Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Benefits of Manuscript Contests

I told you yesterday about attending the Writers' League of Texas 2010 Agents Conference. What I didn't mention were the thoughts that went through my head as the winners of the manuscript contest were announced at the conference luncheon.

Every winner was there and went to the podium to accept the award, pausing to pose for a photo. Then, after all received there awards, there was a group photo.

I sat there thinking about how I missed this when Where Love Once Lived won first place in the Romance category in 2007. Did anyone wonder why I wasn't there? They mailed the certificate to me. I could have been there, but I was home in Georgetown preparing to leave the next day for a trip to China. Had I known I had won, I would have gone just for the luncheon and presentation.

I don't know how many people were there this year, but there had to be hundreds. Everyone I talked to was working on something, fiction or non-fiction, and all were encouraging and helpful.

I attended three breakout sessions, primarily of book marketing techniques:

• Why It's Never Too Early to Start Thinking About PR & Marketing

• Social Media: How to Make It Work for You--Rather Than You Working for It

• Book Promotion in the Digital Age: Dos and Don'ts From the Media

If you get a chance to go to a conference for writers, please do. If nothing else, you'll feel the positive vibes from the other attendees.

In addition to conferences, enter every writing contest you can. I learned more from some contest judges than I did from many others who have read my work.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Distracted Agents

I attended the Writers' League of Texas (WLT) 2010 Agents Conference June 25-27. All attendees had an opportunity to meet with an agent for ten minutes. Well, I say all, but I'm sure there was a limit and some people who waited until the last minute to register may not have had an agent conference. We were allowed to prioritize our choice of agents and I was lucky enough to get my second choice. As it turned out, I may have liked my third, fourth, or fifth choice better.

I practiced my pitch for Vengeance Is Mine while driving from Georgetown to Austin and it took about 30 minutes. So, while giving the pitch to the agent I cut a lot out to make it fit the time allowed. What I said didn't seem to matter. The whole time I was talking, he was looking over my shoulder to what was happening behind me. I wanted to turn around to see if there was some good looking gal back there, but I looked at him as if he was paying attention. It took self control to continue.

I told him about winning first place with Where Love Once Lived in the manuscript contest in the WLT 2007 Agents Conference and how I was publishing it with CreateSpace. He said that was good and he suggested CreateSpace might be good for the novel I was pitching. I took that as a signal my time was over, and, besides, he was still more interested in someone behind me than me. As I was about to leave, he said I could send him a query once I am pleased with Vengeance Is Mine and have had positive feedback from several critique partners. I doubt if I'll send him anything.

Monday, June 28, 2010

According to God's Schedule

Celeste and I returned from a two week choir trip to China so late Friday night it was officially Saturday. We could have used three or four days to recover from the long flight, but as soon as we got to church Sunday morning we were reminded we had signed up to help restore some houses in Georgetown, Texas where we live.

Helping with the community restoration project was something I wanted to do, but what bothered me was that I hadn't written or worked on the book publishing project in more than two weeks. I didn't take a laptop with me and I didn't activate my iPhone in China. It was a two-week vacation from the Internet and all things digital. I felt a little proud, since I am sometimes criticized for spending too much time staring at a monitor or an iPhone.

Even so, I'd looked forward to our return home so I could get back to my computer. It wasn't to be. God decided I needed another week away from my routine.

The community restoration project work was from 6:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and, with the 100+ degree heat, we were exhausted by the time we got home. After a shower and meal we were ready for sleep. Keep in mind we had not yet adjusted to the 13 hour time change.

It was a hard week. Yet, so fulfilling. There's something special about working, praying, and eating with people from several churches. There's a feeling of accomplishment that only a team of dedicated people can achieve in a short period of time.

I did some carpentry work, scraped paint, and cleaned up messes. I did chores that didn't require much thought. And I enjoyed them all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Bookmobile Series

Many years ago, while a student at the University of Texas, my friend Rollo Newsom helped me get a job as a bookmobile driver at the Austin Public Library. Although I was assigned to work with several librarians, one of my favorites was a lot like Liz in Where Love Once Lived. She was constantly doing more for the patrons than a librarian was expected to do. I started writing a book about my experiences that was something like Suds in Your Eye by Mary Lasswell. I never finished that book which was more of a series of episodes rather than a novel.

When I started writing Where Love Once Lived, I thought of Jan Karon's Mitford and decided to use a bookmobile to make the locale in my book smaller and more manageable than all of Austin, Texas. As it turned out, one third of the scenes take place on the bookmobile. So, I learned to love that vehicle and have included it in my next book and I have a plan for a third and fourth book that includes the bookmobile. Although there are some crossover of characters, the books are all independent.

I told you some about my next book, Vengeance is Mine, in previous posts, but I haven't mentioned it includes a bookmobile. Liz is the crossover character and she is now the head librarian. The city has now bought its own bookmobile, so, when Chris and Tex's van is damaged by gunfire received when they visit El Paso, Liz offers them the use of Brian's bookmobile for the trip to Galveston. It is wheelchair ready and has a Internet connection. When Liz travels to Galveston to bail them out of jail, she jumps in the bookmobile for the ride back to Austin. Before they leave Galveston, they learn the killers are in Houston. Chris encourages Liz to fly home, but she insists on going with them. So the bookmobile is back in action, with Liz aboard.

Let me know what you think about this use of a bookmobile. Many of my friends don't understand it, but I like it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vengeance Is Mine--Part 2 of 2

I mentioned last time that I'm preparing for an agent pitch this Saturday by updating my Vengeance is Mine synopsis. As you know, I've been so busy with Where Love Once Lived, I've hardly had time to work on the new book. Here's the rest of the synopsis which was too long to show you yesterday:

The search turns international when a classmate of Sarah's comes over from London and warns Chris the killers are terrorists planning to bomb a site in the United States. The friend, who purports to be with British Intelligence, is killed in Chris's apartment while Chris is away on a search trip. Chris uses his computer skills plus clues found at the scenes to follow the gang from one city to another.

Clues take them first to an abandoned warehouse in Albuquerque where Chris discovers an intact hard disk from a smashed computer. Back home, he reads the disk and finds a clue that takes them to a small town in Massachusetts. From there, with trips back home in between to review the clues with Liz and Angela, they go to El Paso, and then Galveston where Chris and Tex are arrested and jailed.

While in jail, Chris comes to terms with his grief and realizes vengeance is not up to him. They are freed with Liz's help and they find a clue that leads them to the killers in an underground pedestrian passageway in Houston the President of the United States is using to go to a meeting. Angela is taken captive leaving it up to Chris and Tex to save her and stop the killers.

Afterwards, Angela introduces Chris and Tex to the President. Tex gets a full pardon from the President and a college scholarship from Liz's friend who has financed the search. Liz and Chris find Tex's estranged parents and reunite them with their son. Angela, Chris, Tex, and Liz, along with Tex's wife get together for the Christmas dinner they missed while in jail.

In an epilogue, the gang is meets twelve months later for another Christmas dinner and there is a kiss between Chris and Angela.

Let me know what you think about Vengeance is Mine.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vengeance Is Mine--Part 1 of 2

I'm scheduled for a 10-minute meeting with an agent Saturday as part of the Agents Conference sponsored by the Writers' League of Texas. All attendees could submit a list of five agents arranged in order from first choice to last. I got my second choice which I think is pretty good.

Now the challenge for me is to start thinking about Vengeance is Mine to the point where I can sell the story verbally in a few minutes. I've been so busy with Where Love Once Lived, I haven't worked on the new book much lately. To help me refresh my memory, today's article will be a synopsis of the book:

When Chris McCowan's fiancée, 24-year-old Sarah Eason, is killed during a bizarre robbery near Austin, Texas, an unlikely trio teams up to track down those responsible. Chris, a 31-year-old PhD computer science professor, Paul "Tex" Thompson, a 40-year-old ex-con student of his who is paralyzed from the waist down, and Liz Siedo, a 65-year-old librarian, pool their talents and find the criminals after local law enforcement agencies give up the chase.

Chris wants an eye for an eye even if it means giving up God and his church so he sets out to learn about the seedier side of life from his ex-con student, all while coming to terms with his grief over the loss of Sarah. Chris and Tex keep their vengeance plans secret from Liz, but Angela, an FBI agent who soon joins the trio, spots the guys at the pistol range and in cities across the country where the FBI is just steps behind Chris and Tex.

Liz finds a friend to finance the venture by paying the travel costs, including a van with a wheelchair lift and Internet connection. Chris, who was also shot during the robbery, goes through months of physical therapy before he is ready for battle. Tex, a former Marine, calls this his 9/11, the war he missed because of his injury. Tex keeps Chris going even when Chris wants to give in to Sarah's parents who urge him to go on with his life.

Check tomorrow's posting for the rest of the synopsis.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Older Characters as Leads

In the Company of Others: A Father Tim NovelI used to think the lead character in a novel had to be no older than thirty-five. At least that is the way it seemed based on the books I read. I often wondered how those kids got to be so wise. Then, when Jan Karon came out with the Mitford series novels, her main character, Fr. Timothy Kavanaugh, an Episcopal priest was sixty and single. Eventually, he falls in love and gets married in a future book. In the last book I read, Fr. Tim was seventy. There is another Fr. Tim book coming soon and I'm anxious to see how old he is now. Jan Karon's book sales have not been shabby so I suspect there are a lot of readers who like stories about older people.

In Where Love Once Lived, sixty-five year old Liz is bugging Brian about why he quit going to church. Here's what happens as he tries to change the subject:

“I’m going to tell you about that one day, but, right now, I need to concentrate on getting us to Hill Country on time. Why don’t you tell me why you have a picture of Big Ben on the bulletin board back there?” That would perk her up and keep her from asking him questions for a while longer.

Liz nodded back to where the bulletin board was and smiled. “Didn’t I tell you about that? That’s my goal trip.”

“Goal trip?”

“Sure. If you set a goal and visualize yourself achieving that goal, then you will.”

“It’s that simple, huh?”

Brian had a goal. He wanted to hold Karen in his arms for the rest of his life. That goal was easy to visualize.

Liz’s voice boomed back to normal. “It works. There’s scientific proof. I read about it down at the library. I’ll find that story and show you, if you want.”

“Okay, I believe you.” he said. “Why Big Ben?”

“At my age and with my meager income, I’ll probably only make one big trip in my life. So I picked England. That photo of Big Ben is a reminder of where I’m going someday. It’s massive and strong-looking, and it’s a symbol of England.”

“Great idea. I’m sure you’ll make that trip someday.”

What would Karen think if she saw her picture on the bookmobile bulletin board right up next to Big Ben? Brian’s goal. She’d probably think he was crazy. Liz would understand.

“I know,” she said. “I already have my passport. Although, I must say, I cried when I saw the photo of that old lady on it. I’d hoped to travel as a younger person, but it wasn’t to be.” She grinned so big her cheeks pushed up to her eyes, but he could see the regret in her face.

In Elizabeth Berg's The Last Time I Saw You, one of the characters talked about her surprise when she looked in the mirror and realized she had aged. She had not thought of herself differently until it was time to go to her fortieth high school reunion. All the characters in the story were in their late fifties and it was good reading.

I'm sure you can think of many examples of older main characters in novels, and I'm sure there are many successful ones. However, the main character in my next book is thirty-one, just in case.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Full Color Version of the Cover

Here are the steps involved in CreateSpace's Illustrated Cover Design:

1. Complete a brief questionnaire to give us an idea of the scene you want to capture in your cover illustration.

2. Upload any images you'd like to include.

3. We'll create a cover sketch based on your input.

4. Give us feedback on your sketch, and based on your input we'll design a black and white illustration for your cover.

5. Approve your black and white illustration, and we'll create a full-color version for your approval.

6. Next we'll create two cover concepts, each with your approved color illustration and varying title designs, colors, and back cover layouts. We can create a third concept upon request; additional fees may apply.

7. Choose one concept and request any last updates to your cover. Your final cover will include the custom-created illustration, your author photo, back cover text, and unique barcode.

When I got back from a two week trip to China, I found step 5 had been completed for Where Love Once Lived. I've shown it here for you to see. To me, it still looks like a sketch. I'm not sure how to evaluate it. I wonder if this is what I'll get if I say go to the next step, or will they use brighter colors. Based on the steps remaining, this may be the final illustration.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Keeping the Conflict Going

A couple of days ago I told you about reading Where Love Once Lived from cover to cover as a final check. I told you about the 26 errors I found and that I suspect there are more I didn't find. But, as I read, I spotted many things I like about the book. Indeed, there are several unique phrases I am proud of.

I've been reading some of the discussion on the acfwbookclub (American Christian Fiction Writers) group and recently the mediator asked the members if they had a favorite line from the book they were discussing for the month. Well, I have several favorites from my book, but wonder if anyone else will even notice them. Perhaps sometime in the future, I'll tell you what my favorites are.

As I read Where Love Once Lived I also spotted some words that I had forgotten were there. One paragraph in particular sums up what's happened from Karen's viewpoint. It also demonstrates some of the ways I used to create conflict and tension. Here is an excerpt from page 242:

It had been a rollercoaster ride. When Brian showed up in the bookmobile, she’d been angry with him because he forced her to dredge up memories she’d suppressed. The more she got to know him, the more she began to wonder if there could be something between them again. Something new and exciting that had been missing in her life. Then, when she felt there was a possibility for love, he’d learned Judy had tricked him into marrying her, and finally, Karen had feared telling him about her pregnancy would hurt him too much.

As I said, this is a good summary of what's happened up to this point. Of course we are only seeing it from Karen's eyes. Brian will have a similar story to tell if he is asked, but it would be different in many ways.

When I read this the other day, my first thought was that it could be cut without hurting the story. There's nothing new in the paragraph for the reader. But I left it in because Karen needed to think it. In the paragraphs that follow she uses this knowledge to consider alternatives and make decisions about her future.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More About Conflict

Yesterday, in my article about Where Love Once Lived, I told you about ways to add conflict between characters to your novel. I ended the article by saying there are other ways to add tension to keep those pages turning.

The Complete Handbook of Novel WritingIn The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, Carol Davis Luce defines tension as "the act of building or prolonging a crisis." She goes on to give some examples and ends the chapter with this: "How you build that suspense can make the difference between your readers chucking your book for a good night's sleep or nudging their spouse to say, 'the suspense is killing me.'"

In addition to the conflict between characters, there is also inner conflict. In the same book, referenced above, Kathy Jacobson describes ways to give a character an inner conflict.

Elements of Writing Fiction - Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)In Where Love Once Lived, Brian has more inner conflicts than conflicts with other characters. He's unsure of his spirituality and has been looking for forgiveness in all the wrong places for the past thirty years. Karen has been keeping a secret for the same length of time and has moved closer to God in the process.

Another good book to check is Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham. It is loaded with useful information about and examples of conflict and suspense.

If you're a writer I'd love to hear how you include conflict, tension and suspense in your work.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Importance of Conflict in Novels

I wrote a review of Elizabeth Berg's novel The Last Time I Saw You. After reading the review, my friend Peg Case commented, "Good grief -- can't a book be written about people who are happily married?" (See the review here: The Last Time I Saw You.)

Peg's comment reminded me of something Bonnie Hearn Hill said to me when I took one of her writing classes. I don't remember the exact words, but it was how I needed more conflict in my writing. She said I was probably a nice guy who didn't like conflict, but I needed it in my writing to hold the reader's interest.

She was right about me. I don't like conflict and have avoided it all my life. But I wanted to write a book people would read so I started studying conflict and looking for ways to include it in my manuscript. Since I was writing a story about two people who get back together after thirty years and fall in love all over again, I had two protagonists and no antagonist in the story. No villain. No one to stir up trouble.

I added a character who was mean and let her get in the way of the progress of the main characters in the book. For more conflict, I made her meaner. I think you'll like the way it turned out. But, still there wasn't enough conflict.

One day I saw something on All My Children, a soap opera my wife never missed, and I couldn't avoid without leaving the house. On this day, I saw what Bonnie had been telling me about conflict. On the show, two characters could argue about something until one was convinced the other was right and then the other would wonder why and change positions so they could continue the fight. Evidently TV viewers and readers like this.

There is a scene in Where Love Once Lived between the female protagonist, Karen, and her best friend Cathy where this happens. Cathy is trying to convince Karen to tell Brian, the male protagonist, about what happened in Karen's past. Karen disagrees at first, they argue about it, and then Karen agrees. Cathy then decides Karen shouldn't tell him. It sounds silly describing it here, but I think it works in the story.

There are other ways to build tension in a story, but a certain amount of conflict keeps the pages turning.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is Where Love Once Lived Finished?

I've reported on two occasions here that I have completed Where Love Once Lived and turned it over to the publisher. Well, I lied. They sent me the final proof and I couldn't help reading it from cover to cover. To be honest it is the first time I'd done that since it was rejected by White Rose Publishing about a year. Guess what? It's good! The changes I made for White Rose tightened it up just right.

However, I found a few problems that had to be corrected. Since we were so far along in the production process, I had to pay CreateSpace an extra $100 to get the changes in, but there was no choice. You'll understand when you see the following.

First of all, I found a reference to Brian's sister. This is a sister I cut out of the book many revisions back.

A major problem I have in editing is not rereading the whole sentence after making a change. For example, I must have changed "...will help sell them" to "...will help sell the idea." But what I ended up with was "...will help sell THEM idea." That had to be fixed.

There were some missing words. I'm not sure how they got past the publisher's copyeditor, but they did. Example, "How is that the children..." should be "How is IT that the children..." Also, "What wrong?" instead of "What's wrong?"

I found several errors caused by changes in other areas of the book. In one place, Karen says, "I did tell Julie not long ago and felt better after doing so." Sixty some odd pages later Karen actually tells Julie for the first time. You can't catch errors like this without reading the whole book in a short period of time. I'm a slow reader, and I was searching for problems, so it took me about eight hours to read it.

One of the things I learned in writing classes is not to repeat the same word or phrase too much, especially on the same page. I've been careful about that in my writings. However, they creep in during edits unless you reread the whole scene. I found more than a few places where I needed to make changes because of this.

I found two punctuation errors. A missing closing quote in one place and a combination comma period in another place. Not bad. Those missing quotes are hard to spot.

In one place, Brian refers to the Manor school bookmobile stop as his favorite when clearly everyone would know his favorite stop would be Holden Elementary School where Karen taught. I fixed that.

As the author, I have a lot of back story in my head about the characters and I know what's happening next. Sometimes I wish I could read the story the way a new reader would. However, because I hadn't read the book in so long, I did spot a possible problem for a new reader. This had to do with one of the Austin characters suddenly being in Redondo Beach, California. I know how she got there, but it wouldn't be clear to anyone else. I found an easy way to fix it.

As long as I was making changes and it wouldn't cost any more to make a few others, I fixed this sentence: Karen felt God had led her to the perfect time. I deleted "Karen felt" because that is implied by it being Karen's point of view. Other non-grammatical changes included moving the order of sentences in a paragraph to help the flow and leaving out the word "then" which is implied in a narrative.

There were 26 such changes, but I probably didn't find them all. When you spot a problem while reading the book, please let me know. It won't hurt my feelings at all and I'll correct it for future editions.

Monday, June 14, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: God's Gift by Dee Henderson

God's Gift (Steeple Hill Women's Fiction #19)Here is another Christian fiction I think you will like. God's Gift by Dee Henderson. When I bought it, I thought it was her latest book. I think because Amazon sent me an email saying it was new. Now, I'm wondering if the ad said it was now available on the Kindle. Doesn't matter. I still enjoyed it. At the end of the book, I learned it was her second book and came out in 1998.

Due to an unknown illnes, thirty-five year old James Graham is sent home from Zaire after six years working in missionary construction. His plan is to get well and go back to work a few more years before returning to Chicago and work with his partner Kevin building and remodeling homes.

James' mother introduces him to Rae Ashcroft who is grieving the loss of Leo, the man she may have married if he had lived. Leo, who had been her partner in an investment company, died in an automobile accident eighteen months ago.

She introduces James to her lawyer friends Dave and Lace who end up dating each other eventually. The foursome has some nice times together.

Rae works many hours a week and is also researching and writing a book so she doesn't have much time to socialize. Also, she has a fear of getting too close to another man after what happened with Leo. James wants to get back to Africa as soon as he can and is not interested in a serious relationship.

However, God has other plans for these two. Perhaps that is the meaning of the title, God's Gift. It is difficult to tell more without giving away the story. It is a romance rather than a thriller Dee Henderson is known for, but still, the story takes some interesting turns and twists that fooled me.

I have read other Dee Henderson books and enjoyed them all. This one is no exception.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Great Chase--Part 2 of 2

In this scene from Where Love Once Lived, Brian and Liz have picked up a carjack victim and they are chasing the car thief, not thinking they'll catch up to him in their bulky bookmobile, but just to help the victim feel better. For the complete chase scene, read yesterday's post first.

“Look out!” Liz said. “There’s a speed bump.”

Brian braked too late. Books flew into the air and their passenger, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, bounced up into the air, too.

When he came back down into the door well with a thump, he yelled, “Ken Odiorne!”

“Is that who stole your car?” Brian asked.

“No. That’s me,” the frightened man said. “Just in case I don’t survive the chase.”

Brian slowed the vehicle gradually. “Do you want me to slow down?”

“No, Keep going,” Ken said. “Let’s catch that crook.”

Brian looked at Liz. She nodded, so he pushed the accelerator to the floor, hoping there were no more speed bumps along the way.

After a short time, Ken hollered again. “Look! There it is. That’s my car.”

“Where?” Brian asked. Was it possible?

“There,” Ken said. “On the right. Quick, he’s turning.”

Brian turned right so fast more books fell to the floor. “Liz, call the police, and give them our location. Tell them we have the stolen vehicle in sight.”

Before she finished relaying the message, they saw a police car heading toward them, blocking the stolen car from going forward. Brian pulled the bookmobile behind the car to block it in. Another police car came around them and blocked the stolen car on the left. The only escape was to the right, and Brian saw Ken standing there with fists at the ready. Brian hadn’t seen Ken get out of the bookmobile, but there he was, ready for battle. The crook was smart enough to get out on the side where the police waited for him instead of Ken.

Brian and Liz gave their names to the officers and told Ken goodbye. He thanked them profusely with tears in his eyes. Liz gave him a big hug, and Brian thanked him for letting them be a part of the “Great Chase,” or so they were calling today’s adventure. As they said goodbye, Brian remembered Varner and looked at his watch. There was plenty of time. When they got to Hill Country, Brian and Liz reshelved the fallen books and placed the ones Varner had sent for her mother’s library back in the box they came in. The job was nearly complete when he noticed Liz staring at one of the books. She opened and closed the cover several times. Her smile grew into laughter.

You'll have to read the book to find out what Liz discovered. Thank goodness for those speed bumps all over Austin streets.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Great Chase--Part 1 of 2

I love old movies with chase scenes. The chase always ended safely, but you were never sure until the end. What excitement!

Where Love Once Lived has a chase scene. Brian and Liz stop to help a carjack victim and chase the crook in the big, bulky bookmobile. The goal of the scene is to provide a reason for some books to fall on the floor and provide Liz with a clue to a different crime. Here's the first half of the chase. Check in tomorrow for the rest.

Later that day, Brian met Liz at the library, and they headed out in the bookmobile for the Hill Country Retirement Village, Varner’s favorite stop.

“Look at that.” Liz hollered.

Brian hit the brakes. “What's wrong?” he asked, struggling to maintain control of the swerving vehicle.

She pointed to the right side of the road ahead of them. “There’s a man on the ground. Some punk shoved him down then drove away. Didn’t you see it?”

Brian’s mind had been on Karen. He hadn’t noticed anything unusual as they drove, but he saw a man on the ground, sitting up, but looking stunned. Brian pulled the bookmobile next to the man and opened the door. The man jumped up and rubbed his head.

“Are you okay?” Brian asked.

“Okay?” The man stared at him in disbelief. “No. Some guy took my car. I’d stopped for a red light and he just opened the door as if he knew me and then cut off my seat belt with a big knife and jerked me out of the car.” He pointed. “It’s that one. Can you help me?”

“Sure. Hop in,” Brian said. “We can give you a lift.”

“Lift? No. I mean, let’s catch that thief.”

“Catch him? Are you sure you didn’t bump your head when you hit the ground?”

“I’m okay. Are you going to help me or not?”

The determination on the man’s face touched Brian, and he knew they were about to see how fast the bookmobile would move.

“Let’s roll.” Brian said loudly, causing Liz’s eyebrows to arch surprisingly high.

The man grinned from ear to ear as he climbed in.

“Liz, call the police and tell them what happened. You can also tell them we’re in pursuit, and we’ll keep them posted on our progress.” There wasn’t much chance they’d catch up to that stolen car, but Brian wanted to help the man feel like he was doing something.

Liz grabbed the phone then looked at him as if he were crazy. “In pursuit? Shouldn’t we wait here for the police?”

“What? And let that punk get away with this good man’s car?”

Liz grinned. “Yes, sir.” When she’d finished the phone call, she gripped the dashboard with both hands. “Have you thought about what you’ll do if we catch that thug?”

The man who had lost his car sat on the floor with his feet in the stairwell, looking out the front windshield. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do when we catch him.” He punched his right fist into his left hand.

“Oh dear,” Liz said.

“Don’t worry,” Brian said. “If we find him, we’ll call the police and follow him until they get there.” More softly, he said to her, “We’ll never see that car again.”

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Editing Cheat Notes Document

I think I've mentioned before I'm not trained as an editor and I learned English by reading rather than in the classroom. Oh, don't get me wrong, I grew up in America and took English in public schools. I just didn't get a good grasp on the grammar part.

Not understanding grammar is a real problem for those of us who decide to write a book. But, it's not impossible to overcome. What I did was get people to read Where Love Once Lived and mark the places that needed to be changed. In addition, I paid several professionals to look at the manuscript.

Two sources for free editing to consider are entering manuscript contests and submitting sample chapters to agents. Contest judges were especially helpful to me in this regard. And, while most agents sent me form rejections, one sent me a detailed editing guide.

I analyzed the changes and suggestions I received from everyone and prepared a Word document that would keep me from making the same mistakes again. Here are a few examples from my list:

  1. Don't paraphrase once scene begins. (This one came from Bonnie Hearn Hill, and since she did paraphrase midscene in Cutline, I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule.)
  2. Replace like with as or as if where appropriate. (My list includes examples.)
  3. Check its (possessive) vs. it's (it is)
  4. Awhile vs. a while -- Awhile, an adverb, is never preceded by a preposition such as for, but the two-word form a while may be preceded by a preposition. In writing, each of the following is acceptable: stay awhile; stay for a while; stay a while (but not stay for awhile).
  5. Delete unnecessary qualifiers -- An unnecessary word that blurs your meaning and weakens your sentence. Either something is, or it isn’t. Example: It was a bit cold outside. Either it's cold or it isn't.
  6. Every day is two words.
  7. Nodded her head. Don't need her head.

I have 63 items in my list. Some you wouldn't need, but there are probably others you would want to add. In addition to the grammar related items, my list includes a few that are specific to Where Love Once Lived. For example, my male protagonist's name is Brian. Occasionally, I'd discover his name had changed to Brain and, since that is a word, the spell checker didn't catch it. So, I made a note to search for brains every now and then. Same with the word mayor which also appears in my story and gets magically changed to major when I'm not looking.

One nice thing about Microsoft Word, and other word processing software, is that you can use the Find and Replace feature to make corrections.

Good luck with your editing. Do you have a special list to help?


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Too Many Sidekicks?

In Where Love Once Lived, the male protagonist, Brian Donelson, is a member of a group of men he met in college called the Combine. There are six men in this group. When I first mentioned them in my writing class, many of my classmates said there would be too many people to keep track of. My teacher, Bonnie Hearn Hill, said one close male friend would be enough.

I listened to all the suggestions then I left all six guys in the story. However, I compromised by making only one Brian's confidante. I also deleted a subplot involving another member. The rest play smaller parts where minor characters would be needed anyway.

I decided to keep the Combine in the book because such a group is a part of my life. Although, I made up six different people for the fictional story, the idea is based on a real group of six men who have been together since junior high school days. There is a special dynamic that holds close friends together that I hope I transferred from real life to fiction even though I made a special effort not to copy any of my friends' characteristics for the story.

Long-time friends have permission to keep one another honest. In Where Love Once Lived, Brian is upset when his friends start talking about his finances and his marriage. But they don't seem to listen. They continue because they care about him and know what's best for him. They don't tiptoe around problems, they stomp on them.

My real-life Combine friends aren't quite as blunt as the fictional gang, but we still don't let anyone get away with covering up feelings.

Here is an excerpt from the book to give a flavor for what I'm trying to say:

Surrounded by his five closest friends, Brian suddenly felt exposed as if he were naked and everyone else was fully clothed. The six men had met in college and stayed close friends ever since. Even while he was in California, they got together periodically.

“I’m not having problems. I sold my company, but retained an interest in it. Its value continues to grow.”

Ron directed his words to the rest of the guys. “I can understand the tax-free million he gave his ex and the other mil that went to his daughter, but—”

“Ron!” Brian said. “That’s personal.”

“What? This is the Combine. We don’t have any secrets from each other.” Ron swung an arm up as if to include the entire room. “Do you think these guys are going to blab to anybody?”

“Yeah,” Tony said. “Who would we tell? All our friends are here.”

There's much more about the Combine in the rest of the story, but, as I mentioned earlier, Brian relates more to one member of the group than the rest.

Have you been a part of a long-term friendship? Has it been special for you?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Enter the Drawing for a Free Book

I've tried suggesting, begging, and guilting my friends to help pad my blog followers list before the book comes out and I want to thank all of you who did. Now, as the publication date nears, I want to try a method that always works: bribery.

I thought about giving a free copy of Where Love Once Lived to anyone on the follower list at the time of publication, but if this bribery stuff works, that could be too costly. So, here's the plan I came up with. I'll give away 10 books by drawing from the names of blog followers. It doesn't matter if you sign up as a Network Blog Follower or a Google Friend Follower. Both is okay, too.

The names of all followers will be put into a hat once for each week on a list. Since I didn't write down dates for those on the list, I'll assume everyone now on the list has been there since the beginning, March 31, 2010. Then, I'll draw 10 names and send each one a free book. Signed, if you like.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Learning About Alzheimer's -- Part 5 of 5

This is final part of Chapter Eight from Where Love Once Lived. Please let me know what you think of it.

Brian’s dad shrugged. “I’m glad you got to talk to her. But don’t get your hopes up because of it and think she’s getting well. She comes and goes. When she’s aware, and there are fewer times when that happens now, she’s usually sad. Probably because she understands what’s happening. At least she’s happy when she’s not aware of her condition. Sometimes she dances like this in the middle of the night. I never get enough sleep anymore.”

“I didn’t get a chance to talk to her much,” Brian said.

“Well, neither did I!” He said it with a loud voice, one he rarely used.

“I’m sorry,” Brian said. “I didn’t stop to think how painful this is for you.”

“It’s okay, Grandpa,” Amy said. “They say the caregivers are the ones who suffer the most.”

“That’s bull. She’s the one suffering. Not me. I complain, but I don’t mind taking care of her. Caring for someone at a time like this is part of loving them. She’d do the same for me. When I first learned she was sick, I prayed for God to let us trade places. She was a wonderful, loving woman who looked for ways to help others all her life.” His voice cracked, and he pushed away the start of a tear before it could fall from his eye. “Oh, God. Here I am talking about her as if she if she’d passed.”

Brian put an arm around him and felt how small his father had become. The man who’d nurtured him now needed nurturing.

“We’ll get help for you, okay? Are you eating enough?”

His dad pulled away from him and looked at Brian's mother, who was still moving around the room, swaying to the song she sang.

“Don’t worry about me. Take care of yourself. Until she got sick, her daily prayer was for you to return to the church. You could do that for her, couldn’t you?”

Mother finished her dance and sat at the dining room table, folding pieces of newspaper until they wouldn’t fold again. He couldn’t stand to see her like this. He couldn’t stand his father’s accusatory voice. He hugged his mother’s unresponsive body, nodded to Amy, and patted his father on the back.

“I’m sorry. I have to leave.”

Amy intercepted him at the front door. “Are you okay?”

He hugged her. “I want to be alone for a while. I’ll see you later, okay?”

“I understand.” She kissed him, and he could see tears in her eyes and knew they were for him. She whispered into his ear, “Grandpa is in pain. Don’t let what he says hurt you.”

He’d started the day anticipating a pleasant visit with his parents. Now one of them didn’t know who he was and the other seemed to think he was to blame. On top of that, he was sad because he’d missed the opportunity to introduce Karen to his mother.

Please let me know what you think about this chapter. Have you had experience with Alzheimer's? If so, does this ring true?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Learning About Alzheimer's -- Part 4 of 5

This is a continuation of an excerpt from Where Love Once Lived.

She kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, Son. No matter what happens, I’ll always love you.” She shook her head slowly. “I love the Lord and trust Him fully, but it’s such a shame. We finally got to the point in our lives where we could enjoy ourselves, and now...I’m sorry for Bill. Help him, Son. It must be difficult for him.”

“I will, but what about you? Should we call the doctor?” Brian asked.

“There’s no time for me. Just know that I love you and God loves you.” She patted him on the hand. “And promise me you’ll go to church faithfully, the way you used to.”

“Yes. I promise. And I love you, too.”

“Don’t give up on finding the right woman. I know how hard it was for you to live with Judy, but now you deserve some happiness. You’ll find it, with God’s help.” She turned to Amy and patted her hand, too. “I’m sorry, dear, I know you love your mother, but she was never right for your father.”

Amy smiled. “I know. It’s okay, Grandma.”

Brian knelt in front of his mother. “I want to tell both of you why I moved back to Austin—”

“Look!” His mother stood and pointed to the window behind Brian.

“What?” he said as he quickly stood.

“There! All over the place. Can’t you see them?” Her eyes opened wide.

“Who?” Brian asked.

“Look. They shouldn’t be here. Tell Dad.”

Amy stood next to her grandmother and put an arm around her, gently maneuvering her to the sofa. “It’s okay, Grandma. No one’s there.” Amy sat next to her on the sofa.

Brian went to the window and looked out in both directions. “Are you sure, Amy?”

“I’m sure, Dad.”

His mother cowered and pulled away from Amy. “Right there in the Johnson’s yard. Look!”

Brian continued to search the area. “I can’t see anyone.”

Dad came into the room. “It’s okay, Martha.” He gave her a white handkerchief. She stared at it and then stuffed it in between the sofa cushions.

“What did she see?” Brian asked.

Dad shrugged. “She sees things. The best I can figure, she sees soldiers in the yards here and across the street. I don’t know.”

“Could it be angels?” Brian asked.

Amy shook her head. “She wouldn’t be frightened if it was.”

As if to end the conversation, Brian’s mother stood, smiled, and danced away from the sofa, singing a song Brian recognized from his childhood. She was down the hall in a matter of seconds, twirling on her feet along the way and with the posture of a professional dancer.

“She was okay while you were gone, Dad. She talked to us. Even called me by name, talked about Judy, and told me to go to church. She was her old self for a while.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Learning About Alzheimer's -- Part 3 of 5

This is a continuation of an excerpt from Where Love Once Lived.

“Well,” he said, brushing his hair back with his hand, “come on in. It’s about time you learned the truth.” He moved out of the way to let them enter.

Brian saw her on the sofa and was shocked by what he saw. Her gray hair was flat, not styled in the usual way, and she sat slump-shouldered, when all her life she’d taken pride in her posture. He bent down to give her a kiss, but before he could, she moved her head away and looked at him in a way that told him she had no idea who he was. He saw her glasses on the floor and scooped them up and put them in her nonresponsive hand. She held the glasses up and examined them in the way a child is thrilled with a new toy.

“Why didn’t you tell me, Dad?”

His dad stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked on his feet. “I guess Amy told you before you came in. The doctor says she’s got that old timer’s disease.”

“Yeah, Alzheimer’s. Why didn’t you call me?”

“I didn’t want to worry you. What can you do? What can anybody do? Yeah, I should have called. I should’ve cleaned up around here, too. Do you think there’s time to do anything but care for her? I feed her and bathe her. I do it all. I can’t leave her alone long enough to talk on the phone.”

“I’ve called. You still didn’t tell me. You deliberately hid this from me.” Brian sat close to his mother and put his arm around her. “If I’d known, I could’ve helped.”

She cried softly.

Amy sat on the other said of his mother. “It’s okay, Grandma. Nothing is wrong. We’re just talking.”

“Now look what you’ve done,” Brian's dad said, scowling. “Get away from her if you’re going to make her cry like that.” He moved around to the back of the sofa and rubbed her back. “It’s okay, Martha. She can hear, you know,” he said to Brian. She seemed to relax as his dad massaged her back, but she still had tears in her eyes. “Talk to her nice, Son, while I go get her hankie.”

Brian sat next to her and put an arm around her, being as gentle as possible. She leaned into him until he could feel the heat from her body and the rise and fall of her breathing. With a jerk, she pulled away and looked at him as if noticing for the first time he was in the room.

“Brian, what a surprise. Amy? You’re here, too. Where’s Grandpa? Is he okay?”

“Yes, Grandma.” Amy said. “Grandpa went to the bedroom to get you a handkerchief.”

“Mother!” I was so worried about you.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Learning About Alzheimer's -- Part 2 of 5

Today, we continue with an excerpt from Where Love Once Lived. This is the second part of Chapter Eight where Brian learns his mother has Alzheimer's.

Brian was suddenly aware of the rhythm of his heart. What he felt reminded him of a Hawaiian fire dance he’d once witnessed on a trip to Maui where the drummer gradually increased the tempo and intensity of the beat as the dancers twirled their fiery batons close to their bodies. He felt caught up in the whirlwind of the dance and was so off balance he looked around for a place to fall gracefully in hopes of not frightening his daughter. Instinctively, he gulped in air and quickly regained his equilibrium before Amy knew anything was wrong.

Alzheimer’s. He knew enough about it to know it wasn’t good. He was swamped with thoughts. Would she know him? Why hadn’t he visited her sooner? Had Dad deliberately kept her illness from him? Was Amy in on it?

“How long have you known about this?”

She was on the verge of tears, but maintained eye contact as she answered. “I wanted to tell you. Grandpa made me promise to wait until you came to town. He didn’t want you to learn about it by phone or anything other than face-to-face. I’d reached the point where I knew I had to tell you even if it meant breaking my word to him.”

Brian remembered the last few conversations with his daughter. “Is this why you’ve been begging me to visit every time we talk?” He’d been so busy trying to pursue Karen he didn’t realize his daughter needed him.

“Yes,” she said. “Of course, I want you to visit, too, but I wanted you to find out about Grandma without breaking my promise to Grandpa.”

“How long has she been sick?” Brian asked, holding Amy’s hand.

“It’s hard to say when it started, but we’ve been sure about it for a couple of months now. It may have started before you were here last. That was about six months ago, right?”

He thought about his last visit with his parents and couldn’t recall anything unusual except his mother’s insistence that he go to church. She’d talked to him about God many times before, but this time there was a sense of urgency in her voice he hadn’t heard before.

“Yes, that’s about right. She seemed okay then. Will she know me?”

She shook her head slowly. “Probably not. There are times when she is aware of the present, but most of her memories are of the time when she finished high school. Usually, she thinks Grandpa is her father and I’m a schoolmate. I’m sorry.”

The door opened and Brian’s dad stood in the opening, wearing jeans that hung loosely below his waist and a wrinkled, white T-shirt that looked as if it could use a washing. Thinning hair flew out in all directions, and gray stubble covered his chin.