Friday, June 26, 2015

Stuff I Learned While Editing My Third Book

I'm getting set to head to Tamarack in the morning, so, though you can't tell it, I'm writing this on Friday. One of the joys of summer is time to get writing work done. This week, I've made some changes to both Harsh Prey and Kisses and Lies. No changes to the storylines or anything. For Harsh Prey, I updated the cover and back cover as well as fixing an alarming number of errors, proofreading and otherwise. It now has crazy stuff, like headers and page numbers and all the words are (I hope) spelled correctly. Kisses and Lies had but one typo that I could find and the cover was already amazing, so that didn't change, though I did change the back cover to include the blurb and a short bio. Both books now take up a lot less room, too. I changed both to single spaced, which did a couple things. First, it made the footprint of each book a lot smaller, which is pretty environmentally friendly. Second, it saved pretty heavily on print costs and I'll be able to pass the savings along to buyers.

But while I wasn't working on that stuff, I finally started this week with editing and revising Shalan #3, In the Shadow (Available around beginning of October). This process has taught me a few things. Here they are, in no particular order:

business, working, office, desk, laptop, macbook, computer, technology, writing, notebook, penI like editing on paper instead of the computer. I've never done that since the olden days when I had no choice but to write and edit on paper. Since I got a word processor program for my sexy new Commodore 64, which came complete with a dot matrix printer and no hard drive, I've done all my editing right on the computer screen. This time, however, I accidentally started doing it on paper. I say accidentally because I never would have done it if I hadn't printed out a copy so my medical consultant, the real Dr. Mathur (that will make sense when you read the book) could make corrections when I butchered the medical scenes. I went through her comments and made corrections and then, before I knew it, I was editing the whole thing on paper. I found myself moving around in the text checking continuity and tweaking the storyline in ways that would be downright difficult to do on the computer. So I think it's paper editing for me from now on.

I've come a long way as a writer. Since I did an edit of HP immediately before ITS, I realize that, while I think the first book was good, I feel like the newest book is exponentially more engaging. Part of that is because I've had three books now to flesh out Harry, Dee, and Otis, making them more three-dimensional as time has gone by, but I think it's also about just honing my voice as a writer. I hope you'll agree.

I tend to be my worst critic. That's not really news, especially to my Pepper Potts, aka Maria Delgado. She and I were texting about the new book and I said something positive about it and, even through text, I could tell she was pleasantly shocked that it wasn't another critical statement about myself.

Speaking of Pepper and Dr. Mathur, this book, more than any other, reminds me that I can't do this alone. Poonam came all the way from Hershey, Pennsylvania to work with me on the medical scenes in this story. Without her, those scenes simply wouldn't have rung true. Maria reads every version of every book and, though she doesn't do a lot of editorial work, she is my own personal cheerleader. Her support is unwavering and it means the world to me.
dog, pet, animal, sad
I can make myself cry. When I wrote the first draft of this book, it was a dark time for me. The story goes into some really tragic and scary places within human nature, But I never cried. This time, though, as I reread after having put the story away for a couple months, one scene in particular brought a tear to my eye. Harry and Dee are just as real to me as if they were flesh and bone real and when a heartbreaking thing happens to them, it breaks my heart too. Yes, I made them up and I could have written them any way I wanted. But most writers will tell you that, no, I really couldn't have. It really doesn't work that way.

And finally, I discovered--okay, I really just confirmed something I already suspected--that I would love to do this stuff full time. It's summer. I could be outside. I could be traveling. I could be making money teaching summer school. What am I doing? I'm going to bed early and getting up every day and either writing, editing, or marketing. And I'm happy as a clam. I really, really hope I don't have to wait another 8 or 9 years to get to do this all the time. But I guess that's up to the book buying public.
So there they are. Six things I learned this week. That's a lot of stuff considering I only started Monday. So what did you learn this week?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy Birthday West Virginia!

On this date (sort of--look it up) 152 years ago, West Virginia seceded from Virginia back into the United States, thus becoming its own state. Sadly, many people don't seem to realize that little tidbit of history. If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked if I live near Richmond, I would have a lot of nickels. Definitely enough to buy an atlas to prove to these people who ironically love to joke about how dumb and backwards West Virginians that we are, indeed a state of our very own. We aren't the western part of Virginia. We are our own state and we are, justifiably proud. So today, I want to make some observations. These aren't those interesting facts you'll often find on Facebook or anything. They're just my own ruminations.

We're one state, but we have multiple personalities. We are proud of our singularity and unity, but each region of West Virginia is somewhat unique. In many ways that is because we are part of multiple regions of the country. My part of West Virginia is in the Mid-Ohio Valley, right across the river from Ohio and is, as such, part of the Midwest. The northern panhandle and just below the Mason-Dixon Line (look it up) tends to gravitate north toward Pennsylvania, specifically Pittsburgh. The southwestern part of the state, including Huntington and Charleston is part of the southeast and tends to identify with Kentucky. The southeastern part of the state is so much a part of the Virginia part of the south that there are actually tracts of land that are still to this day the matter of a conflict between the two states as to which state they are actually in. The eastern panhandle is firmly in the Mid Atlantic, identifying with northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland.  It kind of proves the old saw that we are the most northern of the southern states, the most southern of the northern states, most eastern of the western states and most western of the eastern states. Notice I didn't mention central West Virginia. That's because that's the part of the state that is most truly its own state. That's where all the high mountains and misty hollows--or, as we say here, hollers--are that everyone who isn't from West Virginia thinks of when they think of our state. Kind of like how people tend to think of Manhattan when they think of New York City. Only way different. 

Kind of related to that, despite the popular misconception, there is no one "West Virginia Accent." People who meet me and find out where I'm from invariably express surprise that I have no discernible accent. Though it's not 100% true, where in the state you're from will predict your accent. I have to admit, though, that I went to school with kids who, even though they were only from the far southern end of Wood County, had more of an accent than I do. But go south and you'll definitely hear that southern drawl, though it's not quite the same as you'll hear in, say Georgia or Mississippi. It has a taste all its own. Kind of like the difference between clover honey and orange blossom honey. They're both sweet, but still unique unto themselves. 

Despite all our regional flavors, when we leave the state, we're all one group. Last week I was in Louisville for the AP reading and started talking to someone from Princeton. Our Princeton, not the snooty one up north. If you know anything about geography, you know that Princeton and Parkersburg are about as far apart as they can be and still be in the same state. But we were each still excited to find a fellow mountaineer. At home, we may be heated regional sports rivals, but meet up somewhere else and it's, Hey--West Virginia!"

We are, in many ways, our own worst enemy. I'm talking about living down to the worst stereotypes people espouse about us. I'm talking about the drunken couch burning boneheads who too readily prove what many outside our beautiful state believe about us. But I'm also talking about the fact that, while tourism has the potential to be the lifeblood of our state, many, especially in the interior mountains, are beyond reticent to welcome visitors.Don't get me wrong--we are justifiably seen as a friendly people, but many would rather live in squalor than allow laws that make it easier to grow tourism in their region. 

Finally, and this is a fact, West Virginia is the best place in the world to be from and to live. I have so many students who say they can't wait to get out of here and never come back that it makes me sad. But many of them end up coming back--or never leaving. To me, where I live is the best of both worlds. We have that small town feel where everybody waves and is quick to help out a neighbor, but we're also never more than a two-hour drive from all the hustle and bustle we could ever wish for. I often joke that when I retire, it'll be to somewhere with an ocean view. But that's only partially true. I may go south for part of the year, but I'll never fully leave West Virginia--and it will never leave me.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Guest Blog on Organized Lunacy

I am out of town at the AP Reading and, while I have access to Internet (as you can probably tell by the fact that I posted this), I find that reading 250-300 essays a day does not exactly make creative writing too easy. I'm happy I remembered my room number.

So, I'm linking to my guest blog spot on my friend Luna Darcy's blog. Just click the caption below the picture.

Organized Lunacy 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Some Gifts Stay With You

People who have read my books often ask if they are in any way based on me and my life. My answer is pretty much always the same. Harry is an idealized version of myself. We share a view on life and a family background. Harry grew up being taught by a loving family the difference between right and wrong and the importance of doing the right thing and caring for the less fortunate. He also learned the vitality of his Christian faith That's just like me.

I often joke with my students that I struggle to fully understand just how hard their family lives are because I was raised in a Norman Rockwell painting, but it's not really a joke. Yes, there were hard times. I clearly remember sitting crying on my back porch because Dad wouldn't get me some thing that I felt like I had to have. I don't even remember what it was, but I'm sure it wasn't worth getting upset about. Mom came out to comfort me and I remember asking her why Dad was so stingy. She didn't try to explain, probably because she figured I, in my childish fit of pique, wouldn't listen. Only when I got older did I realize that we didn't have all the money in the world. As was common back then, only Dad worked. It was a pretty good job, but there were four kids (I was the fourth of three, but that's another story). We raised a garden and ate wild game because it was part of our family tradition but also because it supplemented our food budget.

The reason I didn't know when I was little that money was tight was because the main thing I felt as a child was loved. We never lacked for food or clothes or hugs or support. We always had what we needed and, once in a while, we got something we didn't need just to keep life interesting. An example of that was the year I was visited by the Great Pumpkin.

It was a crisp fall morning and I had jumped eagerly out of bed to face excitedly my day at school. Okay, that's just a lie. I got up with great struggle after begging Mom repeatedly for that great treasure all children seek on a school day: five more minutes. But if I had known what awaited me, I would've gotten up sooner so I would have had more time to enjoy it before dashing off to school.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, Mom was looking out the back door at something in the yard. I assumed it was a critter of some sort, but she called me to look. What I gazed on was to become the talk of the neighborhood kids, most of whom were my cousins--but that's another story too. It was one of those objects that defied comprehension at first. It didn't seem real, like my eyes were playing tricks on me. My mind over the years has made it larger than I'm sure it was in reality. It was, without question, though, the largest pumpkin I had ever seen up to that time--by a lot. Why was it there? Who had brought it? Were they coming back for it?

There appeared to be a piece of paper attached to it, but it was too far out into the back yard to read, so I scrambled to find shoes (finding shoes was always a battle--another story) and raced out into the early morning dew to see if the note shed light on the mystery. It did, but it didn't. It simply said, "To Joe from the Great Pumpkin."

I can't remember how old I was, but I was at the age of Hero Boy from The Polar Express where I was starting to question those magical figures in my life, like Santa and the Easter Bunny. But for a little while longer, that magic still existed for me, thanks to a visit from the Great Pumpkin. We carved it that evening and had, by a factor of about eleventy billion, the biggest jack-o-lantern in the entire neighborhood. It was, to  invoke A Christmas Story, my leg lamp, minus the soft glow of electric sex. I was the talk of Tavennerville Elementary School. I was the kid who'd been visited by the Great Pumpkin, the recipient of a legendary jack-o-lantern.

I never asked who actually got it for me. I don't know if it was my parents. I always suspected it might have been my oldest brother Dave for some reason. Sometimes I wish it was really the Great Pumpkin, but I'd rather think it was my family once again doing something to remind me I was loved and worth taking the time and effort to make me feel special.

What about you? Do you have a childhood memory that somehow sums up your early life? I hope your memories are as warm as mine.