Friday, March 10, 2017

Before & After - Window Seat

I rarely post my craft projects on here, because frankly, you can go on Pinterest and find a hundred other people who did the same thing only they did it much, much better. But my husband and I are pretty proud of this one. About a year and a half ago, we bough a fixer upper out in the country. The bones of it are in good shape, but the outside needs a bit of work.

Like this window seat.
Um, holy wood on wood, Batman. This is ridiculous! And I will note that the previous owner did leave behind a cushion that had been used as a pad for a guinea pig cage...so we promptly tossed that out.

I think a lot of home buyers would look at this and say, "Nope. No way." But as a child, growing up in the suburbs of Scottsdale, Arizona where every house is the same, and you tried to avoid sitting close to windows, I'd always dreamed of one day having a majestic little place in the window, with my pillows and stuffies, where I could curl up and write about boys in my diary or read about them in pre-teen vampire books. That is what I saw when I looked at this, and the hubs and I made it happen.

Here is my new, cozy, reading nook.

EEEK! Can you believe this is the same window seat? And it honestly did not cost us much to do it. The paint was leftover from our bedroom, the cushions I made myself, the curtain and throw pillows (apart from Mittens the cat pillow) are from Target, and the bird cage is from Michael's. We just strung an Edison bulb through it.

Here's a close-up of the cushions.
I had contacted a woman on Etsy about making them and she wanted to charge $300 plus shipping! After I finished gasping, I decided I would give it a shot myself. I bought the fabric on sale, had a coupon for the padding at JoAnn's, and all-in-all put in about $112 plus a day of work. (Admittedly, the Etsy woman was going to add the piping and likely do a nicer job, but I think I did okay and saved a ton of money.)

Some links if you're interested:
Blue Chenille Throw Pillows
Tie-up Curtains
Creepy Cat Pillow (it's not the same one, but this is where I got it.)
Bird Cage

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Writing a Query

I've been doing some query critiques lately because I'm a weirdo and I actually enjoy doing them. Even if I don't *have* to do one, I do one because it's a good way for me to capture the true heart of my story and make sure I stay on track while writing the actual story.

Anyway, in doing these critiques, I've seen a similar issue: telling not showing (and ladies, if you're reading this, I'm not trying to call anyone out, it's a really common issue.)

If you want, just stop reading here and go to the queen of critiques, the Query Shark. You'll see.
http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

But if you're too scared to go there just yet (and I don't blame you,) I promise I'll be nice.

My query letters are pretty formulaic, but hey, they've worked!

Subject Line: Query, TWO BASKET-WEAVING HEARTS

Dear AGENT,
Please insert real agent's name. Some people opt for Ms. Smith. I write Dear Jane.We're all adults here, and that's how I write my business emails at the day job. But I don't think you'll get crucified for either one. Just make sure you use the RIGHT name.

I saw on Manuscript Wishlist you're looking for romance novels centered around crafting, and I think TWO BASKET-WEAVING HEARTS will interest you. It's complete at 80,000 words and will appeal to fans of KNITTING TOGETHER and PAINTING TO PARADISE.

Key elements of the first paragraph:

  • Say why you are querying the agent
  • Give the title of your manuscript in all caps along with word count. If it is 80,253 words, round down to 80,000.
  • Comp titles if applicable, although sometimes I skip these, and sometimes I reference one of the agent's own books. Just don't say something like, "My novel is the next Harry Potter."
Kristin Jones is a twice divorced copy editor with two sons whom she hasn't spoken to in over a year. Her cat died last week, and she's on the verge of becoming a hermit when her best friend buys her a pass for basket-weaving classes at the local community center. Kristin is not going. She has no interest in basket-weaving, but after too much wine one night, she finds herself sitting at a table with a pile of reeds next to an incredibly gorgeous guy.

Over the next few weeks, Kristin gets to know her way around a basket and the hunk, Adam, a recently widowed former mechanic with early onset rheumatoid arthritis. The basket-weaving is to keep his fingers nimble. But what neither of them expected to find in the bindings of their baskets was laughter, love, and a renewed passion for living.

This is the meat of your query and where writers tend to get lost. Do not use this space to say, "This is a story about starting new ventures and finding love after fifty in unexpected places." NO! Introduce us to the characters (Kristin and Adam), the inciting incident (the basket-weaving classes), and the problem, (they both think life is over until they find each other.) Bam! That's your query.

I'm a member of RWA, and my short story, Quilting Dreams, won the FASPA award for best short story about crafting. Per your submission guidelines, the first ten pages are pasted below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
YOUR NAME
PHONE NUMBER
EMAIL

The closing. Here's where you mention any qualifications you have for writing the novel, any awards you've won, any other publications you've made plus what materials you've included. This varies from agent to agent. Make sure you check the agent's latest guidelines before sending your query. They are known to change, take time off from queries, or move to a new agency. I do keep a spreadsheet, but right before I click the send button, I check their website one more time to make sure everything is accurate. Please do this. Not following instructions is such a quick way to get auto-trashed, and you don't want to do that. 

Please keep in mind, this is not the only way to write a query, it's just my way. Most importantly, make sure the summary of your book is in the best shape possible along with your opening pages. All of the other stuff can be overlooked if your writing is amazing. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Cover Art

I have to share this, because, as much as my husband is proud of me for following my passion to write, I'm so proud of him for following his passion to create. I've forced him to read most* of my manuscripts, subjecting him to teen angst and make out scenes that he probably never imagined he'd be stuck reading. He's been a real trooper about it, and he's an amazing copy editor. (I think he secretly likes finding all of my typos and pointing them out) Anyway, my latest WIP inspired him to create a cover design, and I absolutely love it. It's modern, clean, simple, and it captures the real heart of the story with a little mystery that would intrigue a reader to look inside. Or maybe that's just me. What do you think, though? Would you read this book?

*I wrote a YA thriller about mean girls that I thought might be too much for him so I let him skip it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

TMI

Let's get back to editing, and this one's an easy one. To start, every paragraph, every sentence, every WORD in your story needs to serve a purpose. One as grand as revealing a pivotal plot point, as lovely as describing a room, or as simple as giving a reader pause.

Everything else? Delete.

This is one reason agents, editors, most people are so anti-adverb. They're like the carbs of the writing world. Sure, they taste great. But they're empty calories. Filler.

Case in point.
He eyed them circumspectly.
What does that mean? Can you tell me what that looks like? And if you can, do that instead of copping out with an adverb.

He violently attacked her. 
Really? Because when I attack people, I usually do it passively.

In addition to adverbs, we also have unnecessary prepositional phrases. Sure, you might need to know the cat was in the closet. Or the laundry was on the stairs.

But do you need to know...
Her heart thrummed in her chest.
Really? Not her elbow?

They dug the grave in the ground.
Oh, thanks for clearing that up. Most people dig graves in the middle of their living rooms.

He inhaled through his nose.
A tricky one, because yes, he could inhale through his mouth. We have two orifices for that just in case one gets blocked. But do we really need to know that? Is it integral to your story, or the character that we know, without a doubt he took that breath through his nose?

I don't need to read your work to say, "no."

I'm not trying to shame anyone for this. We all do it. The point is, before your draft goes out on submission or even worse, to print, you should give it one last read to delete all of the unnecessary amplifiers. It's also a super-easy way to cut down word count if you're running high.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So far, 2017 has mixed reviews.

The Good.
I heard back from new agent regarding rewrites. She said, and I quote, "You did an amazing job with revisions!" Amazing. Next up, a submission plan and hopefully, a book deal. I'm always optimistic.

The Bad. 
My identity was stolen. At first I thought it was just my debit card, but then the thieves used my debit card to buy prepaid Visa cards that required my address and SSN. I had to cancel those cards when they showed up at my house. Then I had to file a fraud alert with the credit company, and after three calls to LifeLock, they say there is nothing they can do for me.

So uh, what am I paying them for?

I'm also still waiting for the bank to refund the stolen charges because every time I see them on my transaction history, I get angry. I might not be as bothered by this if we hadn't been robbed a little over a year ago. The thieves broke into my house, almost lost my cat, and stole my wedding rings.

My husband and I have enough, not a ton. We're not flashy, (my wedding ring was from Sam's club,) and we're always willing to share what we have. So I'm having trouble renewing my faith in humanity. Especially considering the beliefs of the man currently in the White House and knowing the majority of Americans put him there. They chose hate over love. They chose discrimination over acceptance. Money over science.

I'm doing my best to fight the good fight, both personally and politically, without turning to the Dark Side myself...but it's getting really hard.

The Ugly
My anxiety has worsened. Present situation is partly responsible. I already take medication, but I've started to see new bad habits forming. For one, I get really angry when I get anxious, often lashing out at my family or forcing them to change plans. I totally freaked from the crowds on Halloween. I can't take my son to those places like Gymboree or Monkey Joe's because all of the kids running around screaming send me into a panic attack. I couldn't go to the women's march because of the thought of the crowds. I had to cancel a meeting downtown because the thought of parking made me sweat.

I don't make phone calls, or at least I try not to. If I have to, I prefer to be the one making the call, because that way I can plan out what I'm going to say. Sometimes I'll spend an entire day planning out a script for a conference call so I don't sound like an idiot. I'll review my conversation at least ten minutes before I order a pizza. If I have to meet new people, I prefer to do it at a place where I can have at least one drink. I'll even get there early to make sure I can have that drink before they arrive.

One of my goals for 2017 is to get into better shape, (which is why I'm hesitant to up my medication. It makes me gain weight.) I decided to take advantage of the YMCA pool and swim laps. Only I had nightmares about going to the pool! I worried it would be too crowded, or I'd look like an idiot, (considering I haven't lap swam in ages.)

Nightmares, people. About going to a pool.

For people who don't have anxiety, this is what it's like. I know I'm overreacting. Like what are they going to do if I doggie paddle my laps? Kick me out? I have a panic attack every time I go to the grocery store, and the funny thing is, to everyone else, I look so obscenely organized and put together. Because to avoid accidents or mishaps, I plan everything.

My grocery list is written in the order things appear in the store, so I can get out as quickly as possible. I match coupons to sales, and have those select coupons already out so I don't have to dig for them in my purse. If the store looks crowded, I make sure to get a cart from the parking lot. In case there aren't any available inside.

If I have to drive somewhere new, I memorize the map before I go, and usually leave the directions running on my phone. But I like to know what they are ahead of time in case the GPS directions lag so I can be prepared for the turn. For the pool situation, the first time I went, it was too crowded! They were swimming three to a lane, which I couldn't handle. So I waited a half hour for a lane to open up.

And all this planning, avoiding crowds, rehearsing scripts for phone calls, (or making my husband order the pizza) works for me. Most of the time. Until an unplanned situation comes up. Like getting my identity stolen, and then I just feel like crawling into bed and hiding until it goes away. Like I can deal with life as long as it's going smoothly, but as soon as there's a bump in the road I don't have a contingency plan for, I'm done.

I'm not trying to whine about it, or poor me! Going to the grocery store makes my heart race! At least I have money to go to the grocery store, right? I'm just saying it's tough, and it sucks, and hopefully, by month two of 2017, I'll have it under control. Until then, there's wine.



Thursday, December 22, 2016

We'll Meet Again Some Other Day

I suppose 2016 couldn't end without claiming yet another life. My sophomore year English teacher died this week. In the midst of listening to the 90's week on my local radio station, I've been transported back in time, and then dredged into the future where I basically have to say goodbye to my childhood.

I remember back in English class, I vowed that one day I would write my own book, and I would preface it with a note to readers:

Dear Readers,
As you read this, please do not try to find any symbolism in my work. Sometimes a rock is just a rock. It doesn't stand for the injustice of government or the heroine's strong will. It is just a rock.

Sincerely,
Rachel

I then joked to my friends that Mr. Dant, and his life partner, Mrs. Kearns (my Freshman year English teacher,) would analyze the letter I had written saying not to analyze anything and somehow find symbolism in it.

Unfortunately, I did not get a book published before he passed. But I wouldn't have been able to put that letter in anyway. Because he was right. There are symbols all over my manuscripts and darn it if a pile of rocks doesn't visualize the hurdles my main character has to cross before reaching her goal.

I'm sorry I never got to tell him he was right, but I think he probably knew.

John Thomas Dant

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Your Author is Showing

There are several ways you can expose yourself as an author. (And I'm not meaning literally.) I mean in your novel, where someone might say, "I was really pulled out of the story." They say that because they can see the author coming through. The curtain has been lifted. They've opened the factory doors and gotten a peek at how the sausage is made.

I see this is a lot in drafts, my own included. I've also sadly seen it in published works. In my own work, I can usually spot these glimpses into the background by an extreme lack of tension.

Example:
Mary falls into the water. The cold wraps around her, and she's strangled by heavy, wet skirts. She's drowning. Is this how it ends, she thinks?

There's no struggle. No panic. She's not even trying to fight it...because in the next scene, a handsome male hero is going to dredge her from the water.

The author knows this. She wrote the story. But Mary doesn't know that. Personally, drowning is one of the most horrifying deaths I can imagine. Mary, not knowing she's going to be saved, should rightfully be terrified.

Corrected Example:
Mary falls into the water. The cold wraps around her, and she's strangled by heavy, wet skirts. She claws at the ocean, trying to reach the surface and only sinks faster. She hadn't taken a deep enough breath before she fell. Her lungs are at the limit of bursting. She pinches her lips together and kicks frantically toward the patch of light over her head. I can't die, she thinks, not now.

I think the difference is clear. In the first example, we're not really worried for Mary. In the second, we are at the edge of our seats, wondering what is going to happen.

As I'm re-reading my second drafts, I look for these spots that feel a little flat, and I stop and ask myself a few questions.

What does Mary know at this point? Does she know there's someone around to save her? Does she think she's all alone and no one saw her fall?

Once that's been determined. I ask...

Then how would Mary feel at this moment?

I guarantee if a moment in your story feels slow or boring, it's likely because there isn't enough emotion in it. And readers can see that.