Saturday, September 29, 2012

Well, I Did It!

...both entered VOICE OF INNOCENCE in the USA Book News Best Book Contest, AND entered RAINMAN'S BRIDE in the Harlequin "So You Think You Can Write" Contest. And yes, I DO think I can write. :-)

The nice thing about the Harlequin contest is it gives me another crack at getting RB into the Harlequin system, where I have believed it belonged since long before it won the Golden Heart (and then was summarily dismissed). 

And yes, I understand that Harlequin has a couple of black clouds over it of late. Frankly? I don't care. A lifelong dream of mine has been to sell "those little paperback romances." If I've got a way to do that now, I'm going to at least try it. :-) Yes, they're not the  best paying market on the street. But royalties, as I like to say, is royalties. I'll take 'em.

Besides, what goes around comes around. You'll never guess what's finally RETURNING to the Harlequin fold? Good old-fashioned clean romance. Yeppers. The kind, as they put it, you can share with "daughters and granddaughters."

My time may have finally come. One way or the other. :-)

The manuscripts will be posted on the Harlequin Contest website, Click on "Read Entries" and see what you find. And if you vote for my book, I'll be over the moon. :-)

More later!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Editor Is Your Friend. No, Really: Part 2.

Last time here, we talked about what a good editor does for your work. But, it must be said, there are a lot of people out there claiming to be editors, book doctors, editorial consultants, writing coaches, et al. Not all of them will be very good at it. Some of them can hurt you.

So how do you know the good ones from the not-so-good?
First of all, let's deal with the truly nefarious, because they're easier to cull--and spot.

You probably want to avoid--or at least QUESTION--any editor or editorial consultant if he/she:

1. Has a Web site full of writing, syntax, spelling, punctuation, usage errors--or just plain wrong information about the business.
This should be obvious; it's not. Now, one or two typos, or a formatting problem--that, ANYBODY can have. We're talking about rampant errors--such as an "about" page that has a dozen or more typos or misspellings on it, and/or recycled "myths" about the publishing industry, blindly repeated. Usually when or if you point such things out to a good editor, they'll thank you and take pains to correct them. If you write a note to an editor about any of these things and he/she gets snarky, however...walk away. Quickly.  

2. Has been listed on one of the "warning" sites (Writer Beware, Absolute Write Water Cooler, etc.) as questionable--under ANY name or incarnation. 
Crooks or scam artists--in this business as in many others--will often get "busted" under one name, go underground for awhile, and then resurface as a whole new name, business, or enterprise. Some of them will even claim to have "gone straight" and be "legit" in a new partnership...only to have it revealed, upon further research, that they've merely formed a partnership with ANOTHER scam artist and are trying to "con" a whole new generation of writers who haven't heard the horror stories they've left behind them. Don't be fooled by it. Google their names and do a little research. It'll be time well-spent.

3. Makes any guarantees about whether, where, or when your writing will sell.
Yes, I know there are professional book doctors out there who have LOTS of contacts, some of them very high-profile, in the publishing and/or other media industries. That being said, however, not even THEY can "guarantee" that your work will sell at all, much less that it will sell in ____ months or ____ years. Note that this is also different from saying your work will be publishable in ____ months or ____ years. THAT, a professional may be able to tell you. Whether anyone will actually decide to PAY you for that publishable work, however, is something no editor can vouch for unless he or she...

4.  Also owns a publishing company, "manuscript showcase" site, or "literary agency."
...which is another BIG FAT RED FLAG.

This is not to say that you should refuse, out-of-hand, the chance of getting your book edited by people who are also publishers--if those two services are separate enterprises. But, in truth, it's danged hard to run ONE of these businesses, let alone BOTH of them, and keep them both separate and high-quality. See the first rule about "warnings" above--many scammers do this kind of thing, offering "editorial and book publishing service" packages that, in truth, are nothing  more than what you can do yourself as a self-publisher, with a little elbow grease. 

And it goes without saying--or it should--that it's damnably hard to be both an objective editor of work AND a literary agent representing that type of work. Very few people can do it; I'd be tempted to say no one can, actually, except there's probably one or two noble souls out there who manage it. So I won't say it's "impossible." It's just...highly unlikely. 

In short, you'll do yourself a favor if you keep the editing, agenting, and publishing aspects of your work SEPARATE and maintain the integrity of each. It's the best way to save yourself time, money, and heartache.

5. Gives any indication that he/she is "above" whatever you're writing or tries to manipulate it in any way.
This is a more subtle element, but it does happen. You're in a creative writing class, or a writers' workshop, where Ms. Incredibly Big Name Famous Editor is on hand to read and possibly consider (gasp!) taking on manuscripts to "nurture." Needless to say, your hopes are dancin' on the ceiling...until you meet this editor, and she looks at your work with a vaguely pained smile on her face and damns it with faint praise--or just comes right out and damns it. No writer's willing to take that kind of abuse, though, right? 

Think again.

The world is full of newbies who worship at the feet of Big Names. Newbies who will do anything the Big Name tells them to do. And in the process they take fresh, sometimes wonderful, work--albeit in a raw state--and beat all the freshness out of it. By the time they're done, the book might be salable...somewhere. But more often than not, it's not, because the Big Name didn't get what they were trying to do in the first place, and didn't have the humility to say, "Yanno, honey, this isn't my cup of tea. You might want someone more comfortable with the kind of story you write to take this on." So in the process, the Big Name made them over in the image she's most comfortable with...and they'll sound like no one but a derivative clone of Herself.

Don't misunderstand this; a good editor WILL change your work. A good, ethical editor may ask you to make changes that you think will "gut" the thing; in that case, a little dialogue is in order. But the kind of "editing" we're talking about above doesn't involve dialogue. It involves a condescending, dictatorial relationship in which Big Name says "Jump," and the only acceptable reply is, "How high?" THAT does not a good creative partnership make, and sometimes it takes years to recover from that kind of treatment--both for your self-esteem AND your voice. So don't succumb to that temptation. The best and most talented people in any industry--by and large--are also the nicest and most down-to-earth.  Keep that in mind every time you hand your work to ANYONE,  no matter what his/her reputation in the business might be. Life's too short to waste it trying to kiss up to prima donnas.

Lots of information here, we know. But it helps to know how to avoid the editorial "weeds" right away, so you can find the editors and writing professionals who will help your "garden grow" the way it should. Next time, we'll talk about what a GOOD writing professional looks like--from professional behavior to fee schedules, and much more in between.

Stay tuned!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Editor Is Your Friend. No, Really: Part 1.

Aha! Some solid information in this blog for a change!

Not that many of you don't LOVE pot roast recipes...I know you do. :-)

But it's occurred to me several times (because people come right out and tell me, doncha know) that after as many years as I've spent in this profession, and as many millions of words as I've written, slashed and burned, rewritten, cut and pasted, and rephrased with and for people...I might know more than a little about this editing game. How it ought to work...and when to run for the hills, if necessary, to avoid major headaches and/or a lot of wasted money or BOTH.

Ironically, even in this age of unprecedented information, a lot of people DON'T know much about editing. Why it's necessary in the first place. And when they're being well-edited versus HACKED. 

So in a series of posts, I aim to help you out with a little information about editing, editors, and the process...and how to make the most of it. It'll be based on my experience, which is wide-ranging and varied. It'll be laced with more than a little cantankerousness. But above all, it'll be helpful.

Trust me on this. It will be. Because that's what I DO. 

So let's start from the very beginning...

(This space for singing, "Do Re Mi" to yourselves, now that I've put that song in your heads. HAH!)

The first thing you need to know about an editor--and the most important thing---is whether you need one or not.

The short answer is, "DUH."
The long answer is, "Of course you do."
Everyone does. Yes, even Stephen King. Even Mary Higgins Clark (something that's been painfully obvious by its absence of late). Even lots and LOTS of other "name" authors. And you can tell them I said so. They won't care, of course, because they don't know who I am. (Yet.) But, hey, make my day. Go ahead and tell 'em if you like. Heaven knows reader reviews on Amazon do it all the time.
(When they don't get taken off, like one of mine did. But I digress.)

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, can use a good editor. I don't just say that because I'm in the business; I say it because it's true. Just as a singer needs a vocal teacher (the "third ear" that can tell you where you're going wrong--or right), the writer who knows and uses a good editor will benefit from that "third ear" wordsmith. You'll never regret having a good edit, and your work WILL be much better as a result.

Not "may" be. WILL be.
Why is that?

1) Good editors will catch things you'll never see. Literally.
This is a given, but the reason it happens is more complex. You see, our brains are wonderful things. They will take a piece of writing and "fill in" gaps in it so that when we read it, it makes sense to our brain--even if what's on the page is gibberish. If you doubt this, take one of those "tests" online that has a box of text with letters missing, the wrong letters in a word, etc., and then tells you something about your perception and intelligence if you can understand it. News flash: it has little to do with perception and intelligence. It has to do with brain chemistry, and how our synaptic connections fire. For some of us, they fire faster...but for all of us who write, they can actually sabotage us. You've experienced this sensation if you've ever spent so much time on a piece, either reading or editing, that you literally don't "see" it anymore. It happens to everyone at one time or another. Hence, the need for a "third eye"--or, more accurately, a second PAIR of eyes. 

2) Good editors catch you out on every single bad habit you have.
We all--every one of us--have pet words we lurrrve to use in our writing. I LOVE to use "just" and "even" and, of late, "basically." Those are only (another favorite of mine) the tip of the proverbial writing berg; I have many more that good critique partners and editors have caught and underlined or highlighted (or just slashed and burned). (See? I told you it was one of my favorites.)  We all also have pet phrases, ways we express ourselves, or ways we like our CHARACTERS to express themselves that are cliched, are anachronistic for the time period in which we set our tales, or make all our people sound the same. What does this say about our writing? That we're lazy? That we don't have wide enough vocabularies? That we're uncreative, or uneducated, or something else equally nefarious?

Nah. All it says is that we,  like all of mankind, are creatures of habit. Part of it may be a tiny shred of "laziness," but in truth? I've rarely if ever met a truly LAZY writer. I've met a lot of them who fall back on habits, cliches, or pet phrases...but that's not because they're not trying to write the best things they can. It's simply a matter of writing from a certain comfort zone. We speak the language we speak, however broad or narrow that is, unless someone gently prods us to stretch ourselves and do better. And that's the end result of a good editor...

3) Good editors help you write better than you think you can.
Notice what we say here. Good editors don't tell you you need to write "like someone else." Good editors don't mess with your voice--any more than absolutely necessary--but, once again like a good vocal teacher, they'll strengthen that voice and deepen it until it's true music. Good editors don't make you change things that don't need changing--but they don't let you get away with doing something that's "good enough," either. They'll challenge you. They'll dare you to try things you don't think you can do. They'll push you and prod you and nag you to the point where you wonder whom they think they're talking to, anyway.

The answer? They're talking to a good writer who they think can be better. And the stubborn, persistent, craft-minded, picky ones won't let you get away with less than your best. You may never work so hard in your life as when you have a good editor--but your writing will amaze and astound you when you look back at the difference between what you started with...and what you end with.

That's with a good, topnotch, professional, skilled, artist of an editor.
But how do you know one when you see one?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, and we'll talk about that!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What I'm Doing... between writing and editing for other people, is trying to get somewhere MYSELF.
I'm hoping this 
can help me get noticed for some old/new work that's been waiting for just such an opportunity...
...and this can help me get notice for VOI to take off the way it should.

So I'm gonna be a bizzy chicky, if I can make these things, or others like them, pay off.In any event, I'm going for it.

What are YOUR next targets?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Beats Me!

What do you know, as a writer, about "beats"?
And why do so few people seem to be able to use these things?

Second to the myriad errata I see in manuscripts of late in terms of commas, word usages, homophone confusion, and action/reaction transposition--and there are tons of THOSE--comes an embarrassing number of writers who, apparently, have never been taught about beats.

(Some of them haven't been taught about dialogue tags, either, which are related...but not quite the same thing.)

Do you know what a "beat" is?
Can you use it effectively?
How would you describe it?
And how do you learn how to write "beats" well in your prose?

I've got thoughts on this (yeah, like you ever doubted I did?), but I'd like to hear from other writers on this. This problem is so prevalent that I'm beginning to think NO one's taught it for at least a generation of writers...maybe more.
If so, I know what I'm doing my next workshop on.

Chime in if you would!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Balance in the Morning I'm back to taking a regular walk in the mornings.
I've been doing a morning walk for YEARS now, to the point where I can hardly remember when I didn't do one. And yes, I did take a hiatus from the morning walk for a little while--under the guise that "I can get more work done if I don't spend a half hour in the morning walking nowhere."

I'm here to tell you, however, that for me...that's bunk.

I need that walk--not so much for exercise, although it certainly serves that purpose.
But I need it to establish a sense of balance in the morning.
Sounds odd, but that's the best word I can use for it.

I CAN start my workday immediately after my bath and first cup of coffee.
I DO go to adoration, two days a week, right after said bath and coffee.
But even to adoration, at this point anyway, I walk. It's not MUCH of a walk, but it's a walk.

Now, I do anywhere from 15 minutes to over a half hour, and at times, almost 45 minutes' worth of walking in the morning.
Depending on how I feel, what mood I'm in, etc.
And it's important to note that often, before I start out, it's with the intention of only going 15 minutes or so...but that by the time I've gone about two blocks, I feel like a longer walk, and by the time I've gone about five blocks, I'm ready to keep rambling.

There's something about fresh air, being outdoors, and just walking in the morning that gives me a sense of balance. It makes me feel like, no matter how I woke up, I can start the day refreshed. It does refresh me. If I'm desperately overtired, the fresh air soothes me. It can invigorate me. It makes me feel more relaxed, which paradoxically gives me more energy to start the day. And on the days when I spend the walk praying, it gives me extra "prayer points" as well.

However, it needs to be said that I have to keep the walk unstructured for it to work this way. The moment I start designating it a "prayer walk" or a "fitness walk" or determining that I have to go such-and-such amount of time or distance every loses all its benefits for me. It becomes another thing to check off the list rather than a breath of fresh air at the beginning of the day that enables me to plan the day, shake out the cobwebs, or just enjoy everybody's garden as I amble along.

If for some reason I need to jump in the car to go to adoration--say, there's a dangerous storm or the like and it's hazardous outdoors--I feel the lack of that fresh air respite.
It really DOES make a difference.

So I'm doing the walk every morning again, and I'm feeling much better balanced because of it. To the point where, at least in theory, I can think more clearly and calmly about everything, and in the long run, be more productive.

Which kind of shoots holes in the idea that it's "spending a half hour walking nowhere."
It may be, technically, walking in circles. Walking a few dozen blocks away, and coming back.
But it's far from going nowhere.
And I'd highly recommend it as--paradoxically enough--one of the best ways to actually find yourself, at the end of the day, having gotten further than you thought you would when you woke up.

Just a thought.
Anything that gives YOU balance in the morning? Share it here!


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

So, What's that Holy Spirit FEEL Like, Anyway?

One of the things I like best about Catholicism, as opposed to many "faiths" I've seen out there, is that Catholicism doesn't depend much on FEELINGS.
This is not to say that emotion isn't important in spirituality. Of course it is. God created us in His image, which means that He feels emotions, too. And they have a big role in how we worship--at times.
But there's a danger there, cherie.

For you nondenominationalists out there...think about how you choose a home church.
I mean, you go to where you "feel" you belong.
You go to where you "feel" you are "called" to be.
You go to where you "feel" God is "leading" you.
See a common denominator here?

By contrast, the traditional way a Catholic chooses which church to go to is--brace yourself--GEOGRAPHICAL.
Nowadays, that's not as tightly binding as it used to be. But it still holds true in the large majority of cases that the church you go to, as a Catholic, is the parish church that "covers" the boundaries of where you live.
It's simple. It's neat. It's predictable. And, for anyone relocating, it's a snap. Just look at the church nearest your house, and that's probably the one whose parish you live in. Not always--like school boundaries, sometimes parish boundaries have some quirks--but as a general rule, the church closest to your home is the one to which you belong.

It does cause some problems sometimes, mainly because of inadequate Church supervision over some folks who can't get the idea out of their heads that "Vatican II" said you're all supposed to hold hands at church and sing "KumBaYa" at Communion.
(It DIDN'T, by the way. Just so's we're clear on that.)

So what if the parish church you're technically "supposed" to go to is one of those bat shit crazy places with multicolored rainbow vestments, weird-ass dancing, or priests who think dogs should be co-celebrants in liturgy?
Are you still bound to be members of that parish and support it no matter what, simply because of where you live?

That's a tougher one. Sometimes you have to go outside your parish boundaries to find a church that's faithful to the Magisterium, knows what's what liturgy-wise, and is unapologetic about proclaiming real Church teaching.
But it's still gonna be a Catholic church. 
You're not going to be searching among the 40,000 other "also-rans" out there to see if a better home for you exists somewhere else. Not if you're a real Catholic.
Chances are, the parish is still going to be fairly close to your home, if you can swing that. Even if it's a place you've had to decide on by process of elimination.

But one thing that choice is NOT based "feeling."
Which, I believe, removes a whole lot of nonsense from the Christian experience.

You see, if you go to where you "feel" the "Holy Spirit" moving...
...then what happens when you no longer "feel" the Spirit in that place anymore?

I see this happen all over nondenominational churches.
At best, it leads to church-hopping, sometimes even denomination-hopping.

At worst, it can lead to infighting, opposing camps, and divided church bodies, whose members then go on to form NEW church "families" with folks from one side forming the new body, while the other is abandoned.
Not that bad, but still bad, is its tendency to leave people "without a church home" for a given period of time. Which means they don't go to church at all.
Because they haven't found the place they "feel led to be" yet.
Or they haven't found a place they "feel" has the Spirit, or is led by the Spirit.

But not going to church at all isn't an option for a believer.
And no, I'm not just talking about Catholics.
True, we're bound under pain of mortal sin (which is a Big Deal) to go to Mass on Sunday. 
EVERY Sunday, and EVERY Holy Day of Obligation.
But not going to church at all is not an option for any believer.
It's Scriptural. Look it up.
When Paul says not to neglect the gathering of yourselves together, he's not suggesting. He's commanding.
It's not a "nice thing to do." 
It's a sin NOT to do it.
It's a command. Based on a commandment.
And it has nothing to do with "feelings."

Fact is, no one can truly tell you what the "Holy Spirit" FEELS like.
No one.
Because the presence of the Holy Spirit isn't a "feeling" at all.
The leading of God can, in fact, be to a place where you're not "feeling the love" in the slightest.
It can even be one of those bat shit crazy places, where you become the salt and light that brings 'em back to the way they're supposed to be.
Is that fun?  
Will you be "feeling" like you're in the Spirit?
Hardly. Usually you'll be "feeling" like you're being a fuddy-duddy who doesn't "understand" what "Church" is all about.
But if it's where, as far as you can discern, you are finding obedience...
then it's where you're supposed to be, and the Spirit IS present there.
Regardless of how you're feeling.

Which is why Catholicism, and its (ideal) separation of feeling from obedience, does a lot less harm and injustice to the believer than this notion of going where you "feel" led to go.
It makes things infinitely simpler when you're not testing the spirits based on how you "feel" about them...but on whether they're obedient to what Jesus declared His Church to be in the first place.
Feelings are, in the end, a really crappy substitute for faith.
They're an even crappier substitute for obedience.

Which may be why, in so many nondenominational Protestant churches today, there's a constant striving to be bigger, more innovative, more flashy, more "sincere," and reach out to more people as fast and in as many media-savvy ways as possible.
Because if people are going to go to churches based on where they "feel" the best...
you gotta keep those good "feelings" coming...or you'll lose 'em.
And that's considered a tragedy of eternal proportions.

But is it? Is it, really?
Or is the tragedy actually the foundational reliance on "feelings" in the first place?
The Gospel does not say,
"You shall know the truth, and it'll make you FEEL awesome."
It doesn't say,
"You'll know the presence of the Spirit because you'll FEEL it."
Nor does it  say,
"I am with you to keep you FEELING GOOD 'til the end of the age."

It does say, "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free."
It does say, "By their fruits you shall know them."
And it does say, "And know that I am with you always." 

People sometimes get their noses out of joint when Catholics say that they belong to the true Faith. But the fact is, a Faith that relies on knowing what Jesus promised we would know has a head start on being the real thing...
...and it's a much, much more stable place to be than waiting to "feel" where we're supposed to be next.

Jesus wants us to find the real Faith and stay there.
By knowing.
By obeying.
No matter how, or what, we happen to FEEL throughout the ebb and flow of our lives.

So I would submit that looking to belong to any church based on "feelings" is not only a futile endeavor--it may, in fact, be playing with fire. 
Moods of individual church bodies with no authorities but themselves...change.
(And don't tell me, "Our authority is Scripture," or "Our authority is God Himself." If that were true, there wouldn't have to be 40,000 of you out there all disagreeing with each other.)

The fact is, human authorities in charge of churches, no matter how sincere...change.
They can change churches  from being places you're sure the Spirit is a-movin' places that Jesus would call unrecognizable. (As in, "I never knew you.")
It happens.

But the teaching authority of the Holy Spirit doesn't change.
And it doesn't rely on feelings.

Which is why, IMHO, when it comes to faith--it's dangerous for US to rely on that, either.
That road, eventually, always ends up nowhere...and God doesn't want believers to be nowhere.
But the devil just loves it when we are.

So you have to wonder whose "feelings" you're actually following at that point, when your "feeling" has led you to stay away from church...for ANY reason.
And you have to wonder whose "feelings" you're honoring when you can't "find a church home" that "suits you."

News flash: Church isn't supposed to suit YOU. Your job is to belong to IT...not the other way around.
If that hurts your FEELINGS, it's not the Church that's at fault.
But it may just be your theology.


Monday, September 03, 2012

Now, if Michigan had only SHOWN UP on Saturday....

I guess that takes us out of the national title picture, huh? 


More later,