Waiting Game and Writing

Hello, friends,

Since my last check-in, I had the blood work I mentioned.  I expected my iron to be low and possibly my B-12.  But I never expected what happened instead…  My “sed rate” (short for erythrocyte sedimentation rate, also known as ESR) came back high.  It’s supposed to be between 0 and 20, and mine was 125.  (Zoinks!)

bariumSoooo… needless to say, my doctor ordered a bunch of extra tests, more blood work, a CAT scan (hence the nasty barium you see here!), an x-ray, and other stuff.  The x-ray already came back fine.  The second sed rate test came back elevated again.  And I don’t yet know the ANA and Rheumatoid Factor test results, nor the CAT scan results.  As far as I know, I have to go back again next week for yet another sed rate test.  I don’t know what he’ll order next depending on the other results.  But until I know something, I’m still plugging away trying to make it through the day without puking or needing a nap!  I’ll keep you posted as I learn anything.

In other news… Since I’ve been too exhausted to spend much time at the computer writing anything new, I’ve been taking some of my printed manuscripts to bed and trying to commit to editing at least a few pages each night.  I believe I’ve made it through all the obvious typos, misspellings, bad or missing punctuation, etc.  (Printing it out really makes quite a difference in catching these little blunders as far as not seeing the same thing as my eyes have passed over on the computer screen so many times before.)

I’ve let a few people (including a few of you) read some of these manuscripts before, and many of you had some remarkable suggestions.  But there was one manuscript – The Prison – which I’ve only let a couple of people even see.  It was the first one I wrote, and I wrote it before I learned and became obsessed with “The Rules.”  You may remember my frustrations when my exact-word orientation from my Autism got in the way of “just writing” once I learned there were so many dos and don’ts.  I got so hung up on The Rules, that I wasn’t able to “just write” anymore, and as I’ve been re-reading, I wince as I see how much I held back.

Don’t get me wrong, I (now) think The Rules are a good thing (for the most part), though my Autistic brain still wishes they were called “The Suggestions” instead.  What I realized was that my first manuscript had so much more “feeling” behind it and felt less “mechanical” than the others.  When I asked myself why, I came to a conclusion:  I used a lot more similes and strong descriptions in The Prison than I used in my other works.   The sad thing is, I know exactly why I did this as well…  I got so stuck on “Show Don’t Tell” (of The Rules), that I was afraid I was “telling” too much, so I deleted almost all instances of these types of phrases and sentences in my subsequent work.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of my problem was due to an article I read that instructed me:  “In order to show and not tell, you have to write as if you’re describing what’s happening to a blind person.”  So, I did just that.  And in doing so, I added a lot of stage direction (a LOT of stage direction!) as well as clumsy description that sounded as if I were telling the story of cyborgs rather than people!

For example:  After learning The Rules and allowing myself to become obsessed with adhering to them — or else!–, I wrote:

Neil’s face turned scarlet as he jumped to his feet.  His chair fell to the floor, and he narrowed his eyes.  “What did you do?” 

Rivers grabbed her arm as hot soup splattered on her.  Tears formed in her eyes.  “I’m sorry.”

He grabbed her shoulders tightly and put his face close to hers, then without saying a word, he released her and spun on his heel.

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Ugh!  Isn’t that just awful?  It feels so cold and mechanical.  I’m embarrassed to think I actually allowed people to read my work like that!

Now, I’ve changed a lot of sterile scenes like that to be something more like this:

Neil jumped to his feet.  His face was flaming, and he appeared to be six inches taller than he already was. His eyes penetrated Rivers’ as he glared at her with repugnance.  “What did you do?” 

Rivers’ voice caught in her throat, and she began to tremble. “I’m sorry,” she said under her breath.  Tears streamed like twin rivulets down her cheeks as she tried to ignore the hot soup that splattered on her arm.

He huffed and grabbed her shoulders, digging his fingers into her flesh.  He pulled her so close, she could feel his hot breath on her face. 

She attempted to explain, but her voice caught in her throat like a lump of clay suffocating her.  Before she could speak, he grimaced and released her as if she had the plague.

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Isn’t that much better?  The sad thing is, that’s roughly how I wrote in the first place, (though I admit I had a bad habit of changing points of view as well as making the scenes too short and choppy…  Those are some of The Rules that are actually a good idea to follow.)  So, as I’ve been able, I’ve been slowly making the changes to a lot of these old works and trying to get them in their best possible shape once and for all.

 Anyway, that’s what I’ve up to lately, friends.  What about YOU?

The Raven

While I was dealing with all the health issues I had this year, I was so exhausted at times that it was all I could do to make it to work.  Even reading was too much for me to handle.  Needless to say, I haven’t been as productive as I’d have liked, at least until the past couple of weeks.  However, to try to keep my writing mojo going, and at least stay in the mindset of writing, editing, reading, creating, etc., I redecorated my writing desk area with a writerly theme in mind.  (Actually, I overhauled my entire living room / dining room with the writerly theme, but I’ll save the rest to show you another time.)

desk

As I’ve shared before, my décor is a late 1950s / early 1960s motif, so I tried to keep that going while adding literary touches.  You’ll note the books on the top shelf include an old school dictionary, thesaurus, and volume library.  (Of course, they also include the “Chicago Manual of Style,” Stephen King’s “On Writing,” and Chuck Sambuchino’s “Guide to Literary Agents.” Though those aren’t vintage, they are good to have around.)

books

My mouse pad as well as my little statuette features The Raven from my favorite guy, Edgar Allan Poe.

nevermore

IMG_0433

My printer is just the best investment ever!  I’ve definitely made use of printing my manuscripts in a different font than I type in then editing the hard copy.  It makes a huge difference seeing your work on paper as opposed to digitally.   This model is reasonably priced on Amazon (more reasonable than I’d have ever imagined), and the laser cartridges are under $30 which is less than I used to pay for ink in my old inkjet!  Better yet, a single cartridge prints around ten reams of paper with no quality problems whatsoever.

laser printer

I found these cool plastic envelopes at The Container Store to hold the manuscripts I print while I’m editing them.  (They’re great for carrying them back and forth to work to peruse during my lunch hour.)

editing envelopes

And finally, my awesome sister Michelle got me a subscription to Writer’s Digest as well as Poets & Writers.  Both are very cool (though I favor WD by far), and they both have lots of useful information that make them worth keeping after I read them.  (Those actually go in another one of those cool plastic envelopes once I’m done with them.)

Writers Digest, Poets & Writers

Anyway, thanks for visiting me at my house today.  As I’m starting to get my energy back, I hope my creativity will start flowing again and I can think of more interesting things to blog about.

So tell me, what do you have in your writing nook, and what keeps you inspired?

It finally happened!

Enough talk about my failing health!  I want to share a cool story with you…  A couple of years ago, I shared a story about my close encounter of the presidential kind.

Since it’s an election year, I thought it only fitting to recap that story and give you the more recent follow up…

In 1980, I was ten years old and in the sixth grade.  That year, the presidential election was between Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican Candidate Ronald Reagan.  In my Civics class, we had to draw campaign posters for our favorite candidate and write a speech that they might have used in a campaign debate.

I had an instant affinity for Jimmy Carter from the first time I saw him.  I don’t exactly know why, but I loved that he had the warmest, friendliest smile and I liked that he was a former peanut farmer.  (The fact that he was born in a mental hospital also didn’t hurt my affinity for the psychological thriller genre of which I write.)  I think I also liked him because his daughter, Amy, was only a couple of years older than me, and I thought it was so cool that she got to live in the White House.

So, on the campaign trail, President Carter was scheduled to come to my town to speak.  My school was on the corner of two main roads that led to the Civic Center, and back then, the newspaper always published the President’s motorcade route.  Imagine my surprise when, only hours after my grandparents read me the newspaper over breakfast and told me the President was coming to town, all the students of my small private school were called out of class that Halloween morning, and we lined up by the fence to wait so we could wave at him.  I was ecstatic!

At the time, I was a short kid, so the two boys on either side of me told me I should climb up on the fence so I could see better.  As the motorcade rounded the corner, the limo window went down, and the driver slowed.  President Carter grinned and waved as he rode slowly past us, and when he saw me standing on the fence, he pointed at me.  I was thrilled!

When I got home after school, I begged my grandparents to change their votes to Carter, then I sat right down and wrote President Carter a letter and asked for his autograph.

Less than two weeks later, I received a reply from The White House which said that the President was very busy and couldn’t accommodate all the people that personally asked for autographs, but they still sent me an autograph card as well as a booklet about The White House.  It didn’t matter to me that the autograph wasn’t official.  The man just lost an election, yet his office still had time to reply to a little girl.  I was overjoyed!

Looking back thorough an adult’s eyes, I appreciate this pseudo-autograph more than ever.  I mean, between a hectic schedule campaigning for re-election, and dealing with the hostage crisis (among other things), the staff at The White House had to have been crazy busy at the time, yet they still managed to reply to a little kid’s letter, and in such a timely manner, too.

So, the follow-up to my story is this:  I caught a fleeting glance of President and Mrs. Carter (along with the Secret Service) at Epcot on New Year’s Even in 1998.  Between that close encounter and my admiration of their work for Habitat for Humanity, my love for this former President only grew.

Fast forward a few years.  I’d heard that President Carter taught Sunday School classes that were open to the public.  At the time, I had two autistic kids at home, and with no child support, finances were tight, so I put that dream on the back burner.  But having learned more about the work of The Carter Center and how it affects the entire globe, I was even more impressed with this incredible, awesome man.

A few years later, my kids were close to grown, and I mentioned the Sunday School class to a trusted source.  The friend told me that President Carter didn’t do that anymore.  I was crushed that I’d missed my chance.

A couple more years passed.   President Carter was diagnosed with cancer, and, again, I was heartbroken.  But only a short time after that, I was elated to hear that he’d gone into remission.  In fact, I went out of my way to read more than the one news report I would have normally read, and that’s when I found a link to his church’s website along with the information that he never, in fact, stopped teaching his Sunday School class!

That was last December.  I wanted to go immediately, but President Carter didn’t teach every Sunday.  I then planned to go the following month, but then my own surgery was scheduled for the beginning of February, so I had to push things off again.

Jimmy Carter 2016But in March, I finally got to go to Plains, Georgia, and sit four rows from the front while President Jimmy Carter taught Sunday School!  This was the thrill of a lifetime!  You have to get there early (and by early, I mean while it’s still dark outside) to line up.  My sister and I got there around 4:30 AM. (I know I didn’t want to discuss my failing health, but this 6 hour drive and no-sleep weekend, while exciting, was literally a spur of the moment decision as to the timing, and was meant to make me feel better after all my post-surgical woes. Mentally, it did wonders, though physically, those two days set me back about two weeks.)

Once they open the doors, you’re searched by Secret Service then escorted to your seat.  (If you’ve never been around the Secret Service, that’s exciting in itself.)  You’re allowed to take photos all during the introduction period, then you have to turn your cameras off during the lesson.  If you sit through the church service following the Sunday School lesson, you can then get a photo taken with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.  WOW!  {The photos are very rushed, and you have to be in a group shot with everyone who rode in your vehicle, but, still, it’s so generous of the Carters to donate their time like that.  (As such, my photo is not good [we’re all blurry], and I won’t be sharing it, but I will be returning soon to try again.)}

Rosalynn Carter & Jimmy Carter, 2016As if that’s not enough, there’s a museum just down the road from the church.  In the museum is a bookstore that sells nearly thirty of the books that were written by either Jimmy or Rosalynn Carter.  The most amazing part of this journey is that if you purchase any of their books there (which are no more expensive than if you purchased them on Amazon), they give you a form to mail, along with the book and a SASE, and between four to six weeks later, you get President Carter’s autograph!  Yes, really!  (Have I mentioned yet how much I love Jimmy Carter?)

So, that’s exactly what I did.  I purchased two books and mailed them as soon as I got home, and close to five weeks later, I received them back, autographed by President Carter!  Only thirty-five and a half years after I first requested Jimmy Carter’s autograph, I got two of them!  SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!  (For those who don’t know {as my sister didn’t}, squeeeeee is about ten times better than Woo Hoo, and about a hundred times better than YAY!)Jimmy Carter's books

Jimmy Carter's autograph

Let’s talk:  Have you ever seen a President or other world leader up close and live?  What’s the best autograph you’ve ever gotten?

On Editing

A while back, I posted a call to all writers who wanted to share their editing tips, and my friend, Dena, volunteered.  If you don’t already follow Dena’s blog, you’re missing a real treat.  So without further ado, here’s Dena:

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dms

Please share one to three tips or tricks that you use when editing your work, how specifically you use them, and why they work for you.

My biggest tip is to read your work out loud to yourself or use a program that will read it to you.  I downloaded a free text to speech program (if I was at home I could give you the name) and it helped tremendously despite the computer generated voice.  It’s great for picking up on stilted dialogue or scenes that don’t transition smoothly.

What was your biggest repeated mistake when you first started writing? What is your weakest point of editing and why?

My biggest mistake was info dropping.  I wanted to tell my reader everything and it was difficult to learn how to intersperse tidbits of information throughout the story instead of throwing it all out at once.  My weakest point of editing? No questions about it, grammar structure.  I hate commas! I either use them too often or not enough and they are never in the correct places. Grammar was never a strong subject for me.  I’m better at math, but you don’t find a lot of math in romance novels unless you’re doing an “oops I’m pregnant” storyline and you have to add up the months since well … you know!

Have you used any editing methods previously that just didn’t work for you? If so, what were they and why didn’t they work?

I edit as I go.  Meaning, when I sit down to write each day I look over what I wrote the previous day before moving forward.  Sometimes this does slow down the process, but I’ve tried not looking back and keep pushing forward and it didn’t work.  Because not only am I editing it, it’s also a quick refresher of the place I’m at in the story.

Please tell us something about your current work in progress or your most recent completed work (or both), and tell us where we can purchase your book(s).

My debut novel, Drive Me Sane, released last year.  It’s a second chance romance of a feisty female veteran and an up and coming country music star who find themselves facing their past while trying to deal with problems plaguing their future.  You can find it on Amazon at http://amzn.com/B012E7RHOS

My current work is tentatively titled, When Love Goes South.  I’m actually very close to having this finished. A contemporary romance with characters who are a little older and who have dealt with things in life like death of loved ones, divorce and loss of friendships, I think it’s a story that almost anyone can relate to.  It’s also a little more spicier than I’ve written before with characters who are flirty and fun.

If you have any other news to share with us, please feel free to do so now.

Amazon recently acquired the digital rights to Drive Me Sane, so I’m happy to announce it will be re-releasing  with Amazon’s encore program on August 4th.  It has a slightly different cover and a new price (it’s cheaper and this makes me all kinds of happy!).  Print copies are still available through other online retailers.

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Thanks, Dena, for such awesome tips!  Now, who’s up next?  If you’re game, please contact me at:

email

I Like Mike

From Antananarivo, Madagascar
To Stockholm, Sweden,
There’s no rhymester better
Than the poet Mike Steeden.

His lovely wife Shirley
Is his best friend and muse;
She’s also on his book’s cover –
Now that’s exciting news!

The humor in his book
Will truly make you convulse;
So go pick up a copy of
Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse!

Not only is it amusing, but
Its brilliance will make you think;
To purchase it, just click below
On the Internet hyperlink.

I got to help Mike with his cover
And formatting for publication;
It was so much fun, I wish I could
Make that my life’s vocation.

It’s a good gift for the holidays,
And looks great in giftwrap;
And I promise you it’s far better
Than this, my own rhyming crap.

(As promised, here’s that internet hyperlink: http://www.amazon.com/Gentlemen-Prefer-Pulse-Poetry-Lunacy/dp/1517436478/ref=la_B015WAUW8C_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1446143038&sr=1-1)

Okay, so as the poem said, I was honored to recently assist my buddy and yours, Mike Steeden, in getting his first book of poetry, Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse, published.  It comes in both Kindle and paperback versions, and features over one hundred magnificent poems by his highness, Sir Mike.  As you can imagine, the poems are not unlike those on his blog… filed with brilliance, lunacy, humor, wit, and WOW!

Of course, Mike did all the really hard work by writing it, but I contributed a teeny-tiny bit by designing the cover and formatting the paperback version.  We searched high and low for a photo that I could manipulate for the cover art, but when we selected the perfect photo, we couldn’t authenticate its owner to request permission to use it.  (A few sources said it was a French postcard circa 1920, but we couldn’t be sure.)  So finally, Mike was able to dig up a photo of his lovely wife, Shirley, taken on the Cob at Lyme Regis (the same spot they used in the film The French Lieutenant’s Woman).

Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse

When I saw this, I fell in love with the scene, and just knew it would be perfect.  So I did a little Photoshop magic, and voila!

Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse

So to conclude, GO BUY THE BOOK!  (You won’t regret it.)

On Editing

 

A while back, I posted a call to all writers who wanted to share their editing tips, and Rhonda Blackhurst volunteered.  If you don’t already follow Rhonda’s blog, you’re missing a real treat.  So without further ado, here’s Rhonda:

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Rhonda Blackhurst

Please share one to three tips or tricks that you use when editing your work, how specifically you use them, and why they work for you.

Putting some time between each edit allows me to see more clearly what works and what doesn’t, making each edit more effective. While extra time between edits takes longer to complete the project, that space between edits allows time to work on other ongoing projects, actually making me more productive. After the first draft is written and the manuscript has been tucked in a drawer for a couple of weeks, I like to read through the entire manuscript in as few sittings, and closely together, as possible. During that first complete read through I don’t make any changes, but rather I have a coding system where I jot down in the margins of what needs to be changed and how. For example areas that don’t make sense, where the plot seems to be dragging, inconsistencies in character development, plot or details, if more needs to be explained or areas need to be cut, etc. After tucking the manuscript away for a couple of weeks once again, I then begin the major overhaul, followed by another break from the manuscript and the final finishing touches.

When I get to the editing phase of the project I’m working on now, a novel titled Finding Abby, I’m eager to try an editing process I stumbled across in a writing magazine. Each read through will be spent on one specific area of editing, starting with the biggest issues of plot and character, and ending with the proofreading and glitter. That will allow my brain to focus on one thing throughout the run through with less likelihood of missing something. I’ve learned multitasking a project isn’t the most effective way to edit.

The InheritanceWhat was your biggest repeated mistake when you first started writing? What is your weakest point of editing and why?

My biggest mistake of writing was simply not writing. I would wait for huge chunks of time where I could devote purely to putting words on the page, which resulted in no words on the page. I’ve learned to grab every fifteen minute increment I can and work with it accordingly. Lots of time? Work on my novel. Short amount of time? Work on a character sketch, plot ideas, etc.

As for the weakest point of my editing, I think editing is always a work in progress. The more I read what works for others, the more I find what works for me. Ideas like the one Rachel has here are golden learning opportunities for writers.

Shear MadnessPlease tell us something about your current work in progress or your most recent completed work (or both), and tell us where we can purchase your book(s).

My last book, Shear Madness, is the first in a series. I love a good mystery, so writing one was the most amazing journey! The first draft of the second book in the series, Shear Deception, is completed and awaiting the editing process which I will start after I’ve completed the first draft of the novel I’m working on now, Finding Abby. My current work in progress is a complete makeover of a Camp NaNo project from last year. As much as I enjoyed writing it, when I read through it back then, it just didn’t do anything for me so I filed it away (electronically) and forgot about it. One day when I was running I was hit with an idea of what I wanted to do with it. And that was to make it another series. While I’m working with the same “general” idea, the setting, characters, and plot have changed drastically. And I’m loving it! My first book, The Inheritance, and Shear Madness are both available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Inheritance is also available at Old Firehouse Books in Ft. Collins, CO.

If you have any other news to share with us, please feel free to do so now.

This fall is bringing some fun writerly activities. (I’ve made the word “writerly” a legit part of my vocabulary. ) September 5th I have a book signing at the local bookstore. My postcards and flyers arrived today and my personalized pens arrive next week. September 11-13 I’m attending a writer’s conference. Though it’s not far from my home, I’m staying at a hotel to take full advantage of the evening hours to practice all the gems I’ll have learned during the sessions. (Or to crash from brain overload from all the gems I’ll have learned.) Then there are the new books to read on the craft. I’m a sponge when it comes to learning the craft. Nearly every page I read gets marked with highlighter or pen. And last, two fall vacations, one in Minnesota and one in the mountains (well, the one in the mountains is actually a conference for work, but it’s in an amazing, breathtaking part of Colorado, tucked in the mountains) with lots of time for writing and editing.

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WOW!  Rhonda really has her writing game on, doesn’t she?  Thank you, Rhonda, for such awesome tips!  Now, who’s up next?  If you’re game, please contact me at:

email