies - to be intoxicated by the smell of felt tip pens and the feel of a hundred paper clips in your hands. To covet every color of post-it pads and have file drawers filled with neatly marked manilla envelopes.

It is not enough to love books and reading and the way language fits together like the most amazing puzzle ever, and how all of that can change a life.

It is not enough to be thrilled by long linoleum hallways and desks lined like wooden soldiers and the draw of colored chalk across a newly cleaned board.

It is not enough, even, to love the kids.

There is a factor you just can't name that makes a person born to teach.

It's like that with writing books, too.

You can love the click of the keys (Oh how I love that sound!!).

You can love to watch the story form across the screen or bleed out onto a piece of paper.

You can love your characters as though they were closer than family and friends.

You can love plotting and summarizing and outlining and even querying.

You can know the high that is like no other when your full manuscript prints out page after page.

But at the end of the day, writing – like teaching – is something emotional. Something you feel... sometimes too deeply. At the end of the day, there is a weighing of heartache and joy, the future and the past.

It's an investment of your heart as much as your time.

While there might be times you can merely "clock in" and do the work, there is greater time when you invest your entire being into it, mind, heart and body. 

And anytime you put your raw self on the line, there is going to be times when the uphill battle seems like it may not be worth it.

How do you know you are doing what you are meant to do? And how do you keep going when you get slapped down?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Good Thing Friday: When emails make you cry

I had a list of things to write about this week. For the first time in a while my head is full of blog posts, some of which might actually be interesting.  Unfortunately for the blog (but fortunately for me!), my head was also full of story that needed to be written. Between kids' activities resuming, demanding puppies (I'm not complaining, Mom!!), and my brain being utter mush by nine at night, there was little enough time to work on my WIP, let alone blog.

Not deterred, I figured at least I could whip up a quick list of good things for this Friday. Snow. Fleece. Puppies sleeping on my feet. Wagging tails. Quiet. Incredibly generous bloggers who interview me and review my book. Incredibly generous readers who shell out money – at Christmas time nonetheless – to buy my book.

But there is one great good thing that towers above everything else this week. Something I may have thought about – hoped about – but never fathomed how amazing it could be...


Emails from people who have read the book, and been touched by it.

I've been getting them all week. Incredible, lovely, wonderful emails from people who may or may not have even known me, who found something they loved in the book and felt like they needed to tell me.

People who quote their favorite lines to me.

People who explain why a particular scene felt incredibly real and relateable.

People who open their hearts and their own world of hurts and struggles because they think I truly understand.

I received an email today from a mother who lost her own daughter to an illness the doctors didn't have a cure for. In the same town, the very same hospital as my book takes place in. Who had well-meaning folks tell them God would heal their daughter. And well-meaning folks tell her whatever the outcome was, it was God's will. Well-meaning folks that cooked and cleaned and visited and did the things that got them through the darkest times.

Her email made me cry.

Writers sometimes talk about whether it's more important to be critically acclaimed as a great writer, or to make a lot of money. I always said I only wanted to make a difference. I wanted my writing to matter to someone.

To have that actually happen.....

to say it's a good thing can't even begin to hit the mark.

It's amazing. Incredible.

It's the best thing ever.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Author Interviews (or rather, link to...)

One of my favorite writing people and fellow crit buddy, Kerri O'Connell has been busy over at her blog lately. First off, she interviewed me! I still can't get used to that, and I'm not sure I'm getting any better at answering the questions without getting all wordy. Clearly I was meant to be a novelist and not a flash fiction writer. 

Then today, she interviewed Jill Myles about the mythology in her new book, Gentleman Prefer Succubi. If you know Kerri, you know she is the perfect person to ask these questions!!  Even if you aren't a mythology buff, you should head over, because it's a terrific interview, and Jill and her agent, Holly Root, are running a contest through Jill's interviews.  Holly has offered a query critique to the one who has the most comments on Jill's Blog Tour. For each tour stop you comment on, you earn an extra entry in the drawing, and the limit is one comment per post. Jill will announce the winner on her own blog at the end of the tour. The complete tour schedule is here.

So then, why are you still here? Off you go, now... 

Monday, January 4, 2010


This word has been circling my head lately. Jubilee. Like jubilant and joyous, only so much more.

In Biblical terms, jubilee is a celebration – a year-long starting over. In the Old Testament, every 49 years was the Year of Jubilee, a time when debts were forgiven, slaves were set free, land was returned to its original owner. It meant that if you'd fallen on hard times and had to sell yourself into servitude to pay your debts, you were freed from bondage. If you'd fallen on hard times and had to sell your land – your inheritance – it was given back to you. If you'd made mistakes in the past and been paying the price, you were forgiven and set free.

What an amazing concept! Talk about a clean slate! Talk about a New Year! Can you imagine the joy and partying that must have gone on?

As long as I can remember the New Year rituals we celebrate seemed out of place. After all, it wasn't really ever a new year in school. January first was a continuation of the same school year as December 31. Until college it wasn't even a new grading period. When I graduated from Penn State I went on to teach... keeping the fall school start the truest feeling of beginnings. Now I have kids and the cycle continues. January first? A new date to write on a check, maybe, but a beginning?

But this year I've been thinking about Jubilee. It doesn't come every year. Because it occurs only once every 50 years, it only comes maybe once or twice in a person's lifetime. And for some reason, this year feels like Jubilee.

While the vastness of marketing and selling Some Kind of Normal stretches in front of me, that book is written, revised, edited, queried, shopped, contracted and published. Whatever decisions I made along they way, they are made and done.

Now it's time to start over.

It's time to put the fears and stresses behind me. It's time to dream again, a bigger dream. It's time to forgive myself for what I haven't done adequately and strive to be better without the worry of failure.

There are, of course, things that spill over. There are all sorts of unresolved things in life that keep going on. I live in America, where the government and credit companies don't exactly recognize Jubilee, and so there are bills that still need to be paid and obligations that have to be met.

But personally, professionally, as a writer, as a mom, as a wife, as a child of God... 

Today is a new beginning. A fresh start. A chance to do it again, and do it better. It's a new year.

It's Jubilee.