Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Hiring an Editor: Take Two

As you may know, I was ripped off by a so-called editor back in September. I was premature in writing about hiring her. Once bitten, twice shy, as the saying goes. When I went looking for a new editor, I didn’t check out her editor web page exclusively, like I did the first gal. This time, I looked at all of her social media outlets. Had I done that with my first editor, I would have figured out she was a crack-pot pretty quickly.

But this post isn’t about getting burned and learning a lesson, this post is about My Editor. This time, I hit the jackpot! Five Stars. A+.

The service I hired her for was to provide an Editorial Letter for my manuscript. This means she reads the story and tells me what parts work well and what needs work. I was blown away at the thoroughness of her notations and her understanding of my story!

The editorial letter is eight pages long. She provided an overview of the story (spot on), talked about the setting and some things I could do to make improvements, as well as character POV (point of view), the supernatural elements in the story, backstory, and she also addressed the flashback scenes.

THEN, she broke it all down, chapter-by-chapter! She answered questions I had thought of myself and she gave me a few alternate plot ideas, as well as a load of other thoughtful considerations.

And the best part? My story doesn’t suck. 

This is how I know:My editor said, This is an interesting take on time/space travel, incorporating themes of love, family, loneliness, and belonging, all around the unique setting of tattoo artistry.”

And this: “Toward the end of the story, in Chapter 39, there is a lovely echo to Otto’s flashbacks of his childhood, when he tells Hazel it’s better to be adopted into a loving family than to be raised by a hateful one.”

One more: “Overall, I think the structure of your story and the character arcs that you explore work very well. Since the manuscript is on the light side at 55,000 words, you do have room to explore several scenes more deeply, to fully flesh out Otto’s and Hazel’s thoughts, and their growing feelings for one another. It is a beautiful story about finding love and belonging, and I enjoy the supernatural twist that keeps the mystery going until the end.”

Remember friends, the editorial letter is eight pages long. It is chock full of suggestions to make my story stronger, richer. And I’m going to comb through that document and do everything I can to make THE INK OF TIME the very best story I can.

In the New Year I envision another run with this editor, an appointment with my awesome cover designer, and exploring publication options. Stick with me. It’s getting real now!

Happy New Year!

Until Next Time,

Be good to yourself,


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

On The Fifth Day of Christmas

Image courtesy of Google.
On the fifth day before Christmas my true love gave to me, Five Golden Rings….

ZZZZEEERRRRP! (record scratch sound) Wait. What? What kind of rings?

Well if they’re from my true love at Christmas time they would be  these five things, err, rings:

1.       Family. Family is what it’s all about. Family makes us strong, brave, and compassionate. Family holds our hands through the good and the bad. Family helps us be better people than we would be without them. Family equals love. And love is everything because God is Love.

Image courtesy of Google.
2.      Faith. Faith has so many layers.   Have faith in yourself that you can achieve your goals, or at least conquer your biggest hurdles- which in and of itself is a pretty satisfying goal. Have faith in others, in human-kind. Not all people are bad, in fact most are good. We just hear more about the bad. (And remember, those bad people probably have grandmas who are praying for them.) Faith in God the Father. Without faith in the guidance from a higher power (whatever yours may be), life would be a bit “pin-bally”/ without direction.

3. Friends:Sometimes, if you're really lucky, you have good friends who become family. We are blessed with fabulous friends!

Photo by Tim. Woodshed built? Check!
Logs cut? Check!
4.       Hard Work: It’s the only satisfying way to get what you want and what you need.  As my true love would say, “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.”  And, "If it was easy, anyone could do it." He’s so right. Work hard in your relationships, in your education, in your career, and, of course, to meet your dreams.

Make the world a better place
by planting a garden.
5.       Appreciation of our home: Look around at this beautiful Earth, be it the blue skies and green fields of Iowa, the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, or the rugged mountains of Colorado. Take time to appreciate a violet sunset, stars in the night sky, and the soaring beauty of an Eagle. Celebrate the plants and animals in your own back yard that go through the cycle of life every year. Don’t take this home for granted.

Photo by Tim. Okoboji sunset
Photo by Tim. Sunrise over the lake.
Photo by Tim.
The moon rises over the woods.

These five things. They’re IT. They’re all we need.

Merry Christmas and Peace to all.

Until next time,

Be Good to Yourself,


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Artemis, by Andy Weir: A Review

Image courtesy of Google
Did Andy Weir’s creative mojo weaken when he joined the Big 5 Publishing Machine? Is publishing in New York City his kryptonite? For sure, it’s hard to follow The Martian. It became an on-line sensation that was noticed by publishers and movie-makers. But still, I know Mr. Weir has better chops that this.

Artemis, in Greek Mythology, is the daughter of Zeus and twin sister of Apollo. She is the Goddess of the wilderness. A perfect name for this book, considering it takes place in a colony on Earth’s moon.

I had high hopes for this novel. I absolutely loved the map of the moon colony at the front of the book, it stoked my imagination! Sadly, this book was lacking in so many ways. Just so you know, I’m going to talk about that now. Spoiler alert!

Jazz, the main character in this story is a petty outlaw. A smuggler. She’s estranged from her dad, a renowned welder. She’s promiscuous and impulsive. But why? We know that she and her boyfriend accidentally burned down her dad’s shop- thus the estrangement- but we never learn why she’s such a Bad Girl. 

Courtesy of Google Images
She has a pen pal on Earth named Kelvin (clever!). I though her backstory would develop through the letters they sent back and forth, they started out that way, but fizzled. Kelvin’s character became mainly her smuggling/scheming partner. As I’ve talked about before, every story has a back-story. Our past is what makes us who we are and what we do in the present.  I didn’t know what made Jazz tick, so I didn’t really care about her. Story death. Big time. (Story Genius by Lisa Cron.)

Other things that bothered me include several characters “pinched his/her chin…” What’s that all about? I believe in each scene, the character was thinking, but it’s awkward that at least three different characters did it. I understand if it’s one character’s tendency, it shows a bit of their personality, but it’s not o.k. for several characters to “chin pinch.”

Jazz’s friend, Svoboda, talked in exclamation points! Everything he said ended in an exclamation point!  Most writers understand that exclamation points should be used sparingly! This story read like a young adult or juvenile story. It was written in first person, like The Martian was, but it lacked maturity. Every time Jazz talked to me, the reader, 
I was pulled out of the story. Again, story death.

Like The Martian, there was lots of chemical, sciency stuff that went over my head in Artemis. However, in Weir’s first novel, that stuff was explained better. In that book, I could see the technology in my mind. I this book, I could not visualize so many, too many, things.

Overall, the characters were underdeveloped, making me not really care about them. The premise of the story was all about being underhanded- by accident they learned their underhandedness was against organized crime, and in the end Jazz talked herself out of being deported by convincing the Powers-That-Be that her monopoly and personal ‘community first’ stance in smuggling was what kept their colony free from drugs, gangs, and crime, and if she was deported to Earth, who knows what kind of smuggler would take her place? Give me a break.

Sorry Andy.

Until next time,
Be Good To Yourself.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Greatest Man I Never Knew by Reba McEntire

"The greatest man I never knew lived just down the hall,
and ev'ry day we said hello but never touched at all.
He was in his paper. I was in my room...
The greatest man I never knew came home late ev'ry night,
He never had to much to say. Too much was on his mind.
I never really knew him, oh and now it seems so sad.
Ev'rything he gave to us took all he had.
Then the days turned into years, and the mem'ries to black and white.He grew cold like an old winter wind blowing across my life..."

Friends, mend your fences. Rebuild that burned bridge. Swallow your pride. Bite your lip and kick yourself in the pants.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ezra Jack Keats: Visionary

Last week I stopped to get some postage stamps. As always, the display showed a wide variety of beautiful stamps available for purchase. I’ve always liked stamps, and in the past couple of years, there have been some stellar subjects to selection from. Imagine my joy when I saw Peter of The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, playing in the snow. A children’s book on stamps? Oh yeah, those were the ones for me.

I love Ezra Jack Keats books for the same reason I love The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton.

I grew up and learned to read in the Dick and Jane era. In those books, the world was perfect. The children wore nice, church-type clothes, even when they were playing outside. They had shiny new toys, and never got into trouble. The grass was manicured and the houses were perfect. I thought that was the way of the world, except for in my neighborhood.

I grew up in a marginalized neighborhood on the edge of town. We changed out of our school clothes and put on old clothes to play in when we got home. Our toys were new at Christmas time and on our birthdays. The “lawns” were really not much more than weeds that were mowed to grass length. All the dads worked hard and the moms stayed home, but none of the houses in our neighborhood were beautiful or perfect. And I didn't realize it at the time,  I just was a kid, but I lived in a mixed race neighborhood, too,like Peter. 

A scene from Goggles! by Ezra Jack Keats
Ezra Jack Keats introduced me to Peter’s neighborhood and it was worse than mine. Peter lived and played in a run-down part of a big city. Pollution and graffiti were a part of Peter’s world.  I loved the stories, because, even though Peter lived in a less-than-desirable place, he still had friends and adventures and problems that needed solved. He was kind and thoughtful and I could relate to him.

Now that I'm older, I realize what a visionary E.J. Keats was. His main character was a boy of color in the turbulent early 1960’s!  He also broached subjects that other children’s authors, at the time, did not.

Louie is mesmerized by Gussie, 
the green puppet.
Image courtesy of
In his book, Louie, a little boy does not speak. Ever. The other children shy away from him because he's different. But then something magical happens. When Louie shows his love of a puppet named Gussie, the other children realize Louie is like them and needs is a friend,too.

In Goggles, Peter and his best friend, Archie, have to outsmart the neighborhood big boys (aka bullies) to get back a prized possession.

Of course Keats’ stories delight, too. Such is the joy in the peace and beauty of new-fallen snow, or learning to help out with a new baby sister, or taking your pet to a pet show and winning a prize, or learning how to whistle for your dog. Good stuff.

Look who just arrived in the mail!
Go out today and get your very own Snowy Day stamps- and have a child-like day!

Until next time,

Be Good to Yourself.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving vs. Goliath (Consumerism)

I am wholly annoyed at the consumerism of the so-called Christmas Season.

Image courtesy of Google
Why do stores insist on decorating for Christmas in mid-October? Who wants to walk down an aisle where that nasty clown costume from the movie It sits right next to sweet little Rudolph? It’s creepy.  One article I read called this phenomenon “The Christmas Creep.” It’s not Christmas’ fault. Christmas has nothing to do with what’s going on. Call it what it is. The Consumerism Creep or The Commercialism Creep.

Last night, three days before Thanksgiving, I was relaxing watching TV. At least I tried to relax but I couldn't because all of the TV commercials were for Black Friday sales. EXCEPT they weren’t. These greedy retailers were shouting out to whoever will bite, that they’re open on Thanksgiving Day with Black Friday specials. That's Pathetic.

What pisses me off is that Thanksgiving, one of the holidays on the top of my favorites list, is becoming  a phantom holiday. A mirage of the day that is a time-slowing oasis of sweet reflection and thanksgiving. Click here to read 10 reasons I like Thanksgiving over Christmas.

If I worked in retail and had to work on Thanksgiving Day, I would be one disgruntled employee. I would be so angry at every shopper, too. Major chain stores try to say that this is what consumers want. I believe the major chain stores have found a way to reel us in. Nothing like low, low prices to get our attention, right?

Same brand. Purchased at
two very different stores with
 two very different standards.
The cracker on the left is what
you'll be buying on
Thanksgiving Day sales.
I say you get what you pay for. Every major brand name has a variety of “levels” of quality. Consumers who think they’re getting the “best” because of a name brand are falling for a big marketing trick. You get what you pay for, friends. No such thing as a free lunch.

Stay home. Spend time with your friends and family. Save your money for a worthy purchase.
Courtesy of Google Images

Happy Thanksgiving.

Until next time,

Be Good to Yourself.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How to Analyze Your First Page

Last week's blog post was about what it takes to create a good first page. The experts at the SCBWI -Iowa conference I attended talked mostly about these six things:

1. Let the reader in on what’s at issue right away- don’t hold off for a “reveal.” 2. No flowery language. 3. No super detailed descriptions. 4. Let reader know who is telling the story. 5. Stick to one main problem/issue. 6. Use emotion to grab the reader. 

I've applied them to the first page of my novel, THE INK OF TIME.  This my actual first page. The red areas are my comments and ideas about what I've written based off the experts advise. Here's how I saw it:

The beautiful Ewan McGregor
as Otto Daniel.
(Courtesy of Google Images.)
He didn’t have one tattoo on his body. His skin was marred with scars, and he felt no need to hide them. Otto Daniel didn’t care who noticed. (This tells a little about main character’s physical appearance-just enough to make the reader wonder about him.)When he walked into the tattoo shop, the one with the “help wanted” sign in the front window, he told himself he could use the irons (Is this word too “jarngony” or is it showing main character was in the business for some time?) again, if just for a while-until he figured things out. (The first issue is that he doesn’t want to have to go back to tattooing for a living. But why not?)

Olde City Tattoo in Philly
Established in 1999 by Jason Goldberg
Always aware of his 
surroundings, (This tells a little of the main character, Otto’s personality.) Otto walked through a half-lit shop into the darkness, toward the back of the room. Tired black leather chairs faced smoke-colored plate-glass windows. Black and white tiles alternated, like a giant checkerboard, on the floor. Dividing the reception area from the work area was a cluttered glass display case. The display case held binders Otto knew were full of artist samples. A poster advertising an upcoming tattoo fest had been taped to the glass from the inside. On top a cash register presided. Its design, sleek and space agey at one time, now just looked like a caricature of the modern era. Behind that four tattoo stations were cleaned, stocked, and ready for artists and customers. (Is there too much description of the setting, or just enough to give us an idea of where he’s at?)

“Needin’ a tat buddy?” asked a broad-shouldered man in a form-fitting T-shirt. His tattooed biceps rolled as he twisted to look Otto’s way from the portable tattoo chair he sat in. On the television a game show contestant gave the right answer. She ran up the steps to the stage while the audience roared and applauded. (A glimpse into this guy’s character-lazy maybe?)

“Naw. Lookin’ for work,” Otto replied. (Both characters talking in ‘everyday’ language.)

Still turned in his chair, the big man hit the volume button on the remote as he deliberately looked Otto up and down. “What do you know about tattooing?” he asked, “Don’t look like you have any.”
“Been in the business for a while now. I know the irons. I’m pretty good with a tattoo machine.”

Andrei Arlovski as the
tattoo shop guy. Why not!?
(Courtesy of Google Images)
The man clicked a button and the TV went dark. He unfolded himself from the black leather tattooing chair, and mic-dropped the remote control into the chair’s seat. (This could be the main character’s next problem! Not only does he need a job, but they guy he’s trying to get work from is uncooperative.) He hated having a new tattooist in the shop. He hated change period. But what he hated most of all, were men tattooists. He preferred working with women tattoo artists. (Aggressive behaviors by one character-how will the main character handle it?)

And that's the first page. Not much space to get a story going, right? Yet that's what it has to be. As you can tell, the knowledge I gained at the conference helped me see where my first page had potential, but also caused me raise more questions about my first page. 

And the big thing is that I haven't gotten to the real issue of this story. That isn't revealed until the second chapter. I've heard it said that most writers should delete their first chapter because the story really begins at chapter two. I just don't know...

Lucky for me, I've hired another editor. And this time, I actually have a signed contract. But more about that later.

Until next time,

Be Good to Yourself.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How to Write a Killer FIRST PAGE

Courtesy of Google Images
I learned so many great things at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Iowa conference in Cedar Rapids a few weeks ago. One of my favorite sessions was called, “First Pages.” During this session three experts in the author-of-children’s -books-field analyzed pre-selected first page of a work-in-progress from conference attendees. (On an anonymous and voluntary basis, of course.)

The expert panel included Jill Santopolo, editorial director of Philomel Books, and author of several children and young adult novels, including, The Light We Lost and the Sparkle Spa series, among others. Lisa Cron, motivational speaker (my definition of what she does) and author of Wired for Story and Story Genius, and Calla Devlin, author of Tell Me Something Real and Right Where You Left Me.  Big guns, let me tell ya.

Courtesy of Google Images
The moderator read the first page of each piece and the experts talked about what sounded good/promising and conversely, the red flags or problems that stuck out in the beginning of these stories. Industry experts always say they can tell if something has potential as soon as reading the first page, so that page has to be good to keep them going! This was my chance to see it in action.

The first story was about a teen named Rose who was wearing a hippie costume and waiting for a ride. After the first page was read, I could just tell the story didn’t have IT. I couldn’t say what was wrong; I just knew it wasn’t ready to be called finished.  I was anxious to hear what the pros had to say.

They said the first page had no context of Rose’s issue, and we have no idea of what’s going on. Also the experts said not to worry about sensory details, (sights and smells, etc.) they pull away from the story you’re trying to tell. Additionally, the story must ground the reader right away. The opening paragraph is the author’s pact with the reader and we have to let the reader know what’s at issue right away.

Problems that arose in other first pages included the reader not knowing who was talking and what the speaker (narrator) had to do with the story. Another story’s character had too many issues, and the story moved too quickly to be understood. The writer needed to figure out what was the most important thing and focus on that only. 

Another story had a lot of stuff happening but gave no reason why. There was a fight scene but since, we, the reader didn’t know the character yet, we had no investment, no reason to care about him/her. Yet another story gave to many details about a car. Doing that takes the reader out of the story-something a writer never wants to do.

Courtesy of Google Images.
The stories that held potential on their first page had, as you can imagine, the opposite of the above pages going for them. I also instinctively knew they were good starts…

The sun peeking through the shade woke the main character. He let the dog out and saw a teen girl passed out on the lawn. Right away, we, the reader, know something is wrong. The character was scared because he knew who girl on the lawn was and went into backstory (a good technique) about his brother being in jail and how the brother knew her. As readers, we’re sucked in to this story on the first page because we need to know what was going on. 

The experts recommended to the writer that the reader should know a little more about the kid who let the dog out and tell more about him. Such as, was he scared because he was only 17? Or was he 25 and on probation?

Courtesy of Google Images
The experts continued to discuss how writers need to make sure the issues of the story are set up right away. They said to start with the overarching conflict then tell the story through layers. Also, make sure your characters are believable and talk like real people. Too many writers get carried away with flowery or complex language. Additionally, make sure you’re showing some emotion. Stories "in a void" are not going to be read. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.
So to recap:
Let the reader in on what’s at issue right away- don’t hold off for a “reveal.” No flowery language. No super detailed descriptions. Let reader know who is telling the story. Stick to one main issue. Use emotion to grab the reader.

Courtesy of Google Images
Seems so easy. But it’s not. It takes some self-education and awareness, a lot of practice, a lot of re-writing and a heartless eye to cut out the crap to get a story whittled out of a stump. But if you keep at it, layer by layer, your story will emerge.

What are you working on getting better at? Keep going, my friends. We'll get there together! 

Until next time,

Be Good to Yourself.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My Writing Guru

I recently attended a writing conference for children’s books authors.  The Iowa chapter of Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) held their annual conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa this year.

You may wonder why I went to a children’s book conference. I don’t really write children’s books (but I might…), and I for sure am not and cannot illustrate a book of any kind! Why did I go?

Me and the brilliant Lisa Cron
Two words: LISA CRON. Yes, MY writing guru, the chick that I get, the one who helped this novel writing business really click for me, Lisa Cron was the keynote speaker!

Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. I’ve written a post about how I applied her theories from Story Genius to my first novel, THE INK OF TIME. 

Courtesy of Google Images
The first time I heard Lisa Cron she was being interviewed by  JoAnna Penn, creator of  The Creative Penn Podcast. When she talked about how the brain works and its/our biological need for stories I knew she was on to something. As a former teacher, I’ve put in many professional development and continuing education hours studying how the brain learns and/or why it doesn’t.

Besides The Creative Penn podcast interview, I’ve watched Ms. Cron give a TED Talk on the subject of brain science and its connection to story, I’ve read Story Genius  one-and-a-half times*, and yet I still wanted to see the lady in person. I was not disappointed!

Right after being introduced :)
Ms. Lisa Cron can talk. Fast. She is passionate and knowledgeable about her topic and it shows. Lisa walked probably five miles in her first two-and-a-half hour presentation. She never stood still. Up and down the stage she walked. And she’s a ‘hand talker’, too. It was never a dull moment. I wrote so fast, only to be distracted by her animations, that my notes look like a battlefield! Good thing I’ve read the book!

This is some of what I’ve learned from her. These are the big points. Each one had many details about how to make them happen. Lots of writerly stuff.

1. The ability to write and the ability to tell a story are not the same. Events, quests, and a bunch of stuff happening is not a story. It’s a bunch of stuff happening.

2. All stories are about change, and change is hard. Stories allow us to experience something and learn from it. This makes me think of all the fables and tales that, throughout every culture, teach a lesson. Think about some of your favorite novels, what was its lesson or the cautionary tale?  I think about the book (and movie) Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. The obvious is ‘don’t be a drunk loser on a train’, right? But really, that book is about ‘trusting yourself and your instincts.’

One of many pictures Tim has taken
of me while I'm reading.
3. The first job of an effective story is to anesthetize the part of your brain that knows it’s a story, and puts you, the reader, IN the story. I so get that. 
How many times have I been so deeply in a book that I don’t even hear other people talking to me? Lots and lots of times!  Tim will tease me by saying, “The house is on fire!”  That's when I know he’s been trying to talk to me but I was oblivious. Does that ever happen to you? If so, you’ve struck story gold.

4. Story is not just entertainment. Stories tell us what to do, allow us to step out of the present and envision the future, and stories allow us to see the unknown and unexpected. (Remember, there is no such thing as “mindless entertainment.” You know the saying: “you are what you eat”? Same goes for entertainment. You may not even know how it affects you.)

So, every story worth its salt is created with these points in mind. Kinda makes writers pretty important, doesn’t it? Writers’ jobs are to give us food for thought. Something to contemplate. Something to learn from. Something to think about. Pretty big stuff, I say.

Then, THE INK OF TIME, right? Luckily, I already understood the concept of story being events that lead to a conclusion, so I didn’t have any actions or scene to delete because of that.  However, the part about change was a big aha moment for me. Otto had a lot of stuff happen in his life that made him who he was at the beginning of this story. I wrote some pretty heart-breaking scenes with him and his sisters to illustrate that point. (Thanks again, Lisa Cron!)

I hope my readers (when I publish) will become engrossed in Otto’s story. One of the tricks is to tell very little about his physical appearance. This gives the reader the ability to step into his shoes. Also, the story is about a man who gets a job in a tattoo shop, but that just the vehicle, if you will, for the story. The overarching theme of my story is family. Who is family and what defines a family.

Think about what you read. Think about what a gift the author is giving to you - the opportunity to learn, experience, and explore. Big stuff.

And another picture of
me reading!
Until next time,

Be Good to Yourself.


*I will finish reading it for a second time, as part of my work on my second novel.