Rules are made to be broken

I just finished reading a review on a book that, unfortunately, I have no interest in reading.  What caught my attention was that the reviewer suggested that the author fix a couple of problems that editors might have a problem with…twice.  And that really rankles.

Don’t get me wrong, I think editors are a good and necessary evil when it comes to turning out a good product.  But they’re also one of the things about traditional publishing that I find offensive.

There are so many rules that authors must abide by, if they hope to be picked up by a publishing company.  Word count, a particular number of conflicts, a certain formula, format, font, margin setting… And if the author doesn’t comply during rewrites, if they’re even given a chance to do rewrites, they can kiss any sort of contract goodbye.

By today’s standards, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) and The Time Machine (H.G. Wells) would be too short for most publishers, who seem to want books that average 50,000-75,000 words.  And Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell) would be edited from 423,575 words to a shadow of the timeless classic it has become.  Or, at the very least, broken up into a series of several books instead of one giant one.  Of course then I suppose the movie would have been treated the same, with parts 1, 2, 3….

These authors told the stories they wanted to tell.  And while I’m sure their publishers had some guidelines, I can’t imagine that they were as stringent as what ‘modern’ authors have to deal with.  I mean, really, can you imagine any publisher having the guts to tell Mark Twain that his books were too short?

What if ABCDEFG Publishing has a requirement of 50-55,000 words, but I managed to tell my story, and to tell it well, in 48,000?  Would I have to add a chapter’s worth of unnecessary prose in order to meet their exacting standards?

Or what if it took 61,500 words to tell the story that needed to be told?  Obviously I would have to do some serious editing to par the book down, possibly requiring the need to eliminate something I felt was necessary to the quality of the story.

And that’s why I’m falling in love with self-publishing.  Right or wrong, in a publisher’s or editor’s eyes, I can tell the story.  I don’t have to conform to a cookie-cutter formula.  So what if my word count is off by a few thousand, one way or the other?  As long as I start at the beginning and arrive at the end, as long as it’s a good and entertaining story, who cares how many words are living between the covers?

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Please, do not feed the mosquitoes!

Okay, I accept the fact that I’m probably going to make some enemies by saying this but…I can’t wait until winter gets here!  I honestly do not remember another summer when I’ve had so many mosquito bites and, frankly, if I wanted to donate this much blood, I’d head on over to the Red Cross.  As it is, if this keeps up, I may have to drop by there anyway because I’ll be needing a blood transfusion!

I wish I knew what it was about me that attracts them, because I’d certainly do whatever I could to rectify it.  But they’ve always seemed to favor me over anyone I’m near.

Find that hard to believe?

I think most people do, until they experience it for themselves.  I used to walk on these pretty, paved paths through a wooded area at the park with a few other ladies.  Well, ‘used to walk’ is kind of exaggerating.  I walked with them a few times before I threw in the towel and gave up.  Why?  Because mosquito repellents didn’t deter the little bloodsuckers at all.  Neither did dryer sheets,  vinegar water, or anything else I could find to try.  Nope, I’d finish the walks looking like I had the measles.

But this summer feels like those woods have moved to my house.  Inside my house!  And I think they must have joined a union and organized.  As God is my witness, I went to the grocery store the other day with twin mosquito bites…on either side of my face, about an inch from the corners of my eyes.  That was an interesting site.

So, hate me if you must.  I really do want to see an end to summer.  Throw tomatoes at me if it makes you feel better.  Wait!  Throw snowballs instead.  Aim for the mosquitoes that are presently feeding off me like a buffet. 🙂

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Geronimo!

I have spent a good portion of the past two days doing what I should have been doing the past couple of weeks, after writer’s block found me and decided to stick around awhile.  At least as far as one particular book goes.   I think it was able to sneak up on me because, in my heart, I really wanted to be working on something else.

Normally I’m very good about finishing what I start, just not this time.

I believe it’s due to the fact that,  at some point during the past few years, I seem to have become quite charmed by a genre I never expected to develop an interest in.  And for the past two  years I’ve kind of played around with plot ideas and building a character list for something I kind of thought I might want to write.  In fact, I went so far as to write a couple of bare bones chapters and the prologue.

But that’s as far as it went.

I think my brain just needed some time to mull everything over.  To pull it out occasionally, ponder what I already had, and give some thought to the whys behind the story.  I knew I needed some questions answered.  Because, until they were, there really was no sense in moving forward.

The best way I can explain what I mean is to use this example.  Let’s say you take time off work, pack your bags and jump in your car to take off on vacation.  The only problem is, you didn’t decide on a destination, much less the route you’ll take to get there, so you don’t know which way to turn when you pull out of your driveway.

Writing is a lot like that dilemma.   If you don’t know where your characters and plot are going, you’re not going to know what to do in order to reach ‘the end.’

Now that all seems to have fallen into place.  Mostly.  But I’m at the point now where it’s time to meet, and get to know, my characters.  And that’s going to be a challenge.  Why?   Well…there will be four very major players in this tale, but there are also going to be eighteen more who have very large roles.  And a fair number of extras  who, while not nearly as important to the plot, are still necessary to round everything out.

So as you can see, it’s just a little overwhelming.

Anyway,  that’s what I’ve been working on the past couple of days.  That and the chapter outline for the first book in this trilogy.

Did I mention that I also need to research what the lifestyle was like several decades ago?  No?  Well…there is that, too.

But you know what?  These things are all on my list of favorite things about writing.  Yes, sometimes I know it will feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but for the most part, I’m going to love every second of it.

On a side note, I honestly, truly, sincerely hate mosquitoes…

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My Friday adventure

I visited my first Amish Market this afternoon, and I have to say it was a very unique experience.  I didn’t even know they had markets, or that there was one in the area (about 20 minutes from my house).

Unique is always good, in my opinion.  Especially when it tends to be old fashioned, like Mr. Godsey’s from The Walton’s.  A local apple orchard runs a store that ‘feels’ like that might have felt, open from October through the first of the year.

I love that store.  It smells just wonderful.  And not only do they make the best donuts on the planet (donuts I won’t be able to have anymore darn it!), they make delicious cider, and have things like cookbooks, candles, apple pectin, candies, pies, all sorts of decorations and endless items to tempt tourists.  In the fall they have a haunted hayride, a maze cut out of a cornfield and other fun things to do with the family.

While there a few years ago, and acting like a tourist myself, I bought a pad of outhouse stationary.  No it wasn’t classy in any way, but it was funny and I adored it.  Sure hope they stock it again because I’ve been out for too long.

But back to the Amish market.  That place is just too cool!  Well, if you’re not much into baking it might not be but, when you’ve been referred to as Susie Homemaker enough times, as I have, you know I’m in my element when I step inside.

Shelves and shelves of every kind of ingredient you might ever need to turn out scrumptious baked goods and, most importantly, a huge variety of gluten-free flours (which was the reason I was there).  I spent a small fortune on them, and a bunch of cute fruit jars to store them in.  And I’m already wishing I hadn’t bought so much because I can’t wait to go back.

Why?

Because I’m thinking that the whole lifestyle, and the atmosphere I felt in the store, might have the makings of a really good story.   Everything about the experience was awesome, not just the market.  My daughter and I got to see Amish men harvesting fields with horse drawn…things(harvesters?), fresh produce stands that I really want to visit, and very impressive gardens.  And there was the cutest, tiniest little girl walking along the dirt road who smiled and waved  both times we passed her.  Such a different world than the one I’m used to.  So yeah, I’m thinking there’s going to be a story there somewhere.

For now, though, I think I’m going to kick back, relax, and read the cookbook I bought while I was there.

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One good reason to change pharmacies

Well I seem to have acquired a nasty little computer virus that has, despite my best efforts, wreaked havoc with my computer.  At this point my system restore and Windows search feature are trashed.  My antivirus refuses to update.  Google is screwed up, and I’m afraid to look too closely at anything else.

So, after determining that viruses can not be transferred by copying and pasting text, I am taking a break from hours of copying all of my text files to CD’s.  And doing the same with all the URL’s I’ve saved for researching my books (and other interests of mine).

I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I absolutely, positively despise doing this.  It’s not the first time either.  In October of 2008 my poor computer was on its last legs, so I had to quickly save everything to be moved to a new machine.  It was just as boring then as it is now, only then I had about twenty-three hours of music files that I’d accumulated through the years.  And somewhere along the line, those music files disappeared, much to my disgust.  I think my daughter and I put them on another computer that has since passed on to electronics heaven.

Back to tonight though.  My hope is that if I remove every possible file and link, then uninstall everything that isn’t absolutely necessary, my antivirus and anti-spyware programs will figure out where the little sucker is hiding.

Anyway…  I guess I got a little off track, didn’t I?

During the course of transferring everything to disks, I found something I jotted down a couple of years ago.  Something I’ve thought about from time to time, but usually forget about.

This incident involved my youngest daughter, who wound up with a respiratory infection.  Because I couldn’t get an immediate doctor’s appointment, I’d taken her to Urgent Care.  That doctor gave her a prescription, but suggested that we wait a few days to get it filled.  Why?  To see if it got better on its own.

Of course you know that it did not, so off to the pharmacy I go.

I have always hoped that the girl who took the prescription from me wasn’t a technician. Because, after entering the information into their computer, she started to explain something about a slim chance that my daughter could have an allergic reaction to this medication as already she had an allergy to a similar one.

The more she talked, the more nervous I became, so I started asking some questions, the final one being, “Does that mean she could have a fatal reaction?”

Her cheerful, upbeat response?

“Oh yes, she could!  But if she does, she needs to stop taking it right away.”

Ya think?

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My kingdom…for a noodle!

Anyone who reads, ‘The Stranger In My Head,’ will discover that I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism this past April.   After nearly three months on a low dose of Synthroid, with little to no improvement in my symptoms, the  doctor doubled it last week.

She also thought that my going on a gluten-free diet would be a good idea.  I had done some research and found that gluten sensitivity, or Celiac’s Disease, is often a problem for those with hypothyroidism.  I’m fairly sure that mine is just a sensitivity issue.  And I know if I don’t limit starchy foods, I tend to get a carb crash within a short time of eating.  So yeah, I figured a gluten-free diet couldn’t hurt.  And could help.  A lot.

Except I didn’t want to do it.

I mean who really wants to change their whole diet?  No more breads?  No more pastas?  Who cares that I don’t eat much of either one of those things?  Tell me I can’t have them and I start feeling deprived immediately.  Even though I hadn’t even stopped eating them yet, I imagined years and years of insatiable cravings for the foods I could no longer enjoy.

Now usually when I’m about to embark on a lifestyle change, I will start Googling everything there is to be Googled on the subject.  But not the whole gluten-free thing.  It took me about three days to dig deep within myself to find the maturity I needed to start acting like a responsible adult.  Until I finally sat down and spent some quality time with Google.

Yesterday.

And then I went to a garden market and bought a truckload of fruits and vegetables, along with some gluten-free flours they carry in their specialty department.

Fruits and vegetables…

Now it’s not that I don’t like good for you foods.  It’s more that the things that are good for you aren’t the things that taste the best.  Things such as macaroni and cheese, chocolate chip cookies, or brownies.  I don’t even eat those foods on a regular basis.  But when I want them, I really want them!  And you know what?  An apple is not a satisfying substitute for a walnut filled brownie.  Or a gooey bowl of pasta shells and cheese.

So I returned home with my huge bag of greens, oranges and yellows, figuring that my life was about to get very depressing.  Meat and produce…   Oh goodie.

Gluten-free was such a boring thought that I didn’t even want to eat today (maturity went back into hiding, I’m afraid).  If I couldn’t eat…something with gluten, then I didn’t want to eat anything at all.  Yeah, I know, that wouldn’t work very long term.  And it didn’t.  So I finally sucked it up and had a banana.

And it wasn’t too bad.  Of course that could have been because I’d put off eating so long that the sole of a shoe might have tasted pretty good by that point.  But supper was really good, too.  Baked potatoes are gluten free…Yay!  I’d rather have a baked potato than pasta any day.

So back to Google I went.  Maybe it was time to put in some honest, open-minded research.  Get a little beyond the basic food lists and see what else was available out there.

Apparently, as long as I don’t mind baking (and I don’t), there are some fairly good substitutes for many of the foods I enjoy.  Not everything, of course.  I’m going to really miss my homemade yeast breads and pizza dough (unless I fall off the gluten-free wagon sometimes, and I probably will).  I’ll also be really bummed if I can’t find a decent dumpling recipe to have with my stew.

But I will get over it.  Because you know what?  Having good health is important to me.  Once I get past the, “I can’t have this anymore?” stage, and I’m working on getting past it in a hurry, I’ll be fine.  I didn’t think there was ever a chance I’d get to that place, but now I am 100% confident that I will.  I am important.

It doesn’t hurt to have discovered that Dairy Queen soft serve is also gluten free…

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Character building

This blog is for writers, or those who would like to write, but haven’t quite gotten there yet.  I just want to cover one major aspect of writing, and that is character development. 

As far as I’m concerned, well formed characters are the most critical part of any book.  You can have a great outline, a compelling plot with ample suspense and drama, but without characters who  are real to you, the story won’t be as good as it could and should be.  You need to know much more than just the basics like hair and eye color, height and weight, and what they do for a living.

You need to know their family life was like when they were growing up.  Did they break any bones doing stupid childhood stunts, or have their appendix out when they were ten?  Who was their best friend?  What were they afraid of, and did they have any recurring nightmares?  What was their favorite subject in school?  What did they want to be when they grew up?  Is it related to what they actually do now?  How did/do they get along with their siblings?  Do they have any siblings?

This isn’t something you’re going to be able to take shortcuts with.  You want to take all the time you need to make them as real to you as you are.  You want to think about them often.  Imagine them in a variety of situations-and know how they would react.  Would they help a little old lady get groceries loaded in her car?  Would they stop at the scene of an accident and put their life on the line to save a victim from a burning car?  Administer CPR to a drowning victim?  Do they even know CPR?

These are all things you need to know to create compelling characters. But sometimes, no matter how much time and effort you spend, some of them are going to give you headaches.  Migraines, in fact!

I had one heroine that, no matter what I did to make her likeable, I just could not stand her.  And that was a really bad thing, since she was slated to be the star of the last book in a series of five.  I couldn’t come up with even one redeemable quality about this woman and was afraid I’d have to scrap the whole idea.  And that would have been a royal pain in the neck as I had already finished the first book.

So what did I do?  I Googled.  And Googled, and Googled, and Googled.  And finally found a solution.  At first I felt pretty stupid doing it.  So stupid, in fact, that I wouldn’t have had the guts to tell even one person about it, much less make it the subject of a very public blog!

But it worked.

How did I overcome my dislike of this key character?  I ‘interviewed’ her and her sister, another character I didn’t particularly like.  At first it just felt silly, until I got into it, and then I enjoyed it so much I sometimes felt like I might have a multiple personality disorder.  Until I realized it really wasn’t all that different than what I’ve been doing for years.  It was just another tool to use to in the creation more realistic characters.

During the course of that ‘interview,’ I discovered the reason behind the unlikable woman.  It all came down to a childhood where she and her sister felt very insecure. 

Yeah, I was in charge.  I could have gone a hundred different ways with that, but I built on what I’d already invested in her, and worked my way to a logical conclusion.  I opened my mind to make believe, which is all fiction writing really is.  

It was hard in the beginning, but I’ve done several more since, when a character is giving me fits.  And you know what?  It might take a few minutes to get into it, but then it turns into the most amazing experience.  You simply imagine the subject of your interview as a real living, breathing human being.  Keep the fact sheet you created for him or her handy, and then do your best to imagine their responses to your questions, given what you already know about them.

I was quite surprised to find that one of my characters had a very sharp sense of humor that, if I’d just stayed with the character outline, I’d never have discovered.  He turned into one of my favorite heroes in the series. 

So you can take it or leave it, but I think interviewing characters is a fantastic way to add new dimensions to them.

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Firsts

Today I’m thinking about ‘firsts.’  Some things that fall into that category are good.  Like the first time you ride your bike without training wheels or a helping hand.  The first day of school, following the summer vacation you couldn’t wait for in January, but that got kind of boring after the first month.

That first date, when you can’t tell if you’re more thrilled or nervous because you’re afraid you just might throw up. That first driving lesson because it means you’re growing up.  That first paycheck.  On one hand you can’t wait to cash it and spend every hard earned cent.  On the other, you kind of want to frame it because you’re so proud of it.

And then you have kids.  The first time you hold that baby in your arms.  Nothing will ever be as special no matter how long you live.  Until the grandkids come around anyway.  You’ll never forget seeing that first smile or the first wobbly step.  The expression on their face the first time they see a snowfall or a puppy.  The first time they shout, “I hate you!” but come and give you a hug a few minutes later because they’re sorry.

When she was about three years old.  Awhile ago.

Some firsts aren’t quite as nice.  Losing that first tooth-or having it yanked out by a dentist.  Breaking a leg or spraining an ankle.  Having your cat leave a hairball mess for you on the floor (never, ever gets better).  Having a flat tire on a dirt road in the country in the middle of the night…with no cell phone or strong guy around to change it for you (voice of experience here!).

Some are really bad.  Losing family members ranks right up there near the top, but we’re not quite there yet.  Grandparents, parents, a spouse, other relatives.  Divorces and losing your job fit into this category, too.  Nowhere near as traumatic, but very painful anyway.

And then there’s the worst kind of all.  Losing a child.

My oldest daughter died this past December, following complications from surgery.  And I’m discovering all kinds of firsts.  First Christmas without her.  First new year that I’ve only had two kids instead of three since before my youngest was born.  My first Mother’s Day with only two.

And today.  Today is her birthday, and it’s been a little tougher to handle than I thought it would be.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say it completely sucks.  I’ve spent every minute since waking up this morning going from tearful, to depressed, to angry, to doing everything in my power to think of anything but that.  Mostly I’ve succeeded at it, but not as much as I’d have liked to.

It’s a first I’ll be glad to put behind me.  But somehow I think that seconds, thirds, etc… aren’t going to be a whole lot easier.  It’s just one of those parts of life that you wish you hadn’t got to experience firsthand.

Happy Birthday, Kerry.

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I have turned into a big baby!

Well at least over some things.  I don’t like burning myself when I’m cooking, and will use plenty of ice and cold cloths when I do.  But I also hate going to the dentist.  Always have, always will.  And I’ve been there twice…in about a week.

Last Wednesday (I think) I had to get a chipped tooth repaired.  Pretty sure my blood pressure was up a little that day, even though it really wasn’t a big deal.  Except for the shot.  Shots in your mouth are always a big deal.

So is getting a tooth pulled, my reason for this morning’s visit.  And why I was completely stressed out and practicing relaxation breathing techniques from start to finish.

To explain my fear of dental work a little, medications that are supposed to numb you don’t work very well on me.  And I mean none of them.  For example, during my last C-section, I kept telling the doctor that something was hurting, and the only answer I would get to that is, it’s pressure.  No offense but I kind of know the difference between pressure and pain.

He finally believed me when a nurse gasped and exclaimed, “Oh my God!  She’s pulling her feet out of the strap!”

Not really supposed to be able to do that with an epidural I guess, but at least after that (pretty much immediately), the anesthesiologist adjusted something and all I felt after that was pressure.

Same type of thing happens with dental work.  Of course I don’t wind up with a baby from that, thank goodness!  But the Novocaine always wears off too fast and I’ve had some less than pleasant experiences because of it.

But now I have a new dentist, and I’m very impressed with her.  Things went very smoothly last week with the chipped tooth.  And she was very careful to make sure I was numb before pulling the one today.  I mean really careful.

Granted I was concentrating on my breathing so I didn’t freak out and land on the ceiling, so my memory might not be 100% reliable, but I counted at least seven shots, given over a period of a good ten or fifteen minutes.  And not surprisingly, the last one hurt the most…after all the rest had had a chance to work.  As I gasped, and imbedded my fingers in the arms of the chair she asked,

“Hit a live one there?”

Um…uh-huh!

Then she said something to the effect that I must just be hard to get numb.  I am so glad she realized that, and made the effort to make sure I was.  Because I suspect that it would have been yet another miserable, painful dental experience if she hadn’t.

So all I can say here is…I truly appreciate my dentist!

Now if the rest of the Novocaine would just wear off (after going on 5 hours now), and I could quit biting down on pieces of gauze, my day would be just perfect.  Kind of getting hungry after being up nine hours.

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Sometimes I just can’t help myself

It’s true.  It usually happens when I’ve had an especially long day, and am so tired I should just go to bed…but I don’t.  When that happens, my weird side comes bursting through in all it’s glory.

Yesterday was such a long and busy day I actually thought it was Saturday at one point (so glad it’s not because I like weekends!).  So I was exhausted from all the running around and activities and must have been in the just the right frame of mind when my daughter came out of the bathroom giggling about ‘fighting spiders on the wall.’

Don’t ask me why, because I really can’t say, but just the way she worded it reminded me of a song I’ve heard maybe half a dozen times throughout my life.  And since I’m stuck for a better subject today, I’m going to share with you my goofier side.  Keep in mind that I’m not a poet, but I just couldn’t resist trying to come up with a little song about the fighting spiders.

It’s two stanzas short of the original song, but it would be sung to “The Green Berets” tune….

Fighting spiders, on the wall
Hit them hard and watch them fall.
Nasty bugs, they’re such a pest,
Now they’re dead, it’s for the best.

Little monsters, they scare you.
Don’t feel bad, they scare me, too.
But when one, invades your house,
Be really glad, it’s not a mouse.

So hit those spiders, on the wall.
Squish them good, so they can’t crawl.
For if you don’t, give them a smack,
They might become, your midnight snack.

Little monsters, they scare you.
Don’t feel bad, they scare me, too.
But when one, invades your house,
Be really glad, it’s not a mouse.

 

 

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