The Great American Novel

I had a sudden realization this week. It happened while I was reading a major news magazine and came across two pages of “novels to read this summer.” The subject matter in the selected books was varied, and serious. I mean really serious stuff.

Included was a book on the struggle of a family surviving war and genocide; another on teenage angst and the years after high school graduation; a tale of the ravages of AIDS across two generations; and a religious cult at a university.

The time it took for me to read the blurbs about these meaningful, informative, passionately written books equaled the time it took for me to realize that I am never going to write the great American novel.

Compared to those deep-thinking authors, my writing is simple fluff, in the fluffiest sense of the word. I write happily along, falling in love with my characters and putting them into cutesy or unusual situations, and I’m content. And, spoiler alert … my stories all have a happy ending.

And you know what? That is just fine, because not all of us were destined to write the deeply profound manuscripts with which our bookstore and library shelves overflow. There are just as many interesting, humorous, educational, suspenseful, exciting, colorful, (add your own adjective), stories and articles bouncing around our world and appreciated by readers, who are as diverse as those of us who write for them.

What I write may appeal to only a small percentage of people and they may not be the same ones you target. What’s wrong with that? This doesn’t mean that I won’t keep exploring and expanding and attempting to venture into different genres or areas of publishing. I’ll try different things and test the waters here and there, but I’ll still be happy enjoying what I do. Can it get any better than that?

Yeh, yeh, I hear someone mumbling something about getting rich with writing, but that’s probably not going to happen either. The best that most of us can hope for is to actually make a living at writing. So, go back to your computers and get to work on what you do best.)

Advertisements

Bragging Rights

I’m going to do a little bragging here.

In a previous blog I wrote about changing things up now and then. Try something new. I did just that with good results.

When I work on my current novel, I sometimes get stuck. And I mean stuck! It’s like I hit a wall. When that happened earlier this year, I put it away and decided to try something different.

In the back of my mind, for many months actually, was an idea for a poem, or a song, or an essay. I decided on a poem. I then entered it in a local competition sponsored by the extension office of our state university. I then forgot about it. It was, for me, simply a writing exercise.

So, imagine my surprise when I got a phone call telling me I had won first place in the state for my entry. First place! Wow!

Okay, so this is not going to make me the state’s poet laureate, and there’s not even a cash prize; just a plaque and the opportunity to read it for an audience at a banquet, but I’m quite proud of it.

Because I’m proud of it, and I feel as though I have earned some bragging rights (in lieu of money, national recognition, etc., etc.), I’m sharing it here.

Miracles in the Sky

Look up and see
The sun that rises in the morn,
The moon that takes its place each night
Among the many stars.

Galaxies of light
Amid the darkness of the sky,
Shed tracings of a shooting star
Flashing through the blackness.

Then comes the rain
With clouds that glide and drift along,
Lightening splits the sky and leaves
The magic of a rainbow.

Birds in brilliant feather
Fill the summer morn with color,
And fireflies flit among the trees
On a clear, warm summer’s eve.

The snow that falls
Spreads its beauty on the earth,
Dressing the trees like nature’s brides,
Waiting for the spring.

Look up and see
The gifts and beauty from above,
And marvel at the bounty of
Miracles in the sky.

I still like it!

This has been a busy couple of weeks. I had already put up my one novel, A Spirit in the Heart, on Amazon as an ebook. Once I saw it up there, and a few people purchased it, I was inspired to continue the project.

I have spent the last couple of weeks designing and editing the paperback version. I don’t mind telling you, I am exhausted. I have proof read that book so many times that I think I can recite the entire manuscript from memory. But something else happened as I read it for about the fifteenth time. I liked it!

To me, that is not only important, but exciting. Any writer who can return to a manuscript, be it an essay, poem, magazine article, short story, novel, et al, and say, “Hey, that’s pretty good,” makes it something special.

So, I completed my proof reading and designed a cover and went through the process to get the paperback version ready. Guess what, I just ordered my third proof copy because it seems that no matter how much time I spend on this, I keep finding errors or simply things that I don’t like.

It’s costing me a few pennies, but that cost is totally justified. I’d gotten the inside pages looking the way I want them, but I wasn’t pleased with the way the cover looked. So, I’ve changed it again and am waiting for one more proof copy to arrive.

I tell you this because I cannot stress how important it is to see the final hard copy in your hands. It’s the only way, so never skimp on this step.

Now, I just hope it all looks the way I want. I know I said I still like the story, but I cannot read it again.

Edit, Proof, Rewrite, and Start Again

Look at that title and you’ll know what I have been doing lately. I have a romance novel, A Spirit in the Heart, that is available as an e-book on Amazon.com. The book is doing well, so I decided to offer a paperback version, because not everyone likes e-books.

The initial process for this was relatively easy. I chose the photo for the cover, did some simple design tasks, uploaded the text, and requested a couple of review copies that came to me within a few days. If you are producing a standard book, paperback or hard cover, please get review copies because that is where you see what went wrong. Believe me, plenty goes wrong.

Starting with the covers: there seemed to be too many text colors, and some of those colors were difficult to read against the photo I had chosen. I had to completely remake the cover, and it does look better.

Then I decided that I should probably read the book again. I didn’t really want to do this. I mean, I have gone over this manuscript so many times on my computer that I couldn’t imagine why I should read it again. But I did. Boy, oh boy, I hate to admit it, but I am still in the process and certain pages are a mess of mark outs, corrections, and additions. This is not an enjoyable part of the job.

How did I miss all these things before? One reason I can think of is that I read differently from a written page as opposed to one on a computer screen. I don’t know why; I can’t explain it; and I know others who would agree with me on this point. I just know that I catch my errors quicker on a hard copy.

When I finally finish proofing this book, I will upload the manuscript again, not only for the paperback, but also the e-book format, because those errors are in there too. How embarrassing. I hope the readers will forgive me.

This is one more item I can list under “valuable lessons learned.” No piece of writing is perfect. Never, no matter how many times you edit, proof and rewrite. That applies to books, scripts, poems, essays, and blogs. And even if you correct all the grammatical and spelling errors and rework some of the sentences, there will come a time when you look at it, smack yourself in the forehead and say, “Why did I do that?”

We want our work to be perfect, but mistakes will happen. We just have to do our best to weed them out to the best of our ability before presenting our art to others.

(Gosh, I wish I didn’t have to read this again.)

A Spirit in the Heart

A Spirit in the Heart (an excerpt)

Peri hesitated near the rear of the cabin. Far above her head the stately Norway pines pierced the sky and blocked out the sun. Only the tiniest rays filtered through the canopy and dappled the ground with spots of light. The trees swayed and made soft whispering sounds as they talked to the wind. The repetitive and mournful call of a loon echoed across the stillness of the lake and faded away. Then the wind stopped for an instant and nothing moved. All was quiet, and the only sound she could hear was the pounding of her heart.

“I don’t think I like this,” she said aloud, and her voice sounded strange and misplaced in the quiet of the woods. More softly, “I know I don’t like this.”
She hurried down a slight incline toward the front of the cabin, stepped through the screen door and reached for the lock, but found none. None on the inner wooden door, either.

“Great,” she muttered, but it wasn’t great at all. She felt exposed and vulnerable, and even a little frightened. It was a feeling strange to her, and she didn’t like it, not one bit.

*********************************************

Peri Fergeson’s life revolves around the city and her career as a lawyer, but she’s burned out and needs time to re-energize. “I know the perfect place for you,” her father says, which happens to be a cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota, miles from anything that remotely resembles civilization to her.

She decides to give the wilderness a chance but becomes a bit too brave and almost drowns in the lake her first day there. It is Hawk, a bronze-skinned, part-Chippewa Indian, who is her savior, and thus begins a relationship that seems doomed from the beginning.

Peri feels indebted to Hawk for saving her life, and when she learns that he is in danger of losing the land that his family has lived on for generations, she decides to help him.

Respect, friendship and passion surface between them, but Peri must return to the city. She immerses herself in work, but her thoughts keep returning to the little cabin on the lake, and to Hawk.

A place, its beauty, peacefulness, and wildness; its people, their diversity, and their unity; and the love that surfaces in unexpected places, are all there waiting in A Spirit in the Heart.

A Spirit in the Heart is available as an ebook on Amazon.com.

So much for self-editing

I recently posted my thoughts on editing our own writing. So proud of myself. Until I was reading it (after it was published, of course) and discovered a glaring mistake.

If you received that post in an email, I’m sure you spotted the error. I’ve since corrected it, so no one knows about this except us.

Another lesson: take the time to read it again, and again.

Editing your work

I really do like to write. Sometimes, however, there are times when I write too much. I’m so anxious to put down every word that comes into my head that I don’t immediately realize I have included words that don’t really have to be there.

Take a look at that last sentence: “that don’t really have to be there.” The word “really” is unnecessary, but it just felt natural. I did it again. “…it just felt natural.” The word “just” is a throwaway.

One of my favorite words that gets inserted into my text is “actually.” Such as, “Actually, he did like to eat ice cream.” Totally not necessary, but I do it all the time.

I didn’t realize this quirk of mine until recently when I was proof reading one of my manuscripts. If you use Word’s review of a document to check spelling and grammar, it will tag certain phrases and suggest replacing them with one or two words. Remember, they are suggestions, but don’t use four words if one will do the job effectively.

Self-editing can be difficult. I know we have all gotten inspired and motivated to sit at the computer with flying fingers. That’s great, but typing the last period on a document, does not finish it.

I learned a great lesson on editing from a sale that I made to Woman’s Day magazine years ago. It was a short essay about learning to have fun with your children and to go down to their level now and then. The editors liked the idea, but the writing left much to be desired. In my defense, I was a fledgling writer, self-taught, and still learning.

Example of what I wrote: My two young daughters and my niece stood with me in the kitchen and watched the pounding rain. The three girls were obviously distressed.
Woman’s Day: They eliminated the last sentence. Wasn’t needed.
I wrote: So many times, I have believed….
Woman’s Day: Often I have believed.
I wrote: …they had never before had reason to come together in a group for the sake of play.
Woman’s Day: …they had never played in such a group.

It was embarrassing to see how much a good editor could do and maintain what I wanted to say. I was shocked to see that the final edit reduced the article by at least one-third. I used this essay when I taught classes in marketing freelance writing as an example of how we can get carried away with words, and why we don’t always need so many.

When I sold this piece, to say it was exciting is an understatement. I was thrilled to have a byline in a national publication, and the pay wasn’t bad either.

I’d like to add that a writer shouldn’t feel that she must always take the advice of an editor and change a specific word or phrase. Do keep an open mind and listen to the professionals, but if your words express what you want to say in exactly the way you want to say it, protect them. We each have a style of writing, a voice, that is our own. Never abandon that to fit into a mold of someone else’s making.

Happy writing. Happy editing. I wish you success.

And if you find too many unnecessary words in this post, I don’t want to know about it.