Learning my craft

writingThere was a time when I was sure my stories were just an outlet for me. And to a large extent, they still are. But, now being on this side of a contract, writing takes on a whole new dimension. I can say that I wrote my book, which is soon to be published, without knowing all of these “writing rules” that are impressed upon authors these days. But I think the editing process would have been far less painful had I been aware of these “rules”. What rules am I referring to? Limiting adverbs, being careful to stay in one character’s head per scene (a simple rule, but it’s easy to break when you’re just not aware of it), showing not telling, among other things that I am still learning.

So, I am going through a crash course. And it is good, but it is hard sometimes. Especially when I’m having to hack up my work which I am so attached to. It would have been so much easier to have done these things on the front end.

Where am I getting my crash course, you wonder…well, there are a few sources. And I’m all too happy to share. Working with my publisher has been one, of course. They sent me an author packet that contained a lot of helpful information on what they were looking for in pre-edits. This was an education for me.

Even before that, though, I was already learning through a writer’s group I had joined locally. The Clarksville deep povChristian Writer’s Group has only met a few times, but I have already gleaned much from the wisdom of our fearless leader. She pointed me in the direction of a couple of books which have gone a long way toward educating me on how I write my character’s emotional reactions and perceptions. It’s helped me move more toward “showing and not telling” in my writing on the front end.

Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View and The Emotion Thesaurus are the books I am referring to. If you are writing already and have not visited these tools, or are interested in writing, I strongly recommend these books.

emotion thesaurusMy querying was greatly helped by a literary agent who calls herself “Query Shark“. Be forewarned, she’s harsh, but she’s right.

I talk a lot about my Beta Readers, but they were valuable to me in this process. Feedback, feedback, and more feedback. It can only make your work stronger.

Lastly, I must say that a good strong dose of determination is a must. You are the only one that can move your work forward. So, you have to be determined to do it. To just sit down and make it happen sometimes. I don’t always feel like writing…and that’s when I’m tempted to put it off. But I have learned that if I’ll just start writing something, then soon enough, the juices will be flowing. I just have to make myself do it.

 

Oh where, oh where has my novel gone?

IMG_7676Got new headshots for the book!

I’m still deep in the editing process, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Too bad, I have three other novels to apply the same process to (although not on a deadline). All in all, I think it will have made me a better writer, but I do not relish the experience at all. I still say that adverbs are important. (Though I understand they need not make up the bulk of your novel.) I have come to understand that I overuse the word “that”….oops. And my characters “smiled” at each other “politely” quite a bit. (They are, after all, members of polite society.)

At any rate, I have rediscovered this novel anew. I don’t think I have read through The Lady Bornekova from top to bottom in months. But there were moments I found myself completely caught up with the characters and what was happening to them. I was tense when things were tense, I was moved by the things that made them sad, I was elated when they felt joy. And I can’t believe this story came from me. But then again….it didn’t just come from me. I have to once again shout out to my beta readers and my proofreader/copyeditor, without whom this novel would not be what it is today.

And so, after a week solid of using every free moment to edit, I have been given the wise advice to put the editing to the side and let my creative juices flow on my WIP (Work In Progress). I am so excited to get back to work on The Trail of Fears novel. I don’t know if any of my fellow authors feel this way, but I imagine that my characters are sitting, frozen in action, waiting for me to write their next line of dialogue or action when I have to break from a scene. So, there Thomas (my lead character) sits, mouth open, ready to disperse some words to his fellow characters, hand in the air as it was the last time I was with that scene. Now you think I’m crazy. I may very well be.

So, if you need me between now and my next blog post, you’ll find me (when I’m not cleaning house, grocery shopping, or chasing one of my kiddos) still with my computer, but with a smile on my face instead of a grimace, hard at work creating my art.

If at first you don’t succeed…edit, edit again!

Back to blogging about writing…

Hand with scissors cutting bookI am knee deep into editing (for like the millionth time) The Lady Bornekova. But this edit is waaaay different than any I’ve gone through so far. My first edits were done based on my own ability (and my computer/word processor’s ability) to catch grammatical errors as well as content errors. Then, as you already know if you’ve been keeping up with this blog, my beta readers (woot, woot!) got involved. They gave me more grammatical feedback as well as logistical and content questions that I was too close to the work to see. A box of tissues later, I thought I had some quite polished work. Next up…my sweet friend who is a proofreader/copy-editor who went through the work and found even more. What!?! But I was thankful. Now, surely my work is ready for querying.

And, as you’ve been reading, you know that I got it back with a request to resubmit after I made some minor edits to chapter one. Scrambling for one of my beta readers, a trusted friend (who had “fresh eyes” on the work), and my proofreader/copy-editor friend….they put their stamp of approval on the changes I made and helped with some edits too.

How many rounds of editing are we up to by now?

Well, then I joined a Writer’s Group and was directed to some great writing resources, namely The Emotion Thesaurus and Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View (both excellent books). But, as I read, I learned that my writing needed some serious polishing. So, I need more edits done to all 5 books….don’t panic, Sara, one book at a time, one chapter at a time.

Then The Lady Bornekova gets accepted for publication. Whew! That one’s off my plate…now an editor will take over. I should be so lucky. Next my publisher asks me to go back through, with some suggestions, for what she calls “Pre-editing”. And my goodness, these suggestions require some serious editing. Taking out words (some of these words are not such an issue, some, such as “that” are a little more difficult). And what the heck is wrong with the word “smiled” anyway? I think it’s a perfectly fine word. 🙂 Yes, yes, I know…it’s over-used and leads to telling not showing…

Some of the editing is meticulous…”make sure every sentence in every paragraph starts with a different word”. Wow! That’s going to take more than a few minutes. I’m a pretty fast reader and, so far, I’m averaging a chapter every hour and half as I comb through with this list of pre-editing suggestions.

But, it’s a good problem to have, I know. I’m really not trying to complain. I’m trying to express to anyone who is new to the writing process (as I am) that editing is a part of life. And it’s not necessarily a fun part of a writer’s life. It’s painful at times, it’s grueling…it’s time-consuming. As you probably know already, I have limited time to work on my art in the midst of my daily life with kids and home and responsibilities. I’d rather spend that time writing on my work in progress, not checking for overuse of pronouns. But, I know that if I can do these sorts of edits, it allows my publishers editor to go really deep…oops…to go reallydeeper. (“Really” is one of those words I’m supposed to eliminate.) My participation in this part of the process will also make me a better writer. You better believe I’m going to make these adjustments on the front end rather than wait to go back through the novel for the upteenth time.

So, with that, I’ll say “happy writing!”

Why me?….Well, why not me?

why meI read an article once that convicted me. It proposed that as Christians we should not seek to ask “Why me?” when hard things happen, but rather “Why not me?”

What?

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

James 1:2-3

God’s Word tells us in James that we will encounter trials. Notice here…it does not say “if you encounter various trials”, but it says “when you encounter various trials”. You know as well as I do, that it’s going to happen. If you’ve spent any time on this spinning ball we call earth, you know that our planet is on a trajectory of decay. The beaches are eroding from the ocean, the mountains are eroding too. Leave anything to the elements, it will decay. The natural world itself is suffering at the mercy of man’s hand (and, in some ways, man is restoring our world). Our bodies, as they age, move ever steadily toward death. Pleasant thought, huh? Even in our youth or the prime of our life, our bodies are marred by injuries and surgeries and ailments that we will carry throughout the rest of our lives. Decay. Our society is no doubt in a moral decay. Moral relativism, apathy, and a general self-centeredness has taken hold of our society. Lawlessness is rampant and the lackadaisical attitude toward it is appalling. Decay.

So, if we can agree that everything around us is in a gradual state of decay, can we see that our lives will be touched by a world encountering it’s own trials? How can we not be affected by this world that we live in? A world that has fallen from grace. I will be affected by the trials surrounding my baby boy’s body succumbing to a dangerous viral infection. My husband and I will have to navigate the stresses and pressures that our society places on our marriage (a union that is already riddled with challenges being that it is two sinful people attempting to live in community). And we may fall victim, if even briefly, to an enemy who seeks to injure us in the midst of all these struggles.

So, in the midst of my struggles when my son was in the hospital…when I encountered challenge after challenge and felt as if I was being “sifted as wheat”…I certainly called out “Why me!?!?”

And God gently whispered back to me “Why not you?”

And I knew…I am not immune, not immune to the decay of this world and not immune to the “various trials”. But I can turn around and take some joy, as this verse says, because these trials, though difficult to face, will produce great things in me.

Getting Back Up

Again I find myself using this blog page to write about something other than my writing…but I feel compelled to share some thoughts today, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Today, while Aiden was spending his last day in the hospital, I was spending time with my other two children at Downtown Disney. Audrey and I were at the water feature and something happened that struck me. There was a small girl there, probably not much older than Aiden…no more than 18 months. She was toddling between the splash pad and her parents, enjoying the water feature and sharing the experience with her parents. On one of her trips back to the splash pad for some more fun, a couple who were not paying attention tripped over her causing her to fall down and skin her little knees. The couple was very apologetic and certainly hadn’t intended to hurt the small child, but they weren’t paying attention to what was in front of them as they walked. The little girl, for her part, cried, got to her feet, ran to mom and dad, but eventually decided to go back to playing in the splash pad.

splashpadWhy are you sharing this very common place story? I’m sure you are asking that question. Well, it made me think. About a couple of different things….

I thought about the couple. Why couldn’t they see this toddler? She was walking so slowly. It wasn’t as if she ran right out in front of them. From my vantage point, it was apparent that the couple were focused on where they were going. So much so that they completely blocked their vision for what may lay in their path. They were completely oblivious that something could be obstructing their steps. In this case, they were the injurer, but what if it had been an abnormality in the concrete and they were the ones that fell? All because they couldn’t be bothered to watch where they were going because of their infatuation with what lay in the distance for them. I wonder if we ever do that. Do we ever get so caught up in what we are dreaming about for our future or even what is promised in the future that we miss opportunities right in front of us? Or worse yet, miss obstacles until it’s too late and we have stumbled on them? Do we as parents get so focused on the next developmental milestone or the next stage of life that we miss the day-to-days?

And then I thought about this little girl. She did not have the capacity to gauge her speed and the couple’s speed plus trajectory to figure out that a collision was inevitable. No, she, too had eyes only for her destination. At the last moment, she did see the couple, but because her experience on her feet and ability to balance was so new, she was unable to do anything but watch the impact occur. Did she know it would knock her off of her feet? Probably not. She was only 18 months. But she knew it was not going to be good. Tangled in the legs of a stranger and knees stinging, she reacted the way any of us would – with tears. Then she picked herself up and ran to her parents. It occurred to me that this speaks to their parenting. Some children would have just lay there until mom or dad came to them. But this little girl picked herself up and went to them (actually, met them halfway…they were on their feet, headed toward her as any concerned parent would be). And I thought about the times that life has knocked me down. First, do I allow myself to react in a “normal” way? With “normal”, human emotions, such as sadness? Or does the perfectionist in me prohibit such reactions? And cause me to deride myself for feeling them? Secondly, do I pick myself up? Or wait for someone to come help me get to my feet? We all have that choice. And it speaks volumes about who we are and who we really are in Christ, in my opinion. Do we get to our feet on the strength God gives us? Or wait for friends and family to carry us through these rough times? (NOTE: There is a difference between our friends and family helping us and carrying us.)

As most of you know, Aiden was just released from a stint in the hospital. It was a trying time for all of us. And a learning opportunity for me. I began to see how much I rely on others to carry me in an unhealthy way. (Please don’t read this and think I’m saying we should never carry each other…that’s not at all what I’m saying. That is why we live in relationship…to share one another’s burdens and carry and encourage each other. But it cannot be how you function in life, relying on others for your emotional well-being.) I was in a place where there was no one but God. And I had no choice but to pick myself up with only the strength He extended to me.

Back to my story about this little girl. After she picked herself up, she did run to her parents for assistance. And this is where I think our friends and family come in. They help us process and heal in the midst of trouble. They aide and encourage. They come alongside and lift us up. We had some precious friends who sacrificed time and sleep to be with us and help us through this tough time with Aiden. We had many more praying and standing by, offering their help should we need it. I am so thankful for each and every one of them.

Most importantly, though, is that the little girl went back to the splash pad. She took the time she needed to have her injury cared for, but she did not let fear keep her from enjoying life. I think all too often we are guilty of this…letting fear rob us of our joy, of our enjoyment of life. Fear is a nasty thing that can plague and even cripple us…especially parents. Fear of something happening to our children, fear of doing something wrong in our parenting, fear of “damaging” them…the “mommy” guilt. I can tell you that I am thankful that God’s Word talks so deeply about “do not fear” and “do not be anxious”…and then goes on to give us good reasons why we shouldn’t. It has certainly helped me balance out this guilt beast and fear monster so that I can turn around and find joy again in life.

When Time Stands Still

I know I have dedicated this blog to my writing and, more specifically my book that is under contract for publication, The Lady Bornekova. But something fairly big has happened in my family’s life in this past week that I’d like to share.

20150311_045959My sweet 15 month old son, Aiden began to have some breathing issues earlier this week. At first, he was just congested with a very slight fever and a little grumpy…no big deal, he has teeth coming in. Then he stopped wanting to eat. Again, not so out-of-the ordinary for a young child who is, in fact, not feeling well. But then one evening at dinner, he was having marked difficulty breathing. We put him to bed, hoping it was just his congestion. But when he woke up an hour later, it was apparent there was something really wrong. His breathing was shallow and rapid. His heart rate was really fast.

So, we took him to the ER. They put him on oxygen immediately because of his oxygen saturation levels and breathing rate. Then they gave him albuteral (a medication for asthma) and steriods. No change. Oh no. We’re dealing with something a little bigger here. So a couple of days, a few tests, and several doctors later, we are in the critical care unit and he is hook up to continuous oxygen flow at a pretty high rate. And the cause? The Rhino Virus. Some of you may know what that is. For those of you that don’t…that’s the common cold. The virus has gotten into his lungs and had one heck of a party. It set up camp and turned into viral bronchiolitis (do not read bronchitis there…different story). That party has left his lungs pretty debilitated and unable to process oxygen the way they should. We will be here in the hospital until he can safely come off of the oxygen. When will that be? Could be another 24 hours, could be three weeks…it all depends on how his little body fares against this opposing viral infection. Once his body is able to fight it off, they can decrease the oxygen safely and we can go home. Well, let’s hurry it along, doc…give him something. Nope. No such luck. There is nothing they can give him that will make the slightest bit of difference. We are here to keep him safe (on oxygen) and alive while his body does it’s work. So, we are in a holding pattern. It is as if time is standing still.

And where does that leave me? The same place it leaves all the doctors in the world on this problem…helpless except to keep him safe and comfortable. Nothing in medicine can cure this. It is in God’s hands. I have spent the last couple of days struggling to trust in the face of this. Until last night, I was about 48+ hours with no more than 10 minute snippets of sleep here and there. My husband was out-of-town when all of this happened. And I was emotionally drained before it even began. So, I was angry at God almost from the get-go because this didn’t seem like a fair plan. Why all these circumstances to come down on me at once? Oh, did I mention we are also on vacation? So, we’re not even at home! What did I ever do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Then why is God punishing me? He’s not. He’s absolutely not. He is teaching me. Teaching me about trust, about faith, about standing on my own two feet with His strength alone to support my well-being. He is showing me that I can do this without my husband. But He is also showing me that I am never alone. He is with me, but He has also brought me people who love and support me through this any way they can.

It’s been scary. I’ve cried. I’ve cried at God. I’ve cried with God. But I know beyond knowing that He works ALL things together for the good of those who love Him… (Romans 8:28). Yesterday I was barely able to put two sentences of prayer together I was so emotionally drained, angry, tired…you name it. Today, I have such sweet peace in Him.

I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak His praises. I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt His name together. I prayed tot he Lord, and He answered me. He freed me from all my fears. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; He saved me from all my troubles. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him! Fear the Lord, you His godly people, for those who fear Him will have all they need. Psalm 34:1-4, 6, 8-9 (NLT)

Pockets of time

I am a mother of three beautiful, but young and very lively children. They are now 5 (nearly 6), just turned 4, and 1. My 5 year old has ADHD and my 4 year old has Asperger’s. Between managing the daily challenges of these conditions and the never-ending therapy schedule for my now 4 year old, plus a baby, I sometimes felt as if I didn’t have time to breathe! Piled on top of that are the normal day-to-days of a mom and wife – housework, meal planning, grocery shopping, laundry you know…the list is unending! So when did I find time to write? I honestly do not know.

timeIt is true that I wrote a lot on my first book before I had children. But I have managed to complete three more novels in the time since my first one was born. Finding time to write has not always been easy. I write during nap times (which don’t always overlap and don’t always happen) and at night as a staple. I also found myself getting much accomplished on vacation. My wonderfully supportive husband (who himself has published 3 software books) helps me find time and make time for writing because he knows I am so driven and passionate about it. You must look for those pockets of time. Trust me…though they may be few and far between…they are there.

I should also note that I have been at it for several years now. Over the years, those “pockets of time” that I was diligent to look for added up. So, don’t be discouraged if all you have is a half hour or an hour every other day or a couple of times a week even. Take your art one scene at a time, one idea at a time, one brush stroke at a time…and just make music happen.

Beta Readers

beta readerI had the wonderful opportunity to spend time with one of my beta readers yesterday. She lives in another state so the opportunities to speak face to face are few and far between. She has finished my third novel (the Civil War one) and has given me wonderful feedback. I highly recommend the use of beta readers. I didn’t know that this is what I was asking her to do when I handed over my first book to her. I thought I was asking a trusted friend for an opinion. But her specific skill set, in the end, also made her an ideal beta reader.

Some of you, no doubt, are asking…what is a beta reader? A beta reader (also called an alpha reader or pre-reader) is a non-professional reader who reads your work to help with improvements such as grammar and spelling or ways to improve the story, characters, and setting. They can find plot holes, problems with continuity, believability, and even fact-checking.

I will tell you something about this particular friend-become-beta-reader…after I turned over my first story to her and she finished it, she said, “Let’s meet for dinner and discuss your book”. I was excited! But it did not turn out at all like I thought. She had corrected grammatical errors and pointed out places where the story had believability problems (among other feedback). My poor writers heart was a little bruised. But my story was SO much better for it. She did give me great positive feedback about the story, but of course all I heard was the hard stuff. I decided that day that I could either refuse to listen to anyone or I could take the helpful input and pour that into my work and make my art all the better for it. That’s what I chose to do. And I have taken every book back to her and valued her opinions more and more.

 

 

Inspiration

inspirationSo…where does inspiration for a novel come from? As some of you probably know, it can come from anywhere. For my novels, it has come from a variety of places.

Novel #1 “The General’s Wife” (the Egypt one) – inspired by my interest in the Ptolemaic Period

Novel #2 “The Lady Bornekova” (the Czech one) – inspired by a trip to Hradec Kralove in the Czech Republic (which I talked about in The Journey)

Novel #3 “Off to War” (the Civil War one) – inspired by my daydreams during middle school history class

Novel #4  not named (the last gold rush in Colorado one) – inspired by research…I wanted to write a story and put it in this time period and in a small town in Colorado; I researched for a small mining town in Colorado and this whole interesting story opened up to me…

Novel #5 “Trail of Fears” (the Trail of Tears one) – inspired by driving on a segment of road that is part of the original Trail of Tears, this led me to be curious about the Trail of Tears beyond the basic facts I remembered from that history class (that I was daydreaming novel #3 in). The more I read, the more I thought there’s a story here…

I know writers who are inspired by walking through an antique store or listening to music or any number of things. So, if you’re out there with the writing bug, but don’t know what to write about, try some of these things…listen to some instrumental music, walk through an antique market, visit a historical place (especially if you are interested in historical fiction)…I don’t really want to encourage you to daydream during history class…but take inspiration from life, from nature, from your own story. Just be inspired!

 

What’s this about other novels?

Well, I just got done putting my signature on the contract and e-mailing it back to the publisher! I’ve blogged a bit about this journey, but I wonder how many of you are aware of who I really am. So I thought I would introduce myself.

Hi! I’m Sara. And, as you know from this blog, I’m a closet writer. I graduated with a Biology degree and, though I spent time in the field of Sleep Medicine, I found my true career calling teaching “children of all ages” about wildlife and wild places at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on the Education Team. Truly, there is a whole tour program at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that, if you haven’t checked out before, you really should investigate. There are tours/classes for adults and children.

But what does this have to do with my writing? Well, nothing really. I’ve always scribbled and doodled little fan fiction about characters on TV shows and books that I liked. When I was in middle school, I dreamed up the idea for what would become the third novel I completed. But, when I was in college, I began to write a little more seriously. And, after I got married, my husband became a strong encouragement in my life to turn what was a collection of scenes into an actual novel.

egyptMy first book that I wrote is set in Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period. This is an interesting period to me because Egypt was ruled by Greek Pharoahs and there was a great influx of Grecian influences into Egypt.

My second book, is the one that is being picked up for publication, “The Lady Bornekova”.

My third book is set during the civil war and, as I said, was inspired by my daydreamings during middle school history class.

My forth completed book is set during the last gold rush in Colorado which caused a sleepy little town to boom and turn upside down.

the_trail_of_tearsMy fifth novel (you heard me right) is in the works. It is set during the Trail of Tears.

As you can see…I have caught the writing bug! I absolutely love the time I can spend writing and I enjoy the creative outlet. Perhaps all of these books will be published (that is my hope), perhaps none of them will. Who knows what the future holds? But I am excited to be on this journey with “The Lady Bornekova” and excited that you have decided to come along for the ride!