Periodically! #7 – Late December Mayhem

cropped-periodically3.jpgYes, I know I’m early. That’s because last month I was late. 🙂

Write News

Now that the winter solstice is over and the days are getting longer (finally), I may be able to get back to editing. Oh, I had the best of intentions while I’d spent ten days in Colorado; I’d schlepped my notes, my computer, and my reference books with me, but I just couldn’t. For one thing, I couldn’t get my butt out of bed most mornings! And the weather was clear – most days. I slept like the proverbial hibernating bear. Normally when I’m traveling, I remain on “Michigan time” and am up at 4 a.m. Not this trip. Plus, I rather enjoyed the time with my dad. There are six of us kids, many grandkids, and great-grandkids, so it was nice to have him all to myself.

Once home, with the hectic holidays upon us, I couldn’t get anything done. It’s Christmas Eve as I write this (I’m at work, which is deader than a door nail), and my intention is to write more, starting this minute! Let’s see if I can make it past today.

Interesting Articles

Myths about publishing – we all know about these. It’s a new world out there, folks! We are not tied to tradition!

A blog post that hits close to home – knowing you’re a writer when you’re young, getting caught up the Real Life, and coming back to writing. Once a writer, always a writer. 🙂

CamMi Pham implores us not to date a man who reads.

If you are a writer and not hooked up to Medium, you certainly should be! In addition to being a great writing reference, there are also some very good writers contributing. (I’m ashamed to say that I have been ignoring Medium lately, but I’m in the midst of getting back on track.)

And here’s a great post/interview on self-publishing.

Reading This Month

I participate in the Leon and Lulu Books and Authors event in October. It’s not just a good place to show off your little babies (books), it’s also a great place to meet other local authors. There are more than I ever expected. This year, I picked up Searching for Nannie B by Nancy Owen Nelson (whose table was right across from mine – lovely woman). Memoir is not my usual read, but I really fell in love with Nancy’s story of her hardly-spoken-about grandmother who died while giving birth to Nancy’s mother. I’ve attempted to reconstruct my own genealogy, and I know it can be a daunting task. Most of Nancy’s family lives in the Huntsville, Alabama area, and as I have friends there, I could recognize many of the places she writes about.

On my iPhone, I’m reading The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan. Due to be released in January 2016, this is a humorous take on one woman’s life questions after she gives up a successful career to marry and have children. (Who hasn’t been in that boat?) I love the author’s voice; it’s real and women who have been in a similar situation can totally relate.

On the way back from dad-sitting in Colorado earlier this month, I read A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. I loved this book! The perfect mix of a Japanese woman who spent most of her life grieving after her town, Nagasaki, was bombed and the redemption and self-forgiveness she finally finds. While the author is not Japanese, she captured the nuances of the culture perfectly.

Musical Notes

While this edition of Periodically! will come out after Christmas, here’s a sad little song you might want to listen to. Eleven years ago when my kids were still under the family roof, they discovered this gem in a Christmas song book, decided to learn it, and performed it at the Rochester Conservatory Christmas recital. (The recital had the director on piano, daughter singing, but the family has been known to spontaneously combust into song.) I have videotape of this performance somewhere. They could never finish the song without bursting into laughter (actually, my husband and I couldn’t help but laugh too – I know, we are twisted for finding such obscene pleasure in the fate of a poor, little boy), and the video shows it. (I really have to get my videos converted into DVDs…but that’s another story.)

🙂

Question of the Month

Do you participate in the dreaded New Year resolution? I have to admit, I only make writerly resolutions.  Who cares about my weight? I’m heading into six decades and even I don’t care anymore. My 2016 resolution is to write at least one page (by hand) or for 20 minutes (by computer) each day. I might set up a private blog to track my efforts. I’ve been known to be a slacker.

Quote of the Month

Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story, there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature. ~Vladimir Nabokov


 

Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.


Periodically!, PO Box 207, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068

 

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Periodically #6 – Surviving November and Planning December

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This is a week late coming out. Sorry. I had things to do… 🙂

Are we all ready for December and Christmas?

If you are not like me, you’ll be giddy with anticipation, unable to contain yourself with Christmas joy. However, if you are like me, you’ll say something like “Christmas is just another day.” “I hate winter!” – because I suffer from SAD and I despise snow (it’s already snowed in Michigan 6 inches!) “It’s too commercial for my tastes.” Or my favorite: “Bah humbug!” Winter is the season where I’m in a constant state of hunkering down. The first week and a half of December, I’ll be “dad sitting.” He’s doing better but needs a monitor. I’m hoping the skies will be bright blue in Colorado while I’m there, as blue skies help my mood immensely.

Great news in the midst of the depression that is winter: My son is coming home for Christmas! He was just here, but he hasn’t come back for Christmas since 2007. With my daughter living here now and my son coming back, we’ll be all together for the first time in ages.

Write News:

My NaNoWriMo efforts this year came in fits and starts. I didn’t do much the first few days, made up some time in the middle, and rushed to get the requisite 50K by the end of November in the last few days. However, Real Life got in the way and I couldn’t get to verifying my word count (51,200) until after I’d arrived in Colorado. Throw in Thanksgiving Day and the Leon and Lulu Artist Market (a smashing success), and you can see why I was up to my armpits in Things to Do.

This year’s effort is not a complete novel (NaNo is not meant for that), but the story line of Waiting on Charity has started to really take shape. I’ve decided for all three women to have a secret. One hasn’t told her daughter she’s adopted; one hasn’t told a family that they are moving to the other side of the country; the teenage girl in the story won’t tell anyone who the father is. I used Michelle Richmond’s Story Starter, which is a great tool. It’s filled with writing exercises. I used each one on each main character to build up an idea of who these women are. I don’t know about you, but when I begin to write, my characters seem shallow and stereotypical. They have very little depth. The more I write, the more I think about why they are the way they are, the more threads I can weave into the story line. My plan for December is to let Waiting on Charity rest a month, while I tackle that dreaded re-write of Virtually Yours Forever.

Interesting Articles:

I’d never thought about writing a memoir (really, who’s life is more blah than my own?), but this is a good article which makes me think about doing so more seriously.

For those of you who were having trouble with NaNoWriMo, there’s this sage advice for those who want to beat themselves up if they don’t make the magic 50K goal.

For those of you who shoot from the hip and blurt out what comes to mind without thinking of the consequences, here’s an article about treading lightly on social media. Once you’ve said it online, you can’t take it away.

Reading This Month:

I finished Meg Donohue’s All the Summer Girls on my plane trip to Colorado. Entertaining women’s fiction. A good beach read.

I’ve started reading Elmore Leonard’s Four Novels of the 1970s. These include Fifty-two Pickup, Swag, Unknown Man No. 89, and Switch.

Musical Notes:

Thanks to one of my high school chums, I found out that Jerry Mathers of Leave it to Beaver fame had a short recording career. If you watch and listen to THIS, you’ll know why. I’ll never look at the Beave the same again.

Quote of the Month:

I have never developed indigestion from eating my words. ~Winston Churchill

Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! or whatever you celebrate or don’t.


 

Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.


Periodically!, PO Box 207, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068

 

What’s In a Name? Just About Everything!

Funny this article came through my email blast today, regarding naming your characters. Just in time, right when I needed it.

(As an aside: “Grayson?” Are you kidding me? I would have never come up with such a name. George, maybe, but never Grayson.)

I’m in awe of writers who can come up with witty names for their characters. They’re also the ones with inventive Twitter handles and email addresses. I am notoriously terrible when it comes to character names (and Twitter handles and email addresses – it’s j-l-h-u-s-p-e-k for everything). I usually use something generic and stupid, until I’ve finished the piece and start the first edit. Then inspiration might hit me like a bolt of lightning and I might come up with something more interesting. Maybe. Maybe not.

Now that I’ve finished my second edit of Finding Cadence, I’m seriously considering name changes. The manuscript is almost ready for querying, and I don’t want to saddle my baby with character names that are humdrum. I can just see some agent looking at my query and saying, “Maggie? She couldn’t think of anything besides Maggie?” I must give the name process careful consideration; after all, this book is my labor of literary love. When I first began writing, the original name for Cadence’s two-timing husband was “Tom” – as in my brother Tom. I love you, Brother Tom, but the name is BORING. Then my daughter went away to college and hooked up with an a**hole surfer boyfriend from Marin named Carter. After a bit of drama which included several tickets he incurred on her car and a trip to the emergency room (accompanied by a panicked phone call in the middle of the night), I decided to rename my errant-husband-character CARTER. Fit perfectly, and gave me more than a smidgen of satisfaction to click “Find-Replace” with such wild abandon.

Actually, I labored over Cadence’s name for a long time. I started writing the story without a first name, that’s how bad I was. I wanted a musical inference, and Harmony was too cheesy. (My apologies to anyone named Harmony. It’s not personal, honest.) Melody is Cadence’s sister’s name. Then I opened up my son’s Dictionary of Musical Terms and Cadence popped out at me. Now the name makes so much sense, since she didn’t feel any harmony at all for the duration of the story, and her life’s cadence endured its shares of ups and downs.

I might have to rename “Bill,” Jackson’s (Cadie’s son) roommate. I just don’t like the name, it doesn’t fit the character. The character is a big, lumbering, old hippie type. Smart, laid-back, and mildly attractive. Teddy, perhaps? Jerry? Kenneth? Definitely not Fabian.

In Virtually Yours, I ended up renaming just about everyone. Diana became SKYE, Lori became LAUREN, Scarlett became RHETT. (In that case, there was a gender change as well. Don’t ask me, just read the book to find out.)

By the time I’d penned Oaks and Acorns and Acorns and Oaks, I’d already started with kick-ass main character names. Amberly Cooper. Maya Cooper. Clementine Bartlett. Of course, I’m not happy with the sister’s name. Martina. Don’t like it. I’ll probably change it someday. I also will have to change the name of Amberly’s love interest, Trent, and probably Grandma’s. Don’t like either one.

I tend to draw upon my real life peeps for names, which might be why I’d gravitate toward George rather than Grayson. My choices may be thinly or heavily disguised. For example, Jackson’s girlfriend’s initials are M.T., just like the initials of the Real Life girl I based her on. Or I might name someone after a place I’ve been. Blaine comes to mind.

Come to think of it, I had a difficult time naming both of my kids. We called our son “Baby Boy” and wouldn’t name him until the hospital threatened to not release him without a name. And while I came up with my daughter’s name while she was still in utero, we ended up changing her middle name from George (there I go again) to Cristina. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I wanted to keep the peace.

Perhaps I name my characters lamely because they are just germs of ideas, not full fledged people, at least, not until I take them out for a spin and slap them around a little. I saddle them with emotions and problems and flaws they must overcome. Only then do they somehow morph from a two-dimensional thought into a many-layered organism.

A Writer’s Beware… The Big Bamboozle

I don’t like to address this part of the writing biz, because I don’t look at writing (or any art I produce) as a business, but perhaps we as writers should. My cautionary tale today deals with the Big Bamboozle, or how people and companies can make money off your art, leaving you with pennies for your effort. And getting pennies is the positive scenario. There’s also outright plagiarism and broken promises and contracts. Several web sites and email blasts I’ve received this week deal with this problem. I also attended a Greater Detroit Area Romance Writers meeting on Tuesday, and many of the members addressed the issue.

Let me preface this by saying only that a writer should be aware, much like the adage ‘buyer beware.’ I should also say I know nothing from nothing, only whispers and reports. No decent writer wants to slam anyone, be it another writer, an agent, an agency, a publisher (either e-pub or traditional), because, let’s face it, we might not want to burn a bridge we may need later. But with the economy being tenuous at best and the publishing world now a cyber as well as a brick and mortar experience, the likelihood of getting scammed increases exponentially.

I am excited to write. I love it. I like creating a world that started out residing in my head and ends up living in an actual document. I like learning, too. Writing as an art is a learning experience. However, I’m kind of fuzzy on the mechanics of the business. Who wants to bean count anyway? Keeping track of sales is boring. And if you’re like me, you trust in the judgment of others, especially in names that are big, or purport to be big.

I self-e-pubbed my first book, because after a year of querying, I knew it would never be traditionally published because of a lack of narrow genre. It’s not a romance, but has romantic elements. There’s a mystery component, but it’s not a suspense. Chick lit? Well, maybe, if the chicks are old enough to have grandchildren. It’s definitely not literary fiction. It’s a beachy read. There were too many characters. Ya-da, ya-da. There was also the element of being based on the Internet, and the Internet was changing with every keystroke. I also have a sequel in the works, where I’ve updated the technology, but this is a losing battle, as anyone who has bought an i-Anything can tell you. You walk out of the store and *poof* it’s already an antique. So you see how this paragraph alone is enough to send most agents scurrying into the netherlands.

I’ve lately heard a lot of negative press about a lot of presses. This concerns me greatly. I actually spoke with the CEO of one of these firms, several times in person, during the course of several writers conferences. He seems very down to earth, very honest, very helpful, promised to do a good job, yet how could his company garner warning articles all over the Internet? Of not paying on time, not paying at all, providing false documentation as to how many books were sold, etc.?

I will not include links to these articles, on the off-chance that the reviews are specious sour grapes from disgruntled customers; however, I will say this, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. First of all, Google (or Bing-that’s my favorite) “writers beware.” What will happen is TONS of web sites will pop up. Peruse them, study them, keep them as bookmarks for later searches.

Secondly, if you know any writers, ask them if they’ve heard anything about a particular agent/publisher. Published authors have the inside scoop. They won’t want to tell you anything negative, at least the ones I know. Take their comments with a grain of salt, but investigate.

Third, if you’re considering any form of publishing, whether agented or not, read the contract. Understand the terms. If doing so leaves you with a sour pit in your stomach, at least walk away and investigate further.

With the proliferation of do-it-yourself and indie operations online and off, it’s a buyer beware world. It’s heady to see your name in print, but you don’t want to give it away, or worse yet, have it stolen. Don’t slip into the Big Bamboozle.

 

Editing the Speedy Way

This weekend’s editing was frustrating, among other things. But Tuesday afternoon I came home and went back at it. Whoa! So much easier that day (why, don’t ask me), and I managed to eliminate another couple thousand worthless words (sorry, “just,” but you’re just not worth it). Having completed the first third of the novel – and feeling very satisfied, indeed – I decided to take a break and cruised around the Internet.

That’s where I found AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It looked interesting, so I decided to test out a few hundred words of the newly edited Part I. In a few short seconds (amazingly short), I received the results. I found I was not in the “danger” zone on anything, except for three cliches (in 40K words, that’s awesome). I’d done a good job of eliminating my overused words, my empty words, and adverbs. Yay, me!

Let me preface this post by saying I do not recommend this form of editing. There is nothing better than to learn the proper way to write, create, and edit. Yes, yes, I know. I am a pantser, but one with an enormous library of reference books and an Internet bookmark list of good writing web sites to back me up. Plus, I am cheap, very cheap. The AutoCrit Editor is expensive; well, expensive to a writer who has sunk a lot of time, energy, and money into reference books and decent editors. At $117 a year for a “membership” – it’s not software you own –  it’s not like Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die ($10 donation, and one payment allows you to put the software on every computer you own).

However, AutoCrit is a very fun diversion. I entered a short story I’d written at 16 (second place winner in a city contest) and found it was full of terrible errors. Like I didn’t know that before… when I look at it now, I cringe. To remain on the “free” side of things, you can submit 400 – 700 words to AutoCrit at a time, so it might do well as a final polish to a scene or chapter.

Now, back to work.

What to Do When You’re Asked to Review but You Just Can’t

Life is good. Not only do I write, but I also read. And not only do I read [a lot], but I write reviews, especially if the story is a particularly moving one. Since I’m kinda-sorta known for such things, my email inbox is full of requests to read and review. In addition, I’m on some publicist’s mailing list at Simon and Schuster, and I get free books in the mail.

I know. It’s like Christmas every day.

Unlike bona fide book bloggers, I don’t review everything I read. Biggest reason? I can’t read everything; there’s just not enough time in the day or days in a week. My To Read pile is more like a To Read mountain – Mt. Everest sized. It’s not just the requests I’m sent; every once in a while I’d like to read something that I picked out.

I will not write a bad review, even if the book deserves it. No matter how unsavory the material, I know that someone spent a lot of time and energy in writing. You can learn something from even a bad book.

My time is limited because I also have these things to write… that’s what takes up the lion’s share of what little free time I can scrape up. I feel panic and horror if I can’t write on a regular basis. Sometimes I have too many things on the Real Life agenda, sometimes I’m sick, sometimes it just doesn’t work out, but either way, a churning in the pit of my stomach reminds me that I must continue on.

As it happens, every once in a while I come across a book I just can’t get into. One that sticks out in my mind and that I will mention here only because the author isn’t going to suffer any ill effects by my opinion is 50 Shades of Gray. I downloaded the trilogy months ago, and I still can’t get through it. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in a doctor’s office, open the Kindle app on my iPhone and take a peek. I can absorb about a screen’s worth of words before I have to put it away.

Why, you might ask? Especially since the rest of the world seems enthralled with this epic tome of sex, bondage, and perversion?

I guess my tastes in books run counter to the masses, just as my taste in movies, food, and TV shows. Plainly put, I just can’t get into some books. If I’m not hooked in the first couple of chapters, you lose me.

Currently, I have a couple of requests on Kindle and a couple of physical books I purchased that are similarly problematic. With a purchased book, you can give it away or relegate it to the base of your To Read mountain, and hopefully get to it sometime after retirement and shortly before death. You never have to face the author.

But when someone emails you because you’ve reviewed their friend’s book and they want a return favor, or you have a personal tie to an author, it’s different. It’s especially difficult if you know the person, either well or casually. I know my book, Virtually Yours, isn’t perfect, but I’m not touting it as the next great American novel. It’s a fluffy, fun beach read. I’ve received mixed reviews on it, but I figured bad reviews into my calculations when self-publishing — the format is not ‘usual’ and there are a lot of characters. Some do, but many people just don’t get it.

As for my own rules, I try to be kind when reviewing. A clue or two for writers: when a book is fraught with grammatical errors, when the characters are unlovable, or when there are multiple points of view in one scene, it’s difficult for me to process your work, much less enjoy it, much less review it.

In my case, if you don’t see a review, cherish the fact that silence is golden.

A Warning To My Friends and Relatives…

The last few weeks have found me mostly editing Virtually Yours Forever, so new story ideas aren’t exactly on the front burner – yet. However, one of the recent exercises in the Savvy Author Donald Maass workshop I’m taking has to do with brainstorming for new ideas.

It may sound easy, but not for me. I’m a pantser. My creative methods include sitting down and writing the first thing off the top of my head. After a few hundred (or thousand) words, I might have story that could take off. Or I might not. This is how I wrote Finding Cadence: I started with a stream of consciousness meme that exploded into something huge.

The Maass exercise comes at a most opportune time. This is the time of year when I gear up for NaNoWriMo. I won’t have a story this year (VY2 was an anomaly, since I had the characters AND the story). I might have a few characters, or I might have a theme. I’d like to say that I jot everything down in a notebook (neatly) but that would be a lie. A lot of times, stories reside in my head only, although now that I’m sliding into old age, taking notes is a good way to stave off the effects of pre-Alzheimer’s.

Unlike some major talents, I write what I know. I’m totally blown away by people who pen fantasy or sci-fi. I just finished The Hunger Games, and it was great! The whole time, though, I kept wondering how the author did it. I mean to come up with the futuristic world, the Games in question, the brutality? In the same way, I’m in awe of those who write historical novels. Not only do these take a lot of painstaking research, the story has to be told in such a way to make it interesting to the modern reader.

I couldn’t write fantasy or historicals. Which is why I concentrate on modern women and relationships. I guess it’s what I know best.

I know what most authors say. “Sure I write what I know, but this is fiction and not based on my life.” The disclaimer is a necessity to prevent getting sued. And yes, my work is fiction, although many times I use real settings. There is no REAL Janna Abraham or Cadence Reed or Amberly Cooper. But I’m not going to lie or sugar coat the truth; I’ve used my own life experiences and my own acquaintances to populate my books.

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day.  The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any. ~Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is right. Real life is heady; the story lines are endless. Good themes weather the test of time. Potential characters number in the millions, the plot situations may be out of the ordinary. Even the most mundane person or story line can be peeled back to reveal a treasure of the human condition.

Since I’m now actively mining my life for characters and story lines, this is a warning to those who I know both intimately or mildly. Don’t be surprised if you become a star in my fiction.

Anonymously, of course.

🙂