Wednesday, December 31, 2008
In May of 2001, I listened to Henriette Anne Klauser speak about her book, Write It Down, Make It Happen, at the "Oklahoma Writer's Federation" conference. She told of her experience with writing down goals and how that was her first step toward achieving them.
She encouraged us to write down 10 goals. Somethings on my list were to be published in Woman's World, to be a public speaker, to go to the United Kingdom and to finish a book and get an agent. I've done it all.
I also wrote that I wanted to weigh 140 lbs. Oh well, like I said, most have happened.
January 1st is a great time to write down goals instead of resolutions. Dream big. Write your goals down, and be faithful to do your part. Rarely are things handed to us on a silver platter.
The reason I've been published is because I wrote something and submitted it.
My list last year were:
1. Finish and sell my nonfiction parenting book, "Now What Do I Do?" Almost finished and will be going to the publisher early summer.
2. Get a good start on my second novel, "Shifting Shadows." Sidetracked by a request to write a "how-to" on inspirational writing, due out early summer.
3. Make enough money from my writing and speaking to support my craft. Getting there.
4. Sell my novel, "In The Elephant's Shadow" and have a contract for "Shifting Shadows." Didn't make this one. However, I am rewriting Elephant's Shadow and turning it into a historical romance--a more marketable product.
5. Write a travel column for a newspaper. Mercifully, this didn't happen. Who has the time!
My goals for 2009 are:
1. Finish my rewrite and get it into the hands of my agent before the year is out.
2. To triple my speaking engagements.
3. Earn enough money from writing and speaking to pay for my travel.
4. To help 25 people get published.
5. For INSPIRE! to go into multiple printings.
How about you? What are some of your goals for 2009? Let me know in the comment portion of this blog.
ALSO, I mentioned above the writer's conference in Oklahoma. This is seriously a great conference. This year the Conference is, "WORD BY WORD," will be held April 30- May 2, 2009 at the Norman Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center, Norman, Oklahoma. The conference features approximately 25 authors, editors, and agents offering 40 informative programs to help writers learn to write better and get published.
For more information go to www.owfi.org
Now, start listing your GOALS!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
What did I see?
Passive verbs, too many adverbs, repeated words and phrases. For example:
Then: The room was dark except for the soft morning light peeping through the semi-drawn curtains.
Now: Soft morning light peeped through semi-drawn curtains, illuminating the darkness.
Then: His eyes began to mist.
Now: His eyes misted.
See how that is more immediate and gives a stronger sense of place?
Then: Gently picking up his delicate hand, she held it in hers.
Now: She slipped his delicate hand in hers.
Again, more immediate and succinct.
Repeated words and phrases
Then: When Freddie came to check his lunch tray, she found him thoughtfully stroking the pin. He turned to her and said, “I kept my promise, look.” He had eaten a few bites off his tray. They were making progress.
Now: When Freddie came to check his lunch tray, she found him thoughtfully stroking the pin. He turned to her and said, "I kept my promise, look." He had eaten a few bites. They were making progress.
What you don't see is that I had written "lunch tray" two times in the paragraph preceding this one. Too many repeated words fatigues the reader.
What I've learned since the year 2000?
Avoid passive words, too many adverbs, and repeated words.
Monday, November 3, 2008
I'm honored to feature this New York Times & USA Today Best Selling Author, and my friend, Jodi Thomas!
Jodi is a fifth generation Texan. She sets the majority of her novels in her home state, where her grandmother was born in a covered wagon.
With a degree in Family Studies, she is a marriage and family counselor by education, a background that enables her to write about family dynamics. Honored in 2002 as a Distinguished Alumni by Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Thomas enjoys interacting with students on the West Texas A & M University campus, where she currently serves as Writer In Residence
Her newest book, TALL, DARK, AND TEXAN, is just out. It is the story of Teagen McMurray who would ride to hell and back to protect his land. He’d certainly never felt that way about a woman. Not, at least, until Jessie Barton showed up with her three little girls, desperate for a place to stay. Suddenly he found himself proposing marriage, telling himself it was only to protect her and her children.
Take a look at this video:
I asked Jodi to share a word of wisdom and encouragement for beginning and struggling writers. Here is what she had to say:
This spring will mark my 27th book. Twenty-two of them have been national best sellers and six have hit the NYTimes list. In interviews I’m often asked what one thing would I tell writers. Of couse: Study your markets? Read everything? Learn your craft? Write everyday? All came up as possibilities but one secret I’ve learned kept whispering in the back of my mind. Maybe it’s not the most important tool a writer needs but it can be vital to your success.
Learn to Fall.
There will be times, thousands of them if you stay in the game as I have for 20 years, when this business doesn’t go your way. You have to learn to stop holding on to the safety strap and jump out into the unknown.
The first time I remember taking a tumble was before I sold. I was frantically writing, sending off to every contest, agent, or editor I could find. One day I opened the mailbox to discover three rejections. I felt like I’d faced a firing squad and all twelve bullets hit at heart level. I walked back to the house, sat down and started crying. My four-year-old son, Matt, came up to me, leaned on the arm of the chair and asked what was wrong. Through tears I told him about my total failure. He smiled and said simply, “Mom, like you say when I play t-ball, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get rained-out.”
I stopped crying and realized it wasn’t me. I was a good writer doing the best I could. I just kept getting rained-out by editors who didn’t read the slush pile and agents who already had full client lists.
From that day on I developed a plan for falling. Whenever I stumbled and fell flat on my face, I let go of the corpse I was trying to drag, celebrated and moved on with my career. There for a while quite a few bodies of old manuscripts lay around the house.
The plan for falling:
1. Burying the corpse. I know writers who wrote a book back in the 90’s and are determined not to go on to another until they sell their first one. They keep painting a new face on the body and shoving it into a new casket. Beginning writers probably don’t want to hear that you may write your first book, or even your second or third, for practice. We need to believe that first book will make millions or we’d never go through the work of learning to write. But sometimes you have to kiss the well-traveled manuscript good-bye and bury it under the bed.
2. Celebrating. I hope all beginning writers party at each success: a contest win or even an honorable mention. A letter asking for more or a book deal. All are worth a party. But, maybe more important is the party you have when you let go of one dream and open up to another. Celebrate when you send something off or when you enter a contest. That’s when you’re being brave. Find a writing friend or a group and push one another to try.
3. Moving on. If what you’re doing in this game isn’t getting you where you want to go, maybe you are on the wrong road. Take the tools and knowledge you have learned and start carving out a different work of art. You might surprise yourself, you might just find a place where you and your work belong. I knew a writer who tried to write romance for five years, turned to children's writing on a bet and sold in five months and is still selling.
When I turned loose and thought of myself sky diving and not falling, my world began to change. Phil Price, an accomplished playwright, once said, “I’ve often wonder why sky divers yell for joy and people who fall off cliffs scream. After all, they’re both seeing the same view. It’s only the last foot that changes.” So, I decided, whether I’m falling or sky diving through life, I might as well decide to enjoy the view.
Mark Twain said once that compared to writing, horse racing is a stable occupation. Maybe he was right, but the gamble is worth the try. When we’re all done and setting around the home which would you rather say, ‘I played as hard and fast as I could,’ or ‘I never ran into the game because I was afraid of falling.’
The winners are not the ones who grab the prize. The winners are the ones who play the game, rainy days and all.
I don't know about you, but this sure encourages me! Be sure to be watching for her new book coming out in April, 2009, REWRITING MONDAY.
To read more about Jodi Thomas and her books, please visit her website:
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Hughesnet is 1 step above dial-up. That's all. They do not have the bandwidth to support the customers they have and yet they still keep taking new ones on. Pure greed. If you should happen to view too many youtube videos, you are relegated to dial up speed for 36 hours for punishment. I found that out while trying to find a video to use in one of my presentations. After about 30 minutes of searching videos my computer stopped to a crawl. I'd crossed what they considered fair use. I felt like a child being sent to the corner for using my computer!
To make things worse, the only time you will speak to an English speaking person is in sales. After that you will speak to someone in India who has a poor command of the English language and you will spend your time saying, "repeat that please?" When they put you on hold you will listen to the most irritating song possible.
So, until I get hooked up with a local company, I am without service unless I come to town at the local coffee shop.I will be leaving for Red River New Mexico on Friday. They will have Internet services there and I will catch up. Thank you all for your patience! Linda
Thursday, September 4, 2008
It bothered me to think that their writing may never be picked up by a major publisher because of the "bottom line" of the big house publishing world--the almighty dollar.
It is frustrating because we read pathetic writing in books that are printed only because of the big name behind the manuscript. Big names sell books. Big names can confuse POVs, write boring first lines, sag in the middle, and produce low quality work.
But, the tide is turning. There are a lot of outlets for our writing. Small presses, University Presses, and PODs. Thank goodness the disparaging view of self-publishing is changing.
I'm glad because the bottom line for me isn't the dollar. I know my readers, I have a message for them, I want to impact their lives for the better. That's my bottom line, not the money.
Big publishing houses no longer have that luxury, sad to say. They cannot take a chance on a new name with fresh ideas as long as the tired old name who regurgitates the same old stuff still sells.
Writers today have many options to publishing, however writing isn't enough anymore. We have to learn the business of publishing and selling our books. We have to hustle and promote ourselves. Those who are willing to take the whole package will go far.
I hope my new friends in White County and all writers will take the opportunities that are before them and run with it! I know I am.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility - I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
~John F. Kennedy
Did the above quote send a little tingle across your skin. Did it make you take in a breath? If so, you were inspired.
Often times when some see the word "inspirational" they think the piece is religious. But as you can see by this example this isn't the case.
Creative nonfiction should always be written with the reader in mind with the goal to make that reader better for having read it. A great creative nonfiction piece should always inspire, have a simple, non-preachy lesson, moral of the story, or epiphany (ah-ha moment) at the end.
This can be accomplished in many ways. It can be reflective, serious, or humorous.
My creative nonfiction story, "My Culinary Epiphany" that is published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Recipes for Busy Moms has a humorous ah-ha that gently reminds the reader to show gratitude for whoever cooks their Thanksgiving meal. The follow is an excerpt from that piece:
The kids were piled on their daddy watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while I feverishly worked in the kitchen wearing that blasted rosy glow.
Finally, dinner was served. My husband said grace and then we proceeded to turn into Hoover-mouths. In less than twenty minutes we consumed one hundred dollars worth of food that took two days to prepare.
After dinner, Neal reclined in his chair and the kids ran outside. I was left in a kitchen that looked like Bourbon Street the morning after Mardi Gras.
So this is what my mother did every year? My hands were chapped. My fingers were cut and burned. Every muscle in my body begged for a glass of wine and a hot bubble bath.
As far as I was concerned, my Mom deserved sainthood.
Glancing out the window, I watched the children jump into a pile of leaves, just like I used to do when I was a child. My husband snored in his easy chair, just like Dad. And I began the arduous task of cleaning, just like Mom.
Indulging in a little self pity, I grumbled under my breath.
Sure, eat all you want and leave the rest to me. Just throw a thank-you over your shoulder before taking a nap. Nobody had a clue how hard it was cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
Come to think of it, neither did I till now.
Getting off my self-righteous perch, I practiced the true meaning of Thanksgiving. I called my mother and said,
“Thank you for all your hard work. We are not worthy of you!”
A humorous, simple lesson on gratitude.
Look at your piece. What can your story give your reader? What is its "take away?"
This concludes the steps to great CNF. Now all your piece needs is some polish, and if you attend a critique group, a good read there. If you would like to send your piece to me, I'd be happy to read it and offer suggestions if any are needed.
My email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
This is left out of most nonficiton accounts because the writer can't remember EXACTLY what was said and fears that if he adds dialogue it will make the article untrue. Not so!
As I've said before, no one remembers word for word what has been said even an hour ago. Think about the ride home after an evening with friends and you are reviewing all that was said and the person you are with turns to you and says, "that's not what I heard."
Dialogue is what gives your piece dimension and the sense of reality. It makes it real. The important thing is that the dialogue doesn't change the integrity or truth of the piece. For instance, say you are writing about a picnic and Uncle Claude says, "This is a mighty fine picnic. Pass the mustard."
Uncle Claude may not have said the picnic was mighty fine. He may have said it was real nice, or fun. He may have asked for relish or ketchup. But the above dialogue doesn't change the integrity of the piece. It is better to add dialogue than to fret over mustard, relish, or ketchup.
After adding dialogue, read it out loud. Does it sound like a real person speaking or stilted? Is it age appropriate?
Little five-year-old Elizabeth ran to me and said, "Mother, may I have glass of cold water to drink?"
What is wrong with the above sentence? Stilted? Yes. Age appropriate? No. What would a five-year-old say?
"Mommy, I wanna drink of water. I'm thirsty."
A great exercise in writing is to take a pad and pen with you the next time you sip lattes in your local bookstore and listen to the conversations around you. Write them down. Learn how different people talk and express themselves.
NEXT UP: THE EPIPHANY- What makes your piece inspirational!
Friday, June 20, 2008
With internalization you allow the reader inside your head, inside your heart. This is the intimate part of your writing whether it is sharing a funny experience that only best friends share or letting them witness your vulnerability.
As an example, the following is an excerpt from my story, Down and Out, in Chicken Soup for the Mothers of Preschoolers Soul:
As I picked up the (baby) carrier and herded everyone down the hallway, I tossed a rueful glance at my reflection in a large mirror. Who was that woman? Dressed in a baggy sweatsuit, hair pulled back in a haphazard ponytail, no lipstick, no earrings. Before preschoolers I wouldn't have considered going out in public looking like that. I shrugged and wiped grape jelly off my cheek.
See how you got into my head? I let you into my thoughts, we connected on a more private, intimate level. Internalization gives depth to your nonfiction piece.
Next time: Dialogue.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Emotion. This key is what really connects you with your reader on a very personal, vulnerable, level. Think about it. How many emotions do you feel in one day? How do you express them? On the written page this can be tricky. One thing to avoid is telling us the emotions. For example:
“I saw the spider and I was frightened.” That is telling.
“The spider scurried from behind the broom toward me. My heart pounded and I gripped the handle, my only defense from the hideous creature.”
In the example above the reader discern my emotion from my internalization (my thoughts) and the reactions of my body, (heart pounding, gripping the handle.) Think about it. With every emotion our bodies react. With ever emotion our minds react.
What does your body do when you are sad? What thoughts run through your mind?
When you are happy?
When you are angry?
When you are frightened?
When you are excited?
When you are lonely?
When you are disappointed?
Use these descriptions in your writing. You reader will remember similar feelings and connect with your piece in a much deeper way.
Now look at the piece you are writing and find places to use the key of emotion. Remember too much emotion will weigh your story down, use it like salt. Just enough to connect. Let your reader do the rest.
Next post will focus on internalization.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
DESCRIPTION. This is the secret to excellent CNF. Here is where we go into our mental attic and blow the dust off our memory chest and open it. Inside are six keys to unlocking your reader’s minds making it easy for you to connect with them. Today we are going to look at five keys - the senses.
I’ll never forget the time I walked into an acquaintance’s home and its smell immediately took me mentally back to my long deceased grandmother’s home. My throat constricted and tears filled my eyes. I struggled to stay composed.
That’s the power of the senses. Have you ever had that experience?
The beauty of using the senses is that it takes very few words to tap into your reader’s memory and from that point the reader will do all the work for you. They will expand the scene in their minds without you having to write another word. The readers do the work for you!
Sundays at Gramma Kate’s meant southern fried chicken. A crispy crust enveloped the hot, tender meat. I couldn’t wait to bite into a drumstick and taste the savory juice that always managed to escape down my chin.
Did that open up a memory for you? I wrote about taste, but did you smell aroma in the kitchen? Did you hear the sizzle of the chicken in the iron skillet? Did you see your grandmother, mother, someone, cooking in the kitchen?
Look at the scene you wrote last week. Are there places where you can put in some of the senses? Keep it succinct. Don’t use a lot of adjectives. Unlock your memory and write. Remember the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and how things felt on your skin, then make a list.
Next, incorporate the strongest words (the ones that make the most vivid images in your mind) into your piece. I think you will like the effect.
Next week: The Seventh Key
Friday, May 9, 2008
In fiction the writer will always place his character in a scene. Scenes establish the setting, time, whose point of view we are reading about, and the mood. Think about the opening of a movie. What we see clues us in on what is happening.
After the scene, which will always involve either action, drama, or emotional reaction, there will follow a sequel. The sequel is the “rest” after the scene. The character regroups, reflects, or processes what happened in the previous scene. Then the next scene begins.
Mike Klaassen writes, “If plot were an engine, scene and sequel would be the pistons powering the drive shaft.” I think that’s a pretty good word picture.
This also applies to creative nonfiction books or extensive essays. In her book, Fly with the Mourning Dove, my friend, Velda Brotherton, wrote about the struggles of Cassie Smith and her daughter, Edna, to civilize their portions of New Mexico.
When Velda writes of Cassie’s journey to New Mexico, Velda could simply record the fact that Cassie boarded a train and went to New Mexico. Instead, Velda sets the scene that Cassie is in:
The train car swayed and clacked, wheels screeching against the narrow gauge rails that curved from Alamosa to Santa Fe. Chilled by the brisk November air, Cassie gathered her coat close and peered through her glasses at her husband.
See what a difference that makes? The reader is swaying with Cassie in that train. From the scene on the train, comes a sequel, then another scene all through the book.
In short works of creative nonfiction there should be one scene, no more than two. Think “snapshot” instead of movie. Lose all peripheral vision and write the scene as if you are watching it through a paper towel tube.
My son has a feisty Jack Russell terrier named Kricket. She has the most expressive, chocolate-drop eyes. Another funny thing about her is if she is in the front yard and I yell, “Run, Kricket, Run” she will scoot from one side of the yard to the other in a great big figure 8 over and over and over.
To illustrate the importance of holding a scene in place rather than letting it run all over the page, let’s suppose I say to a friend, “You’ve got to see Kricket’s eyes.” But when I call her I say, “Run, Kricket, run!” Will my friend be able to get a good look at her eyes? No. I need to pick Kricket up and hold her still.
That’s what you do with your scene. Focus on what you want your reader to see and write only what is important to your focal point. This anchors your story.
I wrote about an angel pin my mother wore in Chicken Soup for the Nurses’ Soul. A patient who had given up on life was fascinated by its beauty and Mom used it as a way to remind her patient of how important his life was.
The pin served as an anchor that kept me from going into a lot of history, back-story, and unnecessary detail.
One of my favorite pieces of creative nonfiction is Rick Bragg’s “This isn’t the Last Dance.”
His anchor is New Orleans and he doesn’t stray from what he sees in the Quarter. There is a paragraph of back-story, but it doesn’t distract from the scene. It enhances it because it is succinct and relevant to the entire piece.
Last week I asked you to choose a subject for a short piece of work suitable for an anthology. Did you do that? If so, decide on your scene and possible anchors to hold your scene in place. Anchors can be but not limited to:
• An object – for instance, grandma’s quilt, dad’s tools, the old dogwood tree, a garden
• A conversation
• A special occasion or experience – like your brother’s bar mitzvah, your granddaughter’s dedication day
• An epiphany
• A person
Just remember when writing the scene that you do not have the luxury of a lot of words. Focus and write tight!
Next week: The Six Keys that connect your reader to your story.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Just the facts:
When I was young my grandmother took me to the zoo. I remember seeing segregated water fountains, one for whites and one for coloreds.
Summers spent with my grandmother always meant a trip to the zoo. The aroma of hot buttered popcorn swirled in the air with the scents of roasting peanuts and warm sugar from the cotton candy stand. In the distance spider monkeys hooted and a lion occasionally bellowed. I loved that place. There was one thing that always bothered me, however. The water fountains. On one was stenciled,“whites,” the other, “coloreds.”
I always stared at them and wondered—why?
In the above paragraph no facts were changed. However, the creative example puts the reader at the zoo by setting the scene, using the senses, and internalization.
Over the next few weeks we will take an in depth look at the elements of creative nonfiction. We will begin with setting a scene, followed by description, internalization, dialogue, emotion, and the “ah-ha,” aka the simple lesson or epiphany.
To make this series more beneficial, I recommend you participate by choosing a writing project from one of the many anthologies available with the goal of submission in mind.
I recommend Chicken Soup for the Soul (naturally) ;)
After you have chosen the anthology, think about a personal experience you want to write about. When you finish this series, your creative nonfiction story will be ready to submit.
Next Thursday we will begin with “Setting the Scene.”
Friday, April 18, 2008
Many of you think you are not writers. But we all are really. If we can speak, we can write. Writing is more than weaving a tale into a novel. It is reporting history, your personal history. This may not seem important but it is to future generations who will need to know what happened in the early 2000's in order to weave their tales into novels.
Weird huh? Just as I wanted to know what happened in the mid 1800's to write a historical novel, someone will be wanting to write a historical about 2008.
I feel old all ready.
Back to the subject. Almost every scene in my historical came from letters, journals, and diaries of men and women in the gold rush. One of the journals was from my great-grandfather. He recorded daily events like the weather, cost of food, his work, conversations, all that gave me the feel for the late 1800's.
I read the raw emotions of women forced to leave the civilized world of the east coast and being forced to journey across the country, give birth in a wagon, lose children in tall prairie grasses or watch them die of cholera and leave them in a shallow grave on the trail. Some gave up and died in their soul, other rose above their pain and worked hard cooking, and doing laundry for exorbitant prices and made more than the miners.
You see, to them this was life. Their life. They didn't expect me to read their journals over 100 years later. And they didn't' expect their pain to help me. While reading I was reminded of what is important and what isn't. I was encouraged to be a stronger woman like my foremothers.
And that is why we write. It is a gift we leave future generations. Whether it is a daily notation of the price of eggs, the weather, happenings in our family, and our verbal expressions, all will be eagerly devoured by future historians. I read a book that was put together by a gal who recorded her grandmother's calendar. The grandmother made daily notations and saved the calendars.
What a great idea! That wouldn't be too hard.
In this day of email, long newsy letters are becoming a thing of the past. Please, when you write a newsy email or receive one, make a hard copy. The novelist of 2108 will thank you!
Up next: A series on WRITING CREATIVE NONFICTION
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
When I started this blog it was to showcase a friend. The following blogs were to encourage writers, and, of course, the last two were self-therapy. ;)
The question is, where do I go from here? What do writers need? There is plenty of instruction in cyperspace. How about encouragement? That's what I do best. Or ideas, I can come up with some good ones.
What I need is for you to tell me what you need. Are you a beginning writer? A writer who has been slapped down one too many times? Do you need to have a cup of cold water thrown in your face, but then handed a warm towel?
Write me at email@example.com and let me know. I want to take this blog in a direction that will best help you.
Until then, grab a pencil and paper, find a comfy spot, fix your favorite beverage. and give yourself time to daydream.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
You know Simon. The fellow who rarely has anything nice to say. He can get so nasty that I think it has to be scripted or for the ratings. But while watching him, I see his genuine frustration with the mediocre. And while he is brutal in his comments, he is passionate about music and musicians.
Now that my bruised writer's feelings have healed, I feel this is the case, to some degree, with the PW review of my manuscript. Looking back objectively, I understand what this reviewer was seeing. It is wise to listen to criticism from someone who isn't connected to you in any way.
Take the criticism much as you would at a buffet line. What is good, use it. What is wrong, leave it. There are still points that I feel PW totally missed, however, there are also some points where the reviewer was right on.
I've moved on to two other projects, but, when I've finished with them I may give that manuscript a major overhaul. I like the story, but, it could be much better. I see that now.
When I watch the AI rewinds I find that Simon got it right more than he missed. Those who took his advice profited from it.
Hopefully, my being able to accept criticism and learn from it is a step toward growing more mature as a writer.
Friday, January 25, 2008
It is the nature of the writing beast.
I had that happen to me this week. I made it to the semi-finals in the Amazon Novel Breakout Award. I was amazed, astounded, thrilled! To be one of the top 900 out of 5000 was such a mountain top experience. I sent the word out through my writing list serves and got great reviews from friends and people I don't know. And then came the Publishers Weekly review.
Here is what that reviewer wrote:
This uninspired depiction of a pioneer family during the height of the California Gold Rush presents a often unrealistic version of the struggles and triumphs of that era. When her mother dies in childbirth, spoiled 16-year-old Elizabeth thinks things can't possibly get worse. Then, her heartbroken and distant father takes her from their luxurious mansion and servants and drops her off at her grandfather's home on his way to California in search of a new life-and gold. Without any parental guidance, Elizabeth divides her time between flirting with Will, her doctor grandfather's pious and boring intern, and learning how to cook. When her father writes to say he's struck gold, she begrudgingly goes to him, crossing the mountains with her grandfather and attempting to learn what it means to be a woman along the way. The prose does little to inspire interest in the unmemorable characters, whose petty internal struggles overshadow the larger story.
I have to be honest, after reading this I slipped a bit down the mountain. After all, this is a huge slap for more reasons than one. To be fair to the reviewer, that person read a lot of manuscripts and probably skimmed those that did not catch his/her interest. We all have a personal preference for the genre' we like to read.
When I got my footing and stop the slid to the pit of despair, I was able to analyze this review. It became clear the reviewer either skimmed the manuscript, or doesn't have much knowledge of the gold rush era, and that this person doesn't appreciate my writing about the greatest love of all time, Jesus Christ. The following are excerpts that evidence my point.
1. This uninspired depiction of a pioneer family during the height of the California Gold Rush presents a often unrealistic version of the struggles and triumphs of that era.
Uninspired: That is the reviewer's personal opinion. Many found my manuscript extremely inspiring. So I won't worry about that.
Unrealistic: I spent a year reading journals, books, letters, and diaries written in the gold rush era (1849-1859) by people traveling to California seeking gold. My scenes came from that information. I even traveled the "Southern Route" described in Captain Marcy's journal, the man who blazed that path. I went to museums and spoke to historians. From dress to how life was in San Francisco, from life in a wagon to those who actually got on board steam ships in San Diego and sailed to San Fran (did you know people did that?) I used all that "realistic" information.
2. Without any parental guidance, Elizabeth divides her time between flirting with Will, her doctor grandfather's pious and boring intern, and learning how to cook.
Without any parental guidance: Elizabeth was 16. Many girls were married by that age. I suppose the reviewer got that idea when he/she read how Grandpa was worried about her being alone and came up with the idea of her learning to cook at the local restaurant to keep her busy.
Flirting: No flirting with Will was in the manuscript. She enjoyed his company, he taught her to play chess, they discussed history and books. Her grandfather was worried about her growing up and she found that funny. When she had to leave him to go to the gold fields, she wondered "IF" anything could have come from the relationship.
Pious and Boring: If the reviewer found Will boring, that is his/her prerogative. But pious? Will is a Christian. But he doesn't lay down the four spiritual laws and take her down the Roman Road. However, when she sits with him one evening on the steps and forks her cake to crumbs he asks her what is wrong. She explains and he can tell she is bitter. He encourages her to give him the benefit of the doubt and explains how to take the hardships in life and allow them to make her a better person. After she is gone, he does pray for her.
Being pious can mean:
having or showing a dutiful spirit of reverence for God or an earnest wish to fulfill religious obligations. OR:
practiced or used in the name of real or pretended religious motives, or for some ostensibly good object; falsely earnest or sincere: a pious deception.
If the reviewer was referring to the first definition, then the reviewer is correct. If he/she meant the second one, the reviewer totally missed it.
3. The prose does little to inspire interest in the unmemorable characters, whose petty internal struggles overshadow the larger story.
Unmemorable characters: The reviewer had a right to like or dislike the characters. My characters are from the "States," Scotland and Ireland. I used some history for each and later plan to use information I learned while visiting there last fall.
Petty internal struggles: Elizabeth is struggling from essentially the loss of both her parents, her father from the loss of his wife. Struggles in the secondary characters in three families in the train involve marriage conflict, death, barrenness, running away from life. There are the villains who spread fear, discontent, and stir up trouble. Petty? More like real life when you get 200 strangers from all walks of life together. Many of the "petty struggles" were in the pages of the diaries I read. I guess petty is in the eye of the person struggling with a particular issue.
The Larger Story: Relationships ARE the story. I don't know what this person had in mind when he/she penned these words.
The reviewer got 2 things right. Elizabeth does start out as a 16-year-old spoiled girl, but she doesn't end up that way. She changes to a thankful 17 year-old young woman. And her father does drop her off on his way to find a new life and gold.
What did I learn from this?
1. That review was from one person's opinion. Because this person works for PW doesn't make his/her opinion more valuable than all the others. If anything, that person may be more "jaded" because of his/her work.
2. I wrote a story of faith and freely expressed the love of Jesus Christ and I shouldn't apologize for that. And although my book is being marketed to Christian publishing houses I am careful to refrain from being preachy or creating contrived scenes to present the gospel.
3. A writer must allow for the personal opinions of others. As a good friend once wrote me when I was whining, "Not everybody is gonna like you!" I know I don't care for sci-fi, and I'd be a poor judge of it. But that doesn't make a sci-fi writer a poor writer!
4. My writing destiny isn't in the hands of PW or any other magazine or publishing house. It is in the hands of the one for whom I write.
I know there are many of you who feel like quitting. Don't. As my character, Will, said to Elizabeth, let the hardships in your life make you stronger.
Let the hardships in your writing life make you a better writer!
I want to end this blog with my sincere gratitude to Publishers Weekly for his/her time and opinion. I will use this experience to make me a better writer.