Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lazy Perfectionist

I have a problem.  I'm a lazy perfectionist.  Not sure if that's an actual thing, but it's the best description for me.  If I can't do something really well, I don't want to do it, but I'm often just too unmotivated to do it well. It's not that I don't have time.  It's that I just find myself vegetating rather than doing it.  I think that I don't really feel like sitting down and knocking out a whole chapter, so I won't bother working at all.

The weird part is that when I do get myself to do a little work, even if I think I don't have the time or energy to get a lot of writing done, I end up getting at least a little done and often do more than I think I will.  But even if I don't get lots done, I've moved forward. A step is better than no steps.

I also have this issue with setting goals and, when it becomes clear that I won't completely reach them, I decide it's easier just to give up rather than seeing how close I can come.  I'm that way with weight loss and with writing.  I was just on vacation and had this grand plan of writing and exercising every single day I was there.  I did a lot better on the exercising.  By the fourth day, I hadn't written a word, so I did what I usually do--I gave up.  I wrote two times and barely did that.  I probably didn't write 500 words.  They weren't bad words, but they weren't what I could have done if I had said to myself that I wasn't going to meet my goal, but I could still get good work done if I would just start from wherever I was.

That's my goal for the coming days.  I want to write every day, but if life gets in the way and I miss a day, my response will not be that I might as well give up.  Instead, I'll start new each day with the goal of writing THAT day.

Here are a few pictures from my family's trip to the Outer Banks:

Sunset over the beach

Ocracoke Ferry!

Hungry seagulls flying in formation

My niece and great nephew on the ferry.  He's a happy guy. :)

The family on the Rodanthe Pier.  It was nice, though they charged us just to go out on it. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

My Writing Process: To Be a Better Writer, You Have to Write More

I know, I know--not exactly a quotable quote.  But it's true nonetheless.  There are lots of tips and tools out there to help us all become better writers.  I get magazines full of them every month and the web has a seemingly never-ending supply of sites aimed at making better writers.  But all those tips in the world really boil down to one overriding idea: if you want to be a better writer, write as much as you can.  Practice, practice, practice.  

Let me back up a little, though.  If all I do as a writer is just pile word upon word and page upon page, I will become a highly prolific bad writer.  So I guess it should say, "To Be a Better Writer, You Have to Write More Reflectively."  If I think about what I've written and ask others to think about it and report their findings, the next time I sit down to write, I'll be better and more efficient.  And the more often I go through that reflective process, the faster I'll become better.  

What prompts this, possibly nonsensical, entry is what's happening as I write my second novel.  The editing process I went through with my first book is most definitely informing the writing of my second book.  I have a strong feeling the first draft of my second book will look a lot more like the final draft than the first draft of my first book did.  The amount of time I spend on description, the way I write dialogue, the general economy of my prose is so much better now as I write the initial draft of Kisses and Lies  than it was when I was drafting Harsh Prey, in which the final version ended up nearly 11,000 shorter than the first.  I'm sure there's going to be a need for editing and revising, but I am also sure they won't be as drastic and that will become more and more true with every book--as long as I reflect on my writing every time I do it.  Practice without reflection is useless.  Reflection without practice is equally useless.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Harsh Prey Excerpt

I just thought that, since I feel like it's ready to hit the public, I would give anyone who may be reading my blog a short excerpt from my debut novel, Harsh Prey.  This is the chapter in which Harry and Dee Shalan, the dual protagonists, reunite after she had gone away to contemplate whether she could deal with the dangers of Harry's life as a private detective.

I hope you enjoy it.  If you have questions or comments, please feel free to leave me a comment.

This is from chapter 7:

After the cleaning and repairing went as far as it could, we got Eddie onto his leash—somewhat akin to leashing a big hairy Super Ball—and took him for a walk around our neighborhood.  The rain had ushered in a cold front, so, while the air was still damp from the storm, the temperature had become much more clement than usual for this time of year.  It also seemed to make everything instantly greener and lusher.  Ours was a generally well-tended neighborhood of historic homes.  Some, like the one where we lived, had not been as well maintained, but many were showplaces, with long front yards festooned with ornate landscaping. The flowers and shrubs were in their full glory after a second storm in two days, which had broken a brief dry spell.  Augmenting the visual beauty was the almost cloyingly perfumed air, thanks to Bea Taylor’s prize-winning rose garden. 
As we walked, Dee took my hand in hers, raised it to her lips and kissed it gently.  Something clicked deep in my soul.  She was home, so I was home too, for the first time in three months. 
“I thought you were dead,” she said.
I kind of let it hang for a bit, mostly because I had no idea how to respond.  Eventually, words—clumsy, useless words—came. “I’m not.”  Beautiful, Shalan.  And you used to be on the speech team. 
She ignored my moronic reply. “I wasn’t sure I could go on if you were gone.  I didn’t even stop to tell Mom and Dad where I was going.  I didn’t pack, I didn’t do anything except get Eddie and his leash and run for the car.  I had to know, I had to be in your presence.  I knew then that my need for you and my connection to you is more vital to my survival than anything else in the world.  And part of being in your life is accepting that you are, more than anyone I know, what you do.”
“A big chunk of what I am is you, Dee.  I am not me without you.”
“I know, but you are also not you without doing what you do.  It’s what attracted me to you in the first place, and it’s what draws me inexorably in now.  I can’t live without you and I can’t live with myself asking you not to be a detective, a hero.  It’s like asking Superman to turn in his cape.  You help the helpless, support the weak.  You do heroic things because you are, with every fiber of your being, a hero.”
“I just try to help,” I replied sheepishly.  I never knew how to respond when she talked like this.  I hated and loved hearing every word she said, not because I loved the thought of being a hero.  What meant so much to me was that the person who made my heart beat thought it about me. 
“It’s that beautiful, self-deprecating manner that I know is not put on, that makes you all the more irresistible.  I’m pretty sure I would simply cease to be if you died, but I’m equally sure that I cease to be, in any way that is meaningful or attractive to me, if I cease to be with you.”
“So what you’re saying is you love me.” I smiled and bumped my hip into hers as I waved at Ike and Corabeth Godsey, who were enjoying the cool air and brilliant sunshine from the shade of their broad front porch.  Ike smiled from his oak swing, which was suspended by chains from the porch ceiling, and raised a glass of lemonade as if to propose a toast to us.  In response, Eddie barked and leapt high into the air.  He pretty much loved everybody, but he especially loved Ike and Corabeth, not in small part because she gave him bites of her homemade bread every time we stopped by on walks. 
“My love for you was never in question, Mr. Studly.” She skipped over a chunk of broken sidewalk.   “The only question was whether the fear of losing you was too much to live with.  Now I know the fear is just part of the price I pay.” She squeezed my hand. “And it’s more than worth the price.”
We stopped.  Eddie stood with his front paws against the trunk of Ralph Parker’s hickory tree staring with utmost concentration at what I assumed to be a squirrel only he could see.  Squirrels were Eddie’s mortal enemies. 
I turned to face Dee and pulled her into my arms.  “I love you, Dee.  More than anyone has ever loved anyone before.”
Our lips met and the whole world went away.  No Eddie, no neighbors mowing lawns, no kids shouting and running—just her and me. At least until a car horn pierced our bubble of passion and simply would not stop. I guess we should’ve picked somewhere other than Old Man Parker’s driveway to declare our eternal love for each other.  We smiled and waved, unembarrassed, and re-commenced strolling down the walk.  As we reached the corner, Otis Campbell’s city-issued Crown Victoria pulled up beside us.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Morning Mr. and Mrs. Shalan

I heard an apocryphal story about Carl Sandburg, who was quite a fan of Abraham Lincoln.  He apparently made it a habit of strolling every morning along the shores of Lake Michigan.  Some friends of his, who knew of his fondness for the late president and also of his daily walk, decided to play a joke on him by hiring a Lincoln impersonator to walk along the lake in the opposite direction.  Sandburg, so caught up in his thoughts upon seeing the faux Lincoln, didn't even bat an eye, but simply greeted him with, "Morning Mr. President," as he passed by.

I have no idea if that story's true, but I can definitely relate.  While I wait again for editors and agents to get back to me about my first novel, I am working on my second one.  As I work I realize that I really like my main characters, Harry and Dee.  I feel like I know them, maybe better than any actual person and I wouldn't be surprised to run into them on the street.

That's one of the joys of writing fiction.  I get to create these characters that become real to me.  Despite the fact that I make them up, they still manage to surprise me.  I'll be writing along and look back at a piece of dialogue and think to myself, gee, I wonder why he/she said that?  Sometimes, rarely, I'll decide he or she said that because I did a bad job and wrote words that didn't fit.  Most of the time, though, it just takes a little thought about the character to figure out where those words came from.  What's cool is that there's so much more to the characters than what the reader will find on the pages, especially of the first book.  I know all about their childhoods, who their friends were, the major and minor traumas of their lives.  The things that make them who they are.  Without that, the characters wouldn't ring true.  I wouldn't be able to know how they would react in a given situation.

I really hope I can get these books published so readers can get to know and love Harry and Dee the way I do and, upon reading the first book, they'll want to know more about them enough to buy the second and the third and the fourth, until they know them as well as I do.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


As of about five minutes ago, my manuscript, some ten or eleven thousand words--roughly thirty pages--shorter than the original, is flying around cyberspace aiming for my editor's inbox.  I feel a sense of relief, mingled with exhaustion like I've been up all night, and just a tiny bit of dread.

The relief is that I have reason to hope that I'm ready to move on to the next step--shopping for an agent.  I thought I was there almost a year ago, but found out rather quickly that I wasn't.  Through the kind words of a rejection email and the seemingly endless help of Mrs. Sandy Tritt, I believe I really am there this time.

The exhaustion really is best compared to that feeling you get when you've been up all night enjoying yourself.  Not bar-hopping-drinking-yourself-into-a-stupor fun.  I can honestly say I've never done that.  But just hanging around with friends, watching TV, listening to music, and talking until the sun comes up fun.  I have that feeling that I'm so tired I may actually just sink right into the mattress if I lie down, yet I'm exhilarated at the same time.  And I got plenty of sleep last night.  Editing is an intense process.  I took this manuscript, which really does feel like an old friend by now, and took not a scalpel but a cleaver to it.  It's like I gave it a verbal bypass it's lost so much weight.  And every word, phrase and paragraph was difficult to let go of.  I normally could only do it an hour or so at a time, but yesterday I decided to really push through.  I worked for four hours yesterday and four and a half today.  I proved to myself the quote I heard recently.  It was from an author who said that writing five hours a day is as hard as ten hours a day of a regular job.  I'm spent, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

The dread is that I think I'm ready to move on to the next step--shopping for an agent.  I know I said that was my hope, but it's also my fear.  Now I feel like this book is as good as I can make it.  What if no agent still wants it?  What if my best is just not good enough?  I guess I'll see how I react if that proves true.  I hope I never have to find out.  At the very least, I can always e-publish it on my own.  But I really don't want to do that.  I want to actually get this puppy published and be able to hold a copy in my hand, autograph it, go on a book tour, do a reading in a bookstore, have fans, receive a royalty check--the whole real published author experience.

Think I'll go take a nap.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I Thrive On Discipline And Routine

It's almost 8:30AM on a warm but overcast summer morning.  I've been up for just a little less than two hours.  I've had a big breakfast (healthy but big), done my devotions and daily Bible reading, checked my email, read the news online, and looked at my daily dose of drama on Facebook.  I'm also on my fourth cup of coffee--yes, I'm addicted and I'm okay with that.  I like my coffee three ways: hot, black, and in copious quantities.  As soon as I finish this blog entry, it's back to editing my book.  I'm excited to say that I am 66 pages from completing what I hope are my final edits, so the plan is to be finished by the end of the week.  Why am I making such progress?  Mainly because of what I just wrote about in this paragraph: discipline and routine.

I'm a teacher and most teachers who don't teach summer school or have some other summer job will tell you that they love getting to stay up late and sleep in all summer, but they bawl and squawl for the first month of school every fall since they struggle to get back into the routine of early to bed, early to rise.  They will also often tell you about all of their ambitious plans that never came to fruition because the summer just seemed to slip away without their notice.  I know this because I spent a lot of summers and early falls saying those exact things.  But this summer, at least so far, that hasn't been true for me.  And it's not by accident.  I've intentionally done some things to assure that I'm productive all summer and am not suffering from lack of sleep this fall.

First, and probably most important, I still set my alarm all week.  Yes, I sleep in a little on weekends, just like the rest of the year and I did make the small concession of getting up a half hour later during the week, but I don't let myself turn the alarm off and go back to sleep.  This means I know I need to get to bed at a decent hour so I can be bright and clear the next day.

Second, I set goals and keep a to-do list, with the idea in mind of achieving, or working toward achieving, at least one of the things on my list every weekday.  My big goals for the summer are getting my book published (or at least signing with an agent), read at least 8 books, and revamp my lesson plans for next year.  Along with that are various chores that need done around my house, like finally weeding that awful flower bed on the front of my lot and fixing up the deck and storage shed.  And finally, I plan for health by figuring out what sort of exercise I'll do and what I'll eat.  So every day in the morning, I look at my list and make a plan.  Today, the biggies are editing, weeding, and lifting weights.

Yes, it's summer, so my routine is not as regimented as it is during the school year.  I watch more movies.  I visit family more.  I go and stare down the river at Fort Boreman park.  I sleep in on weekends and don't often don't have a plan on Saturday.  I even get to go on a vacation!   But the routine is still there, even if it's altered.

Boring?  Maybe, but I don't think so.  Helpful?  Most assuredly. I'm tearing through my book at quite a clip, the house is less cluttered than it's been in months, and I'm on at least my third book.  Edifying?  Definitely!  I may enjoy sloth for a short while at first; however, I always regret it eventually.  I've known that a long time, but it's taken me awhile to do something about it.

So, since I'm being so industrious, look for my book on Amazon soon!