Sunday, May 22, 2011

Loving the Internet

I'm sitting comfortably at Pat and Betty's home in Parachute. He's my brother, and she's his wife and treasure. I wish we could stay for a long visit, since they're great people. We always enjoy seeing them, but we'll leave early in the morning. (I can say anything I want. They don't read blogs—anybody's. Not even mine...)

My feet are up, my laptop balancing on my legs, and I just finished doing some research. I'm so grateful for the internet. How would I learn how to write a synopsis without it? We'd have to stop at a book store, I guess, and buy references with our gas money. Or food money. I wonder why I didn't realize I would need to have a synopsis ready if the editor at the pitch session yesterday wanted to see more of my book. It's ready. I'm not. No synopsis. I should have known.

I have now printed about 30 pages of contradictory information to read in the car tomorrow as we continue on toward California. Then I'll write the synopsis as if it needed to be even better than A Different Song, the novel it will represent. After that, I can attach it to an email along with my first three chapters, as requested, and send it to New York.

Am I excited? Do bears... oh, that's not appropriate, is it? I may be pre-published, but I'm still professional, right? Let's just say I'm decidedly satisfied with life.

Friday, May 20, 2011

All Packed Up and Places To Go

Springtime in the Rockies is never my first choice for leaving home. We are, however all packed up and more or less ready to leave in the morning.

Nature bid us goodbye with a rollicking thunderstorm today. Everything stopped while I listened to the pounding rain as the storm crossed the lake and passed over the house. Hail came down for awhile adding its clattering music while daylight hid behind the clouds. An hour later it was gone and the sun was again shining on my budding iris plants. I pray they'll wait to flower until our return. I hope the deer hold off on having their little spotted babies until then, too. The fawns are usually running all around our acre by now.

We had already been to town for my Critique Group meeting, and it went very well indeed. It's a fine group of six—a fairly new group, still getting to know each other. We write everything form fantasy to Westerns. Each one is a serious writer, which makes the group meetings lively and intense while still being helpful and friendly. They're all supportive of my adventure tomorrow as I go to pitch my novel at a mini conference near Denver.

Yes, I'm excited. I'm much calmer than I was three weeks ago. Much more prepared. John will have the utility trailer hitched behind us when we arrive at the conference, since we'll head across the Rockies as soon as it ends. We won't see home for almost three weeks. Tomorrow night we'll stay with my brother and his wife, and spend Sunday with them as well. It will be good to get in a good visit with them.

Monday morning we'll head to the Las Vegas area, and Tuesday we'll arrive in California. We take it a lot slower when we pull the trailer. Don't expect regular blogs while we're on the road. We'll be staying with my ninety year old mom. She doesn't believe in the internet. It's alright, though. She says the internet doesn't believe in her, either.

We're coming, Mama. I can hardly wait to see you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Frock is a Dress

My husband knows I have a sense of humor. Occasionally he understands it. There are times I get the blank stare of incomprehension. That's acceptable. Once in a while I'll make a play on words that he'll misunderstand to the point of anger. At times like that it's best to let him calm down before I try to explain.

Of course, I'm thinking of one particular time. We were expecting our youngest son, Benjamin. In fact, we were expecting him at any moment, while still cautiously enjoying square dancing together. Money was tight, but we always dressed up. My secret was my sewing machine. I could turn old curtains or a table cloth into a square dance dress and matching shirt and tie for John.

The mid-dance break gave John an opportunity to leave me surrounded by friends while he surrendered to the lure of punch and cookies. Some of my fellow dancers had suggested I start making square dance clothes for pregnant ladies, since nobody else was doing it. They thought I should open up a shop, or just have a line of clothes that could be sold on consignment at the one square dance shop in town. John walked up to the group just in time to hear me say, "A store would be great. I could call it The Mother Frocker."

He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me from the room. He wasn't smiling. He was furious. He didn't want to hear that a frock is a dress, so a frocker is a person who makes a frock. As far as he was concerned, I knew what it sounded like, and that was all that mattered.

It's been over 30 years. I doubt he even remembers it. I'm still laughing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One Day In Bed

That's what I want. As a start, that's what I want. What I really want is one day in bed without anybody noticing. No phones will ring. No one will come to the door. I won't be sick, or injured.

John will magically find and heat leftovers when he gets hungry. He won't discuss it with me. He won't notice if I'm not eating. Or writing. He won't lose anything I need to find, or spill something I need to clean. The house will remain cool, quiet and dim.

We could begin our trip Monday or Tuesday. John could pack. Yeah, right. I realize that's more than I could expect. So is a day in bed.

Robert Browning said it best. "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" Do you suppose there are beds in heaven?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ault to Be Learned

Northern Colorado Writers offers many classes for writers at their Fort Collins studio. I attend what I can. Most of them are quite reasonably priced. Today was the first time I know of that a class was offered on a Sunday. Normally I wouldn't consider a Sunday class, but this is crunch time for editing A Different Song, and when a class I could afford was offered I considered it carefully.

The lecture title was promising: Weasels, Ferrets, and the Seven Deadly Sins of Writing, by Sandi Ault. How could I resist? If you know me personally, you're already laughing. Yes, I sat in the front seat. I had my hearing aids turned all the way up. I didn't want to miss a word. I was not disappointed.

I'm down to five working days before I go to the pitch session next Saturday. I'm close to being ready to pitch. I'm going to re-edit with the handouts given today, though. This was valuable information.

Just so you know, weasels are words or phrases that are throwaway words. Unnecessary. They clutter up your story and steal the power from your sentences and paragraphs. They make your story drag, cause readers to yawn and wonder what's in the fridge. I need to find those weasels and weed them out.

Ferrets are even sneakier. They are the habitual things each writer does without thinking about it that are peculiar to him alone. (No, I'm not politically correct. I still refuse to say him or her.) Some writers are in love with adverbs. If they were to do a search for 'ly' at the end of a chapter, they'd find dozens of such examples—and remember, not all adverbs end in ly. I happen to love gerunds. I'm already aware of that, and have been exterminating them as I edit. Not all of them. Let's say many if not most. I'm trying. I do love them, though. Each writer has his own favorites. We must ferret them out.

The seven deadly sins were a surprise. I listened with interest as we went through the list. I won't give the list here, as it's not mine to give. Take her class if you get the chance. I will say, though, that when we got to Deadly Sin number 6, I said, out loud, "Oh, crap."

This is where being new at wearing hearing aids gets you in trouble. I would have sworn no one could hear me. The chuckles in the class stated otherwise. The two deadliest sins, numbers six and seven, will be problems for me to correct. Number six I'll have to practice to overcome, since it deals with using the passive voice. Shall we just say I have been known to do that? Number seven deals with defeating fear and self doubt. Yeah, right. I've been attempting that in every area of my life for over sixty years.

In one of her books, Wild Inferno, Sandi Ault penned this message to me: Kathleen, I believe in you.

If she does, on such short acquaintance, how can I not? Sandi—you have my profound gratitude for four of the shortest hours I've spent in years.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My New Reference Shelf

Who knew I could get so excited about a forty dollar book shelf? I now have so many reference books on writing, editing, and publishing that the trip across the room to my big bookshelf was really intrusive. This week I spent the big bucks to get a small convenient shelf that fits quite cleverly between my chair and the lamp table.

Now my Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus is at my fingertips. My copy of Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference, with its big tabs and concise tips and explanations is always within reach. No more teetering piles will spill from the lamp table when I have my notebook computer on my lap.

What else do I have on my shelf? Noah Lukeman's wonderful volume, The First Five Pages is there, along with two by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, The Well-Tempered Sentence and The Disheveled Dictionary. (Transitive Vampire, also by Gordon, is in the car right now, to read on the road.) One of my favorites is Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint. I bought it because I love his novels. After reading it, I understand better why I love them.

Oh, look... There's Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Maybe I'll reread a few pages before bed. This may be the best forty dollars I've spent in a long time.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I Need a Business Card?

Preparation for representing myself in something as important as pitching my novel has been an eye opener. Everyone in the industry seems to have an opinion about the best way to go about it. I've been getting so many tips I can't keep up with them, but I've been trying to choose the smartest and prioritize.

  • Condense my novel into four sentences. I'm still working on that one.
  • Dress professionally. How about from the waist up? Does that count? Good jeans can be professional, as long as they're paired with a great top and blazer—right?
  • Edit your first chapter until it's as exciting and completely polished as you can make it, with particular attention to the first 140 words. Some people say 120, some 100. If those aren't pretty close to perfect, you're bound for the slush pile. That's what I'm reading.
  • Don't sweat. Be calm. Don't rush into your pitch. Spend some time building rapport first. Remember, you'll probably have a whole ten minutes together.
I could go on, but there are so many of these lists available, I hate to be just one more. A major detail was obvious once I came across it. Don't forget to have a professional business card to present. Oops. Why didn't I think about needing a business card?

This week I took time out of my editing to design a card. The photo above is the one I chose from my collection of glorious Colorado pictures I've taken. I'll end up printing note cards to match. Luckily, the cards will arrive with three days to spare.

I now have a whole week left before I face the editor. I'm actually beginning to look forward to this.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Teenaged Girls—Even They Don't Understand Them

Like little boys who long ago would dip a special little girl's pigtail in an inkwell, thinking that somehow she's going to understand it as a symbol of love, teenaged girls often have strange ways of showing they're attracted. I can't believe I'm going to tattle on myself.

Seventh grade. I was plump, unknown, the newest kid among new kids on a military base in Virginia. Up to that point there were few important things in my life. I loved books, getting straight A's, knitting and music. Those things were all portable, and in my life that counted. That mattered. That lasted.

We lived in a duplex with three bedrooms. My parents got one room. My two brothers shared one, and my sister and I shared the other. Our room also shared a wall with another family. Actually, the wall was shared with the bedroom of their high school aged son. My newly teenaged heart was suddenly alive with hope.

He failed to notice.

I realize now that I didn't have a chance with him. He was a senior, several years beyond me. I was his little sister's age. We gathered to play RISK on occasion, and he treated me like a sister. Not what I wanted. My little brother tagged along. Not what happened in my dreams. He went out on dates, driving away in his dad's car. I watched from the upstairs bedroom window. Not what I was scripting in my fairy tales.

So what does a young teenager do to really get his attention and let him know how very aware she is of him? We did have one thing in common. We were both musicians. He played clarinet, and was very serious about his daily practice. I was very serious about mine as well. I played accordion. Loudly.

The walls were thin. I started practicing whenever he did. Different songs. Accordion versus clarinet. It's rather like bagpipes against a piccolo. I didn't win his heart, but luckily he was a worthy young man with a sense of humor.

His high school graduation and acceptance at Annapolis saved him from too many further machinations. I can actually only think of one. Discretion... I'll just keep that one to myself.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Just Un-Multiply

Today a friend on Facebook asked for ideas to help her young daughter who is having a hard time learning long division. I suggested she un-multiply until it makes more sense. She didn't understand my answer, so I offered to go into more detail on my blog.

As I child I counted my schools for a while. When I stopped in 7th Grade, Hill School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, it was my 13th school. My dad was military—U.S. Army to be exact, and during most years I was in more than one school. In case you don't realize it, there is no relationship to what a person is taught in 3rd grade, for instance, in Illinois and Idaho; none whatsoever between what is offered for a sophomore in Virginia and one in Southern California.

I'll discuss another time what this did to my ability to make deep friendships. Today I'm just going to touch on one of the educational aspects of the classroom experience. I managed to learn addition twice, while missing subtraction completely. I left one school just before they started it, arriving at another when they had already finished and were starting multiplication.

We did multiplication and were preparing for division when my family was reassigned again. The new school had just begun multiplication. It was an easy (read that to mean boring) time in math for me. We were gone again, of course, before that class was ready to tackle long division. If you're following the pattern here, you realize that the next class I got to had already finished long division.

I figured out ways to compensate. With double the normal practice on addition and multiplication skills, whenever I hit a subtraction problem, I would un-add. If the numbers were 15-7=something, I would automatically read it 7 and something equals fifteen. Un-adding, I would know it was 8.

Multiplication and division worked the same way. If you had 24 divided by 3, I would say, what times 3 equals 24? I knew that answer was 8. With long division, just write down the answer and carry down the numbers. Then, since subtraction is in order, I would just un-add the balance and bring down the next number.

Eventually I learned how to do it correctly as a student, but I'm out of practice now, so I do it the old way, as I taught myself growing up. I un-add and un-multiply. It works. So it's not the most normal method you've ever heard of. I've never tried to be the most normal person. I've never even understood what normal was, or why it should be deemed important. I found something that worked. I could move every 6 months and still get A's in school.

Now, if I could only remember why that was important...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day Digest

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

The video says it all. My kids love me. It's been quite a day. (Thanks for the video, Ben. We know you'd never exaggerate...)

Mother's Day wasn't high on my list of potential happy occasions this year. Losing Jeremiah still weighs heavily on me, and the thought of my daughter-in-law having her first childless Mother's Day, one that should have been celebrated with a baby ready to turn six months old, took most of the steam from my sails.

None of our three sons would be here in Colorado for the day, and I won't get to see my Mom for two more weeks. I knew that there would be phone calls but other than that—a regular Sunday.

It's been said before: Oh, ye of little faith. It was still dark outside, and John was in the shower when I walked through the living room toward the coffee maker. The oversized square envelope on my recliner startled me. A card from my husband? He just doesn't do that on Mother's Day. John has always assured me, "You're not my mother." I sat and read one of the most touching cards I've ever received.

We arrived at church a little more than two hours early. That sounds hard to do, but once a month our church combines services, skipping our regular early service to meet at the late service. Today it ended up taking almost twice as long. It was moving, and we enjoy it, but came out starving. John and I went to lunch, forgetting that we'd wait in long lines on Mother's Day. So we left for church at 7:30 and got home at 3:30, eight hours later.

I do have to add one little thing from Ruth, my daughter-in-law in The Netherlands. Today on her blog she entertained us all with another funny story about her 4-year old daughter. Now that Ruth and Ben are the proud parents of three little ones, with a 2 year old daughter and 2 month old son, we get a lot of funny stories. Today Ruth wrote:
Ashley just said she wants me to have another boy again when my body heals. We asked if she likes boys better. She said, "No. Because girl, girl, boy, boy. And then girl, girl, boy, boy again until Mommy's an old lady!"

So now I'll either be up late doing the homework I had planned to catch up on for my online class, or I'll be up in the wee hours doing it. Does it matter? From John's card, to the calls from all three boys, and the unexpected email from Tighe with the book store gift card in it (he knows me so well) this has been a Mother's Day to write about. I wasn't expecting that.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Trusting My Own Opinion

I've been taking an online course given by Margie Lawson called Deep Editing and Rhetorical Devices. It came highly recommended by a couple of my writing friends. It's definitely giving me more and better tools for my journey toward publication of my novel, A Different Song.

This is my second online class, and since I've really just started rolling with this one, I'm getting a good process going. I'll work on a class lecture, do the homework assignment related to the new tip, trick or tool, and then go back to the spot where I left off editing my novel. I'll read the next chapter, then go back and edit using what I've learned in the class up until then. It definitely is working for me, and I'm learning to trust my own opinion more. I also have an edits partner. We mail homework assignments back and forth, and our comments hopefully help each other keep things tight and on track.

Today I was reading one of my chapters. I call it Facing the Fire. It was my first read-through in a while. Sitting at the computer, I was unaware when John walked into the room and stood next to my chair. I didn't see him as I continued reading. I didn't see him as tears rolled down my cheeks. I didn't see him as emotional despair swept me away from home and computer, lying half broken beside the injured bodies of two beautiful people who wanted only to die.

"Is it that bad?" John asked, tearing me out of my story world.

I didn't see him for long, as I reached down and grabbed for the electric flyswatter I keep by my chair.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Extreme Condensing

Today I was advised to write three or four sentences to sum up my 86,000 word novel. Then I'm to perfect those sentences and get comfortable with them. That's what I'm to use when I pitch my book in two weeks. Now, that's what I call tight editing. I've been laughing on the inside ever since.

I suppose I could start by deleting all the adjectives, pronouns and adverbs in the entire manuscript. Might as well get rid of most of the verbs. You don't really have time for much action in three or four sentences. I suppose I'll begin by painstakingly choosing four really powerful nouns—one would have to be fantasy, I suppose. The editor is going to insist on being told the genre.

That really only leaves me three sentences to describe a world, a couple of immortals, human protagonists, nonhuman guardians and the villain. Maybe I could leave the characters out and just hint at what happens. Obviously somebody or something is going to make it all happen. Editors must already know that.

This reminds me of that old joke about how to sculpt an elephant. It's really very easy. "You get a huge block of granite, a hammer and a chisel, then just go around and knock off everything that doesn't look like an elephant."

I wonder if there's a way to find out if this editor I'm meeting has a sense of humor.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Taking Little Kids to the Cemetery

For some reason I recently remembered when our three sons were small, and we drove from our old home in Ventura County, California, to the San Fernando Mission Cemetery where my dad is buried. (Daddy died at the start of my Junior year in high school.)

That day we brought along little spades and things for the kids, aged about 1, 4, and 8, to help as we pulled weeds and cleaned up around the headstone a bit. Of course we stopped and bought flowers before we arrived, and talked to the boys about where we were going, and why.

Ben, the youngest, was oblivious to anything but playing with the water and dirt. Tighe, as oldest, was fairly familiar with the routine. We didn't get to the cemetery too often, but he had heard stories about the grandpa who was buried there. He had come out with us more often than either of his brothers. He knew we would always leave flowers and a flag. My daddy had been military to his bones.

Jeremy was finally old enough to pay attention on this trip, though, and for the first time he questioned me.

"That's my grandpa under there?"
"Yes, Son."
More weeds were pulled as he thought about the concept. Jeremy was often serious and quiet.
"Is he going to grow again?"
"No, Honey."
He looked at me with one of those befuddled looks only a child can give a really dumb parent.
"Then why did you plant him?"

There are a few questions a parent just can't stop laughing long enough to answer.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Plans Are Good

It's said that life is what happens while you're making other plans. I suppose that's why people buy trip insurance. Sounds like a good idea to me. Seems like forever since I actually got around to my blog. It's been nearly four months, and that's definitely too long. I'll begin by saying there's no excuse. Then I'll give you no excuses, but tell you what I've been doing.

I've been writing. Remember my novel? I decided it was high time I got busy re-writing the entire thing and getting it ready to offer up for publication. Is it ready? Nope. But I'm taking some editing classes and business for writers classes. Tomorrow I have a class on copyright law—just an hour at the Northern Colorado Writer's Studio. We'll all bring lunch and listen to some really important information. It's so great to be surrounded by professionals. Then on Friday I'll be back at the studio for my Critique Group. I just got word from one of my critique partners that he thought this week's submission was my best yet. They're all helping me work through some of the rough spots on the novel.

Now I'm pushing backward for a couple of weeks, trying again to be satisfied with the first chapter (I'm not) because I'll be pitching said novel to an editor on May 21st. As I told some of my email buddies, pitching is such a great word for it. My stomach has already started.

The next day we'll take off for California to visit my mom. We'll stop on the other side of the Rockies to visit my brother Pat and his wife Betty on our way there, then stay overnight in Henderson, outside Las Vegas. Before we leave California to return home, and it'll be a fairly quick trip altogether, we'll make a run up to San Francisco to see Tighe, our oldest son. Our return trip will take us through Salt Lake City to see Stacey and Ryan, friends who deserved a visit in December and didn't get one. I was an emotional mess then and was afraid to meet their baby son. Sorry, Sully. I'm much better now.

We need to be home by June 9th or 10th, since I believe I'm singing in church again on the 12th. I should double check that on Sunday, shouldn't I...

Then we'll be running back to California for a flying trip in July to meet our newest grandson, Aiden and see our beautiful granddaughters, Kate and Ashley. It's hard to see them so seldom, but so special when we do get together. They're flying out for their annual leave, timed for her family reunion, so part of the time there they'll be unavailable to us. That being the case, we'll only be with them a short time, but it won't be a problem since we'll be seeing them again shortly after that.

We'll return home only until August, when we'll have a grand celebration of our 35th anniversary. Like I tell John—ten wonderful years! (And he's starting to understand my sense of humor.) We'll go to The Netherlands, Sweden, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia. Sounds beyond wonderful to me... Time to start looking at travel blogs again.

Am I ever glad we spent thirteen weeks going to Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace Institute classes at our church! We're in better financial shape for taking a trip like this than we've ever been. Ever. And I may never see London or Paris, but I've never chosen the best traveled path in my life. Why should I start now? Thanks, Ben, for wanting such an interesting adventure. I can hardly wait. And yes, I did buy the trip insurance...