Monday, October 29, 2012

Writing About Nothing


My eyes dart around the room.  Or are they rolling around in my head?  Not sure.  How do other bloggers manage to write on a regular basis?  Do they ever suffer from Ihavenoideaitis?  I’m trying too hard.  This has only happened to me a couple of times in almost a year of blogging.  Brain overload or brain freeze or call it what you will, there is a problem.

It’s generally my tendency to look at the bright side of everything.  Even though I haven’t come up with a blog, my laundry is finished, my cat has had her pill, and I’ve said good-night to my husband.  In addition to that, while searching the files for a blog idea, I came across a long forgotten short story and promptly proceeded to edit it.  And, oh yes, I went through an older manuscript and decided it probably needed a complete overhaul.  Unfortunately, through all this, no blog subject came to mind. 

I read my date book, and my happy thoughts book, and leafed through a file box of whatnots...Nothing. 

I checked LinkedIn, Facebook, and my email inbox… Nothing. 

I read the Globe and Mail…Nothing.

I looked through my file of quotes for inspiration…Still nothing.

With the advent of Halloween, I considered writing something scary, something about ghosts.  Do I believe in ghosts?  Most definitely.  Still – nothing comes to mind.

I know!!  How about a story on my childhood memories of Halloween −I do have some good ones − but last week’s blog was about childhood memories and well…I just feel it’s too soon to reminisce again this week.

My eyes drift to the pictures, posters, and submission calls that are hanging on the wall above my desk.  Nothing.  I think about what I’ve written during the week.  Nothing.  Well, not exactly nothing, I roughed in a draft for an article.  That’s something.

It was a busy week with emails, posting pictures to Facebook, and meeting with a grief counsellor (this is the second counsellor in two weeks) to discuss a couple of upcoming articles for First Monday magazine.  There was an entertaining day with my granddaughter, not to mention lunch with a friend.  Of course, there was also Bob McCarthy’s book launch.  And, oh, I took my other granddaughter to a Halloween party at The Book keeper in Sarnia where we were entertained by Jayden the Jester and his wonderful magic.  Hmmm…I could use his magic now to produce an entertaining, educational, or thought provoking blog but…..still nothing.

I also started my xmas shopping this week.  Not that it was planned, but seeing the perfect gift, I couldn’t resist.  It has been a productive week…Except there is no blog.

 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Karen Block on Writers and Publishers


Karen Block, editor with Turquoise Morning Press in Kentucky, enlightened me on the inner workings of a publishing house.
 
Let’s start at the beginning, Karen.  What is the first step for a writer wishing to be published by Turquoise Morning Press, aside from checking out the website www.turquoisemorningpress.com?
We ask for a query and the first three chapters.  The author should state the genre and it is helpful to know the intended audience.  The executive editor then assigns one of the editors that works with that genre to read the sample chapters. 
 
What is your genre?
I’ve been getting young adult, paranormals – which are my favourite, thrillers, and suspense.  All have a level of romance to them but I don’t edit erotica.
 
How important is it to know the intended audience? 
It’s very important, particularly if an editor is reading a manuscript intended for a specific age group and some of the content is clearly not appropriate.  The editor can do a thorough job only if he/she knows the audience the author is trying to reach.
 
So much emphasis is put on those first three chapters.  The rest of the book could be incredibly good but the author choked at the beginning.  I’ve attended writers forums where it is suggested that a first time writer hire someone to edit their book before sending them out to a publisher. 
I get a lot of new authors who hire me to go through their manuscript and help get it into a submittal state. 
 
Actually, a writer is better off having a bad manuscript turned down than published.
I read the first book that one of my favourite authors published and it was awful.  I heard that she’s embarrassed about it.
Sometimes with first time authors, it is necessary to see the full manuscript.  I read the first three chapters, skip to the middle of the book, and read a chapter, then go to the ending to see what happens there.  If there are too many mistakes or if the manuscript is too rough, I decline. 
 
And then?
If the book sounds lame, I write a very nice let-down letter.
 
You don’t use form letters?
No.  Turquoise Morning Press is a young publishing house and there is still a hands-on approach.  A rejection is absolutely devastating and a form letter tells the author nothing about what they’ve done wrong.  I usually give them three or four pages of what went wrong.
 
That’s amazing!  How soon can you tell if it is a good manuscript?
I read enough of the book to get a feel for it but I usually know in the first chapter.  If it has potential, I send a recommendation to the executive editor.  The executive editor meets with the senior editor.  The Acquisitions Committee meets once a month to discuss potential publications.
 
Is that why it can sometimes take months for a writer to receive a reply from a query? 
I think so.  Big publishing houses in New York have thousands of manuscripts coming in.  They have readers that sort through the slush.  I’m not sure but there are probably fifteen of us at Turquoise Morning Press.  Our publishing company has a good stable of writers but it is not as large. 
 
Tell me more about the Acquisitions Committee.
They decide on the submissions to be published and consider possible release dates.  At that point, they give the authors a formal acceptance and a publish date is established.  An editor generally has two months of intensive editing and working closely with the writer to meet the deadline to go to the publisher for galley.
 
Two months isn’t a very long time.  It’s my impression that most publishers want a manuscript that is pretty much ready to go.  Do you agree?
Some writers submit books that are ready to go – almost word perfect.  Not everyone writes that way.
 
No, most manuscripts are not word perfect, Karen.  Your services are very much required.
 
Read Karen Block’s profile at http://www.romancenovelcenter.com/karenblock
For Karen’s Ten Tips to Writers check the September 3 blog http://phyllishumby.blogspot.ca/2012/09/writing-with-editor-karen-block.html
For Karen’s views on writing romance, check the September 17 blog http://phyllishumby.blogspot.ca/2012/09/editor-karen-block-talks-to-write-break.html
 

 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Scribbles Written in Childhood




Do you think I’ll steal it, I asked.  She hesitated, clearly not wanting to hand it over.  I insisted that I was not leaving without it.  I want to write a blog about it, I said, the idea having just popped into my head.  You can look at it here, she suggested.  No way, I want to take my time and look at every page.  (After all, it had been forty years since I’d seen the book.  Maybe longer.)
My niece, amused by our bantering or perhaps tired of it, encouraged her mother to let me take the book home.  My sister finally agreed but only after eliciting a promise that I would return it to her.  Jeesh!
Her reluctance to share it with me may have been due to the condition of the book.  I shuddered at the sight of it.  Oh well, that was none of my business, even though it was my mother’s 1950 edition of a 1942 cookbook − a tome of nearly a thousand pages.
At home, I turned every one of those pages.  Although anxious to see my mother’s personal notations in the recipe section of the book, I started at the beginning.
Did you know that in 1942 a formal place setting included an ashtray and cigarettes to enable guests to smoke throughout dinner?  In addition, the book provided instruction on how to entertain with or without a maid which may be pertinent for some, but not for me.  Mine is a no maid household.
The book’s introduction boasted easy to read recipes with ingredients marching (yes, they said marching) down the left side of the page and step-by-step directions in the facing column, as well as a whole chapter dedicated to freezing vegetables.  They also included information on a relatively new method of pressure cooking vegetables and meats in a fraction of the ordinary cooking time.
A new term ‘brunch’, was a combination of breakfast and lunch.  Another meal term entered the recent vocabulary.  Men, they said, favoured the Smorgasbord, a favourite in Swedish restaurants.
My interest peaked in the next section where notes in my mother’s legible hand appeared alongside recipes.  The stained, discoloured pages were the most significant.  On one such page, my fingers traced the twenty-four ingredients for the wedding cake my mother baked for each of the daughters that married during her lifetime.  Alas, I was not one of them.
In her old-fashioned penmanship, she jotted down recipes on scrap bits of paper and tucked them between the pages.  Amongst them I found her pound cake recipe – nine eggs, two cups of butter, and you don’t want to know how much sugar − and her plum pudding recipe, both of which I remember tasting.  
My thoughts drifted back to the brightly lit kitchen and my mother standing at the counter, a tea towel tied around her waist for an apron.  In my childhood recollections, her flour-dusted hands were constantly kneading dough and cutting out round biscuits using the mouth of a small glass. 
She would share the scraps of dough, encouraging me to roll them and put them on her tray for the oven.  Sometimes I just ate the raw dough.
Feeling the warmth emanating from the stove, I would kneel on a chair beside Mom with my inevitable pencil and paper.  Sometimes my pencil scribbled in her cookbook, no doubt when she was busy measuring and stirring.  Seeing those pencil scribbles from my childhood evokes more than memories − I re-live a precious moment in time.
Before returning the book to my sister, I must do something.  Thinking of the abundance of green peppers in our garden, I check the index for a recipe.  I don’t remember eating stuffed green peppers with creole sauce as a child and so I can’t be sure that my mother ever used this recipe, but it is thrilling just the same to be cooking from her book.
 

Monday, October 08, 2012

A Writer's Thanksgiving


A lone fisherman stopped directly in front of my window while I sipped my morning coffee. He was experiencing problems. His small boat rocked precariously as he stood at the stern trying to start the motor. I felt sure he would fall overboard. My fingers were creeping to the phone dial to press 911 when it appeared that all was well. He dipped his fishing net into the water – an old superstition that made me smile – and was on his way up the river. Cruisers sped past enjoying the end of boating season for another year. 

The view outside the window is new to me. The dancing waters of the St. Clair River. Friends kindly offered their home as a retreat for a few days while they are away. Seeing the ships go past the window is a novelty to me. Ships that stretch so long that I think they have no end. Jetskis (brrrr....it’s cold for that) frolic in the waves over on the American side of the river. 

The river is not a distraction as I work, but more of an inspiration. Very calming. Especially the ships – especially at night. The lights slowly gliding past the window. I have to peer into the darkness to make out the steel bulk. Eerie in a way, but then I’ve always had an inexplicable fear of freighter ships. Another life perhaps.

My eyes are tired.  The days of my retreat have been long and haphazard.  Eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired.  I put the manuscript aside and stand for a well-deserved stretch. 

The last ‘t’ is crossed and a period dots the last sentence. My editing is finished...for this round...the second. My chest and throat tighten. My emotions catch me unaware. I wonder where that came from. I think a moment. Yes, another novel completed. By no means finished, as there will be revisions, but the story is written. The beginning, the middle, and the end − although the order may change. It will soon be ready for the first reader.

Before I begin typing the edits into the laptop, I will celebrate.  Afterall, it’s Thanksgiving.  I phone my husband for a chat and an update, and then pour a glass of wine. There’s a plate filled with turkey and all the fixins’ in the fridge.

A stranger delivered it to me on a tray complete with dinner roll, and desserts.  Well, a stranger to me.  Their next-door neighbour, knowing I was here alone, thought I would appreciate it!  And I do!!!  It is delicious from the apple squash casserole to the rich dark gravy.  Such considerate people around; even more reason to give thanks.

It’s dusk now.  My glow is not limited to the lowering wine level in my glass but to the satisfaction of accomplishment.  I’ve shared Thanksgiving wishes with friends on Facebook, checked emails, read the news, and now it is time to flip the manuscript back to the first page and begin transcribing those red words to black.
 
Please visit my new facebook page and share it with your friends. I would be thankful if you click LIKE below the cover photo. I appreciate your show of support.   facebook.com/TheWriteBreak 
 
Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Giving Thanks Write Now


This is the fifth blog post today. Half way through each one, I metaphorically crumple the paper and toss it in the can. None of them seems right.
It’s not that I’m having a bad day. In reflection, it’s been a good week − a satisfying week. I spent quality time with my two-year-old granddaughter who has a penchant for lipstick and heels. Yes, that was a good day.
In addition, I’ve spent enjoyable hours in the initial editing process on my latest novel. Typing The End at the bottom of the manuscript was a jump up and punch the air kind of feeling.
I also wrote the foreword for Bob McCarthy’s latest book, Voices of Lambton: An Alphabet of Stories. His ninth publication! This week I was delighted to see an attributed excerpt from the foreword in the media to promote his book launch on October 27th at The Book keeper in Sarnia.
Another first for me. Brian Feinblum of Media Connect, a book promotion firm in New York, interviewed me for his blog. For the curious or sincerely interested, the link to my interview is http://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/getting-book-publicity-is-conducting.html
Writers should check out this informative blog.
As if my week couldn’t get any better, friends offered me their home to do some intense editing on my novel. They will be vacationing. Okay, another jump up and punch the air kind of moment.
Non-writers probably wonder why this is a big deal. Writers’ retreats are always a big deal and very productive. When you are away from home it’s a different mindset. There are no reminders of our daily routine; nothing to cloud the thought process.
And as if the week couldn’t get any better, I have someone interested in reading my manuscript when it is ready. Now that is definitely an incentive to work my way through second and third drafts.  (It doesn't get tedious until about the seventh draft.)
 
Some days are diamonds.  Some days are stones.  I’m fortunate to have supporters who offer encouragement during frustrating times. My friend, Debbie Okun Hill, reminded me that some writers never get their first books published, or maybe not even the second, but to keep writing and never give up hope. And so I write. When I finish one book, I start another.
Just this moment I realize why the other blog attempts didn’t work for me today. We Canadians are approaching our Thanksgiving. Perhaps that is why I'm dwelling on all that's good.
I'm thankful for each small success for the same reason I celebrate each birthday!