Life Goes On

Life goes on.

This is the lesson I got in the last week.

I also got this lesson: don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

What am I talking about? Is my son’s health okay? What’s going on?

Well, here’s the long and the short of it: life continues happening even in the midst of trials. And it can make it completely crazy, but it can also give you bright spots during the times you’re in the deepest, darkest canyon.

Take for example what’s happened in the last few weeks. If you read one of my last blog posts, you know my son’s been marked for a bone marrow transplant. Not the most fun thing, especially when the two-year survival rate for someone with SDS is somewhere between 45 and 60%, depending on what method and drugs are used to prep for transplant. For this reason, my husband and I decided to get a second opinion, since we want to be absolutely sure that this is the road we’ll go down.

Which led to a flurry of activity, and ended with me having a lengthy conversation with one of the doctors who is probably in the top three in the nation, if not the world, with experience with Shwachman Diamond kids. Of course, we can’t stay in Kansas City to get our second opinion. After speaking with this doctor, which I’m going to call Dr. S (because her name is too long and difficult to pronounce!), it was decided we’ll be heading out of town, we know not when, for that second opinion. Hopefully, sometime in the next few weeks to a couple of months.

So, while we’re waiting on the answers, we find out our daughter is NOT a match for her brother, which means we have to go to the national registries. Mixed feelings about that. Glad she doesn’t have to go through that, but at the same time, now we don’t know whether he’ll have a match.

Enter: a bright spot.

You know how a few weeks ago, I said I was giving up on “Homebody”? That I’d decided it was time to tell it goodbye, thanks for the memories, all that? (Here comes the “don’t count your chickens” part.) Yeah, I may have spoken too soon.

With everything going on, I hadn’t checked my business e-mail in 6 weeks or so. Last week, I decided I’d better do that because I *thought* I may have a short story out somewhere and probably should see if I’d received any mail on that.

Well, I didn’t have anything out on my short.

But, I did have a reply from an agent I’d sent “Homebody” to back in–get this–February. FEBRUARY! This was a query only agent, which means I didn’t send anything to them besides a letter. I saw their e-mail in my spam box, and thought, “Oh, here’s another rejection.” But I opened it anyway.

First, there was an apology for the long time in getting back to me. But then I read these words: I’d look at the first 75 pages and synopsis after 8/20 if you don’t have an agent.

Did I read that right? I got a request for a partial?

HOW COOL IS THAT?!

So, the day I actually read this, I went around the rest of the day with a stupid grin on my face, unable to do anything. After that, it’s been a mad rush–is everything ready? I did some changes to the opening scene–does it read okay? And about that synopsis, I never was happy with it, so let’s rewrite that on the fly.

And, I have to admit: I haven’t sent in anything yet. But, I’m close to doing it. Hopefully later today. I’m nervous, excited, and at the same time, if this is meant to be, let it happen. Maybe I wrote off this book too soon. If not, maybe I’ll get some decent feedback, and perhaps, the agent would be willing to look at another project when I’ve got them done. We’ll have to see.

Funny thing is, I looked at the day they sent the e-mail. It was the day before my son’s biopsies. I find that kind of meaningful, but that’s just me.

In closing, I thought I’d share something that proved especially meaningful last night. My husband and I have seen “The Fellowship of the Ring” dozens of times. We saw it in the theater when we were dating. But, we hadn’t watched it in a while due to the demands of parenting. Watching an episode or two of “Castle” or “Stargate” in the evenings is all we have time or energy for, let alone a 3 hour movie!

Near the closing of the movie, Frodo says, “I wish the ring had never come to me.”
Gandalf replies, and I’m paraphrasing, “So do all who live in perilous times.”

While I wouldn’t say my life is perilous, at least not at the moment, it hit me. I could really get Frodo in that instant. Since we found out our boy has SDS, I’ve prayed, “Don’t let him need a BMT. Don’t let him have cancer. I can handle diabetes, but please don’t let him ever have to face cancer treatment.” Not much different than Frodo’s lament.

Oh well. I have a request for a partial, and while it doesn’t make my troubles go away, it does make them a lot more bearable.

Life certainly goes on.

Until next time,

Liberty

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Tough Decisions, or, I’m Not a Quitter–Honest!

Being a writer means making lots of choices. Why did Uncle Melvin kill off Cousin Carl? How will Detective Haskins discover the killer? Why did Sarah run off with Luigi? And on and on…

One of the toughest things about being a writer is knowing when to quit. Not necessarily for the day, but when is the story done. Or when it’s not done, and there’s nothing you can do at this point in your life to make it done.

by Astroboy_71

I’m facing one of those times right now.

For the last 6 1/2 years, I’ve been working on a novel project. It’s had a lot of names, but right now, it’s “Homebody”. This novel predates my children being born, and the two main characters actually predate my marriage.

Over the last year or so, I’ve struggled with the book. I’m on like the 7th draft or some crazy thing, and I keep feeling like I’m circling around when it could be considered done, but just not quite there. Those who have read it say the same thing. But I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it, not now at least. For a while, I thought it was done: I submitted it to agents, and have received a few nice, even encouraging replies, but nothing that would have me thinking I’m almost there.

In a last-ditch effort, I asked Texas Momma (aka Linda Yezak) to take a look at it this spring. Between all her battles, she read a few chapters, but life happened and she had to return it, mostly unread, but with a few very helpful suggestions.

Then, last week, I got that niggling feeling again, like it was time to let it go.

I’ve had that feeling off and on for a while. I’m not sure why, but after it came back stronger than ever, I decided I’d e-mail Texas Momma about it. Even though I asked, I wasn’t quite prepared for the blunt reply:

“Give up on Homebody. Save the personalities for another book, if you’d like, but I’d quit on it.”

My stomach clenched reading those words. This book has become so much a part of my identity the last several years. How can I just give it up? It’s almost like abandoning one of my children at the grocery store.

One thing you should learn early on as a writer is to kill your darlings. In other words, that turn of phrase you think is so clever, or that scene that you love but doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the book. Perhaps it’s the same way with this book–it’s become my darling in many ways.

When I first started it, I was a completely different person than I am today. I had different goals, different aspirations, different worries. And, writing… and rewriting Homebody was cathartic in many ways. In the past six years, I’ve started work on several other projects, most of which I’ve finished, one or two I haven’t for whatever reason–my creative juices ran out, I lost interest, etc.

Homebody wasn’t the first novel I wrote. No, that disgraceful thing happened back in my teens. I pray it never again sees the light of day. A couple more came in between, both before and after a hiatus in my last semester of college into the first year of married life. Perhaps Homebody is that transition for me–the one I needed to get out, but isn’t yet worthy of being published. Perhaps the next one or two books I’ve got on my plate will be it. I hope so.

For now, I must say goodbye to this story. Thank you for helping me grow as a writer. I’m sorry I had to use you to do it, that you never reached your full potential, that I wasn’t the writer you needed me to be. Just know that even though you will remain on my flash drive, and I may never open you again, you’ve been valuable. I will always have fond memories of writing you.

As for my characters, Amanda O’Flannigan and Richard “Rick” Pierce, I think they’ll be around again. Almost as soon as I made the decision that it was time to cut it loose, I got a new idea which would be perfectly suited (I think) for them. And, Homebody definitely allowed me to come up with a great deal of back-story for these two. I hope it comes to fruition, mostly because I love both of these characters dearly. I’m not quite ready to quit on them, even if I have to quit on one of their stories.

For the time being, I’m going to get back to work on “Reprisal”. I’m mid-way through the 3rd draft, and it’s lingered far too long as I’ve had two children, done NaNo, and tried to get that OTHER book done. I’ll try to post monthly reports, even if they’re brief, on how that’s going. Once I’ve completed the 3rd draft, I’m going to go back to my 2009 NaNo project, “Beyond Dead”. It’s very short–just barely over the 50K minimum to win NaNo, and ideally I’d prefer it around 80K. That’s a lot of words to add! But, one thing at a time.

If you’re a writer, how do you gauge when it’s time to cut a story loose permanently and stop working on it? Have you ever had to do it? Did you mourn for the story and/or characters as I feel I’m doing a bit of now?

Happy trails,

Take Some Time To Breathe

This is a part of the monthly ChristianWriters.com blog chain. This month’s topic is “Fresh Air.”

“All good writing is like swimming underwater and holding your breath.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

I feel like I just came up for air… again. 

Last week, I finished some massive edits on Homebody, edits that had me seriously changing one of the storylines. I think (hope, pray) the edits make sense and actually make a stronger story. It’s with one of my fellow CWer critters right now. I guess we’ll see.

Photo by MaHidoodi

Whenever I finish a project, I feel like I’ve just come up from air after being underwater too long. With Homebody, it’s been something where I’ve been coming back up for air over the last 5 or so years, only to be forced back under again. Then, I escape my captor, grab a breath, then get caught again. Sometimes, other captors grab me, giving Homebody a necessary break, but it’s always something. I have to be working on something.

As much as I love the feeling of being able to say “It’s done… for now,” I feel restless without a project to work on. When I was younger, I’d just switch hobbies for a while. That’s when I usually made something with some yarn and crochet hooks. Now, I feel completely unproductive unless I’ve got something to write. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be able to crochet or sew again without feeling guilty about not writing. My craft storage box–where I keep a collection of crochet hooks, patterns, and candle-making supplies–hasn’t been touched in well over a year. 

I’ve already taken my gasp of breath and dived into the rewrite of my futuristic mystery/sci-fi Cora’s Song–which is going to get renamed, to what, I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll take suggestions.

But, I digress.

As much as I appreciate the ability for some artists to take lengthy breaks between projects, I’m not sure I could ever be one of them. Sure, I’m a sporadic writer right now. It kinda goes with the territory of having a 10-month old and an active preschooler. But, I can see myself being one of those über-productive writers who spend 6 – 8 hours a day writing, and publishing 4 – 6 books a year. I read an article about Nora Roberts a while back. This reflects some of her habits. Totally inspired me.

Until that happens and the kids are a little older, I’ll keep at it, taking a quick burst of fresh air between projects, and diving back into it.

Today’s Question: Do you take time to “breathe” between writing projects? If so, how long do you take?

Until next time,

Hiking = Writing

Yesterday, Sunday, TMOTH and I took my daughter, son, and Labrador Retriever for a hike at a nearby lake.

A photo from a trail I frequent… yes, this *is* Kansas!

Upon reflection, I learned a lot on that hike… about writing.

The trail we chose started out flat, across grass in a wide-open field. As we approached the woods, it got muddy, then rocky, and had a steep slope down to the lake. Once on the shore, we trudged over driftwood, rocks, and, again, mud until we decided to turn around and head back the way we came.

The flat, open part of the hike reminded me of how I usually start out on a writing project: good initial progress, seeing a portion of where I’m going, but not clearly the whole trail (even when I’ve outlined.) I usually hit some point where I’ve got a good feel for where I’m headed, but the writing gets rocky, and I slow down, carefully finding my next step.

Then, I get to the middle. Fits and starts, I’ll progress in quick bursts, then find something I have to climb over, go under, or around. (In the actual hike yesterday, this was difficult since my son was in a carrier, pulling me off balance!) My daughter taught me a few things in this portion, as she forced us to take breaks (allowing for reflection, possible changes, or redirection in my writing analogy) and look at bobbers, shells, rocks, or throwing sticks and stones into the water.

Sometimes, in these sections of my writing, I get hurt, as I did on the hike (it wasn’t bad–a scrape on my shin when my foot slipped as I was climbing over a large, fallen tree.) I have to backtrack, rethink what I’m doing. Often, these instances happen when I’m editing. On my most recent edit of Homebody, I had several major changes, some of which I’m still tweaking. When I started writing this story, now going on five years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined some of these types of twists in my story.

On the way back up the hill, I’m starting to pick up steam. While I’m watching my footing carefully, I know I’m headed for the climax: I’m about to write “The End” soon. I may have to take a breather now and again–after all, it is a steep climb!–I’m moving steadily upward, and know how far I’ve got to go.

Then, I crest that hill.

I can see the end!

For me, this is often the fastest part of the hike–and the writing. Renewed energy hits. Frequently, I can write a 30 or 40 page section in first draft mode in a single evening, especially the closer to the climax I get.

Then I reach the car–or write my last lines. Relief! My characters are out of danger, my feet can rest (and I can get another cool bottle of water from the cooler and turn on the A/C!)

Do you have a favorite analogy on how you write? How has that taught you about your writing?

Also, I want to extend my hearty congratulations to Linda Yezak, who guest posted for me last summer, on the publication of her debut novel, Give the Lady a Ride. I can’t wait to get it (hopefully on my Kindle!) and read it!

Until next time,

Pitch It! (follow up)

I redid my pitch based on some of the comments I received. I tried to add the changes in the body of my original post, but for some reason, Blogger doesn’t like me today. So, here it is. Original first, then the redo.

Old:

Finding dead bodies is not what journalist-cum-real estate investor Amanda O’Flannigan had in mind when she changed careers. All she wanted was a distraction from the recent death of her fiancé. A man dying in her arms doesn’t do much to help her grief.

As she investigates the man’s death, she stumbles into a web of lies and half-truths. If anyone knows the full story behind the victim’s life and death, they aren’t sharing.

Rick Pierce has been in love with Amanda for a decade. A year and a half after the tragedy, Rick has worked up the nerve to tell Amanda how he feels. But with Amanda still lost in the past, how can he convince her he’s the one she needs to be with?

The possibility of romance isn’t enough to erase the fact two convicts Amanda helped put away have escaped prison and are on a mission to find the woman who made their life hell. Intent on torturing and killing her, they’re on a warpath to her doorstep. Are they responsible for the growing number of murders among Amanda’s tenants?

As Amanda races to find the murderers and stop the men who want her dead, she must learn to look to her future. Rick will stop at nothing to make sure she sees that future realized.

New:

Finding dead bodies is not what journalist-turned-real estate investor Amanda O’Flannigan had in mind when she changed careers. All she wanted was a distraction from the recent death of her fiancé. A former tenant dying in her arms doesn’t do much to help her grief. As she investigates the man’s death, Amanda stumbles into a web of lies and half-truths.

Two convicts Amanda helped put away have escaped. Intent on torturing and killing her, they’re on a warpath to her doorstep. Are they responsible for the growing number of murders among Amanda’s tenants?

Enter Rick Pierce. He has been in love with Amanda for a decade. A year and a half after the tragedy, Rick has worked up the nerve to tell Amanda how he feels. With Amanda caught up in the past as she races to stop the men who want her dead, how will Rick make her see their future together?

So, what say you? Better? Worse?

Until next time,

Pitch It!

For the October Christian Writers blog chain, we’re pitching our novels! (Or doing a little tutorial on pitches.)

What is a pitch? 

A pitch is basically a way to sell your novel. Think of it like the trailer to that movie you’re going to go see because of the commercials you’ve seen on TV. It’s a tease; it gives the reader an idea on what your book is about. Some authors now are making their own book videos (K.M. Weiland has an AWESOME one for her novel Behold the Dawn.) But, most readers aren’t going to go track down your video; they’re going to read the blurb on the jacket cover of your book at the bookstore.

Photo from DeviantArt’s SixSecondsLess

That’s essentially what a pitch is, something that a reader sees that whets their appetite to read your book. Or, as in my case, something to whet the appetite of an agent or editor.

This month, I’m sharing the pitch for my novel, Homebody. And, it’s up to you, my lovely reader, to help me improve the pitch. Tell me if what I’ve written would make you want to read more. If it’s sitting on the shelf next to Nora Roberts, would you choose mine or hers? (Or, name another of your favorite authors.)

I’m pulling this directly from the latest query I’ve drafted–so I need it to be good!

Homebody:

Finding dead bodies is not what journalist-cum-real estate investor Amanda O’Flannigan had in mind when she changed careers. All she wanted was a distraction from the recent death of her fiancé. A man dying in her arms doesn’t do much to help her grief.

As she investigates the man’s death, she stumbles into a web of lies and half-truths. If anyone knows the full story behind the victim’s life and death, they aren’t sharing.

Rick Pierce has been in love with Amanda for a decade. A year and a half after the tragedy, Rick has worked up the nerve to tell Amanda how he feels. But with Amanda still lost in the past, how can he convince her he’s the one she needs to be with?

The possibility of romance isn’t enough to erase the fact two convicts Amanda helped put away have escaped prison and are on a mission to find the woman who made their life hell. Intent on torturing and killing her, they’re on a warpath to her doorstep. Are they responsible for the growing number of murders among Amanda’s tenants?

As Amanda races to find the murderers and stop the men who want her dead, she must learn to look to her future. Rick will stop at nothing to make sure she sees that future realized.
 

So, what do you think? Would you want to take this book home?

Until next time,