Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writing at Dawn

It is nearly six, and the sun is just beginning to peek over the mountains. In the past hour, I've watched as the dark sky has gone deep blue and then purple streaked with gold and pink.

My house is silent for a change. Shorter days bring longer sleep to my crew, and I find myself awake and as alone as I ever am. I peeked in on Cheeky and Sassy when I woke at four. They slept deeply. Sassy face down, her hair a wild mass of silky strands. Cheeky face up, her white hair spiked around her face, her arms flung wide as if, even in sleep, she was prepared to embrace whatever came her way.

And I thought, "What were you afraid of?"

I will never forget the day I met Cheeky. I was absolutely sick with dread. I wanted to get on the plane and go back to my safe and relatively easy life. I wanted to forget the insane notion that we could bring a seven-year-old into our home and create one family from two.

My husband and the guide chatted easily as we drove through Chongqing (crazy, beautiful city), but I really had nothing to say. I wanted to get it over with, see what the damage was going to be. Cheeky had been described as active, restless, talkative, stubborn and obstinate. No one would give me any answers about how she functioned in school. I was sure she'd be hyperactive and strong-willed, and that she'd probably scream her dislike as we dragged her from the civil affairs office.

I was also sure I'd made a terrible mistake, and every warning from every ill-informed friend, family member and stranger whispered through my mind as we took an elevator up to the lobby where we were to meet our new daughter.

"Please, God, let me love this child. Please, let me love her," was my prayer as I waited.

Because I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to. That maybe she would feel as much a stranger to me as I was to her. That maybe we would never click as mother and daughter, and I would spend the rest of my daughter's life trying to make up for the emotion I lacked.

And then Cheeky walked around the corner with her strawberry ice cream cone. She wore the same purple dress she'd had on in her referral photo, and her arms were nothing but skin and bone. She was smiling, and when we said her name, she came happily. Bouncing. Bubbling over with the love that always seems to be part of Cheeky Q.

And I looked into her clear blue eyes, and I knew she was mine.

I loved her then.

But I love her more now.

I love the little girl who drove me crazy in China. The one who threw two raging fits, but who also smiled and danced and laughed her way from Chongqing to Guangzhou. The little girl who sat beside me on the plane and never once whined or cried or complained despite the fact that she was sick. I love the kid who called all her siblings by name when she met them, but who still mixes up her brothers on occasion. I love the child who is willing to try anything, but who reaches for my hand when trying is just a little scary. I love the little girl who runs across the grass barefoot after being stung twice, the child who sits in my lap and looks at photo after photo. The one who sometimes mopes and whines and scowls because she is as imperfect as I am. The sweet, sweet child who can't see worth beans, but who does her schoolwork with gusto, who loves to clean the school table and who organized the coat closet without me even asking.

What was I afraid of?

Last year at this time, we'd just completed our cross country move. I remember driving through South Dakota, Montana and Idaho and wondering what it was like for those long ago explorers. I imagined them trekking along, the blue-green mountains always in front of them, and I wondered if they were afraid. Did they want to turn around and go back east? Did they worry that they'd made a mistake? Or did they simply trust that when they got to the other side of the mountain, they'd be home?

I've heard it said that fear is the absence of faith. I'm not sure that's true. It is human nature to be afraid of the unknown. It is faith that pushes us through those moments of doubt and worry and brings us to exactly the place we were always meant to be.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Day in the Life

Yesterday, I received word that the proposal for RUNNING SCARED had been approved. This is the second book in my Heroes for Hire miniseries, and I've been anxiously waiting to hear whether or not my editors liked what I'd sent in.

Now that I've got the go-head, I can write the remainder of the story.

But first I needed to clean my house.

And do six loads of laundry.

And make lunch for five kids.

And clean up after lunch.

I marshaled the troops and gave them the call to action. Twelves hands (my husband had to work this morning) make light work. At least they're supposed to. The boys are young men now, and they're quite good at doing the assigned tasks. The girls....well, let's just say I had to follow along and clean up after their clean up. It was cute watching them, though.

Now the house is clean, the kids are happily playing, the husband is practicing for praise band...and I am free to write.

For a while.

I'm sure the peace won't last long. But, really, that's just the way I like it!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Facing the Doubt Demon Head-on

Before I got published, I lived in a world of dreams and aspirations. I wrote manuscripts with the hope that one day I'd see them in book form. I hoped, but I wasn't sure. I doubted, but I also believed.

Fast forward a few years, and I'm a published author with fourteen books to my name and three more contracted. One would think that at this point, I'd be filled with confidence.

The fact is, I struggle more with doubt now than I did before STILL WATERS hit the book stores. That is not to say I don't believe in my abilities. It is simply that I worry more about whether or not my writing is up to snuff. Before, I only had to angst about editors (only? Ha!) and critique partners and what their opinions of my work would be. Now, I must consider readers' opinions. I worry about disappointing a publishing house that has put time and energy and money and marketing into my work. I worry about disappointing myself and my family. Each time I write a manuscript, I wonder if it is good enough.

If I let myself, I could be frozen with doubt, unable to write another word let alone another manuscript.

I have tried to ignore the dreaded Doubt Demon, but it rears its ugly head every time I complete a project. It mocks me, laughing at my attempts to create something compelling and unique.

And I squash it like a bug.

Well, not quite.

What I do is face it. I try to decide what part of my worries and doubt stem from the reality of the manuscript (in other words, is there something that needs to be fixed?) and what parts stem from a natural and very real lack of confidence in my work. If I decide that the project needs improvement, I go back and rework. If I am simply nervous....I package the manuscript and ship it off, knowing that it is now up to others to decide whether or not my story makes the grade.

Publishing is a tough business. When we write, we are allowing our audience a glimpse into our souls. It is not easy to be that vulnerable, that transparent. But to be successful, we must.

So...if you're holding on to that manuscript because you're afraid, know that fear is a part of this journey and face it head-on. Package that manuscript up, kiss it goodbye and let it fly.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The (Solitary) Writing LIfe

I've decided that writing is lonely work. This may sound odd as I am almost never alone. Five kids and a husband tend to fill a house. The thing is, when I taught, I had curriculum to go by. Books that laid out the daily lessons that had to be imparted to my students. There was always someone in the classroom next door doing the exact same thing I was, and at the end of the day, we'd chat as we planned and graded papers.

Writing is different.

Writing is a about sitting down and crafting a story...alone. Sure, I sometimes brainstorm with my husband or family. Sure, I have friends who are in the same line of work, who are sitting down writing their books, crafting their stories the same way I am writing and crafting mine. Sure, we chat about our projects and moan about our uncooperative characters.

But, when push comes to shove, it is just me and this computer and a ream of paper waiting to be filled. And sometimes I wonder if I can do it again. If I can write another book, craft another tale, create another character. I wonder if I'm on the right path, if this is really where God wants me to be and what He wants me to be doing.

Because no matter how much I know this is the right thing at the right time, sometimes it is lonely being an author. Sometimes, I long to sit down with other mothers and chat over coffee and cookies while our kids play outside and not have stories swimming around in my head while I'm doing it. Not be imagining stalkers and spies and all manner of villains hidden near by and be wondering exactly how I can fit each one into a story. Not be wondering what my heroine will do next, how she will escape, when she will finally realize that love truly does cover a multitude of sins.

It is not that I don't love what I do, but writing is not simply about doing what I love. It has become more than that. It has become part of who I am. As inherent as my blue eyes and brown hair.

But, then, maybe that is what made me an author in the first place. A need to be alone. To enjoy solitude of thought and of creation.

Today, I'm working on my art fact sheet for the second book in my Heroes for Hire Miniseries. I've also got 2000 words of the manuscript to write. It's good work. Fun.

And, sometimes, just a little bit lonely.

In the ends, I suppose that is exactly the way I like it!

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Dreaded Proposal

Two days ago, I discovered that the proposal I'd sent to my editor had never arrived. This was unhappy news as the proposal for that book was due July 27th. I learned of the missing proposal by chance and was relieved when my editor assured me that all was well and that I could send the proposal via email.

Compelled to read through the entire proposal one last time, I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning going through the three pages of manuscript and 18or so pages of synopsis.

I almost wish I hadn't.

I wanted to beg Melissa (my wonderful editor) to NOT read the proposal. Because, really, I'd just come home from China when I wrote it and my mind wasn't working properly, my brain wasn't focused and the entire synopsis STUNK and the pacing of the manuscript was off and, and, and.....

BUT....the proposal is for a contracted book that is due out in July 2010, and Melissa must read it so that we can work out the kinks in the story before I turn in the finished product.

So, I just have to gird my loins and prepare for what will come.

It's not that the story isn't good and it isn't that the writing is bad. I think both are strong. What the proposal is not is my best work. In the six years that I've been writing for Harlequin, I've laid the groundwork for a successful career by turning in good, clean work on time. I offer up my best to the best of my ability every time. Turning in shoddy first draft stuff is not my way, and if you're aspiring to publication it shouldn't be yours either.

To break it down, the key to successfully snagging an editor's attention lies in:

1. Knowing your market. Before ever sending out the proposal make sure you are sending it to the correct house. Do not send a fantasy vampire story to a Love Inspired editor and do not send a clean, sweet romance to Spice. Don't waste a non-fiction editor's time with your fiction proposal.

2. Writing clean. And I don't mean in the subject matter. Whatever you're writing, write it well. Avoid grammatical errors. No one is perfect, and our work can't be either, but if your proposal contains so many mistakes that they become the editor's focus, you've lost your reader and your chance. (this is a big one for me...because, as my blog proves, I've never been great at grammar and spelling)

3. Beginning with a bang. Whether it is compelling emotion or a suspenseful scene that makes the reader want more, a first chapter should always begin with a bang.

4. Creating real characters. My first book wasn't bought on the strength of the writing or the plot. It was bought because Melissa believed in my heroine. She bought into her back story and her conflict, and she was routing for her as the story progressed. A good book must always have characters that your reader can identify with. Real people feeling real emotion.

5. Being professional. This, I suppose, is as much to do with how you present your proposal as it does anything. Print the proposal out on white paper (not pink or blue or yellow or green), follow the guidelines for your targeted publishing house to determine font and margins. Make sure your manuscript is the correct word count to fit those guidelines. Write a cover letter that is brief and to the point. This, too, will be judged by the editor because it is the first glimpse the editor will see of you.

Okay....I've got to scoot. The kids are too quite so there must be trouble brewing!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Dedication

Cross posted from my adoption blog -

Yesterday, my editor emailed me to ask for the front cover matter for my March 2010 release. I sent the book in a couple of days before I left for China, and I realized then that I'd need to come up with a verse, reader letter and dedication when I got home.

Generally, writing the dedication is the easiest part of preparing my book for publication. In the past, I have dedicated books to friends and family, to my children and my husband, to those whom I've lost and who I miss. The words usually flow from the abundance of the love and appreciation I have for whomever the book is dedicated to.

This time, I'm struggling.

I know who the book will be dedicated to.

Who else could it be but my Cheeky Q?

One day, when she is older, I will give her a copy of the book so that she can read my heart's thoughts and know what I was feeling in the weeks after we brought her home. Perhaps she will be a teenager, fiery in her older more mature even more beautiful version of the spunky girl I now know. Maybe the words I write today will fill something inside of her that's missing. Maybe, in some small way, they will give her insight into how true and real and big my love for her is.

And so I am struggling.

Just a few words. That's all a dedication is.

But I have so much more to say. I could fill an entire manuscript with words, and my thoughts would still spill out, overflowing into another manuscript and another and another until I was drowning in pages.

And it still would not be enough to say everything that I think I must.

Last night, as the girls were getting ready for bed, I heard Q giggling in the bathroom. The light was off and the door was open, the hall light spilling in. She'd undressed and was waiting for me to turn on the shower.

And she was dancing, the light from the hall painting her pale gold, her arms and legs moving to music only she could hear. She danced without apology, without self consciousness.

While I struggled not to cry.

Because she was so beautiful, so strong, so brave and so completely unaware of how she inspires me to be stronger and braver and less self concious.

I need to write that dedication. My editor wants it by Monday, but there is too much to say and not enough room to say it. Since I cannot say it all, perhaps it is best to keep it simple.

To my darling Q, I am not your first mother or even your second, but I will be your last. It is true that you were not born from my body, but you have always lived in my heart. First a thought, then a prayer and now a reality that fills me up to overflowing. We have not always shared a past, but we will always share a future.
You are mine, my cheeky girl, and I am yours. Forever and a day, to the edges of the universe and beyond. I love you.