I Edited a Book!

I Edited a Book!

Back in May, I talked at length with a cousin of mine about writing. An avid blog writer, my cousin was dabbling with the idea of a book. A personal trainer and owner of a fitness center, he wanted to get his ideas on health and fitness out to the world. I encouraged him to go for it – it was obvious he knew what he wanted to write, it was just getting his butt in the chair.

In November, he contacted me with the news that he’d gotten a deal with an e-book publisher and his deadline was a less than two months off. Having spent a great deal of time this year studying editing and grammar, I offered up my services to help out.

What a great experience. My cousin is a great writer, but approaching his work with constructive criticism was a challenge. I can be blunt, brutally blunt, and editing requires a balance of objectivity and gentle suggestions while allowing a writer to speak in their true writing voice. There were more than a few times I wanted to smack the southern out of his words and off the page – but that’s his voice and so I learned to respect it and go with it.

The hardest part was the introduction. A lengthy autobiography, my cousin poured his heart into sharing his journey through abuse, drug addiction, dysfunctional marriage, the loss of his father to cancer and dealing with his son’s autism. And it’s quite a moving story. But, and it hurt me to do it, because as writers we all want to tell our stories to the umpteenth detail, I had to advise him to lop almost all of it out. As his cousin, my heart ached for his journey. But as an editor of a short fitness book, I couldn’t justify its presence in its totality. I encouraged him to save his story so that he could share it with others in another way. (Personally, I think he should write a memoir…)

In the end, my cousin wrote a beautiful introduction that was succinct, moving and encapsulated in a few hundreds words what he had shared initially in over 14,000. And as an editor, I felt proud.

Now, let’s keep our fingers crossed for my cousin that his book, his first, does well. He certainly deserves it.

This Writing Life: I’m a Loser, Baby

This Writing Life: I’m a Loser, Baby

Last month, I entered my first 24-hour short story contest sponsored by Writer’s Weekly. In part, because it’s one of the cheapest contests out there; at $5 for the entrance fee, it felt like a steal. I’d enter more contests, but most want $20+ for the pleasure of judging me and I simply can’t justify it.

The day arrived, a lovely Saturday at 1PM, and I excitedly pulled up the prompt:

The barren, tan corn stalks behind her snapped in the cold evening breeze, the only sound louder than the dry, fiery red leaves swirling around her tiny, shivering bare feet. She’d lost her bearings again and she hoped the dinner bell would ring soon. A gray tree with endless arms and fingers, devoid of any remaining foliage, loomed before her. She gazed at the odd markings on the trunk, which appeared to outline a hand-cut door of sorts. And, as she stared, it opened…

My first thoughts: Have a little, old lady come out of the door. With a warmth and sneakiness, she would lure the lost, panicky girl into the tree. And once inside, the little old lady and her family would eat the girl.

Sure, it’s dark, but it’s a fairy tale. My husband said, You should write something ‘real,’ you’re good at that. So I wrote something horribly dark, and real. Like, Holocaust real. Yeah, I went there.

Here’s the winning story. Can you guess what happens? You’ll never guess! A little old lady lures the girl into the tree so she and her family can eat her.

Yep.

And did I win anything, anything at all? Of the 60 winners, honorable mentions, runners up and consolation prizes, you-know-who got nothing. Apparently, I may have gone way far off into territory that the short story judges didn’t want to follow. I suppose the point of a contest is to find out exactly what the judges are looking for and deliver exactly that to them. Lesson learned.

 

The Sins of the Father

Lina ran through the cornfield, fighting to find her way back to the cottage. Twilight was falling and curfew would soon be in effect. If she was caught out at night….A shudder coursed its way down Lina’s spine, through her heart and out her limbs. A cold North Sea wind had kicked up, adding a shiver to her shudder.

That afternoon, while wading in a pond by the edge of the property, Lina had caught sight of a large hare, which she followed in hopes of catching. She couldn’t remember the last time they had meat with a meal. Lina imagined the pride on her parent’s faces when she showed up with dinner, their sunken eyes and hollowed out cheeks lighting up to resemble their former, joyful selves.

But she’d lost track of the hare and, eventually, herself as well. Before long, Lina was lost in the cornfield. For hours, she wandered through the yellowed stalks, the unharvested corn left to rot, abandoned when soldiers and tanks trampled through her small country. Lina listened for the nightly dinner bell her mother rang, signaling to anyone within earshot that curfew was thirty minutes out; but the rustling of the dried stalks overrode all other sounds.

Terrified of being caught out at night, panic threatened to take hold when Lina stumbled into a clearing. At the center stood a huge, dead tree, gnarled and crippled like a weary, broken man. I know how you feel, Lina thought as she leaned against the tree’s trunk, trying to slow her pounding heart. Her shaking fingers fell upon an oddly shaped carving, invisible in the gloom. Lina knocked on the trunk to see if it was hollow when she heard a click and a creaking, like rusty hinges.

A door stood ajar in the tree’s trunk; an eye peered out, as did the barrel of a gun. Before she could think, Lina was yanked into the tree and the door clicked shut behind her.

“Maartje!” Lina cried, throwing her arms around her best friend who stood holding the pistol. “We thought you were lost in the invasion.”

“Shh! Keep your voice down or we’ll all be lost,” Maartje whispered; her once adored, chestnut locks were oily and tangled, her face gaunt and haunted.

As Lina’s eyes adjusted to the dim, she made out the familiar faces of Maartje’s parents and younger brother, Wim, huddled together in the shadows. “But you’re all here! And in this tree?”

“Yes, your father has been hiding us. I thought it was him at the door with some food,” Maartje said, settling onto a small stool next to the door, like a guard on watch.

Just then, a rap at the door was followed by the entrance of Lina’s father. “Lina,” he said, pulling her into his arms. “Never scare your mother and me like that again. We couldn’t find you anywhere, we thought they’d gotten you….”

“I’m sorry, Papa. I won’t wander off again,” Lina said into her father’s chest.

Lina’s father addressed Maartje’s family. “I have arranged transport for you, tonight. You will go to Rotterdam and from there, on a plane to England.” From his coat, he pulled out an envelope. “Papers for all of you, to get you there.” He went on to explain the particulars, but Lina tuned him out and turned to Maartje.

“My best friend, you’ll be saved!” They hugged each other, a rare and necessary comfort in a time like that. Lina felt in her pockets for something to give Maartje, a token of remembrance. “Here, have this,” she placed a smooth stone in Maartje’s hand. Lina had been collecting the prettiest ones from the pond when she’d been distracted by the hare.

Maartje turned the rock over in her hand; streaked with green and silver, it was shaped like a heart. “Something from your home, so you’ll always have a piece of it with you, wherever you go.” Maartje blinked back her tears.

When he felt it was safe, Lina and her father left the tree and, under cover of darkness along a well-worn yet hidden path through the cornstalks, made their way home.
“But Oma, did Maartje and her family escape?”

“Yes, kindje, they did.” Lina always referred to her granddaughter, Anika, as ‘little child.’ “They got to England and then boarded a ship to America. When the war ended, Maartje and sent me this.” Lina reached up and grasped the polished stone she always wore on a chain around her neck. “Maartje had the stone cut in two; she wears the other half. I wear it always so I never forget.”

“Did anyone else ever hide in the tree?”

“Oh, kindje, so many people Papa hid there and helped out of the country to freedom. He was a hero to those he saved, especially to me.” Anika stared at her Oma with awe.

The last time Lina told Anika a true story about the war, her daughter Kalie had scolded Lina for taking away the innocence of a nine-year-old girl. Lina liked giving this particular story the ending her friend deserved.

Maartje and her family never made it to England. They were carted off that night to internment, placed in the hands of the Germans by Lina’s father. An offer of food to save his starving family was all it took to extract the location of a secret hiding place. Lina found the stone on the path outside the tree; she believed Maartje dropped it there for Lina to find, with the hope of receiving it from her friend again one day.

Tools You Can Use: NaNoWriMo Word Count Calendar

Tools You Can Use: NaNoWriMo Word Count Calendar

Last year, for my first NaNoWriMo, I came across this wonderful word count calendar that a generous graphic designer, David Seah, produced and made available on his website for a free download. It’s colorful, functional, and covered in little check boxes for every 250 words that you complete. Personally, I find those little check boxes a great motivating tool; and with 10 boxes for each day, I whizzed through my daily word count. NaNoWriMo suggests a minimum of 1667 words per day to finish by the 30th day; but using Seah’s calendar, I finished in 18. So print it off and add it to your NaNoWriMo tools this year.

 

This Writing Life: Where Did the Month Go?

This Writing Life: Where Did the Month Go?

Between my high school reunion, my wedding anniversary, a husband with a hurt back, freelance work and prepping for NaNoWriMo, keeping this blog up-to-date fell a little by the wayside. Oops.

That being said….NaNoWriMo starts in six days! Ahh!

Am I ready? Hell, no!

At first I thought I would re-write the book I wrote during Camp NaNoWriMo in April – after months of editing and deliberation (and much study of the craft of writing), I determined the tense (present omniscient) was entirely wrong and needed to change. I began outlining the existing novel and, after having stepped away for a couple of months, determined that what I had written was, well….do you remember that movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? That’s what my novel had digressed into, complete with alien hunters and killer cultists in the desert. When I realized that there was a poop joke that ran the entire length of the book, I decided I needed to rethink the viability of the whole thing.

And that’s why we walk away for awhile, or how else do we know that we’ve written a book for teenage boys?

So here I sit, counting down the hours until I must (yes, must) make good on my commitment to write my 50k words next month. I’m picking out the pros of my novel and deciding if they can’t be meshed, melded and molded into something else – minus all the alien spacecraft feces and gun-toting Marmons (an off-shoot of the Mormons – seriously, don’t ask).

 

 

Essay: The Days Before a Hurricane

Essay: The Days Before a Hurricane

The Days Before a Hurricane
For some, an impending hurricane holds the thrill of anticipation. Worries and fears about flooding, downed trees, blown-out windows, houses washed out to sea, and missing work from business closings’ are buffeted by a desire for a change from the normal routine. It makes some giddy to think that today is the same; tomorrow, a hurricane may tear apart the known world; and the day after that, normal is on hiatus. They are the ones buying up large quantities of alcohol and drugs to party the storm away.

Those who have grown up in this coastal place, who’ve lived through some of the worst hurricanes on record, see the brouhaha as little more than an annoying disruption. Crab pots and fish nets must be picked up from the sounds, costing commercial fishermen much-needed income. Town officials must deal with a barrage of questions from those new to the area, unfamiliar with procedure. Business owners must weigh the cost of lost income to the potential dangers which may befall employees as they navigate their way to work; some refuse to close in the face of the most violent wind or rain, they are captains of industry who will go down with their ships. Locals know that the clean-up to follow may take days, possibly months; there is no joy, fun or excitement for those familiar with the outcome.

The downturn in the economy in recent years led many to take advantage of foreclosures and pick up that much dreamed about retirement home at the beach. Hurricanes for them bring panic. They run to the stores for batteries and generators, bottled water and milk. Little do they realize that a major hurricane must actually pass almost directly overhead to need such supplies. Most often, they wonder when the evacuations will start. Why ever would a true local leave? That deep, unbidden fear of a hurricane is what separates those who are meant to be here from those who think they deserve to be here.

The real problems from a hurricane emerge in the day following its passing. If dunes have been washed away, roads will flood and strand those in low-sitting cars who they think they can drive through water like the big SUV before them. Looky-loos excited to see the damage nature may have wrought venture out, adding to the chaos; for them, it’s akin to driving around looking at Christmas lights. Those on islands may very well end up cut off for days as ferries find water travel too treacherous to risk.

Right now, with the expected hurricane sitting on the Bahamas, we wait. There is nothing else we can do. This hurricane has any number of potential scenarios, paths, and outcomes it can follow. But we will not know until it takes its next step, then the next, then the next. Hurricanes are fickle children of Mother Nature, making up their minds as they go along, living in the moment. Days like these are a practice in patience. We can do nothing but watch.

For now, I sit on my couch typing away my thoughts, attempting to ignore the headache brought on by the decreasing atmospheric pressure. Perhaps tomorrow, if it appears I must, I’ll clear off the deck of plants and furniture that could blow away, take care to secure the grill, and stow the empty five-gallon water bottles under the house. But nothing else, and not until it seems truly necessary.

Because those of us who’ve been here a while, decades-long coastal dwellers who know what we’re doing, we live at a level of always slightly prepared for the worst.

This Writing Life: Swept Away

This Writing Life: Swept Away

Have you ever had a great idea? I mean, a really great idea for a story you know you’re meant to write? An idea that when you sit down and start to put mental notes on paper you simply can’t stop and before you know it you’ve populated an entire town?

I’m having one of those ideas. A story unfolding before my eyes, a protagonist emerging brilliant and amazing, an antagonist of despicable character. And none of it is reaching, none of it is beyond my known realm.

This story is telling itself to me.

Whoa Nelly! Momentum don’t fail me now!

This Writing Life: Author Platform Overload

This Writing Life: Author Platform Overload

This summer I pushed myself to develop this author platform o’ mine. I prettied up my blog, I added a FB page, and I got a regular schedule of blog posts (MON: This Writing Life, WED: Bookseller’s Take, etc.). I printed out planning pages and wrote everything out on calendars.

And then I burned out.

Also, I realized that for all my social media efforts, I lost focus on my actual daily writing goals. So concerned was I with meeting my own personal deadlines for this blog that I used my post word count – not original work to further my craft. And while this is fun and does challenge me, I don’t think it’s furthering my skills in any way.

I’ve taken a little time this month for a breather and to focus on my daily word count goals over making sure I have a blog post up every day.

I’m sure you don’t mind.