Previously published, but worth repeating....
Now with helpful illustrations!
It is inevitable that every writer will, upon submitting their novel for editing, have that conversation. You know, the one where your editor slides your baby, the thick pile of pages that you've spent so many doting hours on, and utters those dreaded words: "I think you need to cut this scene."
Cutting unnecessary scenes is normal, a natural part of the writing process, and one that should be faced with dignity, maturity, and calm acceptance. But since we're writers and artists, calm and dignity might be expecting a little much.
It can help to know that, not only are we not alone, but there are actually five stages to receiving and accepting an edit. For the benefit of mankind, I outline them here, with illustrative dialog (which may or may not be autobiographical).
Behold: the Five Stages of Editing Acceptance (or, How to Survive Your Mean Editor, with helpful illustrations...)
The writer will resist the cut/edit/suggestion vehemently, to the point of self-delusion.
"What are you talking about? This doesn't need to be cut. This is a perfectly gorgeous scene, so well written Shakespeare would have prostrated himself before my pen! PG Wodehouse would have given up and gone into drama. Shelley and Keats would rise from the dead just to praise me in verse! Yes, it's absolutely necessary. Why? Um, character development, of course. Yes, character development. No, I'm not making that up. Shorten it? Are you nuts? The main character finds a squirrel in her house - it takes twenty pages to describe that properly!"
On facing the editor's implacable insistence, the writer will often turn hostile.
"Well, what do you know, anyway? I'm the writer - in this story, I'm the puppet master, the know-all, be-all and end-all. You just don't understand. Like everyone else, you can't just leave art alone - you have to try to destroy it. Why are we even friends? Yes, the squirrel is important! Do you hate squirrels or something? No, I will NOT keep my voice down. Yes, I will keep that scene, I will, I will, I will! You can't make me cut it. YOU ARE SO UNFAIR!"
Feeling helpless, the writer will then try to regain control of the situation.
"All right, all right, fine! I'll consider it. How about I cut it back by about five pages. Seven? Ten... Ten, and I'll also cut the grocery store scene. Okay, okay, okay, final offer: I'll cut the squirrel scene by fifteen pages and the grocery store scene and toss in another romance scene to sweeten the deal, what do you say?...
"Read it again and get back to you? If I do that, can I keep the squirrel scene?"
Being forced to accept the authority of the editor, the writer will inevitably slump into self-recrimination and depression.
"Yes, I re-read it. You were right. It's horrible. It's stupid, a complete waste of time, ink, and paper. I can't believe I wrote this. Actually, I can. I'm the worst writer ever. This book make PS: I Love You look like a Pulitzer Prize Winner. I should never have learned to write. And what's worse, I ripped into you like... like....
"Well, that’s it. I quit. I'm turning in my keyboard. I'll throw myself on my pencil. Why am I even here? I'm a terrible writer, a terrible friend, a terrible person, and I need a double shot of Crown, like, right now."
Moving forward, the writer sees the wisdom in the suggestion and begins to rebuild their self-esteem - which will last until the next edit or critique.
"Okay, okay, I've cut the scene altogether and you know what? The story flows so much better now! It isn't terrible at all! It's tight, it flows, and I am a genius! Oh, right, it was your idea, I know, but that's what editors are for, right?
"Hey, you know, I was feeling so good, I actually added an epilogue. Remember the tangerine incident? Maybe you haven't gotten that far, but it's hilarious, so I expanded it into this cool little...
"Oh, you read it? What did you think?... It's not trite. It's cute!... Cliche! Honestly, you make me so mad sometimes!"
Writers: making the emotionally unstable look like stoics since the invention of the hieroglyphic.
Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, historically a bigger deal here in the States, especially Boston, than it is in the Emerald Isle itself. It's the day devoted to the wearing of the green, indulging in blarney (the fine art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip), filling your glasses with Guinness, and proudly crowing to all within hearing, "Erin go bragh."
Not Irish? Feeling left out? No need to - I've got great news for you: You don't have to be Irish to celebrate St. Patrick's day!
It's true! Everyone is invited to shilly-shally, tell a long story, wear the green (or the orange, if you're feeling in a fighting mood), or talk about who in your family shook the hand of the man who shook the hand of the man who shook the hand of John L. Sullivan, the Boston Strong Boy. It doesn't matter where you're from - on the 17th of March, everyone is Irish.
I'm not the first or the only one who proclaims this truth. As some of you may or may not already know, Summer Shadows was inspired by a soundtrack to a little-known movie called Flight of the Doves, a 1971 British film based on a book by Irish writer Walter Macken. The music was by jazz musician Roy Budd (of Get Carter fame) and you can listen to the suite on Youtube here.
Flight of the Doves is a story about two orphans that runaway from their cruel guardian to find their grandmother in Ireland. When the guardian realizes that the children are about to come into a sizable inheritance, he hires a master of disguise with no compunctions to hunt the children down. From this rather terrifying situation, a sweeter story emerges as the two orphans discover the warmth and friendship of the Irish - and learn that you don't have to be Irish to be Irish. This truth is told to them in song form (see the awkwardly filmed clip from the movie below).
Truth be told, Irish is steeped so deep into this country that chances are you have a bit of the old sod somewhere in your family history somewhere. And even if were not so, Irish-American culture has seeped into your life in ways you may not be aware . The Irish in New England have worked in the mills, as policemen, on the farms, in the fine houses, in politics, in every sphere available to humanity in this country. The Irish have been here since the first ideas of independence took hold of the American colonists. If you live in the USA, your life has been touched, shaped, or molded in some way by the sons and daughters of Erin.
So, in summary, you don't have to be Irish to be Irish on the 17th - though to quote the song, "You'll live a little more, and you'll love a little more. For that's what it takes to make you Irish." Tomorrow, lift your glasses to the Emerald Isle and shout "Sláinte!" You'll be in the best of company.
Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! Erin go bragh!
Your writing projects can be great sources of conversations at parties. They can, in turn, be causes of disillusionment. Every once in a while, I'll have a conversation that goes something like this (apologies to every unfortunate soul who got stuck standing next to me at a party!)
So, I hear that you're a writer. Do you make much money off your books?
Good heavens, I'm lucky if I make anything at all!
Oh, all right, so you must have a deep, meaningful message to share with the world.
What is that message?
Um... The world is a cool place with nice people in it? History is fun? Always take time to smell the roses?
<Me thinking: Wow, that is so deep! Maybe I really am a philosopher!>
<thinking: That's about as deep as a Hallmark card.>
So, you write to promote <names a cause>?
Well, I guess if it does, that's a good thing.
Oh, I see! Then you must do it for art?
Art? Golly, I'm not sure if what I do can be called art, but I'll take the compliment, thanks!
Right... So, uh.... why do you write?
Why do I write? That's very simple! It's because... Because... Uh... well, I guess because I like it.
You like it.
Yeah. Plus, I've been doing it so long I don't know what else to do, you know?
That's not terribly artsy. I thought all artists had deep philosophical thought or musings or... something. Anything. Even angst will do.
Yeah, I used to think so too. But angst is exhausting and kinda over-done, don't you find?
Oh, well, I guess... I'm sorry, why do you write again?
Because it's there.
That's why you climb mountains.
You've obviously never written a book. It's much the same.
...Okay, I'm going to go talk to your sister now.
I don't blame you. Have fun.
Previously published, but worth repeating
"You weren't very fair to Miriam," the woman said, looking me straight in the face while her friends, arranged on the couch and surrounding chairs, made apologetic noises. "Julia was mean to her. After all, Miriam lost a son. She was grieving too."
It was a lovely summer afternoon and I was at a book-club discussing Summer Shadows with a group of lovely local ladies. We were surrounded by coffee and tea and cookies and pleasant chatter, but this particular reader would not be sated with such offerings. She had her opinion and wanted to deliver it. When one of her friends nudged her, this woman turned and said, "We can all sit here and tell her (meaning me) nice things, but that won't help, will it?"
And she was right. Without feedback, honest feedback, featuring both positive and negative points, I could never really improve as a storyteller.
In order to grow in anything, its important to learn to accept critiques, to be told, honestly and without malice when you've a grammatical error, left a plot hole, or bored your audience to tears. You'll make no progress without hard work, but hard work without some kind of measurement is like trying to cross the Atlantic without a sextant. You might very well be half way to England, but how will you ever know?
The problem with creative endeavors is that we always show them first to our friends and family and people whom we trust, who already like us, and, in general, think along the same lines we do. Your friends may give you honest feedback, but it will always be biased. My mother, for instance, loved the character of Ron in the first draft, but someone else found him unlikable. "He'll grow up into a real creep," she said. I was appalled, but understood when I reread the passages she pointed out: a few changes in dialog softened the character and made him easier to understand.
That's not to say that negative feedback is more important than positive. It isn't: it carries the exact same weight. It was important to me to know that people liked Julia, because I didn't know if she was too nice, and it helped to know that people liked the progress of the romantic subplot. But only hearing the good creates an imbalance, encouraging the belief that I am a better story-teller than I actually am. A healthy balance of considered opinion is absolutely necessary to make progress.
Writing is an art and art demands an audience. Just like stage actors both give and take cues from the audience, writers, musicians, and painters can take the feedback they're given and use it to build better stories, songs, and paintings. All it takes humility, common sense, the ability to listen, and wisdom (I hope to have the first three, but can't really claim the fourth).
In Summer Shadows, Miriam is a difficult character, whose value systems are different the others, and her overbearing manner makes her easy to dislike. But as my reader, a mother and grandmother herself, expounded on her point, I suddenly saw Miriam through different eyes. She wasn't just a rich woman who liked to have her own way: she was a grieving mother who had been distanced from her grandchildren by a stubborn woman, too young and single to properly raise them. Although Miriam was wrong to push her agendas on her family, Julia in particular, there was genuine hurt that I hadn't really considered before.
This is not to say that I could or would change how I wrote the character of Miriam. Within the story, she's part of the tension that spurs Julia to make certain decisions and changing her would really affect the story arc, (not to mention that the book is long enough without adding the full development of yet another character), but this view was instructive, reminding me, once again, of the risks of the one-dimensional character, even one who is by necessity.
When I thanked the woman for her honesty, she shrugged it off. She's never been afraid to give her opinion. But she thought I ought to know.
"In case you do a sequel," she said and her eyes lit up. "You can have the wedding in that book!"
On this busy, busy Monday, this is Danny Kaye and me reminding you to always TTTR: Take Time To Read!
Happy Monday, y'all!
I haven't spoken much about Lent this year yet. I don't know why I haven't, except that this year, it seems to be an exceptionally private time. It is, of course, a time of meditation, of clearing the chaff from the wheat, the re-ordering of things according to their proper priorities, of seeing things as they really are.
Lent is a desert time. You strip down to the essentials and venture forth into the barren for forty days to seek what it is that eluded you in the time of abundance. Ours is not the only culture that's done this - Native Americans have a long history of sending young men out into the wastelands, seeking insight as part of their coming of age ritual. But our Lent is unique in that it is not showy. Like Daniel in Darius' court, we are called to a desert in the midst of the ordinary, to strengthen ourselves by the denials of things right before our eyes, things we haven't the luxury of running away from.
What is the point of all of this? The destination is as simple as Dorothy's goal on the Yellow Brick Road: we seek to find our way home. We are called to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds" because we are not of this world. (And, yes, regardless of whether or not you profess to be Christian, this last goes for you, too: this world is not your final destination. You are called to higher and better things - isn't that awesome?!)
Lent is a time of remembering who we are and whose we are. It is a time of great homesickness. It is a time to remember that there is a home waiting for us at the end of the road, lights on, door open, and a loving father, waiting with open arms to welcome us back.
Like most people, I find music incredibly inspiring and often use it to inspire me while writing. It's a tricky thing, though, finding just the right soundtrack for the write piece that you're working on. After all, John Williams' A New Hope soundtrack just won't work for, say, a romantic comedy that's not about geeks or a period piece about a family coming together after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (note to self - must write that book...)
Anyway, to help you all out, here are some of my favorite soundtracks to write by: click on the images for a taste on Youtube. If you love 'em, let me know in the comments below. And if you have any suggestions for me, be sure to leave a comment for me, too!
I've always been a bit of a DYI person. Not that I'm the type that makes my own cheese (though it's on my to-do list) or swaps out transmissions or anything intense like that. But when it comes to publishing and writing, I generally find myself trying to do everything. Sometimes I have great results. Sometimes it's more of a 'Lesson Learned' thing.
Making my own cover for Michael Lawrence: the Season of Darkness was one of the latter. Don't get me wrong - I love this cover (the colors! the rose! the intrigue! Isn't it pretty?)! But over the course of the months, going to different live events, I got some feedback that made me realize that I have many things to learn about graphic design. Here are a few, which I now gladly share with you!
1: SIZING THE TYPE
Intention: The Season of Darkness is intended as the start of a small series, so I made the main character's name big, as it's the title of the series.
Result: Almost everyone has assumed that Michael Lawrence is the author. It's only when they squint that they see my name. Unlike Laura Holt's attempt to drum up business, putting a man's name on my book hasn't helped sales, alas!
Conclusion: Make sure the author's name is large enough to see to deflect confusion. Also, when I re-do this cover, I'll probably be listing it as 'The Season of Darkness: a Michael Lawrence mystery'.
2. THE ROSE
Intention: In the language of flowers, the white rose stands for marriage (among other things) and I thought this rose, threatened by encroaching darkness and shadow, represented Michael's marriage problems pretty well. #deepermeaning, am I right?
Result: Turns out, when most people see a rose, they think 'romance' - regardless of color (several would-be readers thought fantasy romance when they saw my rose). In contrast, the movie tie-in cover, with the two leads looking like British detectives having a stressful day, was instantly recognizable as what it was: an American murder mystery.
Conclusion: Don't try to be too clever with your imagery. If the book looks like a romance novel or a gothic adventure, mystery enthusiasts will not bite. (Alas, my poor, misunderstood rose!)
3: THE TAG-LINE
Intention: "Murder Will Out' is an idiom meaning 'murder cannot remain undetected'. I'd heard this phrase used over and over again in the mysteries I read and watched and it's the perfect tag for this particular case for reasons that I can't get into without spoilers. Plus, I knew it was English, which, as I was going for the feel of a British murder mystery, only added to its appeal.
Result: Turns out, whatever books or movies I was enjoying aren't commonly known. This phrase, which is of unknown origin but sometimes attributed to Chaucer, made more people question me than the numbers 1 and 2 combined. No one knew what it meant. As a result, no one was intrigued by it.
Conclusion: Run your tag line by a few people before you commit to them. It'll save you a lot of explanations in the long run.
In Summary, creating your own cover is a ton of fun and well-worth the time and effort. But do yourself a favor: show it to a few of your friends, neighbors, co-workers, or innocent passersby before you commit. You may be saving yourself a lot of explanations in the future!
By Joyce Poggi Hager
Musings off the Matt is a collection of warm, funny, sometimes heart-wrenching essays by New Jersey writer Joyce Poggi Hager. Ranging from family stories to recipes, they recount her Italian heritage, childhood, motherhood, and early empty nesting, Hager’s stories read like a conversation between two old friends over a cup of coffee – you’re barely a paragraph in when you find yourself feeling like you’ve known this person and her family forever.
Collected from the best of Hager's popular blog series (and featuring a story she'd written for Chicken Soup for the Soul), the essays allow you to meet the author at life's most intriguing, hilarious, and heartfelt moments: from fond childhood memories to mothering her own children, from discovering she has lime disease to helping her elderly and widowed father cope with loneliness and a move to a new city. Written with clean, tight prose, these cheery little stories are sure to provide a comforting escape and calm reassurance to anyone who’s ever dealt with family or found themselves searching for the perfect biscotti recipe. Recommended.
It's probably too early for me to have cabin fever... But I do anyway. I find myself looking longingly out the frost coated windows, day-dreaming about adventures in warm, tropical climates or running with Indiana Jones through desert valleys, trying to escape Nazis. Not that life isn't good, because it is, but because no matter what you have, there's always going to be a little part of you that's looking for more. And if you aren't careful, this desire for more will cause you to overlook certain important truths.
Which brings me to Cinderella and her glass slippers. You see, it occurred to me that very often we get exactly what we want, but we don't realize it because it's looks a little different than expected. We wanted the American dream, generally thought to consist of a house, a white picket fence, a spouse, two or three kids, and yearly vacations to Disney World, and are surprised when to discover that the American dream also includes bills and in-laws and leaky-roofs and cars that refuse to start on cold mornings. We dream of adventures and are stressed when we run into car trouble on the road. We want to meet strange and exotic peoples and cannot understand our neighbor's partying habits. We are Cinderella, who wanted to go to a ball and didn't realized that she could use the moldy old pumpkin, a few local rodents, and what had to be the most uncomfortable shoes on God's good earth to make her dream come true.
Fairy Tales are not just stories - they remind us that, under the muck and mire of real-life problems, magic awaits. We are all Cinderella, who had the most impossible shoes and the worst day-job ever - but had the eyes to see beyond these encumbrances to where her fairy-tale began.
Sometimes its hard to see beyond the every day to the great and good things that lie like buried treasure underneath. But it's there, if only we take the trouble to look. The ordinary are more often than not far more wondrous than they appear - and that applies as much to us as it does to a pair of unlikely glass slippers.
I'm tickled pink to announce that Tale Half Told has been honored to receive the B.R.A.G. Medallion! Summer Shadows was also honored with this a few years ago and Margaret and I are just so pleased to have it for our first collaborative effort! (As well as encourages us on our next book!)
If you haven't checked out the IndieBrag website, be sure to do so: it's a great online resource for the best in indie publishing!
Also, if I don't get a chance to do so later, Happy New Year, you all!
Looking for ways to fill up that brand-new Kindle or E-Reader you've gotten? We've got just the thing! 40 books, on sale or free, from now until January 6th! Be sure to check out the selection here and have a very Happy New Year!
A World War 2 veteran reflects on his past one Christmas Eve. A suburban single-mom moves into a new neighborhood and finds herself dodging the attentions of the eccentric science teacher next door. A young boy takes his first flight in his mother's boyfriend's plane. An aspiring actress in 1950s New York finds help from an unusual source. A man who has everything finds himself in love with the one woman he can never have - or can he?
Uncommon Type is a collection of 17 short stories by Tom Hanks, all of which feature, in one way or another, a typewriter. Book-ended (see what I did there?) with stories of a tight-knit if eccentric group of friends, Hanks' stories are alternately tragic and hilarious, folksy and edgy, hopeful and heartbreaking, but always human. In fact, that's probably the best thing you can say about this book: you put it down feeling that, in some way, the world is a little warmer and a little more home. Not all of the stories come off perfectly - it feels in some that Hanks is stretching his literary muscles a little beyond their capacity - but that being said, its been a while since I've read a new book that made me feel like the human race was all right. I could use a few more books like this one.
(Note to clean-read enthusiasts like myself, there are a few adult scenarios in these stories.)
Happy Cyber Monday!
Today, you can download Tale Half Told for free on your Amazon Kindle! Just click on the link and enjoy - if you like it, be sure to let me and Margaret know in the comments!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!
Celebrating both Thanksgiving (gooble, gooble!) and the upcoming holiday season, I'm happy to be one of 35 (THIRTY-FIVE!) authors offering books at 99 cents this week, from November 21-28. If you're looking for romance, adventure, historical fiction, mysteries, sci-fi, or more, you're bound to find something to love!
Michael Lawrence: the Season of Darkness and Summer Shadows are both priced at 99 cents, so be sure to get them while the sale lasts! And while you're at it, check out these other selections here:
I know I'll be getting a few of these for my Kindle!