Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Some Days It Doesn't Pay To Get Out Of Bed

Seriously. It just doesn't. I mean, I could have pulled the covers over my head and skipped today if I didn't have four kids who needed me. I would have accomplished almost as much.

Allergy season is back and I'm half near dying. BTW, it's super hard to exercise when you can't breath through your nose! Any suggestions for alleviating allergies will be greatly appreciated. Especially homeopathic ones. I've already tried all the over-the-counter, under-the-counter, and in-between-the-counter meds with no success.

Long story short, I'm suffering. However, for the sake of all those waiting with baited breath for my next informative (ha!)post, I'd like to mention the one thing all writers love to hate - THE SYNOPSIS.

Yes, it's true that I blogged on this topic before, but now, with the ACFW conference just a month away, seems a perfect time to review the main points of writing a winning synopsis.

Before you begin, get out some blank paper and write a character sketch of each of your protagonists. This should include motivation, goal, and conflict. What makes him or her tick? What is his goal? What is keeping him from achieving it? What path must he take to get what he's looking for? What draws him to the heroine? What makes him want to stay away? How does he grow throughout the story?

Those character sketches will be the backbone of your synopsis, so be thorough.

If you're brave enough to have yours posted here, email it to shirlee@shirleemccoy.com.

Otherwise, I'll have to come up with one myself. And we all know the kind of stuff I come up with. It might not be pretty.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Thing About Life

Is that the older we get, the faster it goes. I've noticed this most in recent years. One minute it's Christmas. The next it's summer. The next thing I know it's Christmas again. On the one hand, I'm urging it on, rushing toward the next great thing on the horizon. On the other, I'm digging in my heels, desperately trying to slow things down. Wait, I'm screaming, wait! I want to savor the moments, eke out the joy, sear it into my memory. Wait!

But time waits for no man. Or woman.

It's not slowing down and, as happens a few times each year, I find myself reevaluating the way I spend it. If time were money, I'd be using an awful lot of it on trifling things - penny candy and soda, amusement park rides and overnighters. Sure, there's momentary satisfaction in those, but what I really want are the things that last - harmony, joy, satisfaction. Those things cost a lot more. They cost loads of time. Time spent with kids, with husband, with God. Time spent in selfless pursuits, in serving and in doing so with the right heart attitude. They cost self. And self is so hard to give up.

I suppose I should tie this in to writing. And I can, because writing is such a big part of what I do and how I spend my time. At moments of frustration (of which there have been many lately), I wonder if I'd be better off pursuing other publishing niches, if writing what I write is really going to get me where I want to be, if I'm wasting time that is already slipping too quickly through my fingers. At those times, I doubt and I wonder and I angst. Is this my dream, or God's dream? A gift that should be used, or simply a distraction? If I'm heading in the right direction shouldn't things be easier? Should they be more difficult? Shouldn't I know?

If you're thinking the answers are coming, you're going to be disappointed. I never quite get the answers I'm seeking. No shouts of clear direction. Just a quiet whisper to my soul that says, "keep going".

So I do. Writing. Writing. While life flies by and I fly with it, net in hand, trying to capture every moment, every bit of joy.

And trusting my time is always well spent when spent for Him.

What is it you're spending your time on?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Contest Winner

Congratulations, Cheryl, you won the writing challenge. Great description. I really enjoyed reading it! Contact me to receive your critique. shirlee@shirleemccoy.com.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sometimes Getting Where You're Going Means Making Sacrifices

This morning I came to the sad conclusion that if I really want to get in shape, I'm going to have to cut some things out of my life. More specifically, I'm going to have to cut some things out of my diet. If only exercising alone could knock off the inches of flab I've still got to lose, I'd already be a size smaller than I was three weeks ago. Alas, it cannot. And so I'm reduced to facing the cold, hard facts of calorie consumption. Putting more into my body than my body burns negates the effect of all that wonderful exercise (ha!) I've been doing.

Which is why when I stepped on the scale this morning the stinking numbers hadn't budged. Not an ounce in a week. How discouraging. How disheartening.

How fitting.

I mean, it's not like I've been watching what I'm eating. I'm exercising, but I'm not exactly passing on the cookies.

Go ahead. This is the time when everyone gets to chime in and tell me that numbers don't mean anything. That muscle weighs more than fat and takes up less space, so while I might not be lighter, I'm surely looking better. Such wonderful, sweet words and so meaningless when I'm staring at the numbers that really do seem to mean a lot.

Now for the writing part. Personally, I figure I could leave the post as is and be done with it. You're all smart enough to figure out where I'm headed. However, I've still got an hour before I have to take my kids to the three hour piano torture. Oops -lesson. So, why not spend some more of it here?

What I've discovered about dieting is the same thing I discovered about writing a few years back - it takes a lot of effort.

I'm not trying to be scary, here, but the fact is, we can not be successful in the publishing industry if we don't make writing an important part of our lives. Being an author takes energy and commitment. Often, it also takes sacrifice. Of time. Of energy. Of emotion. It's so easy to play a game when your heart isn't in it and you don't really care about the outcome. It's so much harder when you do care. When you feel that winning will validate you in some way. Whether or not we really achieve validation from writing or getting in shape is for another blog. So, I'll just say that doing what God wants is always the right thing. And sometimes that means doing what we really don't want to do. Writing when we don't feel like it. Passing up on the television show or movie to spend an hour or two at the computer. Sacrificing our vision and dream for our work and allowing others to have hand in what we're creating. Reading over that manuscript one more time even though we're so sick of it we could burn it in the backyard and be happy.

Always, always making a conscious decision to do whatever it takes to get where we're going. And that means saying, "Okay, Lord, I'm not sure where this is leading, but I'm willing to make it important if that's what You want."

And if it is what He wants (and from reading many of your blogs, I know that it is)than we must be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to include it in our daily lives.

Which leaves only one question - are we?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Sometimes Getting Where You're Going Hurts

Okay, so this is another exercise/writing post. I can't help myself. It's that or talk about my kids and husband. If I get started on that, I'll never stop, because they take up a huge portion of my life and thought processes. I mean, the first thing I thought when I got up this morning (at 6 a.m) wasn't "Lord, please give me something meaningful to write today". It was, "Lord, please give me more patience with my kids, because if they spend today bickering like they did yesterday I will be forced to do something desperate. Like put them each in a room with books, food, water, and absolutely no contact with siblings!"

See? They are my life. And well they should be. But I'm a writer, too, and this is a writing blog. Therefore, I will blog about writing. Seeing as how I am an out of shape writer, exercise often gets mixed in.

And we all know how much I LOVE exercise.

But, I'm blabbering on and you're wondering, "when is she going to get to the point?"

Right now. Really.

Yesterday, I was in pain. Serious pain. I've started this new exercise tape and it's insane. Squats. Lunges. Not good for someone with bad knees. So, my legs hurt, but my knees hurt more. That deep, yucky ache in the bones that won't go away no matter how many Tylenol I pop. Standing hurt. Sitting hurt. Lying down hurt. Sleeping was difficult and uncomfortable. All day long, I kept thinking, "this isn't worth it. Exercising isn't worth it. In shape isn't worth it. Thin isn't worth it."

And right then, at that moment, it seemed like it wasn't. Today, in the light of the new day, with less pain and a slight change in the shape of my body (thanks to three weeks of almost every day exercise), I have a different perspective. It might hurt now, but in a month it won't. In a month, I'll be a little lighter, a little slimmer, a little more powerful than I am today. On my birthday in December, I'll be close to what I was BK (before kids). And that's going to feel incredible.

Thinking that brought to mind Hebrews 12:1 - Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Not just the race, but the race marked out for us.

If you're reading this, part of the race God has marked for you probably involves writing. I'd be lying if I said the road to publication is easy, that it never leads to that bone-deep ache that makes sitting, standing, sleeping difficult. It does. Critiques can hurt. Rejection can hurt. Reviews can hurt. Doors swing open, only to close again. Our very best effort may be met by callous form letters. There will be days when we'll feel (published or not) that we're not sure we want to do this any more. That the pain, frustration, and aggravation just aren't worth it.

When that happens, we've got to set our eyes on the finish line. Though it may be out of sight, around a bend, up the steepest slope we've ever seen, it's there. We've just got to keep running, limping, crawling toward it. I think when we reach it, it'll be much grander than we ever imagined. Because, in the end, it will be more about completing the race than winning it.

Keep writing!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Steeple Hill Guidelines and Editors (or Showergate 101)

If you're thinking about submitting to Steeple Hill, you may have heard various rumors about the strict and constraining guidelines forced upon authors who write for the publishing house.

As with any rumor, there is both truth and fiction in what is being said. Steeple Hill, like any other publishing house, has guidelines that must be adhered to. However, the guidelines generally aren't a problem for those of us writing from a Christian world view. Most of what we're asked not to include in our writing is stuff we wouldn't include in our daily life. Curse words, men and women spending the night together (even without sex involved!), descriptions of certain body parts, terms that might be used for those body parts (and I'm not talking the kind cut off and lying in a ditch by the side of the road, hidden in suitcases, or pickled in jars out in potting sheds). Think of books as having ratings. A Harlequin Intrigue might be PG13 or R. Steeple Hill is looking for PG.

So, that's not so bad, right?

Also, for those wondering, we can (and are even encouraged) to use scripture, prayer, the name of Jesus, Christ, God, Holy Spirit in our writing. The purpose of these books is to entertain a mostly Christian audience by sharing stories about men and women who struggle to live their lives for God. Each story must have a vital faith element. That doesn't mean a mere mention of a prayer or a Bible verse. That means spiritual growth throughout the story. Without that, you simply don't have a Steeple Hill book.

In the years I've been writing for Steeple Hill, I've been blessed to work with three different editors. I'm happy to say, I've enjoyed the experience immensely. I don't have a problem with the guidelines, and tend to stay within them without a thought. However, there was one time when my editor and I had a difference of opinion.

I was writing EVEN IN THE DARKNESS. My poor heroine had been tortured, forced to ride on an unairconditioned bus for hours, run through rice fields, and traveled steep mountain passes on a motorcycle. She really did need a shower. And, I thought, what better place to have her think about all that was happening? The only quiet time I get during my day happens to be when I'm in the shower. I do my best thinking, praying, and plotting there. So why not let Tori do the same?

The answer, though not obvious to me, was obvious to my editor. She informed me that my readers wouldn't want to be in the shower with Tori.

In the shower? They won't be in the shower, they'll be in her head. Right? Besides, which, Tori needed a shower. Just the thought of her sweaty, blood stained clothes made me wrinkle my nose. A shower was a necessity. Other wise, my readers would be wrinkling their noses, too.

That made sense to me. And so I told my editor. Who informed me that the reader might feel s/he was in the shower with Tori. Which, of course, would mean imagining such things as the above mentioned body parts. So could I please not have Tori thinking in the shower.

I wanted to argue. I think my editor knew I wanted to argue. Instead, I cut the scene and had Tori stand in front of a mirror, blood trickling into the sink.

And the book was a lot better for it. Because, really, I didn't need the shower scene at all. My editor knew it. I did not. Which, of course, proves a point I made in an earlier post - editors know what they're talking about. They want the best book we can produce. 97% of the time they're right. I say 97% because no one is right every time. I wish I could give you an example of a time when my editor has been wrong. Alas, I cannot. And that's including all three of my editors.

Sadly, I can think of at least twenty times when I have been wrong. Thankfully, my editors have called me on those things each time.

Long story short - your editor is your greatest asset. Treat her (or him) accordingly. With respect, with humor, and with the kind of professional courtesy with which you would like to be treated.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

It Isn't All About Writing, Is It?

I don't know about everyone else, but I've always got a story on my mind. Everywhere I go I see bits and pieces of lives and legacies. Old houses, graveyards surrounded by wrought iron fences, abandoned fields, fallow and overgrown, people laughing, crying, stone-faced, joyous. In each one I see a story waiting to be told. Or one that has already been told and only needs to be written.

When I was a kid, we'd travel from Maryland to Massachusetts a couple of times a year. During those long trips, I'd sit lost in my own world while my four siblings chattered and played. Outside the window, the world beckoned, filled with adventure, mystery. People. So many people with so many experiences. I could imagine them all. I still can.

This past week, I left my laptop at home, thinking that would somehow separate me from the stories constantly dancing through my mind. Alas, computer separation did nothing to quiet the what-ifs that seem so much a part of who I am. What if someone is living in that tiny shack beside the water? What if that person is hiding from someone? What if...?

I think I'm diseased. Or maybe I'm gifted with an overactive imagination.

One way or another, I'm beginning to realize that I'm not just a writer. I'm a storyteller. I think if I'd been born a thousand years ago, I'd have been that - a storyteller committed to passing a legacy of words and knowledge from one generation to another.

But I wasn't. And so I write fiction and pass on different words and different legacies. I think at least one of my kids will do the same one day. My daydreamer. My imaginative one. My guy who follows the stories in his head as closely as he follows the world around him.

Maybe for us writing isn't what it's all about. Maybe what it's all about are the stories singing in the night, echoing in the quiet hours before dawn, whispering in the busy hours of the day.

I wonder. What is it all about for you? The words? The story? The characters? Or that driving, undeniable need to commit thought to paper and create a world from the seeds of imagination?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Contest - I dare you to enter!

In an hour or so we're leaving on vacation. I know you all will miss me desperately.:0)

We're heading to Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. If you've never been there, you're missing out. It's a beautiful area. So much more peaceful than suburban Maryland. People are friendly. They don't rush. They enjoy the sweet pace of life as it comes and don't seem in such a hurry to get to the next place, move on to something new, or find something better. There is peace there. In the silent mornings. The sweet trill of birds. The quiet plop of fish jumping in the lake. The scent is that of life - earth, foliage, water - and when I breath it in, I feel like I am home.

Maybe that's why my books are set there.

Where do you feel most at home? Your house, your neighborhood, your space? Or somewhere different. Somewhere you can only dream of being?

If you have the time or inclination, write about it. A poem. A short story. A description. Send it to me at shirlee@shirleemccoy.com, or post it here. When I come home, I'm going to choose the best (and how subjective is that :-)). The winner will receive a critique of the first three chapters of a manuscript, a critique of a long synopsis, and help with the query process. Or, if you're a reader and not a writer, a signed copy of each of my Lakeview books.

Don't get in trouble while I'm gone!

Friday, August 04, 2006

I'm Just Saying

Lately, I've been thinking that exercise is overrated. I've been lunging, squatting, crunching and push-upping for two and a half weeks and I still look like the Pillsbury dough boy. Actually, girl. I've got hair. Sadly, this is my own fault. I have not lunged, push-upped, squatted, or crunched for far too long. My body doesn't want to give up its life of leisure, and neither do I. However, I'm ready to give up all the doughy white goodness that comes with being sedentary.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

Nothing. Everything. It's about life. And life is about choices. Sometimes we have to do what we think is right, even if we can't see results, even if we're not sure of the long-term ramifications. Sometimes we have to trust that God has us doing what He wants right now. And right now is all that we need to worry about.

In other posts, I've talked about just doing it, about mommy guilt, about all the things that keep us from writing. Lately, I'm wondering if what really keeps us from writing is much deeper than those things. If, perhaps, we lack the faith that leads to giving it all over to God. Faith in Him seems so much easier than faith in His ability to set our course and to change that course when we get off track. To truly live our lives for Him, our faith in Him must become faith in His vision for our lives. A vision that is often beyond our ability to see.

I stood in front of the mirror this morning and wondered why I was bothering with exercise. It's so obviously NOT working. Yet, somewhere deep inside my dough-girl body there are muscles. They just need more time to work their way out. If I give up now, I'll never see what might be.

The same is true in a writer's life. Often, we see not what might be, but what is. And what is is often not what we hoped it would be. So, I pray that when you look in the mirror today, you'll see not just the person you are, but the person God sees - the potential beneath the failures, the success at the end of what might be a very long road. Remember, what God asks today may seem outside your ability, but as you work toward it you'll become more and more the person He has always meant for you to be.

What is it that's holding you back today? Put it behind you and go forth and write!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Please Send Your Complete Manuscript

The five words every author wants to hear. Though they're not nearly as exciting as "we'd like to offer you a contract", they are a creaking, groaning sign that a door has opened for you.

On the heels of Steeple Hill's announcement that the Love Inspired Suspense line will be increasing to 4 books a month in February 07, I'm thinking there is no time like the present for aspiring RS writers to get their queries ready.

Step one in writing a winning query - name your editor. Which, of course, means know who the acquiring editor for the line is. For Love Inspired Suspense, you'll want to send to Melissa Endlich or Diane Dietz.

Step two- write a short back cover blurb for your book. Make it a good one. Something compelling that is sure to grab the editor's attention.

Step three- explain the length and genre of your book and give a brief summary of your audience.

Step four- give a brief bio including any publishing credits.

Finally, package it in a one page letter that is a quick, professional portrait of who you are as a writer.

Here's an example -

Dear Ms. Endlich,

Sophie Manchester is sure her life is exactly what she wants it to be. A thirty-something suspense author, she's got a nice house, a good job, and enough friends to keep her from dwelling on what she doesn't have - love. When gun shots and screams interrupt Sophie's late night run, she calls 911 on her cell phone and races toward the sound. A dark sedan speeds away from a local park, and Sophie is sure she's seeing a murderer escape. Unfortunately, the police find no evidence of a crime.

When quiet knocks on the windows of her ranch-style home become scratching, shrieking moans that wake her during the dead of the night, Sophie turns to police detective Eli Williams for help. At first Eli is convinced Sophie is hearing nothing but echoes of her overactive imagination, but as he gets to know the practical, soft-hearted woman he suspects there is much more than that going on.

Together, Sophie and Eli work to uncover a plot that goes beyond gun shots in the dark and nightmare whispers in the night. What they find threatens to topple a powerful politician's family. If it doesn't destroy them both first.

A WOMAN ON THE BRINK OF INSANITY is a novel of inspirational romantic suspense. Approximately 65,000 words in length, A WOMAN AT THE BRINK will appeal to readers who enjoy books by Hannah Alexander and Colleen Coble.

An avid reader of inspirational romance and a fan of the Love Inspired Suspense line, I recently finaled in the Genesis contest in the romantic suspense category, and placed second over-all in the Touched by Love contest. As I writer, I enjoy the challenge involved in creating suspenseful stories that contain a strong romantic thread and a vital faith journey.

May I send you my completed manuscript?


Hope Full Author