Thursday, April 30, 2009

Remembering Hiero

Today would have been my Hiero's fourteenth birthday. He died last summer of cancer. I still have an ache, even though we've adopted crazy two-year-old Dargo to fill that place in our hearts and home.

Rest in peace, buddy, up in your favorite huckleberry patch. We miss your funny face.

What has this to do with writing? Nothing too much, except I do hope one day to write a series of children's books inspired by ol' Hiero. I have a pretty cool story situation, but the right plot hasn't dropped out of the musey blue yet.

Maybe one day.

Hiero * * * * * Dargo

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Quiet on the blog front... and why

It's been awfully quiet round here. Which means I'm working, shaving off those words. And it means some life issues have intruded, as they do, to fill up my free time and thoughts. I expect those to smooth out over the next few weeks... just in time for me to fly east for my little brother's wedding.

I'm still editing, and keeping the word count current over in the side bar. Still reading The Moral Premise (and wishing I'd read this book, like, ten years ago. Maybe twenty). Any writer interested in the underlying internal bones of a story that give purpose and drive to the top layer--the action and dialogue--really ought to read this book. It's deep, and technical, and I'm taking it in small bites. Speaking of bites....

I've also discovered the Twilight series, by Stephenie Meyer. Behind the curve as usual. I'd heard so much negativity about the quality of writing in these books--from Stephen King to my own friends and writing acquaintances--and, well, vampires have never been a draw for me. I'd decided that (unlike with Harry Potter), I'd sit this wave out. Then... I found myself in the company of three women who were in a movie-watching mind, and one of those movies they picked to watch was Twilight.

By the time the movie ended I was hooked on Bella and Edward. I had to know how their story continued (since I knew... how could I miss knowing, being such a book lover and reading so many book blogs?... that there were four books in the series), and I wasn't going to wait until the second movie came out in November. Patience, young Jedi.... NOT!

So I ordered the first book, thinking, how bad can it be? I already love the characters. I want more of their story. I'll get through it.

Was I ever surprised by Meyer's writing. It. Is. Not. Bad. In fact, in the second book, which I'm halfway through, there are passages I wish I'd written. Not every book or every writer does that for me, fair to say.

I can't compare these books to other vampire books. These are the first I've ever read. But they are clean. They talk of God... in a positive light. These particular vampires strike me as a clear picture of the choice I as child of God and in relationship with Christ must make day by day, moment by moment, whether to walk in the flesh, or the Spirit. It's just the stakes implicit in that choice for these dudes are MUCH higher. Literally life and death.

Other themes explored in the first two books:
Abstinence
Self-control
The importance of family
The strength of family
Sacrifice for the good of another
True friendship vs. false
Unconditional love

In a vampire book. Who knew?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Recent Outtakes

I'm not cutting much in the way of whole scenes at this point (though I've marked several that could go, if need be). Here's a spattering of outtakes longer than one sentence, from the first 20 chapters of Kindred:

Staring at the break in the trees below, he summoned the brief memory of his pursuer, an image drawn stark as a broadsheet engraving across his mind’s eye: an upright figure, alert in the saddle—not the slouch of an inebriate. A farmer hearth-bound, unconcerned with him or his newly inflated purse? He weighed the notion, and dismissed it.

~

A whirring filled his head, a hum beneath the excruciating throb. Cicadas, abuzz in the parched green blur beyond the camp.

He squinted until his gaze sharpened—along with his headache—and passed his gaze over the roan, head, chest, and forelegs, over the piebald markings that spattered its sides like a splash of whitewash.

“God bethankit for small mercies,” he muttered. After coming through the past hours with the life and limb of all concerned intact, he supposed himself indebted to the Almighty. Again.

~

A fieldstone hearth took up most of the north-facing wall. Birds had used its mantle for a roost. Under layers of soot and droppings, Ian made out the words carved into its face.

FOR I AM A STRANGER WITH THEE, AND A SOJOURNER

“And where did ye journey to from here?”

~

After a tarnished ending to dinner, an excursion to the stable had come as a welcome diversion. The girls managed to entice the new filly to snuffle at their fingers, then proceeded to pet and make a fuss over Ruaidh, Huzzah, and the still unnamed pack mare.

“You’ll let us name her, Cousin?” Rosalyn had entreated. “It’s only fair turnabout, since you named our Juturna.”

By way of redeeming himself, he’d agreed. “Saving ye don’t saddle her with some foolishness like Posey or Buttercup."

Laughing, Rosalyn had touched his arm. "With such a classical example as you've provided? Heavens, we shall do better than Posey."

~

He caught her up again in a few swift strides. Bare heels flashed below the dew-spattered hem of her skirt. The ground was rough. He'd likely cause her an apoplexy if he scooped her into his arms and carried her the rest of the way, to spare her feet. Still, the idea held appeal.

Something sparkled at eye-level, diamond-bright, and he jerked his head up. A dark spot blossomed on the crown of her kerchief where a bead of moisture had fallen from the boughs above. She made no sign she noticed, never breaking stride, the long braid swinging above her hips like a pendulum. The curls at its end glinted bronze as she passed through a band of sunlight.

The childish urge came over him to give her plait a tug, to break the tension between them. He was reaching for it, when he realized the forest had thinned.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A writing blog Shout Out

Have you discovered the Novel Matters blog? If not CLICK HERE RIGHT NOW.

Deep, brain-stretching writing-related discussion happens there daily. The blog is hosted by six published writers: Bonnie Grove, Patti Hill, Kathleen Popa, Latayne Scott, Sharon Souza, and Debbie Thomas.

Join the discussion. Work out that brain!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Next Hill To Climb

As I mentioned in one of my conference recaps, one of the agents I met with at Mount Hermon recommended I cut another significant chunk of words from the ms... and then I was welcome to submit again.

I'm looking at 150,000 words as a goal now. It seems even more impossible, without a total rewrite, than my earlier goal of 200,000. I'm clinging to that aforementioned agent's assessment that Kindred is overwritten (still!!). On the positive side, this means there's still line-by-line room for editing. I have it down to nearly 195,000 now, as I begin this new edit.

Also, I'm expecting a book in the mail another agent suggested might help me focus the storytelling. It's called The Moral Premise.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Journaling A Writers Conference, Part 4

Day Six - Monday, April 6

You guessed it. A huge (I mean, really, really GIGANTIC) spider is lurking in the shower at 5:45am, and since I'm first up, I get to dispatch it. Of course I don't see it hiding behind my roommate's shower puff until I'm ready to step IN the shower. Quick-dress-dash-out-grab-WMD (a cup of water and a shoe; I know what I'm doing here)-say-to-startled-roommate- "there's-a-giant-spider-in-the-shower" -then-go-for-the-kill.

Why do I always miss on the first blow?

I dispose of the body. Shudder. I hate spiders.

With my adrenaline pumping from the kill, I decide not to linger over getting ready this morning. The weather has been perfect--cold nights, sunny days that warm enough to peel off the jacket by lunchtime, hardly a cloud in the sky. Remembering that I have a blog, and that photos are good things, and that this weather is supposed to change on us any time now, I kick it into gear and head out with my camera before the sun has quite topped the trees, and anyone who is up and about is either huddled in the warm Central Lounge with a laptop...

Central Lounge
... or hurrying back to their lodges with steaming cups of coffee. While my hands go gradually numb with the cold, I take photos of the beautiful spring grounds.



On to breakfast, then another great Morning Track class with Davis Bunn. Lunch. Duck into Hospitality to buy the class CDs. Two afternoon workshops (one in which we break down the success of three books/series: Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Shack). An editor panel. Then on to our final dinner of the conference.

At each lunch and dinner this week--have I mentioned this already?--each staff member (editor, agent, teacher) is assigned a table. The tables are round, and seat 8. This is a great time for talking with these folks, or pitching your project, whatever. I decide, because she's witty and I think would make for a great dinner companion, to sit at Agent #5's table. Turns out I'm right. And she's a LOST fan, too. I'm in serious LOST withdrawal by now. Though I hadn't planned on it, I also get a chance to mention Kindred, and am invited to submit a few chapters to her. I mean to mention the spider--since she had one in her room too--but totally forget as we break down the writing and story genius of LOST. Oh well. Spiders don't make for great dinner conversation anyway.

Tonight, before Bill Butterworth's keynote talk, is the awards ceremony. Writer of the Year is shared by two writers, Sharon Souza and Kathleen Popa, a very emotional moment, since I'm sitting near them and get to see their faces as they rise to receive their award. And winner of Zondervan's First Novel Award is Susanne Lakin, who's been a member of my Morning Track class, and says I look like Helen Hunt. Ha!

Congratulations, Sharon, Katy and Susanne! Also congratulations to Camille Eide, one of three finalist in the Zondervan contest. Huzzah! Huzzah!

Bill Butterworth talks about Being Balanced, and as an example uses a day in the life of Jesus, from Mark 6, in which he taught, interacted with people, and sought a time of privacy.

Tripod Principle for a balanced life:

1. tasks and attention -- work the gifts God has given
2. connection -- don't neglect relationships; love one another
3. reflection -- cultivate solitude with the Lord through scriptures and prayer

Gift + Diligence = Satisfaction

Day Seven, Tuesday, April 7

All good things must come to an end. The conference. The glorous weather, too. We awake to clouds, and by breakfast 'tis a wee saft rain falling, which turns to a downpour as I make my way to our final Morning Track class with Davis Bunn, in which we focus on Suspense and Tension and a balanced spiritual message (back to the classic storytelling vs. post modernism). I'm already looking forward to the CDs.

I'm a little sad to be leaving. The conference feels like family by now, but my brain is full. Can't. Absorb. Any. More. Just. Now. And I have some revising to do on my first three chapters, before the following Monday, when I plan to send them to the agents who requested them.

I turn in my conference evaluation sheets (it's all good), and head over to the Auditorium to sit with Marion Stroud for a closing keynote address by Bill Butterworth. Be Encouraged. Encouraging people dwell on internals over externals. Encouraging people dwell on grace over works. Encouraging people dwell on tomorrow over yesterday.

Selah.

Afterward it's back to our rooms to pack, since we four (me, Karen, Julee and Marion) are leaving before lunch, so we can drop Marion off at the San Francisco airport, for her flight back across "the pond." It's been delightful getting to know Marion, and she gifts me with one of her books in parting.

Then it's me, Julee and Karen, off across the Golden Gate Bridge, toward Santa Rosa, to visit Francine Rivers for a couple of nights. We relax, watch movies, eat pizza (talk more writing of course), and recover enough to make the final long drive home to Oregon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Journaling a Writers Conference, Part 3

Day Four - Saturday, April 4

9am. The Major Morning Tracks begin directly after breakfast, which I shared with my fellow attending ACFWers (we have three tables set aside for us this morning). I've chosen to take author Davis Bunn's class, Taking Your Story To The Next Level. Very quickly into our first meeting, I'm convinced I've chosen wisely. A lot of what he's sharing reminds me of what I've heard Donald Maas teaches (he of the Writing the Breakout Novel fame). Today he talks about what makes a successful novel, what an opening scene needs, how to raise the stakes, and how to make things worse for our characters. I take pages and pages of notes. I enjoy Davis Bunn's teaching style. His is a presence of gentle authority, punctuated by bursts of humor, often self-effacing. The class is large for this setting, around 45 people, but there's a sense of being in a much smaller group, because Davis invites interaction and questions, and his teaching style is fluid enough to handle needful side tracks.

Laurel Lounge, site of my Morning Track class
 (the room with the fireplace, which we had blazing each day)

Before lunch, Agent #4's assistant finds me with the news that the agent wishes to speak to me further about Kindred. That's unexpected, but welcome (considering how I bungled my verbal pitch during the previous evening's dinner).

I sit at Karen Ball's table at lunch, for a chance to chat with her. We've both been so busy I've hardly seen her. After lunch, I drop off my synopsis and chapters at Hospitality, for Agent #2 to pick up, for our meeting on Sunday.

I attend a workshop led by Agent #4, and afterward we talk. She's been thinking about Kindred, and has a few ideas about shortening the story. Very cool. Then I hurry off to my appointment with Agent #3, which results in a request for submission of three chapters via email, after the conference. Also very cool.

I meet Camille Eide, who is the main reason I'm at the conference (she told me about the first timer's discount). I also meet the other Novel Matters ladies, Bonnie Grove, Kathleen Popa, Latayne Scott, Sharon Souza, and Debbie Thomas. This is the first time many of them have met each other. I learn they came together to form the Novel Matters blog at the suggestion of their mutual agent.



Bill Butterworth makes us laugh until we cry, while managing to inspire us to Be Victorious. I'm exhausted today, my brain is tired, so I duck out the instant Bill is finished and hurry through the frog-croaking dark to my room.

Day Five - Palm Sunday, April 5

Another great Morning Track class with Davis Bunn. More pages of notes covering Dialogue, Description, and Conflict. Then we get into a mind-stretching discussion of Classic Storytelling vs. Post Modernism. This is great stuff. I decide I'm going to order the CDs of this class, because I can't possibly take it all in this week.

Selah.

We break early for a worship service and share communion as a group. Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

The chapel. This isn't where we met, since our group was over 300 conferees

On the way to lunch, I notice the agent who taught my first workshop (I'll call her Agent #5) is showing off a photo on her camera viewscreen. I take a look in passing. It's a huge spider she found in her room. I shudder and look away, but can't shake this feeling of foreboding that comes over me....

I attend an agent panel, and get confused about multiple queries, and when in the submission process you should let agents know that other agents are considering your work, then have my question answered (not yet, in my case).

I go to meet with Agent #2, but am very early, so I sit around doing some editing on the last section of Kindred, until our 4:15pm appointment. If an agent has to turn me down, at least Agent #2 tells me the one reason for it that I feel I can work with. He's looked at the first 50 pages, and while my writing is beautiful (his word), it's still over-written. I'm glad to hear this, because it means there's room for more line-by-line editing, no matter what I end up doing to the story structure. He's not willing to consider Kindred for representation. Not at 198,000 words. But he suggests that if a certain amount is cut, I may submit to him then. I enjoy our talk, and really, any feedback from an agent is gold.

A great dinner is followed by Bill Butterworth at his most hilarious talking about the parts of the body of Christ. Some get more applause than others, but all are vital. And it's also vital to Be Yourself.

I head to bed, ready for tomorrow, unaware that the foreboding I experienced earlier in the day is about to sprout legs and crawl....

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Journaling a Writers Conference, Part 2

Day Two, Thursday, April 2

Marion and I are up before the frogs, readying ourselves for our free day. Karen and Julee, who are staying off campus, arrive to pick us up. The weather is crisp and clear, quite chilly in the early hours, but we've been warned to pack layers. Hey, I'm from Oregon. It's all about layers in Oregon.

We head into Santa Cruz (or maybe a little town near it? I'm neither driving nor navigating on this trip, so I'm paying little heed). Stop off at Gayle's Deli & Bakery to face a sprawling counter of choices. It's all good. I purchase enough for lunch, dinner and breakfast next morning, too. We drive to a high overlook with a picnic table and watch surfers try to surf in tiny swells choked with seaweed. It doesn't look appealing. People with dogs keep coming by. Karen makes a bee-line to meet them. It's great for us introverted types, having Karen Ball nearby. The woman is off-the-scale outgoing.

On to the Santa Cruz (I think) pier, where it's windy and sunny, busy with tourists above and sea lions below, taking a siesta on the water, napping in sprawling, interlocked piles. I've never seen them this close, or knew they created what amounts to a sea lion raft. Watching them float together and drift apart is a little like watching those groups of sky divers that grasp hands to create formations, then break apart and come together to create a new pattern. We shop, Karen takes photos, which I'll post later if I get copies. Then we head back to Mount Hermon so Marion and Karen can spend time preparing for their teaching duties. Karen is teaching the Mentoring Track.

I settle into my room in Pine Lodge, and meet my roommate for the week, Pamela, a beautiful young woman from Kenya.

My corner of Mount Hermon for the week

Day Three, Friday April 3

The Conference begins! My hope today is to speak briefly to all four agents I've come to pitch Kindred to, so I can make appointments and stop stressing about it. Mount Hermon is different from conferences I've attended previously, regarding setting up appointments with editors and agents. The writer has to approach each of them and make the appointment privately (instead of using a sign up sheet with fifteen minute blocks of time set aside for meetings with each agent). I'm praying for opportunities, even though I don't know what two of the agents look like as yet.

Registration starts at 10am. By then I'm wandering the grounds, looking at faces and name tags, ducking in and out of the two books stores, wandering through Hospitality. There's lots of writers I've known on line that I'm anxious to meet in person. I find Patti Hill, one of the awesome Novel Matters bloggers. She is delightful and funny and greets me with a big hug. And as we are talking, up comes Agent #1. We meet and speak briefly, and it's not even lunch yet.

One of the paths I walk each day, many times. It's steeper than it looks. Yes, I will have dessert!

After the opening lunch, I spot Agent #2 near the Dining Hall door, so I gird up the loins and make my approach. We set up a meeting for Sunday afternoon. I submit my one sheet, synopsis and chapters through the system Mount Hermon has set up for that, which the agent will pick up to read before our meeting.

The first afternoon Workshop I choose to attend, How To Know When You Are Ready For An Agent, is led by an agent I hadn't heard of before. I wonder should I pitch Kindred to her? I'll wait and see. There will be agent panels tomorrow. Maybe I'll learn what sort of projects interest her. She's funny and informative, and halfway through the class Agent #3 slips into the back of the room. After class, I wait my turn and approach Agent #3, introduce myself, chat for a bit, and leave with another appointment to pitch Kindred on Saturday afternoon.

Outside the Dining Hall I find Karen, who asks how the day is going for me. I tell her I've found three of the agents I'd hoped to talk to, but Agent #4 has eluded me. Karen, it turns out, is standing in line next to Agent #4's assistant, so she promptly introduces me. I like this woman right off, and we fall into conversation. When the Dining Hall doors open, she takes me right to Agent #4's table and I spend part of dinner pitching Kindred to her, as well as talking about writing and story structure in general. She wants to see the word count come down but is interested in Kindred. She suggests a book for me to read to help in finding the core premise of the story, which will help me see what can still be cut. I feel I make an inarticulate bungle of this, my first serious pitch, but at least she wants to see some chapters after the conference.

A note about the food at Mount Hermon. I'd heard it was good. It is fabulous. And with all the hills I have to walk each day, I decide not give another thought to calorie counting on this trip.

After dinner, we attend our first General Session with Bill Butterworth, our keynote speaker. This man is a hoot, as well as one of the most skilled speakers I've heard in years. I'd call him an inspirational stand-up comic. Check out his website, if you are at all interested in learning about public speaking and communication. Bill spoke to us about Being Courageous, and Taking the Initiative.

9pm. There's more stuff afoot for night owls (frogs, too, I reckon), but it's bedtime for me. I wander back to my room in Pine Lodge, excited about starting my Morning Track class after breakfast tomorrow, and nervous about my two agent appointments yet to come.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Journaling a Writers Conference, Part 1

I'm home today after nine days on the road, sans email, blog, Facebook, etc. I've been at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference (their annual 40th). For the simple purpose of not arriving back home with the entire week become a mental blur, I decided to keep a few notes about what I was up to each day. Nothing profound or deep, just the play-by-play that might, if I'm recovered enough, trigger something profound or deep that I can share. Considering that my head's still in a spin, the morning after... well, anyone who has attended a nearly week long writers conference will understand, and those who haven't, forgive me if I ramble or fail to make a bit of sense.

There and Back Again
My Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference Journal

Day One - Wednesday, April 1

Q: Can four writers/editors make a 7 hour drive last 12 hours?

A: Yes, they can. If they stop for a sit-down lunch, and one of them (ahem... moi) suddenly realizes she has forgotten her one-sheets and begs to stop at Office Depot (thank you, Lord, for thumb drives) to make new copies, and another needs to stop at a book store for a new bible, and another needs some shirts from the outlet mall, and then it's dinner time and so they settle into another booth and halfway through the meal realize how late it's getting and how far they still have to go, and that they must be at Mount Hermon to check in by 10pm latest, so they hurry through the meal, pay the bill and go.

Karen Ball (writer and fiction editor at B&H books), Marion Stroud (she's a writer and she talks like the Queen), Julee Schwarzburg (freelance editor), and little ol' me, pile our Stuff and Ourselves into Karen's mini van, leave Medford at about 9:30AM, and come careening (and yawning and blinking) down the final twisty highway to Mount Hermon long after dark, twelve hours later. I can't see the redwoods, or the wooded slopes or the rustic buildings, except for what the headlights show. But every curving drive and path in this place seems to lead steeply up. Both ways.

The conference doesn't officially start for me until Friday morning, so I bunk with Marion, who is teaching one of the Morning Tracks (hers is called The Writer's Spiritual Support) starting Saturday. Right now, all I'm thinking about is sleep. I don't know what the plague of frogs beyond the sliding screen door are thinking about, but it's not sleep, and they have much to say about it.

No worries. I brought ear plugs.



Tomorrow's post: Day Two - Thursday, April 2. A mostly free day, during which I see Mount Hermon in the daylight, and we go to Santa Cruz, where I see a thing I've never seen before.