Monday, January 31, 2011

Candy Celebration

Finished it! I have written it and read it aloud and edited it and gone back over it three times and now farmed it out to great friends who have agreed to critique it.

I can't believe I've finally gotten a novel to a point where it can be farmed out for critique. It has been FOUR (count 'em) FOUR years since I got anything this near to completion. Huh, could the reason for that be it coincides with the time we started getting high speed internet and therefore television again after 15 years without it? Hmm. That will require greater investigation. It also coincides with the birth of my fifth child. And the time I started homeschooling.  And the general breakdown of all order in the home for about a 2 1/2 year period. (Follow this link to read my award-winning essay on this baaaaaad time in mommydom.)

So, yeah. No real guilt there. But still. It's a long process. From idea stage to first draft, to second, third, fourth, fifth and final drafts, it has been a long road. The story has morphed over time. I tried to follow the outline of "how to write a commercial fiction book" found in James Scott Bell's great book often mentioned earlier on this blog, Plot and Structure.

This meant I had to go back and redo scene after scene to crank up the conflict. I had to go back and cut out characters whose roles changed. I had to redo whole subplots from time to time. It was a living work. Ever changing.

I know that once my dear and good friends who are SO KIND to read the manuscript and give feedback send it back to me, I'll need to go over it again and re-adjust quite a few things.  That's okay. The whole experience has been an exercise, one to teach myself to write something that will fit the genre of commercial fiction. No, as one online friend says, it won't win any Pulitzer Prizes. Who cares? Not me. I don't have enough angst for that in my life. But if it creates a good, diverting few hours and informs them on a new topic, great. Mission accomplished.


I think I need to celebrate.

Candy is in order. What should it be? Well, so far it's been a hot fudge sundae from McDonalds, mini-Twix candy bars, mini-Snickers candy bars, mini-KitKat candy bars, (all the mini candy bars were left over from a Cub Scout Pinewood Derby prize pile), a Square Shooter hot cinnamon lollipop, a few fruit snacks, a handful of gummy bears. But these seem inadequate for the magnitude of the 18 month long effort, don't they? I should really go for the gold. I should head over to Walgreens and pick up a package of Toblerone or Toffifay or Boston Baked Beans. Yeah. Those would scream "celebration!" Or ... Peanut Butter M&Ms. Yeah, that would be fantastic. Or good old Mr. Goodbar. Even a Big Cherry--my tastes include the exotic and even the shunned-by-others-of-narrower-candy-palates. Now, a Big Cherry? That's more than your everyday, run of the mill, candy I had at home anyway. It would be a celebration. I'm taking suggestions!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reading Aloud to Edit -- and How Bad Banana Taffy and Fluff Writing Can Save Us

So, I got the draft done! So happy! Now, back to the editing board again.

This time I'm going through it with a fine toothed voice. I mean, I'm reading the whole draft aloud, from hard copy, in front of a live studio audience. 

This is an undertaking. It needs to be done. I have found errors on every single page, missing words, words that aren't quite right, punctuation errors, things that just sound wonky. And this is after months and months of working on the draft in silence and on the screen.

Part of the problems arise from the fact I've worked on the draft in so many different stages. I cut and pasted from earlier drafts, and some things just don't make sense any more. They are irrelevant or inconsistent or just foreign to the current draft. Some of the problems arise from the fact I was being interrupted by my cute little ones while I wrote, someone needing a drink or a ride somewhere or a piece of candy.  Errors. Oversights. Glaring mistakes.

I honestly think if I hadn't gone through it reading it aloud I would not have seen a lot of these problems. This is a good exercise.

There's another little perk, though, besides catching the problems with the draft. Reading it aloud to the live studio (or SUV road trip captives!) audience gives me a sense of what's working in the draft. When the listeners react, either with laughs or groans, with questions, with gasps in the character's behalf, then I get a sense of what a real reader's reaction might be when the text eventually lies before them. Sweet.

Speaking of road trips, I like to keep movie size boxes of candy in the glove compartment of my Suburban, in the case of an emergency candy fit halfway between hither and yon.  Or if a bunch of kids are stuck in the car waiting ... waiting ... waiting, and needing candy.  Candy calms the savage beast, be it child or mom.

Here are a few favorite car candies:

I like the Hot Tamales in there because it's kind of hard for a kid to eat a whole box of those in one sitting, what with all the cinnamon flavoring. They last a while, most of the time. Jelly bean based things work well. Or hard candy. Candy buttons are great because it's just dried frosting and it will last forever in there. Plus the kids for some reason think it's the coolest candy ever. Around here, anything like taffy or chocolate is a mistake in the glove compartment. We went for a drive last week and needed the AC. Seriously. Mid-January. Please! Mid-January should be hot chocolate, not air conditioning.

Last summer, we were on a ridiculously long drive with stupid wrong turns and missed exits and doubling back and fifty potty breaks and I'd about had it. Then, at the back of the glove compartment I found this orphaned banana flavored Laffy Taffy, crusty on the edges, still chewy in the middle. I'm sure it had melted and re-solidified scores of times. I generally skip banana flavored candy (which is probably why it remained beneath the registration and insurance info), but at the time, nothing could have been more welcome. Sugar! It saved my sanity.

That's why I love it. You know, spun-sugar type writing can be just what we need when we're going through an annoying or tough journey. Even a bad old dried up banana flavored taffy type piece of writing can be just what our souls need. Bring on the empty calories. We need it from time to time.

Now, off to finish reading it aloud to my audience. Maybe I should ply them with a bulk canister of licorice.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Querying Querying Now We Go -- Er, no.

So, it's the new year. A lot of us are getting all excited about writing again, now that the rush of the holidays is over, and we're thinking about what we really want to accomplish. It's a great time to dust off our writing desks and get back to work.

HOWEVER, it is not the best time to start sending out queries!

Put those queries on the shelf, ladies and gentlemen.

In the excitement of resolutions, LOTS of people have this same idea. In fact, from what Anne Mini says, and what Kirk Shaw says, this first three weeks of January is the busiest time of year for agencies, with more queries coming slamming into their inboxes than any other time of year.

If I want to stand out in a crowd, I like to be in a smaller crowd (especially being as short as I am.)

Anne Mini had other advice on when to time queries, like, not on a Monday, as the inboxes are full to the brim with them, and not on Fridays or weekends, when agency people want to clean out the box and get out the door.  The best time is mid-week, she says.  So time it that way for "less competition."

Instead of making a goal for a January appearance on the agent's desk, go for a February 1 goal, or a March 1 goal, or thereabouts.  It's just doing yourself a favor.

Now, I'm not really in the know about all of this, and I don't mind admitting that. However, I think this makes sense and I believe it.  So, when I finish this novel I'm plunking away at (which I truly believe will be sooooon), I'm going to try to time my query to my best advantage!

Wait. Maybe I shouldn't have shared this info after all.

Speaking of things not to be shared, I'm one of those moms who doesn't share the best candy with the kids. One time I made a special dessert (her favorite) and took it to my friend who was going through hard times and when I showed up she let her kids pounce on it like locusts. Very generous of her, but am I like that? No. I am not. If there is food I love and feel like would be pearls before swine, the kids can just forget it. My husband too. (Although he doesn't give a rip about candy, poor guy. How much he misses!) The good stuff is mine.

My favorite things to hoard are the following:

Strawberry Twizzlers. See's Chocolates.

Conference (and Cake)

I'm frantically working on my novel, trying to get it finished up and edited and all shiny by the end of next month when I go to the annual ANWA conference in Phoenix, Arizona.  The end of February is a delightful time to be in Phoenix. Perfect weather, greening mountains, the occasional wildflower.

I'm really looking forward to the conference. I can't believe all the great workshops they have planned, and how low the cost is!  A hundred bucks? What? And the chance to pitch to agents and publishers? It's a deal, a fantastic deal in the sweet warm desert winter.

Here's the info about the conference:

"Writing at the Speed of Life"

19th Annual ANWA Writers Conference February 25 & 26, 2011.

Sponsored by ANWA - American Night Writers Association established in 1986. Website

Join us in the beautiful Crowne Plaza Hotel near the airport in Phoenix, Arizona for two days packed full of workshops, classes and pitch sessions. This is a writer's dream. Rub shoulders with authors, agents, editors and publishers. See website for full schedule.

Program Focus: Autobiography/Memoir, Children's, Middle Grade, YA, Fiction, Non-fiction, Journalism, Marketing, Mystery, Publishing, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Humor, Writing a Query Letter, Dialogue, Family and Personal History Writing, and Pitch Sessions With Agents and Editors.

Faculty: Kelly Sonnack, agent; Kelly Gottuso Mortimer, agent; Kirk Shaw, editor; Cecily Markland, small publishing company owner, author and newspaper editor;

Authors: Chris Stewart, Janette Rallison, Laurie Schnebly Campbell, Elana Johnson, Angela Morrison, Conrad J. Storad, Carolyn Murphy;

Composer/song writer: Chava Cannon

General Public: Full Two-Day Conference $115, One-Day Friday Workshops $40, One-Day Saturday Workshops $90

ANWA Members: Full Two-Day Conference $100, One-Day Friday Workshops $30, One-Day Saturday Workshops $80

Prices increase after Feb 4.

Hotel discount available at Crowne Plaza Phoenix Airport Hotel. (See website below)

Details & Registration:


Speaking of the sweet, warm desert, that reminds me of sweet warm dessert. Last night for my daughter's birthday I made her the cutest cake. White and pink checkerboard cake with white frosting and sparkly white sprinkles, pink and purple sugar hearts, and cinnamon imperials as a beaded border. It turned out so pretty! Sadly, we ate it all before I took a picture. But here's someone else's creation: bless the book for posting the beautiful thing online for our salivating pleasure.
The cake makes you look like a gourmet, but it's pretty simple to make if you have the right pan. It's three layers, and each layer has three concentric circles. You put the two colors (in their case, three, obviously) in alternating rings of the circle and then bake all three layers, then stack it. When you cut it, voila, it looks like a checkerboard. I think I got my pan a few years ago from saving Betty Crocker points. Remember Betty Crocker points? My husband once got a watch from collecting KoolAid points. It might have had that big smiling KoolAid pitcher on it.  Free stuff, ah.
The cake was really good! It had fluffy white frosting, made with shortening and almond extract and ... you know?  I just love the flavor of almond extract. It's kind of dangerous. In fact, I think I just *might* have eaten too much of it because after the kids went to bed and I sat down to recuperate I noticed I could feel my blood coursing through my veins and my hands were kind of shaking and there was a general zingy feeling about my entire body.
Too much sugar? Me? Hard to believe. Cake is my favorite form of sugar. Besides candy. Or alongside candy. And slushes. And chocolate. And pink bubble gum. And probably a lot of other things. The new year resolution to cut back on refined sugar didn't last very long, did it?

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Sweet and Sour of E-Readers

So. There's a lot of back and forth about e-books everywhere. Lovers of, haters of, utter rejecters of.

I don't fall into any of these categories. Me, I'm a book lover. Booking it to my library all the time, buying scads of books at yardsales and thrift stores and outlets and even full price bookstores when tempted. Even though I'm an avowed cheapskate, I do have this one major vice: I feel no pangs of guilt over buying a good book. Or even a stupid one!

This can be hazardous to my bank account.

I wish I didn't need sleep. If I didn't need sleep, I'd read all the Harvard Classics. (Some of them actually facilitate sleep, I'm here to tell you. Surely you're not surprised.)

This book-buying has a downside: shelving problems. Right now every room in my house has at least one bookshelf. (Minus the kid bathroom, where we are considering installing one when the girls stop being so splashy in the tub.) They are full. They overflow onto piles on the floor. They spill into closets and boxes and toychests. They're everywhere. They take up space. And I don't want to get rid of any of them. I like them. They make me happy, secure, and they give me a sense of hope--hope that an engrossing story lies behind any cover.

My dad once said, "Hell would be if you had no new books left to read." He's where I get my genetic flaw of book collection. (And propensity toward using that word occasionally.)

So. Along comes Kindle.

You can't turn it's pages or sniff the ink or finger the cover. You can't stare at the spine of the book on the shelf and consider the content. does store 50,000 volumes!

Do you KNOW how many books that is?

And I can keep them ALL in my purse to read at the doctor's office! This is a big upside.

As I've mulled over my love affair (and occasional hate-affair) with my newish Kindle, I've found for me there are both pros and cons. Here are a few.

Pro: If I want a book and don't have it, I can download it. No driving to the library, no waiting for it to arrive via USPS or going to a bookstore. It's mine. It's now. It's instant! I loved downloading and reading Ally Condie's Matched without any wait.

Con: Now that I have Matched, a new and notable YA book, I can't lend it to any of my YA-reading friends. I can't donate it to the local (cash-strapped) library. I can't let my son read it--because he's not touching the Kindle. I like to be able to share something delicious, but the Kindle makes me have to be selfish.

Pro: The classics are cheap! Our library doesn't somehow want to keep the classics. They chuck them. Why? I don't know. I'm not in charge (yet.) So, it's sometimes tough to get access to them. But on Kindle, books in the public domain are very inexpensive or (cue the Imperial Margarine fanfare here:) FREE. The price is right! I have already downloaded all of the Elizabeth Gaskell books I've been salivating over for a year (ALL of them for only $.399! Shoot!), as well as my super longtime favorite Anthony Trollope--his complete works. They're mine!

Con: I can't show off my classics collection and feel intellectual by having them on my livingroom bookshelf. Ha ha. You know some of you bibliophiles do that, too. Don't deny it. There's a certain superiority sometimes we feel when we consider the excellence of our book collection.

Pro: In this way, the Kindle forces me to be more humble.

Con: I do like the feel of a book in my hands. The Kindle's page turning button doesn't feel like a page to turn.

Pro: It has a search feature, so if I can't remember a detail from earlier in the story, I can search the text to find that part and re-read.

Con: It's kind of faster to flip through the pages sometimes, with a loving dog-ear on a nice part, or a star in the margin of a particularly well-written phrase. Sure, there's a "highlight" feature, but it's not that friendly "star in the margin."

Pro: Did I mention it fits in my purse? I was happily entertained by Dr. Thorne at a wedding this evening when the groom's sister arrived 30 minutes late.

Con: I downloaded an anagram game. Unless I get vigilant I'm going to fritter away all my time trying to figure out all the combinations of words I can make from the letters in "WOBBLES." Seriously, there are a half hour-worth of those combos.

There are others I'm sure I'll come across as I read and read more on it.

As it is, with both sweet and sour aspects appreciated, I now have added my Kindle to the stack of books on my bedside. For me, there's room for both tangible books and e-books in my life. More access to books makes me happy!

While there are both sweets and sours of e-reading, I have to say, I have a ton of sweet and sour candies I love. Lemonheads? Those are fantastic! As are their sister-food, Alexander the Grape. I also love Mamba, although they're a pain to unwrap when you're driving a car--worse than texting while driving is Mamba-ing. Give me chewy Sweetarts, too. I remember eating those on the bus on the way home from swimming lessons every summer (closest pool to my farmtown was a 45 minute bus ride). Hated swim lessons, loved the 25-cent candy on the way home.

Maybe the most delicious of all sweet and sour candies to me was Tangy Taffy. Still might be. I love that grape one. And the strawberry one. Sure, they lean a lot toward sweet, but there's a tang, too. They're slightly different from Laffy Taffy -- no jokes written on them. Mmm. I wish I had one right now. Danged New Year's Resolutions about sugar. Danged sugar-withdrawal headache. Forget Tylenol. The sugar is the right medicine... I wonder what's in the treat cupboard...