Saturday, November 29, 2008

Editing update, week 2

Squeaking in at the end of a busy holiday week for a word count update.

Starting count: 286,598
Current count: 270,849

That's down by 5720 from last week's ending count. Not nearly as much trimmed compared to the first week. The holidays distracted, and I didn't run across whole chapters or even chunks longer than a few paragraphs I felt should be yanked out. It was mostly line by line edits. But that 5720 total trimmed for the week is equal to two average chapters.

All in all, not great, but not bad either.

Long. Way. To. Go.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

One Holy Night

Author and publisher J. M. Hochstetler has a new book releasing from Sheaf House, April 1, 2009.

Set during the Vietnam War years, One Holy Night is the story of... well, why don't I just show you? Check out the book trailer below:

Joan and I regularly read and critique each others work, since we both have an avid interest in 18th Century history and fiction. In fact, I met Joan after reading the second book in her American Patriot series, Native Son. Having connected deeply with her lead characters, I was puttering about the house one day and actually caught myself praying for them and the situation they faced at the end of that book! I felt a little silly at first, then I realized, if a reader connected with Seona and Ian (my Kindred characters) so thoroughly that she caught herself praying for them, I'd be thrilled to know it. So I wrote Joan and told her, and that, as they say, was the start of a beautiful friendship.

I was privileged to read One Holy Night last year, while it was in progress. Joan has provided me with links to a review of the book and an interview, as well as a link to the first chapter.

Read the first chapter of One Holy Night here

Review at Window To My World blog "One Holy Night is J.M. Hochstetler’s fourth novel, and within its pages you will discover the most beautiful modern-day esence of Christ’s nativity, mercy and grace you’ve read in a very long while!"

An interview with J. M. Hochstetler at Window To My World blog.

"... One Holy Night grew out of my wrestling with the kinds of gritty issues that impact our lives every day—intergenerational and interracial conflict, addictions, war, illness, death, and divorce."
~J.M. Hochstetler, from the interview

Friday, November 21, 2008

Editing Update -- Week #1

Progress Report, Week 1:

After finishing that last section of Kindred, thus bumping my 217,000 word count up to 286,000, I've faced the challenge of trimming it back down again to something remotely publishable in size (which is far less than 217,000). It's a major challenge, but I'm hopeful. After finishing that last section of the story relatively quickly, I've learned a thing or two about pacing (and from my uber-helpful beta reader, Lauri). The first half of the book is very s-l-o-w paced. Line by line as well as in the over all story telling.

So, line by line I'm trimming it up, and here and there I'm yanking out Big Chunks that, while interesting for whatever reason (to me, anyway!), they aren't moving the story forward enough to warrant their inclusion. I cut out a chapter and a half after the first scene, and a large chunk of another scene a little further in. I'm looking at the rest of that latter scene, wondering if it should all go, and there's a chapter I trimmed down today, just under 2000 words, that also may end up on the cutting room floor eventually. I've edited through what used to be the first 9 chapters (now reduced to 7 chapters), and have lost 10,000 words.

Each morning begins with prayer for insight and inspiration on how to better tell this story, where I need clearer focus, where something is only muddying the waters, and for the steel it sometimes takes to cut out passages I'm fond of. It also begins with thanksgiving for the work of the previous day. If God has a plan for this novel beyond the blessings I've received in writing it, then I want Him with me every step of the way, in every word I put in and every word I take out. I want Him to be pleased, first of all.

During this edit I'm looking for themes to emerge, or symbols, or deeper layers that can be focused and strengthened. I've been reading a writing craft book, Word Painting by Rebecca McClannahan (link to Amazon's listing over in the side bar). In the chapter titled Figuratively Speaking, she talks about symbols.
A symbol means more than itself, but first it means itself. Like a developing image in a photographer's tray, a symbol reveals itself slowly. It's been there all along, waiting to emerge from the story, the poem, the essay--and from the writer herself. Symbols are powerful figures, capable of bearing the weight of a hundred lesser metaphors. When a symbol grows organically from its source--character, setting, conflict, plot, language and from our own passions--it can enrich our writing. But when it feels forced, self-conscious or merely placed over a piece of writing, it brings the whole house down with it.
Just this week I'm seeing a symbol cropping up in Kindred, maybe because I have stripped so much clutter away it's finally clear: an arrow. A literal arrow. An arrow of geese. An arrowhead a character finds and keeps, and eventually treasures. Someone's determination likened to an arrow. Not sure if it will end up being the uppermost symbol, in the end. Maybe so, maybe no.

Water is also a symbol. Rivers and creeks (and crossing them or not) play a part in this story. As does the symbolic River Jordan, on the far banks of which lies freedom.

Starting word count: 286,598
Current word count: 276,569

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Writers are readers

I've had a quote taped to my writing desk for many years. So many that I've long since forgotten where I found it. And (unusual for me), I failed to attribute the quote on the slip of paper that has stared out at me from under its cellophane window lo these past 12-13 years. But happily, there's Google. To the best of my (and Google's) knowledge, the quote is attributed to Sharon Oard Warner.

"Writers are first of all readers--avid, life-long readers who consume books the way other people do hamburgers and beer. As children, we crave the cool silence of libraries and summer afternoons draped over an armchair, the hours we spend suspended between the real world and the one we hold between our two sweaty hands. We covet the feel of books, their rigid covers and the pages that blow in the breeze. When our eyes scan a book we've just borrowed or bought, we writers feel buoyed with anticipation, hopeful, and content."

I've had a couple of weeks jammed packed with anticipation, hope and contentment as I've barreled my way through a seriously tall stack of library books. I'm not sure what comes over me at times. My county public library system has its catalogue on line (guess most do now), and I tend to go on reserving binges like some people go on on-line shopping binges. I'll need to research a subject, or a person, or a time period. Or I'll discover a new-to-me author and simply must read every book they've ever written. Now.

At present, I might have bit off more than I can mentally chew.

Among a sprinkling of other authors, I'm making my way through a dozen of Ann Rinaldi's books. Ann Rinaldi writes historical fiction for young adults. Many of her books are set in the 18th century (Kindred's time period). Many of them are about frontier life, or the Revolutionary War and the years just after, or slavery. Some of her books explore mixed racial identity and the blurred lines that can exist--a subject near and dear to my writer's heart.

And dare I mention the bibliographies in the back of these books? One resource title leads to another... and it's back to the library for me! And if I can't find it at the library, there's

My on-line shopping binges are always, always, for books.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Over at Karen's Blog....

Editor and author (and awesome Boggle player), Karen Ball, has an interesting discussion going on over at her blog. It started with this post, on November 11th, in which Karen asked her readers:

So, as a reader, what are you looking for in a book, especially fiction, from a "Christian" publishing house? What do you expect to find. What do you expect NOT to find? What makes a book "Christian"?

Insightful comments followed. The discussion continues with today's post here.

First, I want to know who you think today's Christian fiction reader is? Why do you think s/he reads fiction? What are you hearing from the readers around you about the books they're reading? And, if you care to share, what novel have you read lately that lived up to your expectations?

So share your thoughts...and stay tuned for Part 3.

Head on over and join the discussion!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Clearing out the clutter, in more ways than one

I have a mammogram this morning, then the rest of the day I mean to devote to weeding through the piles of research notes and scraps and odds and bits that have accumulated over the past four+ years of writing Kindred. Need to be sure I haven't overlooked something vital, some little note to myself to make some change or add some layer to someone's motivation. Oh boy.
But I'm itching to start editing again. I have ideas on how to yank out significant wordage in the first half of the book, in order to step up the pace. I'm also going to try really paring down the description. Although... I think this can be taken too far.

I recently read a book that had so little sense of place I felt like I was watching a play with the barest suggestion of stage dressing. The writing was good. The dialogue was good. But it was rare on any given page that I had a solid sense of where these scenes were taking place. The characters were interesting, their conflict hooked me, but a descriptive sentence or two more per page might have made the scenes come so much more alive.

Sometimes as a reader I want to settle in and experience the world of the characters in a deep and rich way, not skim along like a water bug, barely denting the surface.

I have to strive for the right balance with Kindred. It's overwritten now. But I don't want it to end up so spare that if it turned sideways, you couldn't see it.

My scattered thoughts for the day, tra la la.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Book Review and Something New

Still resting from Kindred. Going to try and let another week go by before I begin revisions and editing.

I finished editing my childrens story, Bear Country. I shaved another 4000 words off. That's pretty cool.

Something even cooler:

While the autumn rain streamed down outside today, I curled up in my recliner with a throw and a cup of tea, and finished reading The Shape of Mercy, by Susan Meissner. It's been a while since I picked up a book that engaged me so thoroughly as this book has done. I could hardly put it down, and spent a good portion of the past few days immersed in the compelling world of Lauren, Abigail, and Mercy.

From the back cover:

Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with her family's expectations and takes a part-time job from eighty-three-year-old librarian Abigail Boyles. The mysterious employer asks Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.

Along with Lauren, I was immediately drawn into Mercy's life, her hopes and trials, through her diary entries. Like Lauren, I couldn't wait for Mercy's story to unfold, even though the final outcome is a foregone conclusion. Or is it? The more Lauren learns about Mercy, and Abigail, the more questions are raised about both women--questions I kept turning the pages to have answered. The resolution doesn't disappoint.

This is also the story of three romances, each taking very different paths.

Meissner explores through the lives of all three women the themes of identity, sacrificial love, and our human tendency to judge what we do not understand. The Shape of Mercy is Meissner's newest release, from Waterbrook Press. Publishers Weekly gives it a starred review, and it's well deserved.

A good (and much more thorough) review at

Amazon's link

And here's something wonderful I stumbled upon while googling reviews for Mercy. Susan Meissner has started a blog, the Shape of Mercy Blog. In Meissner's words:

"I wanted these characters – Lauren, Abigail, Esperanza, Raul, Clarissa, and even Mercy - to keep breathing, to keep talking to me, prodding me even though the book was done. So I’ve decided to let these characters live on in a blog that will allow me to continue their fictive lives."

What a find! I'll be visiting every Monday and Friday for a further peek into these characters' lives. But I HIGHLY recommend reading the book first, before checking out The Shape of Mercy blog. Here may very well be spoilers!

Susan's website here
Susan's blog here
The Shape of Mercy Blog here

Saturday, November 01, 2008

November "Receipts" -- Sweet breads & muffins

While Kindred is sitting on the back burner, and I'm resting from my labors, thought I'd post about one of my non-writing passions... baking! (Not interested? Skip to the end of this post for a worthwhile writing-related link.)

If I didn't or couldn't write, I'd either go back to being a wildlife artist, or I'd be a baker. Here are two of my current favorite recipes for sweet breads, Cranberry Bread (made for me last October by my dear pal, Doree, in Wisconsin), and Peachy Almond Muffins. I happened to have them available in my kitchen at the same time this week, so I got all Southern Living about it and took a group photo. I like to have photos accompanying my recipes anyway, so I know what I'm aiming for.

Fall is a great time for baking. Warms that kitchen right up. Enjoy!
As this treatise is calculated for the improvement of the rising generation of Females in America, the Lady of fashion and fortune will not be displeased, if many hints are suggested for the more general and universal knowledge of those females in this country, who by loss of their parents, or other unfortunate circumstances, are reduced to the necessity of going into families in the line of domestics, or taking refuge with their friends or relations, and doing those things which are really essential to the perfecting of them as good wives, and useful members of society.
~ Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1796

Cranberry Bread (left) and Peachy Almond Muffins.
Click on the photo for a larger image


Cranberry Bread

Grease and flour a 5X8 loaf pan.

Mix in bowl: 2 cups flour; 1 cup sugar; 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder; 1 teaspoon salt; 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cut in: 1/4 cup butter

Add: 1 egg, beaten; 1 teaspoon grated orange peel; 3/4 cup orange juice

Fold in: 3 cups fresh cranberries

Bake at 350 degree oven, 60-70 minutes*

*If using a greased/floured tube cake pan (as shown in the photo), decrease the baking time to about 50 minutes

Peachy Almond Muffins

1 (16 oz.) can sliced peaches, drained
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Chop peaches, drain, and set aside. Combine flour, salt, soda, and sugar in a mixing bowl; make a well in center of dry ingredients. Add eggs and oil; stir until dry ingredients are moistened. Add peaches and remaining ingredients; stir until blended.

Spoon batter evenly into greased or paper-lined muffin pans, filling two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes for 6 jumbo muffins, 20-25 minutes for 12 regular-size muffins, or 18 minutes for 36 miniature muffins.

*Agent Chip MacGregor has an informative blog post from October 29th. He answers Ten Questions From Beginning Novelists. Check it out. And check out the comments if time permits. Some good discussion there, too.