Monday, October 31, 2011

Editing drudgery

Corny as it is, one of my first readers is always my mom. Having her for a reader of a first draft is beneficial to me in a multitude of ways:

1. She’s free.
2. She catches big things: holes in the story, plausibility problems… you know what I’m talking about.
3. She catches little things: when I change a character’s name a couple different times accidentally, for instance.
4. She’s honest. My mom tells it as it is, and then some! I can always expect her to give her true opinion, no matter how painful it is, usually in a constructive manner.
5. She’s fast. Once she begins editing, she doesn’t stop!
6. Did I mention she she’s free? She doesn’t charge me a reading fee or expect services in return.

But let me tell you about the editing drudgery I’m in right now, thanks in part to my wonderful mother! I had finished a lengthy novel draft. My mom had read it through once, along with a couple other folks. I had made changes, and I let my mom have another whack at it. Some significant changes were made, and, after all, her second whack was for free. And whack away she did!

This time, her edits weren’t quite so constructive. In dialogue, she wanted me to say who is speaking exponentially more than I wished to write in. She wanted me to change “said” to “shouted,” “bellowed,” and other superfluous words, which, by my descriptions, should be obvious. She wants me to say what people are thinking, even when it breaks POV or when this should (again) be obvious based on descriptions. Perhaps I’ve already written that my character is stomping around the room. My mother wants me to say, in addition, that the character “felt so angry because…”  But here’s my problem. Along with a bunch of edits I don’t agree with are nuggets of 100% pure gold useful edits: again, I’ve messed up a couple character names. In some places, I really do need to divulge more information about what a character is doing in order for readers to understand the scene. 

So on every single page, with the exception of a few, I’ve got multiple edits written in cursive to sift through, separating wheat from chaff. Argh! Not fun. Not fun at all!

My mom has offered (more like demanded) to go at the draft for a third round. I told her, “Mom, you give great edits, but I don’t think so. Not a third time. That’s why I have an editor.” (As in real, paid editor.) My mom wasn’t happy at my polite refusal. But hopefully soon I’ll have another first draft for her to whack away at. And I'll open myself again to more editing drudgery.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween fun: rabid bunny attacks older bro

 Mom that I am, I just had to share these photos. They’re of my two boys, and the youngest is wearing a costume my mother herself sewed for me when I was age two… and saved for this very occasion (my child’s 2YO Halloween). It’s a very scary bunny costume with carpet-thick gray fur and huge bunny ears and a cotton tail wedgie. If not for the ears and cotton tail, my boy could pass for a rat. Of course, I find the costume and my son humorously adorable, as does his older bro, despite how the photo on the left may appear! Who wouldn’t want to wrestle a bunny-rat for Halloween?

Halloween in my NC neighborhood consists of massive amounts of children (and adults) completing a circuit of tightly spaced houses. With so many children, the streets practically shut down. It’s a huge party, with some houses partnering together; parents sit around an outdoor fire pit and let kids pick candy from a centralized bucket. At my house, we always run out of candy (because I’m not shelling out a whole bunch of money to buy candy I won’t be eating myself and because I’m saving some of that candy for myself for later)!

I’m half looking forward to and half dreading this Halloween. I’m thinking that I'll be enjoying the kids dressed up… but walking around both with a 6YO who wants to run the mile circuit and get all the candy AND with a 2YO who can be sluggish and will not want to run around all night… that will be the challenge!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Making time to write, a.k.a. getting back on track

I've been a bad, bad writer lately. What’s the number one thing you want to do if you want to be a writer? Write, of course! And lately… lately, I haven’t been writing. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. I just keep making excuses. At the end of the day, it's “I’m too tired,” or “I want to spend time with my husband.” Two hours and a couple episodes of Pawn Stars later, 0 pages have been written and it’s bedtime. During my son’s naptime it’s “I’m so tired I want to take a nap, too,” or “I’ve got some newspaper writing I need to attend to first.”

Well, to be a writer, you’ve got to write. And instead of sitting down and dedicating myself to it… I’ve been making pitiful excuses. I’m between projects, wrapping up the sequel to Storm Surge and getting started on a new novel. And working on a short story, too. (Is this another excuse I’m spinning?) So I’ve been planning and brainstorming and getting background character ideas circulating. And in terms of written pages? Um, not so much.

But every day is a new day, and every week is a new week. And so here I go again, making a resolution again, to – no matter how tired I am – to sit in front of that computer screen and put one word in front of the next! I’ll let you know how it goes…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gone camping!

Sorry, but I won't be posting this week... My family has gone camping!

We try to go every fall. This year, we chose Stone Mountain State Park. We had a blast, hiking about 5 miles and taking in mountain heights and a 200-foot waterfall over smooth rock. My husband's favorite site was an old farmstead. I liked the mountain tops. My six-year-old liked the fire. The two-year-old? Hard to tell. He said he liked drinking the water.

So now that we're back and (almost) unpacked, I need to catch up on my writing!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cooking styles, revelations

There are too many cooks in my kitchen!

My husband is by far the primary chef in our family. Although I probably put together the most meals out of necessity, my husband is the creative cooker who tries new recipes. Like just this weekend, he made eggplant parmesan! I loved it; he did not. Last night? Baked chicken with corn and sticky rice.

We approach cooking in two different ways. I fling ingredients together, guessing how much butter I add to macaroni, tipping the salt shaker into the bowl, eyeballing measurements. Conversely, my husband methodically measures everything and patiently waits for the water to come to a full boil before adding the pasta. Usually, my canned vegetables boil before I take them off the burner. I mean, isn't that how you know the dish is done: when the pot boils over?

Naturally, my husband's dishes taste much better.

And, if we’re trying to cook different parts of the same meal at the same time, we argue. He’ll try to turn down the burner because, as always, I’m cooking too fast. I’ll tap my fingers irritably as I wait for him to finish painstakingly measuring some ingredient before moving away from the counter I’d claimed first.

Sometimes I wonder what our cooking styles say about ourselves, our more general personalities. Between my husband and myself, our cooking styles do seem like a microcosm of our wholes. But that's a good thing: he's great at research; I'm great at on-the-fly ideas. Together we're rounded!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What’s a nice girl like you doing writing that genre? Part B

I’m not so nice. Don’t let the laugh lines fool you.

I’ve read other writers’ takes on this question. Some say that mysteries boil down to a battle between good and evil – that’s what attracts the writer to the genre. I can go along with that; sure I’m interested in that struggle. But the underlying question I ask myself remains: why write about something so dark as murder? Couldn’t the stakes be less drastic?

I really don’t know why I write what I write. It’s just what I feel compelled to write. When some acquaintances were (as we say here in the South) fixing to buy my novel, they asked me if my novel had any vampires or werewolves (to make sure it didn’t). And though my first novel doesn’t include supernatural or fantasy elements, the stigma bothered me.

Sure, some people don’t like fantasy. I totally understand that. But what would be wrong with me choosing to write a novel with such supernatural figures in it… or witches, for instance? I’m a Christian, so I do have certain beliefs about witches, and I don’t want to encourage any real-world witch worship. But if it’s not okay for me to write about imaginary witches in an imaginary world, or vampires, how can it be okay for me to write about murder, or anything un-Godly? Where do you draw that line?

I struggle with this topic. And as a Christian, I realize that my cozy murder mystery novel is trite in the grand scheme of eternity. My novel won’t stick; it’s flotsam; it’s entertainment. And also as a Christian, I realize that I’m not so nice, anyway. Not that I’m giving up the fight to be nice. But it’s always going to be a lifelong struggle... and I don't always win.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Consignment sale madness

When I was a new mom, I had no idea about consignment sales, and so I purchased (and was given) a ton of baby toys and supplies that were new (from a store!) and encased in shiny plastic. Then I learned about how many huge consignment sales are held in my county. 

I remember my first time walking in the doors of a huge warehouse filled with more baby and child clothing, toys, and equipment than I'd ever seen in one place before. I quickly learned I could purchase an entire season of like-new baby clothing for $40. 

So now I’m wiser. I find clothes that cost a fraction of the retail price. And I sell my children’s old clothes and equipment at these sales. Goodbye shiny plastic; hello money saved! My objective is to spend less buying new stuff than I rake in with my own sales. (I’m still struggling to master this concept!)

This weekend, I spent my time finishing applying tags to clothing and toys and rushed through what could have become a tearful goodbye to the best piece of baby equipment I ever owned: a pack-n-play. This miracle of inventive ingenuity folds up to fit in a compact container for carrying on the road. The pack-n-play was a bassinet, a changing table, a play pen, a toddler bed – and my ticket to five minutes of almost worry-free hot showering in the morning. (The kiddo was penned up and on his own while I enjoyed a few minutes of wake-up time.) As sentimental as I am saying goodbye to the pack-n-play, my children also are emotional about me selling toys they no longer play with. To confused cries of “Mine!” I packed away a toy house my youngest son used to enjoy but now seldom glances at.

Exciting and emotional times: getting rid of the old, unused equipment and finding steals on “new” needed clothing in bigger sizes.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What’s a nice girl like you doing writing that genre? Part A

In more or less words, I’ve been asked the question at most book signings I’ve been to. And basically, it boils down to plot. I’ve been writing book-length manuscripts since I was a teenager. Storm Surge was my fifth… but only the first of publishable quality. After four manuscripts, I realized that my writing lacked forward momentum. And as I remember being told during my schooling, if you as a writer are bored reading what you’ve written, you’re guaranteed that any reader will be bored, also. (This is one of the most valuable lessons I learned in my MFA program. That and that a professor’s stuffed rooster makes a fascinating focal point during lectures. Why oh why did I give away my stuffed bobcat as a wedding present?) I digress.

When I was preparing to write Storm Surge, thinking back on my past writing, I realized that my problem was that my plot – well, I didn’t have a plot in many of my manuscripts. That was my problem. So I set out to write a genre cozy mystery, which in its very nature must have a plot with twists and turns, a story line that spirals up into a definitive climax. Based on reviews, I achieved a fast-paced plot. Of course, the need for a plot wasn’t the only reason I wrote a mystery novel. But having a plot in mind before I started writing (even though that plot dramatically changed during the writing process) helped my writing move.