Twitter friends: An integral part of the writing experience

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My husband always rolls his eyes when I talk about my Twitter friends.

“You don’t really know this people,” he says. “They’re just words on a screen.”

Maybe he’s right. We don’t “know” each other in the true sense of the word. I have no clue if you guys like coffee or tea, prefer Coke or Pepsi, or even where most of you work.

And yet, I know many of you. You’re all like me in one sense: you’re writers chasing a dream. You’re learning all you can and reaching out to like minds for guidance, just as I am. You’re trying to stay afloat in a sea of online resources and get your voice heard. Most of all, you’re looking for support encouragement from others who know it’s like to be driven to write.

Most of us can’t find that with our “real life” friends. When they initially find out we’re writing a book, they think it’s awesome and brave. They can’t wait to read it. They want to know about the plot, the genre, the characters. They can’t give you enough support.

Time passes, and as everyone goes about their daily lives, you’re sleep-deprived, scratching out a scene whenever you can find enough quiet time. A few weeks later, your friends excitedly ask how the book’s doing, hoping to read some.

Your response is probably something like this: I’ve got the outline done and the first 5000 words written. It’s going great!”

The friend blinks. “You’ve only got 5000 words? But it’s been so long! When do you think you’ll be ready to publish?”

Yes, I’ve had this conversation with many friends. Every one thinks writing a book is a cool thing and something they’d love to do. And most of them think it simply involves sitting down at the computer with an idea and letting your thoughts rip.

Most have no clue of the planning that goes into a book, and many are oblivious to the difficulties of getting published.

“Go to Barnes and Noble,” one of my friends says. “Look at all the books there – and a lot of them suck. I’m sure yours doesn’t. No way you won’t get published. Someone will snatch your book right up.”

If only.

But my Twitter friends – my writing buddies – they get it. They know the writing is like a marathon, not a sprint. Writers are the wise turtle, not the impatient hare. All of us have our own methods. No two are the same, but we still get what the other’s going through. Who else but a fellow writer could understand the frustration over spending a half an hour over one paragraph, or getting lost in hours of researching and trying to decide what needs to be utilized and what should be left out? Only another writer knows the high of great writing, when the words actually do flow out of your fingers, and only another writer could understand the crushing lows of self-doubt.

Our face-to-face friends may smile and nod, tell us to buck up, it’ll be okay – the usual. But online buddies can empathize and offer real advice. They can tell us to quit whining and get busy writing, that it’s the only way to pull ourselves out of the funk, and we actually listen.

Why? Because they get it. They get that finishing the first draft is just one step of many. They realize it could be a year or more (in some cases, many) before that book is ready to query. And they understand the book may never be published or even submitted. A real life friend would be shocked if I shelved my draft because I didn’t think it was ready and started something new. A writing friend would get that our craft gets better with every book.

So I may not know if you guys are vegetarians or carnivores, but I know you understand what I’m going through. I know that at any moment I could log onto Twitter and ask a question or post a link and get a response. You cheer when I have a good writing day and commiserate when I don’t.

You’re there for me in a way real life friends can’t be, and I’m immensely grateful.

Thank you and best wishes on your writing journey. I’ll be right there beside you!

Who am I? More than just another aspiring writer.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Grace and I at her Kprep graduation Friday. She's working on her smile.

Like every other writer, I’m trying to establish my online platform. Blogging, tweeting, getting involved with Goodreads – anything I can to be seen and heard.

But what do I talk about to bring people to my blog?

At first, I blogged about my personal writing process and quickly learned that was pretty mundane and boring.

Then I tried talking about the hot-button topics like self-publishing and got a bit more interest but really, what do I know about self-publishing? I haven’t gotten that far yet. I’m an aspiring writer working on my second novel and the first I will try to publish. What can I talk about with any sort of knowledge other than what I’m learning? I certainly can’t claim to be an expert.

The lovely Anne-MhairiSimpson took the time to give me several pointers, the biggest of which was to write about me and to work on getting to know people. I liken it to being at a huge party and feeling like an outsider. I need to mingle. Socialize. How can I expect anyone to follow me and support my blog if they don’t know who I am?

I tweaked the ‘about me’ section so it actually says something about me and posted some of my writing. That got some nice feedback, but I still have many more hits than comments/followers. I’m not sure if that’s because people just don’t take the time to comment or because I haven’t impressed them enough to say anything.

Anne also said something that really resonated with me: I have a feeling you have spent most of your life doing what you should be doing and trying not to bring too much attention to yourself.

It’s true. I’ve always been a ‘walk the line’ sort of person, playing by the rules and not seeking attention. I’m self-conscious and don’t like to stand out in a crowd. That’s okay in real life, but online, to be seen as anyone other than just an annoying person trying to get followers, I have to shed the proverbial mask I’ve become so accostumed to wearing.

So here goes.

Who am I? Many things – a wife, a mother, daughter, friend, and writer. I’m impatient and headstrong. If I decide I want to do something, I want to do it now before I change my mind. I have a quick temper and a smart mouth, but I’m working on that. Progress is slow.

I have little patience for bigots and racists. I respect other’s opinions but I have strong ones of my own when it comes to certain issues. My husband calls me a bleeding heart liberal, and maybe that’s true. But discrimination in the name of political/religious control disgusts me.

I voted for Obama, and I’d do it again.

My guilty pleasure is pop music. I will be seeing BSBNKOTB this summer and taking my five-year-old daughter. She’s more excited than me, and the chance to have the experience with her means a lot.

I have a fascination with the macabre and death, although I also harbor a huge fear of the latter. I watch gritty real-life cop shows and read too many true crime stories about terrible people. I often think I should have gone into psychology, maybe even forensic psychology. Then again, I’m not sure I’d have the stomach when faced with the real life horror these people deal with on a daily basis. I’ll stick to watching at a distance in my comfy recliner.

I’ve battled depression/anxiety all my life, and it’s only in the last year or so I’ve given in and tried medication. The change has been amazing.

I can’t leave the house without checking (several times) to make sure everything that can cause a fire is off, even if I know I haven’t used it. Sometimes I even jump out of the car to double check. Apparently I’ve got a bit of a compulsion.

I believed in Santa Claus until I was nine. I can remember the exact moment when I found out he wasn’t real.

I started writing in a spiral notebook when I was eleven or so, a story about me and New Kids on the Block. That was in the dark ages, long before the Internet, so I didn’t know what I was doing was writing fan fiction.

I still have the notebook.

I’m sentimental, obviously.

My mom is my best friend and the possibility of losing her to diabetes related complications terrifies me.

I lost my oldest brother in a car accident in June of 2005 when I was twelve weeks pregnant. What happened in the next forty-eight hours solidified my belief in the supernatural and God.

In September 2009, I was reading a text a few blocks from our house. My right tire rolled up the side of a bridge and the car flipped, skidding across a well-traveled road and ending up facing the other way. I was hanging upside down, trapped in my seatbelt. The hardest conversation I’ve ever had was telling my mother she’d almost had to bury another child.

I’ve never texted and drove since.

Retail therapy is the best kind, and I’ve got the shoes and purses to prove it.

I believe everything happens for a reason, even if the reason makes no sense.

I have three dogs: two miniature doxie’s who never shut up and a Golden Retriever. I had to give up my cats due to allergies, and the experience was excruciating. Thankfully I found good homes for them.

I cry when I’m angry, which enrages me.

I’m a good listener and a great friend. But I won’t sugarcoat things. If you’ve screwed up, I’ll tell you.

I’m a Mac.

Her name is Gloria, short for Glorious.

It’s pop, not soda.

What about you? What are the special, quirky things that make you unique?

Flash Fiction/Web Fic: The Prophet

Friday, May 27, 2011

This is my first attempt at Friday Flash. It's an idea that's been churning in my head as I finish my suspense novel, and I wanted to share it with others. Hope you enjoy it!

Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
Adult Content

“I don’t understand.” Jaymee slapped the pink paper onto the manager’s desk.

Cigarette dangling from his mouth, he glared up at her. “What’s not to understand? You’re a month late with the lot rent. Now you got two weeks to come up with the money or get out.”

“But my boyfriend paid you,” Jaymee argued. “I gave him the money three days ago.”

Mr. Shaw crushed his Marlboro Light into an overflowing ashtray. “I didn’t get it.”

Jaymee frantically dug into her bag. “I can post-date a check.”

Shaw laughed showing his yellowed teeth. “Right. Then it’ll bounce. Cash or money-order only.”

She didn’t have it. Jaymee was barely able to put food on the table let alone replace rent money. Furious, she grabbed the pink slip and stormed out of the manager’s office.

That bastard. Wade had promised he’d pay the lot rent. What had he done with the cash she’d given him? Spent it on hookers? More drugs? Probably both.

She trudged down the winding dirty path grimacing as her worn heels began to fill with sand. Fawn Lake Court was much less beautiful than it sounded. Forty or more dilapidated mobile trailers lined the park. Children played in the empty lots and neighborhood dogs roamed free along with raccoons and other night bandits.

Jaymee’s trailer was at the south end of the park. One of the “newer” models, the paint was only moderately chipped and the tiny back deck was only partially rotted.

Her life was never going to change. The child of a factory worker and born-again Christian, a pregnancy at sixteen had killed Jaymee’s dreams of becoming a lawyer, and her righteous parents had thrown Jaymee out when they heard of her condition.

“Good Christian girls don’t get themselves in trouble,” her mother shouted. “How could you do this to us?”

Her father had clutched his Bible to his heart. “You’ve shamed this family, girl. There’s no place in God’s house for whores.”

Jaymee wondered what her father would think if he knew his own brother had fathered her child in the backroom of his dingy laundromat, holding Jaymee down while she fought in vain against his considerable weight.

Good ole’ Christian Joe would probably still find a way to blame her.

The hot August sun bore down on her soaking the roots of her shoulder-length brown hair in sweat. A single bead of perspiration trickled down her neck and into the crevice of her bra.

So much for northern Minnesota not having any humidity. Today was miserable.

Suddenly, a rotting stench wafted through the summer air. Jaymee gagged and covered her mouth. Two doors down from her trailer, her neighbor’s trashcans were knocked over, debris spread everywhere.

“What the hell did she put in her garbage?” Jaymee muttered.

All the windows of the trailer were open—couldn’t the woman smell that? “Crystal, you in there?” Jaymee shouted. “You got a big ass mess out here, girl!”

Loud barking was her only answer. Crystal’s dog, an ugly stray mixed-breed she’d name Mutt, stood at the back window, yapping urgently.

“Shit. Crystal must’ve forgot to let him out.”

Jaymee sidestepped the trash, holding her breath as the smell grew worse. Thick and putrid, it seemed to be emanating from the trailer. “Mutt, did you crap in there? I’m not cleaning up after you.”

She shoved her spare key into the flimsy lock and pulled open the door. “Holy fuck!” Bile rose in her throat as the stink intensified. Mutt scrambled past her with a yelp and made a beeline for the empty lot.

He’d made a mess of the trailer, knocking chairs over and digging at the flimsy door.

But he didn’t leave those cabinets standing open.

On edge, Jaymee stepped further into the small trailer. A kitchen drawer lay on the floor, mismatched silverware scattered around it.

Survival instincts told her to run; she was getting herself into something she wanted no part of. But something propelled Jaymee forward. She reached the closed bedroom door and slowly pushed it open.

Nothing could have prepared her for what she saw.

A Fat Girl No More: The story of my 64 lb weight loss.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Being fat is miserable.

Trust me, I know. For as long as I can remember I’ve been the chubby kid, the heavy sister, the fat friend. I blame genetics. Kind of.

When I was a kid (I’m thirty-four), parents didn’t know as much as we do now about the effects of sugar, fatty foods, etc. And if they did, my parents didn’t pay attention. Dad was a steak and potatoes kind of guy (still is), and we never ate a lot of veggies. Pepsi was the drink of choice, and I can remember way too many trips to Mickey D’s.

My poor childhood eating habits set the stage for my lifelong struggle with food.

I never felt comfortable in my own skin, mostly because there was too much of it. One of my worst memories is from my freshman year of high school during a JV basketball game. I was probably twenty pounds heavier than the rest of the team, and they didn’t have shorts to fit me. The pair coach gave me were so tight they rode up my legs until they resembled two sausages trying to escape from their waxy membrane. I spent the game huffing up and down the court and constantly tugging down my shorts. The opposing team had a field day, of course. The experience was beyond mortifying.

Still, I couldn’t lose the weight. I had no discipline, no willpower. Chocolate and pizza were my best friends and worst enemies. Finally, the summer between my junior and senior year, I literally worked my butt off and dropped about thirty pounds, getting down to a size seven, the smallest I’ve ever been.

That lasted until my freshman year of college when I began packing on the dreaded freshman fifteen. By the time I graduated, I was a size eighteen. I spent the next decade struggling with various diets and failed exercise plans, never getting lower than a sixteen.

I felt unworthy of my husband’s affection and could no longer stand to look in the mirror. When my eighteen’s starting getting tight, I’d finally had enough.

On December 31st, 2010, I weighed 218 pounds (I’m about 5’ 4”), and my body fat was 44%. My mother suffers from Type 2 Diabetes, and I was well on my way to joining her.

The next day I began a program through my doctor called Ideal Protein. Originally created for diabetics and modified for the general public, it’s a strict protein and veggie diet. Your carbs and calories are severely restricted. A list of food choices is provided, and if you go off that list, the food must be ZERO carbs, calories, and fat. The diet essentially retrains your pancreas to properly process insulin, slowly filtering out the gunk and never-ending cravings that come with a carb-filled diet.

Ideal Protein is strict: green veggie only, none of the good kind like carrots and green beans. The “yucky” kind like asparagus, zucchini, kale, cauliflower, spinach … you get the picture. Only certain cuts of beef, pork, and chicken, and only five ounces at night. I didn’t think I could do it. I’ve never been a veggie eater, and when I did, they were coated in butter and sugar.

Your main source of protein is purchased from the selection provided by Ideal Protein, and I won’t lie, it’s expensive. But the protein packets are key to burning the fat and making you feel full.

Ideal Protein’s offerings are surprisingly good; most are in the form of shakes, but there are crepes, omelets, puddings, chili, etc. There’s a lot more variety than I expected.

Best thing? No exercise needed. I know it sounds whacky, but just listen. Working up a sweat actually causes your body to produce more insulin and lactic acid, which then turns into sugar. So you can’t work out. Light toning is fine, but that’s it.

So there I was in January bulging out of my size eighteens and feeling genuinely miserable. I didn’t know if I could do it or not. But all I could see when I looked in the mirror was my mother, so I was determined to give it all I could.

As of today, May 24th, 2011, I weigh 154 pounds and am a size ten. I haven’t been this small since I was seventeen, and I’m actually only nine pounds heavier than I was exactly half a lifetime ago. Not bad after being so heavy and giving birth.

I don’t want to sound like an infomercial, but Ideal Protein isn’t a diet. It’s a change of life. For the first time, I’m eating healthy. And what’s more, I LIKE IT. There are so many foods out there I’d never tried, so many ways to cook I was clueless about. I eat the right sized portions, and I’m full. There’s no digging through the cabinets forty-five minutes after a meal.

It wasn’t easy. There were days I wanted to scream and cry at the idea of taking another bite of celery or broccoli, or watching my family eat pasta when I couldn’t. I would literally salivate over chocolate and didn’t think I could go another second. And then I would step on the scale or try on something I hadn’t been able to wear in years and it would not only fit but be too big! Weekly success gave me the willpower to push forward.

The diet officially ends this Thursday after two weeks of slowly introducing healthy carbs back into my system. After that, I’ll be on what’s called the ‘maintenance phase,’ which is simply eating smart while enjoying one cheat day a week. I’ve been able to start exercising, and the difference in my physical ability is amazing with sixty-four pounds gone.

Everything about my life has been affected by losing weight. I’m happier, more content. I feel more attractive. I have more energy. My writing has increased, and my overall attitude about life is better. I’m no longer the fat wife or chubby friend. I’m Stacy, the person I’ve always wanted to be.

And for the first time, I feel in control of my life and health. I finally have the tools to keep the weight off.

Staying thin will always be a work in progress. But the accomplishment of such a big goal is one I am very proud of, and the knowledge that I could see the diet through until the end is extremely empowering.

If I can do that, I can do anything.

Should you use a freelance editor?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Along with self-publishing, this is another hot button topic in the writing world. We all know our work has to be perfect when we query and that doing our own editing is going to get us a permanent spot in the slush pile.

So who do we turn to? There are no shortage of freelance editors out there, and many are well-known with an impressive list of clients. We can trust them to do a good job and have integrity with our work.

They’re also very expensive. I know we’ve got to invest in ourselves if we want any chance of selling our book. You can’t make money without spending it. But having a freelance editor thoroughly critique and/or edit our full manuscript can cost around $1,000, depending on length.

That’s a chunk of money for the vast majority of us. So what are our alternatives? Most of the editors out there offer a variety of services, including having the first 25-50 pages edited. They also offer line or copy-edits only; it varies with each editor. But is that enough? Getting the first 25-50 pages looked over by a pro is a great asset and one I recommend for everyone. But that’s not enough to give us any kind of edge in the slush pile. The entire book has to be flawless.

As I’ve meandered my way around Twitter, I see there’s no shortage of editors out there. Some are cheaper than others. Does this mean they’re not as good or trustworthy? Not at all. Some don’t see the need to charge as much, some are starting out, and some have reasons they keep to themselves. Low rates do not mean low quality.

My advice is to approach employing a freelance editor just as you would when purchasing a new car: shop around. Research their services, qualifications; talk to their clients if you can. Above all, ask them questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them why they cost less than others – this is a piece of yourself you are entrusting them with. Be as diligent as you would when picking out childcare.

Your relationship with this editor is just as important as her experience and pricing. An editor needs to be honest and approachable, and able to work you though WHY something needs changed. If you can’t communicate with the editor you choose, your writing will not improve.

I’ve talked with several of these editors, and every one has been willing to answer my questions and understanding of my concerns. After doing some research, I chose an editor with experience editing best selling suspense novels to look over my first 5000 words and it was worth the $55 I spent on it. Not only was I assured that I was on the right track and not wasting my time, but seeing my work through an editor’s eye was very helpful. It gave me a hint of what they look for.

As my WIP winds down to its last 10,000 words or so, I’m thinking more and more about having a full manuscript edit. I will spend a lot of time editing myself, and my critique partner, a reading/writing professor at Hennepin College, will also go over it. But that third set of professional eyes will be crucial. The money is a lot to swallow, but the investment in myself will pay off in the end, even if I choose to self-publish. Nothing turns readers off like stupid grammatical errors.

So I will continue to research for not only the best “deal” but the editor who best suits me and my writing style, and who will give me the help I need.

Don’t rush into choosing an editor. Do your research, and grow a thick skin if you haven’t already. Remember, you are paying this person to point out flaws in your writing so that it can improve and have a chance at selling. Don’t get upset with their suggestions or cop an attitude – THAT is a true waste of your money. Listen and learn, politely ask questions, but don’t be too proud to listen to their advice. Writing is learning, period.

Bottom line? Having a professional edit before querying is a must – it’s up to you to find the best one for your novel.

Editing Services To Consider

Jodie Renner Editing
TJ Proofs
Roz Morris
Nashville Editing Services
Kathryn Craft

What are your experiences with freelance editors?

5 Reasons To Cut That Scene

Monday, May 16, 2011

As writers, it’s very easy to get carried away with a scene, especially if it’s one we’ve put a lot of research into. Every detail seems important, right down to the type of plants in the garden and the color of paint on the walls.

Often these scenes are the once we’re most proud of, because we’ve managed to import all that painstaking research into a beautiful narrative.

But is all that information really necessary to the plot?

If you have to ask yourself that question, it’s probably not. I’ve got a scene like this right now that I’ve put on the backburner because I love it so much, and thinking about chopping it up is akin to cutting off my own arm.

It’s the antagonist’s POV, when the reader finds out what the traumatic event was in his life that made him the monster he is today. It’s a sad story will (hopefully) earn him empathy and make him a three dimensional villain.

But it’s also nine pages long (the rest of his scenes only have four pages at most) and over 3200 words. I’m proud of the chapter because it describes his childhood in an area of the country I’ve always been fascinated with, the Old South. It’s the perfect setting: a long abandoned plantation with a haunting description of the overgrown grounds and their history.

Most of which isn’t really necessary to the plot. Some, yes. Some ties into the visual effects and symbolism in the story. But much of it is simply me having fun with my imagination. It’s also one of my favorite scenes, and it kills me I’ll have to chop it up.

But it must be done, because if it doesn’t further the plot or characterization, it’s not necessary.

Here are the five criteria I use when trying to decide whether or not to cut all or part of a scene:

1) Is anyone beside me going to care?

I understand my story and so every word is essential to me. But if readers are going to be asking ‘what the hell does this have to do with anything,’ it’s got to go.

2)The truth is in the details

Is this scene full of mundane details? I tend to fall into the trap of wanting to explain everything, from the character’s movements, inner thoughts, and setting details. If that’s all a scene is, I’ll go back and cut it or merge with another.

3)Is there exposition in this scene? Does the character (protag or antag) end up somewhere different than they started?

If your character starts out the scene lost and angry and spends a lot of time contemplating her life, but is still lost, angry and unresolved at the end of the scene, something’s got to change. He/she has to move forward, or the reader is going to get bored and most likely sick of her whining without doing anything.

4)Did I say this already?

One of my early pitfalls as a writer was repeating myself with each character. If something happened in A’s pov, it must be discussed in B’s as well. That’s fine, if you’re revealing NEW details and moving the plot forward. But if you’re just rehashing old stuff, you’re bogging down the reader and offending them. Repeating information is like saying you don’t trust them to figure it out the first time.

5)How does it sound?

Read the scene aloud. Actually, start one scene before and read through both. Does it sound right? Is the flow from scene to scene correct? Or does your scene in question stick out like an off note in a symphony? If so, it needs work at the very least.

What are some of your own rules for deciding whether to cut?

Self-Publish or Rot In The Slush Pile?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Self-publishing is one of the hot button topics among writers of all kinds. With Kindle, Amazon, and sites like Smashwords and CreateSpace, self-publishing is easier than ever.

I’ll admit, until I started writing my current novel and began my venture into social media, I didn’t consider self-publishing “real” publishing. After all, if you didn’t have an agent and a publishing house believing in your book, how could you call yourself published?

Hold on! Don’t roast me yet. Every one of us knows that for every fantastic and successful self-published book out there, at least five more never should have seen the light of day. And not for poor quality of writing, but for lack of editing. Too many writers – especially unpublished newbs like myself – are rushing to hit the “publish” button before having their work properly edited. That’s part of the reason people are still leery of self-publishing – a reader doesn’t always know what to expect.

Finding a good editor before submitting in ANY form is a must.

Of course, cheerleaders for selfpub believe the cheap prices of most e-books (usually anywhere between .99 and 2.99) are worth the risk for most readers. Maybe they’re right. But that’s won’t going to get a writer that’s striving to improve themselves good word of mouth, and that’s the key to ANY successful book. If I buy a dud for .99, I’m not sweating the money, but I also won’t go on Twitter and tout the book as a must-read.

Many insist self-publishing is the way of the future and that the big houses, agents, editors, etc. are doomed. I’m not sure I buy that, but I do think self-publishing has a lot more merit than it did just five years ago.

One of the key issues is royalty earnings and rights. Many newbs, (again, including myself), don’t fully understand exactly what they’re signing away when they go with a traditional publisher. Everyone of us has to do our research to better understand what rights we’re giving up, especially foreign, and compare the costs of self-publishing versus realistic earnings from the traditional route.

Another issue is the worry that by self-publishing, an author is sabotaging their chances at ever being picked up a by a traditional house. But Kindle Direct Publishing’s latest newsletter talks about Nancy Johnson, who originally published on Kindle and now has publishers seeking her out.

Self-publishing is becoming a viable and more respectable option for writers. Many old pros insist that the marketing a writer needs to do isn’t much different than what would be needed if a big publisher put out the book. Apparently, they don’t toss a lot of dough around for unproven writers.

Which brings me to my least favorite part of being an aspiring author: like it or not, publishing is business. Traditional publishers are going to sign the writers they believe will make them the best money, the ones that will (hopefully) fly off shelves and have great word of mouth. That’s why only roughly ONE PERCENT of all submitted manuscripts get printed a year (at least the traditional way.)

One percent. Kind of makes you slump in your chair, huh?

If you’re like me, you truly believe you’ve got a story readers will want to read, if they only get a chance. I don’t care about the business end – I just want to share my characters and their lives. I want to give them the opportunity to shine, and I know in my gut I’ve got a strong plot.

But will it ever see the light of day?

I hope so. If I self-publish, it most certainly would. But is that really the way to go? Call me old school, but I believe there’s some value in at least trying the traditional way, and not for the money (let’s be real) or the prestige, but for the learning experience. I know querying agents will be a wake-up call, and I understand that no matter how much work I put into making sure the proposal, query, and manuscript are just right, I’ll be shot down. Most likely a lot.

But what if one or two agents asks for a partial? Isn’t there value in that? Doesn’t that tell me that I’m on the right track with my proposal, and that I’ve got a marketable idea?

And if those agents reject me, for whatever reason, what if they offer something more than a form letter? What if they have real comments and advice as to how to make my book better? Isn’t that worth the effort? I do have my pride, and I believe in my work, but I know I can always improve. There’s always more to learn, and if I’m willing to do that, I believe my novel, however published, will benefit in the end.

So while I’m slowly building my file on self-publishing, I’m also building one on how to write great proposals and queries. Some might say I’m wasting my time, but I intend to go the traditional route first, for at least six months, simply for the learning experience. I realize the chances of getting picked up are slim and that I’ll likely have to take matters into my own hands, but I still believe going through the traditional process has too many learning benefits to just bypass altogether.

After all, nothing good is ever easy, right?

Where do you stand on the self-publishing issue?

For much more on self-publishing versus traditional and tons of great writing advice, visit Nail Your Novel. Roz Morris runs a great blog for writers in every stage!

Does My Daughter Have Lyme Disease?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

“It’s pretty indicative of Lyme Disease.”

Those are the words I heard this past Saturday that put me into a tailspin. Six days before, my daughter had come home from her grandparents with a tick on her shoulder. I pulled it off, cleaned it, didn’t think anything more about it. After all, I grew up on that farm and ticks were a yucky part of summer life. Dad used to light them with a match (like an idiot, I know).

And then a red rash started appearing around the bite. Still, I didn’t consider it serious because the tick wasn’t a deer tick, and I’d figured it was just a reaction. But by Saturday it was bigger and so my husband Googled (I could write a whole series of posts about the perils of medical Googling). The rash looks very much like the telltale “bulls-eye” rash that comes with Lyme Disease.

Impossible, I said. But I took her to urgent care anyway, where the doctor said the same thing. By then, I’d read all about the symptoms of Lyme and was in a near panic. Would my now healthy five-year-old have to suffer the rest of her life? I thought of all her potential and her bubbly personality, and my heart began to break. How much would this change her?

And was it my fault? Should I have brought her in immediately instead of waiting a week?

Naturally, getting a straight answer out of a doctor is impossible, since they have to worry about protecting themselves in this day and age. She did say that starting the treatment early enough was usually effective. But I couldn’t get her to tell me if a week was early enough. She kept talking in circles and pissing me off, considering we’d waited ninety minutes to see her. Finally, I flat-out asked if I’d waited too long, because she was making it sound like I had.

She became contrite and said no, she hadn’t meant that at all. She was referring to waiting until a blood test came back from the Mayo Clinic, which could take 5-7 days. Would be foolish to wait that long, she said.

Then why the hell couldn’t she say that the first time? I’m sitting there in near-tears, probably overreacting, and yet she’s got the compassion of a rock.

I realize doctors – especially urgent care docs – are overloaded and stressed, but guess what? So are the rest of us. I can’t imagine what it takes to deal with patients all day, but I do know that compassion and patience should be a course all medical professionals should take. Too many of them are in a constant hurry, making you feel like you’re wasting their precious time with every question you ask. They may be busy, but my medical premiums are paying their bills. The least they could do is act as though they give a damn.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve met some great doctors. My OB is fantastic, as is my daughter’s regular doctor. But they seem to be the exception to the rule.

Back to the Lyme Disease. After an excruciating experience with a needle, Grace’s blood was taken, and we were told to take the antibiotics for two weeks and then a follow-up would be needed, even if the test came back negative.

I spent the weekend feeling guilty and worrying. Lyme Disease is carried in deer ticks, right? That was NOT a deer tick. Was a plain old wood tick. I’d bet my life on that. But then I found out that research now shows wood ticks (aka American Dog Tick) may carry a form of Lyme Disease. But is it really possible that out of the tiny percentage that carry the disease the one that bit my daughter had it?

And then there’s the time the tick was attached to the body. If it’s less than 36 hours, infection is unlikely. Mom says it has to be because she had a shower Saturday night, and I found the tick Sunday evening. But couldn’t Mom have missed the tick?

You can probably tell by now I’m a first-class worrier.

The pharmacist was much more reassuring than the doctor. He said the chances of her having Lyme were slim, no matter how suspect the rash was. And if she did, the antibiotic would take care of it. It’s only the people who get bit and don’t know and go untreated for a long time that have problems.

Of course, there’s always those freak cases, and that’s what I can’t stop worrying about.

Yesterday the doctor’s office called and said the initial test was negative; mind you, they hadn’t even TOLD me there would be an initial test. Still, she’s to remain on antibodies because the Mayo test could show something different.

I’m trying to remain positive, because realistically, the chances ARE slim. But every time I look at that awful rash and realize how much it looks like the bulls-eye rash, I get scared and the what-ifs take control.

What if something happens to my daughter? She is literally our miracle, and I’m not sure I could survive it. With all the joys of being a parent, things like this are definitely the lows. No matter what you do to protect them, there’s always something waiting in the wings to cause trouble.

How do we manage? How do we allow our kids to grow up safe without smothering them and making them a frightened mess? My husband says kids need freedom, and I agree. But there’s always that nagging voice that asks: what if something happens to her, and I wasn’t there?

How do you deal with the inevitable crises that come when you have children? What do you do to thwart the worrying and panic?

Friday Mashup!

Friday, May 6, 2011

On this busy and hopefully happy Mother’s Day weekend, I’m sharing my favorite blogs and tweeters with you all. These guys make me think, laugh, and work hard. Have a great weekend!

Donna Galanti
Donna’s blog Writing With Gusto is full of writing info and a great place for writers to meet. She invites authors to guest blog as well, providing a different viewpoint of the experience.

Melanie McCullough
On her blog A New Kind of Ordinary, Melanie is an aspiring writer blogging on all experiences writing. So far, my favorite post of hers has been: If You Can’t Say Something Mean, her experience of sharing her writing and dealing with the feedback.

Jody Hedlund – Author of The Preacher’s Bride
Jody is a fantastic resource for any writer. She posts at least twice a week, and her blogs are always relevant and thought provoking. She’s also great about replying on her blog and Twitter.

Kristen Lamb
A social media expert, Kristen’s blog Warrior Writers is fun, and she provides great content, covering the ins-and-outs of social media as well as many facets of the writing process. Recently she created the Twitter hashtag #MyWANA, in reference to her book, We Are Not Alone. It’s a great place for writers to convene and support each other.

Jodie Renner
A professional editor, Jodie’s blog is full of helpful info for any author. She’s also very approachable and provides great editorial feedback.

Crime Fiction Collective
This blog is a must for crime nuts. Several published crime/thriller authors participate, as well as editors. My favorite post so far? My Visit With Death by Andrew Kaufman. Any writer covering an autopsy needs to read this post!

Victoria Mixon, Editor
Victoria’s blog is full of writing info, and she’s got a great conversational approach.

Roz Morris, Editor and Author
Roz is the author of Nail Your Novel, and her blog of the same name is a great resource. Many of her topics turn into great discussions, and I’ve learned a lot about the pros and cons of self-publishing through her posts, as well as structure in our writing. Roz is also extremely accessible and fun to communicate with.

Because there are too many to list, everyone needs to check out #MyWANA, #amwriting, #writegoal, #authors, and #wordmongering. Using these hashtags is a great way to communicate with fellow writers. These hashtags give you a built-in support system and makes the experience better.
Finally, I’m going to steal something from Kristen Lamb this week. If you’re not using Tweetdeck to keep track of Twitter, download it now! It’s very easy and a great way to organize your lists and hashtags so you can keep track of everyone!

Until next week!

Strong Female Protags: Beyond the bitchy exterior

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Creating a great female protagonist is one of the most challenging aspects of writing. In fact, I think coming up with a strong female lead is tougher than writing a male protagonist. Various studies still show that women read more than men, and let’s face it: most of us are going to be tougher on female leads because we’re seeing ourselves through their eyes. She can be attractive, but not physically perfect. No woman is, and having a beautiful damsel in distress shoved down our throats is a turn-off. Your female lead doesn’t have to be likable, but she’s got to have qualities that make readers empathize with her. Often the best female protagonists are three-quarters bitch, and it’s that last twenty-five percent that make readers root for her.

So what’s in that twenty-five percent? Inner demons, of course. Abusive parent or husband, a drinking problem, drug problem, depression, loss of a loved one – the list goes on. It’s the inner demons that make us feel for the character, and how she conquers them that get us rooting for her.

That’s where the character arc comes in, and it’s all about timing. You can’t wait too long to show at least two-dimensions of your female lead or you’ll lose readers. If she’s perceived as weak, unwilling to change, or just flat-out nasty with no redeeming qualities, readers will toss you aside and move on to the next book. Showing who your characters are is like peeling away the layers of an onion, but you’ve got to give the reader glimpses of who the lead really is or we will never get to see the third dimension, where she conquers all and completes her character arc.

Literature is loaded with great, complex female characters. Here are two of my favorites:

Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With The Wind
Yes, this one is beautiful and knows it. We give her an exemption because beauty is a true part of who she is, and we see right away it’s only one aspect of her personality. Scarlett grows up a spoiled Southern belle and knows how to manipulate the opposite sex for her own needs. But underneath all of that is also a fierce determination to survive no matter the costs. Scarlett’s first major turning point is when Sherman is burning Atlanta, and Melanie has gone into labor. She could have run, but chooses to stay and do the right thing. She tells herself she’s doing this for her beloved Ashley, but we also see her grudging affection for ‘Melly.’

While Scarlett’s driving force is always herself, a close second is her love for Tara. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is after she’s discovered the destruction of Twelve Oaks and is frantically trying to see if Tara still stands. Finally, the clouds part, and she sees Tara. A truly poignant moment and an honest glimpse into Scarlett’s heart.
Throughout the book, she endures heartache and setbacks, and it’s only at the very end, upon Melanie’s deathbed, that Scarlett realizes she’s loved Rhett all along. It’s too late, and we feel her pain because Mitchell created such a complex, fascinating character. Readers fell in love with Scarlett despite her selfishness, and that’s one of the many aspects that make Gone With The Wind such an amazing literary work.

Clarice Starling, The Silence of The Lambs
I’ve always loved Clarice, partly because I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the FBI and serial killers. As I read the book, I felt such envy for Clarice because she was getting to do something I’d always wanted to do and didn’t have the guts to pursue. That very quality could have made me shun her, but how could I not root for a woman trying to break through the ranks of the male-dominated FBI?

Clarice isn’t defined by her beauty but rather her intelligence and raw determination. During her interviews with Dr. Lector, we admire her poise despite her fear. And it’s through Clarice that we come to understand and even empathize with arguably one of the best antagonists in all of literature.

We learn about Clarice’s inner demons very early on – the death of her father when she was a child. She immediately earns our sympathy, and we’re even more drawn to her. But it’s the truth that Hannibal himself gleans from her, the horrible slaughtering of the lambs, that locks Clarice into our hearts. We see her worst fear, and we know she’s only allowing herself to be emotionally stripped because she’s determined to save Catherine.

By the time Clarice discovers Buffalo Bill’s home readers hearts are pounding because of our attachment to the character. She’s overcome so much, and now she must use all the knowledge given to her by Lector to save herself and Catherine. Her character arc is completed, and she has Dr. Lector to thank for it. The true genius of Silence of the Lambs is the relationship between Starling and Lector. Without each other, neither would have found peace.

Other Great Female Leads:

Susie Salmon, The Lovely Bones
Elizabeth Bennett, Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre
Eowyn, Lord of the Rings
Jodie Piccoult, My Sister’s Keeper and Perfect Match

What are some of your favorite female protagonists?