The Power of Slash -Life of a NaNoWriMo Novel

“Kill Words” by Clare Graith – first paragraphs:

I can’t go home. That much I know. I’ll just stay in my car at the Walmart parking lot. If I could just get the phone package open. My hands are shaking. What did he say? “Hang up and go buy a burner phone then call me back.” His words go through my mind over and over. I love his voice. It matches the tone of his blog posts. Strong but approachable. I must be crazy. He only spoke one sentence and then click. Did I make that up?

I resort to using my car key to rip a hole in the package. The phone slides out. As soon as I have it on and the screen lights up, my heart pounds even faster. I need to calm down. I’m not doing anything wrong. I look around half excepting a police officer to come by come and tell me to step out of the car as though using a disposable phone is a crime. I’ve got to get it together. Seriously, all this could be a game; “let’s see what Maisey will do”. Wait, not Maisey, Maeve. I have to remember my blog name. I’ll play along for now. I make the call.

            He picks up at the first ring. “Hi Maeve. Sorry about this.”

            “What’s going on Tyler?” I surprise myself with a demanding tone. But that’s right Maeve would be that way. “Why can’t we talk on our regular phones?”

            “The people I work for. I think they’re monitoring my phone and my email.”

            “But you work for the library, right?”

            “The library is my cover job.”



The new beginning was created by chopping the entire first three chapters, picking the story up right before Maisey’s life spirals out of control. The previous beginnings are below. I think its getting better. Who wants to bet that I’ll have another post with further revisions? Anyone want to see more?

I hope sharing the progression of the beginning of my novel, gives someone out there the courage to try slashing. It can transform the beginning from “meh” to “yeah”.

Write On! Slash on! Be free from the page already written!

Read about Tyler’s backstory at EnTyleryWords.com

The previous Beginning read like this:


Lying on my bed, staring up at the swirly pattern on the ceiling of my childhood room, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a blog. I need a place where I can be me, not the me that everyone thinks I am. The me I know I am. I’ll be called Maeve. That’s a good, solid sounding name. Better than Maisey. Not that Maisey is a bad name, it’s just that it’s grandma Gertie’s middle name and Grandma Gertie was incredible. Widowed with ten kids at thirty, she built a business making children’s cloths. What am I building? Not even immunity, I catch a cold every other month chasing after kids as a teacher’s aide.

This kind of thinking is what happens on fall break. Give me some time and I see my life for what it is. I see clearly, I’ve bought into the lie that working hard, getting a degree with high honors means I’m destined for success. My mother was a five-time winner of the Midwest teacher of the Year award. Yet what kind of job do I land? One that does not even require a college degree; ‘preferred but not required’ to be exact.

A blog will not solve all my problems, but it won’t add to them.

This was the version before:

I’m named after my grandmother, Gertrude Maisey Warner. But I don’t have her first name, I’m called Maisey. The truth is even when I was born my parents could tell I would not fill Grandma Gerty’s shoes. She married at eighteen, lost her husband at thirty and raised ten kids by sewing children’s clothes, eventually creating her own brand. Each of her children grew up with the same penchant for success. My uncle Bill is a neurosurgeon and pioneered a technique for treating a rare brain tumor. Uncle Jack is dean of mathematics at the university. Aunt Becca is co-founder of a medical device company. My own mother not only won ‘teacher of the year’ five years in a row for the Midwest region, but she started a non-profit to combat illiteracy in the inner city. Now it was the next generation’s turn to carry on the legacy unless I break the trend.

ORIGINAL First Draft Beginning:

I’m named after my grandmother Gertrude Maisey Warner, the revered matriarch of the family. They called her Gerty, but I’m called Maisey. I guess my parents could tell even then that I would not be able to fill her shoes. She married at eighteen and had ten kids all of them growing up to be upstanding citizens. My uncle Bill is a neurosurgeon, uncle Jack head of mathematics at the university, my aunt Becca a CEO of a medical device company. My own mother not only won ‘teacher of the year’ five years in a row for the Midwest region, but she started a non-profit to combat illiteracy in the inner-city.

Counting on Success

Repost due to yesterday’s glitch

I’m a numbers person. Not math, strings of numbers. It gives me pleasure when a number is assigned to a record by the system and it has order like, 828928, or if I look at the clock and it says:11:11. Don’t get me started on dates. Every month last year, the month plus 20/20 made me want to check a box. I don’t make much of this wacky joy. There are so many things to bring worry and anxiety, why look too deeply into something that puffs a little positivity my way?
It’s easy though to get caught up in the numbers game with blogging. How many ‘likes’ on a post, how many followers, how many posts in a month? Keep it light, keep it fun, that’s what I say.
I’m preparing a query letter for my current WIP and I really want to get it right. Writing query letters is as strenuous as writing beginnings of novels for me. I revise a thousand times and still go back and read it a week later and want to spit for how terrible it sounds. I can’t even get out of the gate with a few sentences that show case how great the story is if someone reads to at least page fifteen. I’ve tried cutting straight to page fifteen with marginal success. Anyway, off topic.
Numbers. In my study on a better query I came across a chart of expected word count for the type of novel I’m pitching. This particular article said it should be 80-90K. Forget the query, I need another fifteen thousand words! If I don’t have the word count right, that could be the end of my query even if I manage to nail the three sentence summary.
Adding fifteen thousand words does not make me sick, not at all. I’ve learned that if I carefully read through my story, I will find great big gaps that in my haste to get through to the next scene, I’ve summarized without realizing it. It’s happened so many times that even though I was sure I had the best final draft (before a professional editor gets ahold of it), there are pockets of story missing.
Did Tyler and Maisey really just walk up to the car and boom someone came behind them with chloroform saturated clothes? So quick, so easy to get them in the clutches of their enemies. There’s a nugget of five thousand words to push in there. Now if I could just stop cutting words from the beginning, I might one day get it right!

Anyone notice yesterday’s wonderful date? 012121. So nice.

Did you see yesterday’s post at Entylerywords?

Press Pause Please

My home office came into existence March 16, 2020. Before that date, the dining room table worked just fine for the occasional stay at home days. I bought the cheapest monitor from Walmart since a laptop screen is too small for continuous work. I set up a “desk” using two folding camp tables. But work doesn’t go on pause just because a setup is make shift. It was full steam ahead, trying to keep track of files, documents, take video calls, eat lunch, with a crazy set-up.
Since I go into work a few times a week, I had to pack my notebooks and files in my backpack and then take them back and forth. In a very short time I was surrounded by chaos, but still to stop and organize, get the equipment and strategy that would make work easier, wasn’t an option. At the end of every extended day, there isn’t anything left to continue another fifteen or thirty minutes to improve the work environment. Until, my brain said, “stop!” and so I did.
One morning when there were no meetings scheduled I took an hour to clear out everything and start over. I used a vanity desk with drawers and a folding table. I positioned my monitors (added another compliments of the company) toward the window so my view was a tree and the garden instead of the neighbor’s deck. I consolidated files and tossed stuff that I no longer needed. I vacuumed and cleaned and made the bed that crowds the space (it’s a guest room) when all was said and done, I started back to work, behind thirty emails but feeling a lot more sane.
Why am I saying all this? Because there is a parallel with my writing projects. I’m so driven to write that even though I know I really should stop, take some time to plot out where I’m headed or listen to that inner editor that asks if a character really needs to be in a scene, I don’t slow down. Take a break? Spend some time researching if the setting is accurate? Not a chance, I’m red hot I can’t stop or else I’ll never get done. That’s the way it feels, always this sense of urgency. But if I take a lesson from my ‘work at home’ situation, I might realize taking time to employ the tools (books on how to write better), or even find the right tools (software for plotting) or just get my workspace and files organized, will result in better quality the first time. If your project is starting to be a cloud of ‘things I’ll fix later’, it might be time to take a morning off, do some planning, tidying up files, taking advantage of tools and finding out, a short pause is not a waste of time but can turn into the energy and drive to finish well.
Write on!

Getting to Know You

Character building through conversations

Tyler Rowan of “EnTyleryWords.com”

This fictitious conversation is between Andrea Mann a journalist researching for an article about patrons of “Feed Our Souls” (FOS) homeless shelter in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Andrea: Tyler, tell me about the circumstances that brought you to FOS. How old were you? What happened that you came to FOS?

Tyler: I was twenty-two, living in my car at the time. FOS had good food and I was starving.

Andrea: Were you working?

Tyler: Lost my job. Then I couldn’t pay my part of the rent, so my roommates kicked me out. Well actually I left. I wasn’t going to let them pay for my place. None of us were doing that well.

Andrea: So FOS was there for you when you were between jobs. What happened that you lost your job?

Tyler: I screwed up. Worked for a builder. I was learning a trade; you know how to put up walls, windows, a roof. But I partied too much. Came to work hung over, still drunk and almost got one of my co-workers killed. I was fired which I totally deserved.

Andrea: Not easy to admit.

Tyler: Took me a long while to get over, you know, almost killing someone. Sobered up fast but my references were shot.

Andrea: Hard to find a job without a good word from someone.

Tyler: Damn near impossible and it didn’t help that I’m not cut out for working at a fast food place or the dollar store.

Andrea: What about family?

Tyler (sarcastic laugh) Don’t have any.

Andrea: No family? You’re an orphan then?

Tyler: Not exactly. My dad died when I was eight, but mom remarried.

Andrea: And…

Tyler: Stan doesn’t want reminders of mom’s old life, tried to drive me out before I was eighteen but I had to finish high school at least, wanted to go to college. Yeah, that was a childhood dream. And I have a sister but she’s in jail.

Andrea: No aunts, uncles, grandparents?

Tyler: I thought this interview was about FOS.

Andrea: Yes, right. Sorry. It is but the background of FOS patrons helps us understand the support that might be needed beyond a bed and a meal.

Tyler: I don’t need support. I just need something to eat now and again.

Andrea: Of course. That is our main purpose.


Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on the character in “Kill Words” by Clare Graith. Tyler’s blog can be found at EnTyleryWords.com (launching soon). FOS is a fictional homeless shelter. Andrea Mann is a fictional journalist. Any resemblance to real people and places is coincidental.

Personal Notes on the New Year

Woke up in the new year, From a sound sleep,
To the pop of fireworks,
12:04 am.
Ha ha!
Thought something was hitting the window.
It’s a new year on the calendar,
Same world.
I want to do better in this current
12 month period.
Just not sure what
That looks like!
Not better at what I do,
Better at who I am,
But it’s a moving target,
And I feel like I’m missing the point,
Shooting arrows aimlessly.

Writing note- introspection and journaling can lead to great writing. I entered a contest a few months ago with a short story birthed from a few thoughts I jotted down and turned into a character’s situation. Winners will be announced soon. I’m not terribly hopeful but it’s a good story. I’ll post one day and see if you all agree. Maybe in my newsletter coming soon!

Happy 2021 may it be fruitful in all that is good and halt all that is bad.

Pros and Cons of a Virtual Writer’s Conference- full article.

I could never have imagined that half my life would be lived on Zoom, didn’t even know what it was less than a year ago. Yet I spent a long weekend ‘attending’ a writer’s conference entirely as a virtual experience. What does ‘virtual’ mean anyway? One definition on vocabulary.com said “exists in essence but not in actuality”. Hmm try to live in the essence of something meant to be actually there. It’s a challenge but surprisingly there are some benefits when it comes to a writer’s conference.

There are obvious advantages like eliminating the cost of travel, hotel, and meals and in these COVID times, not needing to wear a mask or use excessive hand sanitizer. But there are also lesser positives that altogether make a nice package. Here are a few I noted:

• Don’t need to rush to a class or cross a campus to get there or wonder if you’ll get a seat close enough to hear, see or get a chance to share.
• All you have to do is be quick at typing in a chat box to be able to share
• Don’t need to figure out where the next class is
• Can see all the names of the people in a class – might see someone you know. In a classroom you can’t look around too much or people will think you’re weird(er)
• Always have hot coffee in your favorite mug (or a cold brew)
• Can eat a meal if you turn video off as opposed to being hungry because classes are back to back and you don’t want to be impolite and chomp away while the presenter talks about the spiritual nature of writing.
• You can leave, quietly, without worrying about the people around you and hearing their silent questions, ‘what’s wrong with her? This class is great’ or ‘she looks like she might pass out from hunger’ or ‘wish she would stop making so much noise packing up her stuff…’. Just turn video off and slip away back to the familiar actual location of your comfortable home.

I guess it could be summed up that a virtual conference affords convenience.

There are some things lost however. For example, if there are handouts, the printing is on you. You’ll not walk away with any freebies either; prizes, literature or writing themed merchandise. You have to have decent equipment, two monitors (a laptop and a monitor works) so you can view PDFs if not printing them, take notes and also view the class and presenter. You need a reliable internet connection. If you have IT issues, you’re going to miss live classes and only have recordings. On the flip side, there are recordings, so if your dog chews up your router, no worries, all is not lost.

You should consider when you’re in a video classroom, the presenter has as much ability to look around at the faces on the screen as you do. If your eyes are closing or you roll your eyes, mute won’t save you. The presenter may be staring straight at you…kind of feels that way even if faces are spread out over three screens. One of the biggest drawbacks to virtual from live is that you can’t just get up and leave class (enduring the silent attention) and find another class that is better suited for what you want to spend your time on. You only have access to the classes you signed up for.

That is a problem if the class is small and the presenter is painfully ill prepared or just has that kind of creative mind that strings all kinds of thoughts together and nods, ‘okay, as you can see it’s really quite easy to learn these principles for success’. Yeah, not so much. Another soft miss with virtual is that the presenters don’t fraternize any more than participants. That means that when you share your story idea with one person he won’t be connecting with the editor he knows that told him at breakfast that she’s looking for exactly the type of story you’re writing. That’s probably a long shot that such a miraculous connection could be made, but it’s not happening in a virtual setting. In the same way there’s no connections with other writers. Okay so there could be and maybe larger conferences handle this better. There was one event for ‘socializing’ and there was a ‘break out’ room but I stopped by and it wasn’t the chatroom I had hoped for, more like a crossroads between classes.

However, though I know it’s supremely important to network as these events, I didn’t miss the opportunity to mix all that much. Enjoyment of the company of strangers wanes thin super fast for me. Especially when those people are often subtly competitive. There is always a person dominating conversation who finds a way to mention how their book is about to be published or they just landed a job with a major publisher or they have three agents fighting over their manuscript. Then there’s all the posturing and arranging to sit with agents and editors. By the end of a live conference I’m exhausted from all the information and ideas and stressed by all the social failures I’ve had. I almost always battle a bout of depression just after.

Not so this time. Being able to sleep in my own bed. Being able to retreat from the eager, ambitious faces of my classmates every night, I was more focused on learning, less tired and worn out which leads to my conclusion.

If you’re an extrovert and people energize you, a virtual conference will fall flat but you’ll get something out of it. If you can skip the social networking and won’t miss that you don’t have five new friend requests after it’s all said and done, then a virtual conference is a very good use of your time.


Clare’s recommendations to get the most out of a Virtual Writer’s Conference coming in next post.

Super Powers to the Rescue

I commute to my day job over an hour. When I first took this job, I thought I would invest in a Rosetta Stone program and learn a new language with all that drive time. Wouldn’t that be great? Linguistics always captured my attention. The opportunity made me giddy with hope.

“Oh, the things you will do.”

Dr. Seuss


I’m going on three years. I speak English, bits of German, and childish Spanish, none of which I learned while driving twelve hours a week. I have listened to audio books as varied as the “Little House on the Prairie” (serious wisdom in those books) to a biography of Hamilton. I’ve tuned into anything to fill the time, and allow my brain to detach from the trials of the workday and transition to the sanctuary of home. Learn a language after the daily toil of a new job. What was I thinking?

I bring this up because my aspirations remind me of how sometimes characters in books can do amazing things. They can diffuse atomic bombs with two broken hands. They have convenient gifts that allow them to see through walls (I once thought I had this gift. Okay, people be nice I was six). I’ve known some amazing, productive people and I applaud the ideal that they represent. But I find it tiresome that so much fiction is based on superpowers or feats of learning and physical stamina that leave no hope for us normal mortals to see ourselves in them.

Regular people can be truly inspiring without being the strongest, most adept or the top of their game. My point is, let’s try to keep it real, or at least not resort to the ‘special powers’ or ‘super skills’ every time our characters get in a bind. Write on! The world awaits your voice.


Confession

In the speculative Sci-Fi arena there are at times, stretches of humanity’s traits. Two of the four projects I’m working on involve people with abilities that we don’t (currently) have, but they are plausible, and some might say probable.

Pitch the Story

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

There are many milestones to reach on the way to publication. First one of course, is having a story to write. Most of what I write starts with an idea and not a story. The idea gives birth to the story. I’m a ‘Panster’, plotting as I go. More on the Pros and Cons of that in another post. However it begins, eventually a novel is created. Next step, write a query, with the ultimate goal of convincing an agent to represent your precious project that you have lived and breathed for months, sometimes years.

That was the course I was on this time around. I edited a summary of my novel a hundred times until finally satisfied (more like exhausted from editing), I sent out four queries to agents. I was rejected by every single one. But alas, there were no tears or sulking from the replies. In fact, it was an enlightening experiment. The results? I learned agents seem to be first interested in the story. The sales pitch has to be the story. How well the pitch is written is less important than how engaging and how well explained the story. Some of you are probably saying ‘duh’. Hey, I never claimed to be brilliant.

But I looked a little closer at that discovery. I reviewed my summary and realized though I used catchy phrases and active sentence structure, I wasn’t even sure what my story was really all about. I had 103,000 words and I couldn’t quite say what it all meant. A huge storm cloud began to form over my head. What was my story in its simplest essence? Scenes came back to me that in my heart I knew had no purpose. Characters, a wife even, seemed pointless to the story. The storm kept building until finally the deluge let loose and poured down, “Revise, revise, revise!” So began the “major revision version” resulting in around 30,000 words cut. It was hard but, it felt good because the story boiled down until it is now the pure, sweet syrup of what I meant to say.

So, what am I saying in this post? Don’t craft your query letter at the end or even the middle of writing your novel. Craft it in the beginning. Getting the summary concise and meaningful will keep you on track and not let characters step in that distract and eat up time. It will guard against perfect but pointless scenes that dilute the power of your message. Try it!

Joys of Veggie

Veggie Bacon

Have you ever had veggie bacon? Truth be told, vegetables and bacon really don’t belong together in the same sentence and it ain’t cheap. Just saying. It is lower fat though and well, it isn’t meat. We have recently discovered the joys of low fat eating. We went from using a stick of butter every three days or so to every three weeks or so. We cut all kinds of high fats foods from our diet. It wasn’t that hard. However, cutting out full Sunday breakfast with bacon, eggs, fried potatoes and toast slathered in butter, did not go down without a fight. We’ve been hunting for new breakfast friends ever since. That’s why this past weekend we tried veggie bacon.
Within a minute of heating, a bacon-like aroma filled the kitchen. I say ‘bacon-like’ because imagination was needed to turn a kind of vitamin-ish smell into hickory smoke. I have an active imagination so I went with it. The strips didn’t crinkle, but they did crackle, like dried cardboard. My husband took one look and wouldn’t even take a bite. I’m stubborn and was not going to give up on the idea so easy. I crumbled some in my turmeric yellow scrambled egg whites and declared it bacon flavored.
That was as close to success as veggie bacon came.
Pulling this experience apart it occurred to me, I could feel cheated or foolish for trying. I could bemoan the loss of the Sunday breakfast extravaganza I dreamt about or I could congratulate myself for delving into an unknown territory and count myself among those brave souls that eat veggie bacon. It’s the difference of wallowing in short term disappointment or packing the experience up as a long term tool.
It’s the same with writing projects. They usually start with a burst of creative joy, all kinds of excitement at bringing new characters to life. Thoughts like, ‘this is the big one’ or ‘my writing is super hot this time’ and the confident assertion ‘I’ve got this’ roll through the mind like the beat of a victory march. But the story hits a snag. A read to someone yields a confused look and tentative smile. Your own perusal causes you to curse about how terrible it sounds. It is veggie bacon, no worse it’s burnt veggie bacon.( I might know a little bit about this too).
So what to do? Ask yourself if you are in it for the short term satisfaction or are you ready for the long road that will require the carrying of tools crafted by disappointment. Totally up to you. As for me, I’m going to try the veggie breakfast sausage. I have high hopes.

Writer’s 10 Second Rule

There’s an urban myth that if something falls on the floor and it is picked up within ten seconds, it’s as good as if it never dropped, perfectly safe. Microbes have not had time to contaminate.

Our kitchen floor is particularly good for this rule because the floor is a soft linoleum. When a chunk of buttered Italian bread hits the floor, it bounces. Catch it on the first bounce and all is well.

The truth is microbes are fast little buggers. They don’t play by the arbitrary rules humans set up to make tough choices easier or better yet help busy moms save that lollipop to avoid ear splitting screams. With the said rule declared, we save otherwise lost causes. Why? Ultimately, the human body is built to combat invaders, and being germophobic is a luxury most of the world can’t live by, even in a COVID-19 world. Adjustments are made in expectations; risks are accepted, and life goes on. The rule provides an escape hatch to practical sensibility.

Give yourself the same break. If your story falls flat (or any endeavor), if rejections pour in and critiques feel overwhelmingly critical, don’t abandon it as a lost cause. Brush it off, pick out the dirt, slice off the bad part. You’ll avoid calling your less than perfect creative work, ‘trash’ and maybe quell some ear-splitting screams from your heart. Look at it again. Did you see that bounce? It’s coming back up to you. Catch it!