Monday, July 16, 2007

And They're Off

My hero and heroine finally took a one-way flight to New York. The manuscript will hit my editor's desk on her first day back from RWA. Poor Melissa. I didn't actually plan it that way. I was holding on to that proposal as if my entire life depended on its success. Which, of course, it didn't.

If you're wondering, I suppose I like the story. Actually, I love the story, but I'm sure I'll hate it before the wait is over.

And just so that no one thinks I'm a shoe-in for a contract because I'm already published, there is a good possibility Steeple Hill won't buy the story that I just sent out. See, it's not about whether I love my chocoholic heroine and her hunky hero. It's not even just about whether the writing is good or the story is compelling. It is also about timing. Has anyone else done any thing like this recently?

It's about personal taste. Will my editor hate the fact that my villain is a freckle-faced killer (Probably not, but she might get annoyed with number of times I say it. I do so love to repeat myself!)?

It's about supply and demand. Are there slots that need filling and is my book going to be marketable enough to be fit into one of them?

Though rejection always feels very personal, it's not. Most often it's simply a matter of two or three of the above things combining to make an editor think - not this one. Not this time.

It stinks (I know this from experience), but it's part of the process.

I'm going to keep that in mind as I wait and wonder how my chapters and synopsis are fairing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How to Say Goodbye

Okay, I admit it. I've been holding on to my proposal for six weeks. It's been done, finished, ready to go for all that time, but I'm still holding onto it. Every day before I begin working on THE BOOK, I open up my proposal file and read it through. I change words, I change sentences, I wonder if it make sense. Then I tell myself that I'm going to print it out and mail it off.

And then I don't. Print it out. Or mail it off.

This isn't my usual MO. I'm usually quite good at saying goodbye. Maybe I'm really busy right now and doubting my abilities because of it. Maybe there's something not quite right about the story and my instincts are trying to tell me that. Maybe I'm just afraid of failure.

Whatever the case, I need to get that proposal out the door.

If you've got something you've finished, but are holding on to, here's my sure-fire way to get your baby out the door.

1. Read it again.
Yes, I know you've read it a half-million times, but read it once more. Not on the computer scree, either. Print it out. Read it like it's a book. Mark any grammatical errors, missed words, or poorly worded sentences with red.
2. Make the changes.
If you've found any of the above, fix them. Rework sentences, reread paragraphs, spend time working toward elusive perfection.
3. Tell yourself you've done it.
You've made the manuscript the best it can be without editorial help. You've polished and shined until your book nearly glows. There is nothing (repeat it with me...nothing) more that you can do.
4. Print it out again.
5. Do not read this copy.
Instead, clip it and slide it into the envelope it will make its journey in.
6. Write your cover letter. Make it brief and professional.
7. Package everything together and seal the envelope.
8. Immediately head for the post office and send that baby out.
Do not let children, pets, jobs or husbands interfere with this task. If you do, the envelope will remain where you've lain it for the next six weeks.

Easy, right?

So why haven't you done it?

Why haven't I done it?

Believe it or not, I know the answer to this. Once we send our manuscripts out, we can no longer rework, revise, recreate. Our words and, therefore, pieces of our soul are racing toward their destination and we know they aren't perfect. No matter how many times we search, our eyes aren't refined enough to show us all the flaws. We know they're there and we want desperately to see them, but even as we find and fix, more mistakes remain and are made. Instinctively, we know this. We just don't want to accept it. In a world where good isn't necessarily saleable, we need great, fantastic, beyond the norm. Until we send our book off, we can hope it is that, dream it is that. Once it's gone, there's no chance to make it what we're striving so hard for.

Here's something else we must know and accept. No manuscript is perfect, no story is without flaw. We're not alone in our imperfection. We're the norm. Our words aren't being compared to other, better manuscripts. They're being weighed in the heart reaction of the editor. When she reads, does the story come alive? Do the characters touch her? Does she want to keep turning pages? If so, the flaws - small and large - will be noticed only as items that need changing, not as deal-breaker, send-this-back-to-that-horrid-writer catastrophes.

Okay. So let's get this done. We've got much better things to do with our time than rework already reworked writing. Like writing the next book!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

What's at the Bottom of the Bowl?

When I was a kid, my grandmother had beautiful blue and white china painted with swirls and flowers and other (to me) exotic things. At the bottom of each bowl was a scene. I believe they were China inspired. Maybe Japanese. We're talking several decades here, so my memory is dim. What I do remember is this - there were certain things that I did not like to eat: Oatmeal (ew!), clam chowder (double ew!), that weird chicken stuff my grandfather made (shudder). My grandmother, being pragmatic and wise, would put these things in the blue and white bowls and I would immediately begin scooping food into my mouth. I hated the taste, but I loved the end result. Each bite revealed a bit more of the picture at the bottom of the bowl and each time I saw the picture I'd discover something new in it. Eventually, the bowl would be empty, the picture revealed, and I'd have those few moments to daydream and imagine as I stared into the oatmeal speckled depths of painted fantasy.

Oddly enough, these memories had been lost to me for a while. My busy life sometimes prevents me from looking back. A week ago, I was sitting in church, listening to a sermon about Heaven, thinking about loved ones who'd traveled on ahead of me, and I thought about those bowls. I realized then, that life is often the same. Hard to swallow, difficult to get down, but in the end revealing a picture filled with details and ripe with fantastic revelations.

I'm not a kid anymore. I'm not so hot for surprises. At times I think it would be easier to be given an empty life with a clear view to the bottom and the painting waiting there for me. As I work on a novel and struggle to bring it to life, I wonder if I'm meant to do this. If perhaps the contents of another bowl might be easier to swallow. insane is it to sit in front of a computer, typing away hours of one's life? How crazy to daydream the lives of make believe people? How difficult to never know if an idea will fly or fail? Each bite out of the bowl reveals only a tiny bit of the picture beneath and that's soon covered with the muck and mire of an author's life. Still, I press on, one sentence at a time, one page at a time, alone in my quest for the story's end.



But I believe, and maybe you do, too, that we are knit together in our mother's womb with talents and gifts that can be used or not. When the going is tough, we can collapse and retreat, or we can keep moving forward, knowing that we are doing what we are meant to do. Personally, I believe that scooping a mouthful of bitter defeat gets me a step closer to that glorious picture. The one painted by God. The one only He can see.

Yes, it's true that I'm doing a lot of internal searching late. Chalk it up to heading for that BIG birthday. Or perhaps moving toward our daughter so far away from home. Or maybe it's just me, scooping, scooping, scooping at the oatmeal, the chowder, the chicken, looking for the beauty beneath the struggles.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

And So It Begins

My second son will be eleven next month. We call him (with great affection) the absent minded professor. The world just isn't big enough to contain Caleb. Often, he's deeply involved in thoughts that have nothing to do with whatever might be going on in his physical world. Thus, my sweet Caleb is always the last to walk out the door when we're going somewhere, the last to realize I'm handing out snacks, the last to involve himself in conversations (quite often he'll pipe in with his opinion five minutes after the conversation is over!). He often trips, bumps his head, walks into things that most people would see and avoid. In essence, Caleb is me when I was a kid. Daydreamer. Story maker. Thinker.

A few weeks ago, our church had children's week. All the kids participated in the service. As children's choir leader, I helped organize the children, giving as many as possible jobs. We had several children play instruments. Some read scripture. Others were ushers. Caleb read a poem he'd written for a visit to an assisted living facility. Afterwards, the pastor told Caleb that he wanted to publish his poem in our church newsletter. Sure enough, a few weeks later, we received the newsletter with Caleb's poem printed inside. When I showed my son, he took the newsletter from my hand, a half-smile playing across his face as he read. Then he looked up, his big blue eyes behind those thick-lensed absent-minded professor glasses filled with awe, and said - "My first publication. I'm a real author now."

My heart soared and broke simultaneously. My son the writer. It's in his blood like it's in mine. The passion for stories. The determination. The near obsession with the written word. A hard path to travel. A joyful one. But one that must be accepted for whatever God will make it to be. The further along the path I wander, the more I know how little of the journey is in my hands. I write. God moves...bringing my words where He will.

Maybe I can teach my son that as he grows. Maybe it's just something that has to be learned by experience. One way or another, I know Caleb's path as a writer will be as rocky and wonderful as mine.

Happy 4th!

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Writing Dilemma

If you're reading this you're probably a writer, maybe a mother, more than likely working either at home or outside the home. In other words - you're busy. With a million chores and responsibilities calling you away from writing, it seems almost impossible to focus on putting word to page. Perhaps you're wondering if you should even try. After all, isn't your time better spent doing laundry, dishes, windows, and floors? Couldn't you make more money more quickly if you did what any rational person would and got a job (or a second job, or even a third one)? If you don't need the money, you surely need the time. More time for you, more time for your spouse, more time for kids, family, friends.

This is the writing dilemma. On the one hand, every writer I know believes writing is what she's meant to do. On the other, she believes that writing is secondary to the rest of her life.

So, how does a woman balance writing and life?

She doesn't.

Instead, she carves out time for writing and makes it as much of a priority as floors, laundry, and dishes. I know this is hard. I've lived it for a long time. My struggle is always this - I'm a Christian who believes my most important job is raising my children. How in the world does that coincide with writing books (which takes an inordinate amount of time and energy and perseverance). Both tasks are limitless, draining and difficult. Neither has a clear-cut end. After all, we will continue to be mothers long after our kid leave the house, and when we finish one book, there is always another to write.

How can one person possibly be called to do both?

The answer to that is as simple as it is complicated - God, in is His infinite wisdom and all-knowing power, has willed it to be so. He does not give more than we can handle, but He always gives more than we can handle alone. If this were easy, we wouldn't have to return again and again to the feet of the cross. If it were easy, we wouldn't have to lean ever more heavily on the shoulders that bore our sins and carried them away.

If it were easy, everyone would do it.

But it isn't.

The task is for those strong enough to persevere, weak enough to know their limits, and wise enough to understand that God can and will give us what we need to be successful as He defines the term.

Perhaps that's the hardest task of all - knowing that what we define as success doesn't always match with God's vision and plan. If writing is our life, so is failure, disappointment, and disillusion. In that, we learn to be humble, to stretch beyond our comfort zones, and to rely not on the world's opinion, but on the peace that we achieve when we are working hard toward His vision for our life.