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Friday, July 1, 2011

My Gratitude Journal: Editors

Today I'm thankful for the editors who have dug me out of the slush pile, accepted my work as it came over the transom, and turned unpublished manuscripts into published works.

I'm grateful for Amy Inman, my very first book editor, who bought me for a new promotion (one new author per month) that Silhouette had planned for 1990. I was Miss February.

I'm grateful for Marcia Markland, who picked me out of the slush pile at Avalon and helped me develop my planned series of three Rainbow Rock books into a series of six. The last three were frankly better.

I'm grateful for Sam Van Walraven, who keeps encouraging me in the books I'm writing for Covenant Communication, and who has a name fun enough to use for a character in one of my other books. And I'm grateful for her boss, my friend Kathy, who always has uplifting things to say about my work.

True, editors haven't always served my books well. I remember the one who put the word "ruefully" into a book of mine, sure it was the right word and not interested in my argument that I have never used the word and don't expect to; it does not fit my authorial voice.

Still despite such words, there is no doubt that most of my books have been better after the editors worked them over than they were when I let them go. I'm grateful for that, too.

Thanks to all my editors -- past, present and future -- who have made my work both better and more rewarding. I appreciate you all.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Maggie: Getting Along with the Neighbors

In my work-in-progress MAGGIE RISING, I not only have a main character I'm really enjoying, but some fun secondary characters have been introducing themselves along the way.

Here is how Maggie begins her conversation with her neighbor:

I was opening my front door to go back inside when I spotted Mr. Haskins, the man who owns the bakery next door. Since I moved in here last summer, Mr. Haskins has been less than thrilled about having a psychic reader for a neighbor. Although he has said little to me, he has talked a lot about me and much of it has come back through the grapevine.

Haskins has the perfect look for a baker, like a nice round loaf of fluffy white bread, but the triumph on his face as he barreled his way across our shared parking lot told me had come up with a new way to get rid of me and he felt fairly confident about his plan’s success.

I put on my best neighborly smile. “Hi, Mr. Haskins. Gorgeous day, isn’t it?” In fact, it was a gorgeous day. Chico has lots of gorgeous days in October, but this was one was perfect; the sort our Chamber of Commerce would love to bottle and sell – temperature about seventy degrees, light breeze just whispering past our skin, cloudless skies the color of cornflowers, roses still blooming everywhere – yes, perfect!

Mr. Haskins was having none of it. “I did my research!” he announced as he came puffing to a stop a few feet away, his fleshy face a rich shade of burgundy. He waved a stack of newspapers at me. “You didn’t file a D.B.A. You never published an F.B.N.!”

I took a deep breath, reminding myself that crazy people always think they’re making sense. “Is this an alphabet game?” I asked pleasantly. “I could answer you A.S.A.P. or even P.D.Q. if I had any idea what you’re talking about.”

Mr. Haskins wasn't in my original plan, but he is becoming a more important character all the time, and I'm really learning to like him. I hope you will, too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Creating Great Characters

Last week I directed you to a blog that purports to help us all create "characters who breathe." Only childbirth accomplishes that, but we can create fictional 'people' who become very believable to our readers.

I know my protagonists are becoming real to me when I begin to dream about them. Even before that, they can be warm and realistic on the page.

This week I found another great entry on creating characters. While I don't agree with everything Lee Masterson has to say (for instance, I like to flesh out secondary characters, at least in my own imagination, more than this blog suggests), I do like most of this lesson -- and it may be simpler than having your character fill out a job application, which we did last week.

Names are especially important: A recent survey found that many American readers will not finish a book in which the characters have difficult names. (Forget War and Peace!) Masterson provides some good hints on naming.

Like many novelists, I keep a couple of books of baby names handy. The right name means a great deal, whether with our own offspring or our fictional ones.

What tricks do you use for working with fictional characters?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Humble Request

I've finally figured out my true goal in life. It's simple, really. I want to be queen.

Don't ask "queen of what." Royal beings can't be bothered by minor concerns such as geopolitical boundaries. Besides, it isn't so much the WHAT that counts.

All I want is a loyal staff sufficient to keep my spacious, well-appointed home in ideal condition at all times, accompanied by outdoor staff sufficient to maintain my spacious, perfectly-appointed grounds in exquisite splendor. Oh yes, and I want people to feed and care for my zebras. (Did I mention I have a thing for exotic animals?)

And I want all those people to do all that in perfect, harmonious joy out of the love they bear me because I am, after all, their queen.

Now, is that really so much to ask?

I suspect that most of the women who are reading this have had a similar fantasy. Most of us are, after all, mothers. We hoped our children would maintain the home and the grounds and the family pets (okay, the zebras may be a bit much) out of blessed adoration, right?

And guys, if we substitute words like "king" or "emperor," you've been there, too. You can go ahead and admit it. You're among friends here.

In truth, I'm about as likely to flap my wings and fly to Pittsburgh as I am of ever being crowned queen, but what's life without a dream?

SO, next time you're in Pittsburgh, stop by and say hello to the zebras, okay? Just say, "Yes, your majesty."

What secret dream are you seltering? Share?

Monday, June 27, 2011

So You're Writing a Book

Any time I'm in a public place and someone hears I have written books (it happens frequently when my overly-proud husband is present), I hear the responses:

I've always wanted to write a book.

I'm going to write a book someday when I'm not so busy.

Oh you write that kind of books? Anybody can write that trash.

Admittedly I don't hear that last one very often when my overly-protective husband is around, but it does come out sometimes. Here are a few good things to know about writing a book.

1. It's tougher than it looks. Yes, most people have read many books and imagined writing one, but doing it is different and much more difficult.

2. Writing it is one thing; publishing is another. Unless you are content to publish it yourself, pay for the privilege and sell fewer than 200 copies to your family and closest friends (a condition true of many of the 8 million books now available on, you may not want to go to the effort.

3. Most people who have never written a book think they have the ideal topic: They will write about their own lives. As interesting as most of us are, most human lives do not make for fascinating reading.

There are bits and pieces of my personality and my life in every book I've ever written, but for the most part, those bits hang suspended in a matrix of pure make-believe. That's the case with most novels. You may be the exception, but be warned. You will need not only a fascinating life, but an exquisite literary style if you want to sell a memoir.

Now that I've discouraged you, let me add one last point: Although writing is a difficult skill to learn and requires much practice, the reward of seeing your words and ideas on a printed page may be well worth the effort. In that case, hang in there. I wish you every success.

What are your writing dreams? Share one?