Wednesday, June 29

Because Even A Messed Up Cake Can Be Fixed

You know that moment in Home Alone when the parents jump out of bed and scream, "We overslept!". That was us Saturday morning, and within about twenty minutes RadioMan was outside setting up tables and chairs and getting the pool ready for bebe's 8th birthday party while I was dragging bebe out of bed (she overslept, too), getting her dressed, and heading out to the party store and the bakery to pick up her cake.

She wanted a 'Frozen' themed cake, complete with ice mountain, and it was beautiful. That's it right over there...oh, you don't see the ice mountain? Well, that's because in her excitement to get the balloons inside (also Frozen), as I was opening my side of the car to get the cake, she opened her side of the car to get the balloons...and...yes, draft happened.

In slow motion, the first balloon slid out her car door and she squealed. I told her to grab the ribbon as the second balloon slid out the window, and she clapped her hands over her mouth. And then, with the cake in one hand, I lunged for the last speck of ribbon which was very insecurely holding to the side of the car door....and my hand and hers collided on the ribbon. The balloons were saved, but Ice Mountain....was not. There was blue and white and green icing smashed to the top of the cake box. The Elsa/Olaf/Anna turney-thing had punctured the plastic of the box top and smooshed down into the cake a bit, too. bebe's eyes welled with tears and she exclaimed, "I ruined it!"

And, while I knew this was a teaching moment about listening and following explicit directions (like coming around to my side of the car instead of opening every door), I also knew this was her birthday party, and really, it was just a cake.

With the help of my mom, we carefully scraped the mashed up icing from the box top and did our best to smooth out the "happy birthday' message on the cake. We rescued the turney-thing from the depths of yellow cake. All that beautiful frosting and yellow cake didn't look like it had looked when we picked it up from the bakery, but the results weren't half bad. We christened the cake Frozen Avalanche because the section of cake where Ice Mountain originally lived kind of looks like an avalanche happened. There are streaks of green where trees might have crashed, and the blue and white icing is all jumbled the way snow looks after it tumbles down a mountain...and there is that wave we couldn't quite fix that should read "Happy Birthday" but instead looks like it got tumbled a little, too.

After we fixed the cake, I realized that is how we need to look at our books. When we send them off to our editors, they are our perfect cakes. The mountain of icing that looks amazing in all that glimmering blue and white and green, but that is actually very fragile. When we get revisions, it can seem as if everything is wrong. Our pristine cake looks like the jumbled mess of icing that I held in my hands while bebe's lower lip wobbled.

The truth is, drafts aren't awful - okay, some spots probably are, but not every single bit - we just have to take our time with the spatula while we're carving out those bad motivational choices and that spotty characterization from the top of the cake box. Because even a messed up cake can be fixed...and if we can fix a cake that is sticky and gooey with icing, we can fix a manuscript no matter how mired in bad motivation or characterization it is.

Over the weekend we celebrated bebe's 8th birthday (I'm not sure how she got to be 8 already, but that is a whole other post) with the family, and a not-quite-right cake.

And it was perfect.

Tuesday, June 28

A Crisis of Apostrophes



I’m on a little bit of an Editor Nan rant today because misused apostrophes have overwhelmed me this week. I know that given all that’s happened in the last seven days, a few misplaced apostrophes are very minor. So much going on in the world with Brexit, US politics, gun control issues, etc., and here’s Nan worrying about where an apostrophe belongs. Well, there’s a point to this concern, which I’ll get to in a moment after we review—one more time—when it is appropriate to use an apostrophe.

Here we go: 

1.      Use an apostrophe and an “s” to form the possessive of a singular noun. Nan’s rant, the dog’s bone, the boat’s sail. Plural nouns often don’t take an extra “s.” the puppies’ paws, but often words ending in “s” do take the extra “s.” Mr. Jones’s golf clubs.

2.      Use an apostrophe to form a contraction—cannot = can’t, will not = won’t, and here’s the big confusing one: it is = it’s, but the possessive of it is its. Yeah, English, gotta love it.

3.      Use an apostrophe to show missing letters or numbers. The ’90s, ’bot for robot, for example. When you use an apostrophe that way, make sure the apostrophe is always pointing to the missing letter. That means when you use it in Word, you’ll be typing two apostrophes and then going back and deleting the first one because it’s pointing the wrong direction. 

4.      When you’re forming the plural of capital letters used as words, abbreviations, or numerals, only add an “s,” not an apostrophe. So the 1890s, dos and don’ts, IRAs. But for clarity, use an apostrophe for lowercase single letters, x’s and o’s, for example.

5.      There’s an old form of possession called “genitive case,” where apostrophes are also appropriate to imply of. Examples would be an hour’s time or two days' leave.
 
Okay, so those are the basics and now to why it’s important. Using our own language properly is important because when we use incorrect spelling and punctuation on signs, posters, ads, or announcements that we put out for the public to see, we look stupid. It looks as if we don't know how to use our own language and that we don't we care enough to know. Right now, I worry that the United States is starting to appear really dumb to the rest of the world and I know we aren’t.

My point is this, if you aren’t sure about how spell a word or how to punctuate that Garage Sale sign or the ad you put in your local paper or the poster you’re hanging in your shop window, look it up. Google apostrophes or semicolons or whatever you’re considering putting out there in bold black marker. Use a dictionary if you’re not sure how to spell a word—they’re readily available on your bookshelf or online, so use your smart phone to help make you even smarter. 

Am I the only one who’s bugged by this? Discuss . . .

Monday, June 27

Respite.

I'm sitting in the nook in my daughter-in-law's kitchen this morning. I'm the only one up. Well, other than Bourbon and Blue, the cats who actually own the house here in the Blue Ridge. It's Sunday. Bright and clear and filled with birdsong (which might be driving the feline homeowners just the slightest bit crazy.) It's hot further down the mountain, but not so much here, so the windows are open. This is the view.


It feels good to be removed from the unrest that seems to permeate the days lately. Although my husband and son have watched some news, I haven't. I've read a little of it, but not much, because I've been politicked out by both our own and Great Britain's travails. I care, of course I do, but I need respite from it. Quiet. Laughter at no one else's expense. Heart's ease.

I'd love to say this few days here with family and writing in this lovely, inspiring place has made my WIP come together, made the words flow, given me delicious writerly aha moments, but it hasn't really worked out that way. I have written. I'm very nearly finished with the story I thought would have been done weeks before now.

It's okay.

It's not the book of my heart, my greatest professional pride, or one I'll ever refer to in a whisper as "my favorite, but don't tell anyone."

But that's okay, too, Because I still hope it provides readers with what the view from Tahne's kitchen gives me. Respite. Quiet. Laughter at no one else's expense. Heart's ease.

Have a great week.

Liz

Friday, June 24

Writing Contests Make us ALL Better Writers

Recently, I’ve been judging entries to the On the Far Side writing competition for unpublished authors, held by the Future, Fantasy, & Paranormal chapter of RWA (wow, that was a mouthful!). And I’ll soon begin judging entries for the Indiana RWA chapter’s Indiana Golden Opportunity 
Check out the IGO Contest...
still taking entries until July 1st!
https://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=1796
contest for unpublished authors.


Even though judging contests take me away from my own writing (not an issue at the moment, since book #2 is with my editor. Bwah-ha-ha!), I LOVE judging them!

Firstly, these two particular contests allow feedback – the IGO even encourages track changes! – and feedback is essential for a writer to improve. These contests are more than just “win/lose/maybe get in front of an editor,” they are an opportunity to have qualified authors look at your work and give you knowledgeable suggestions (some people have to pay big bucks to a content editor for this!).

Contests strengthen writers and their writing. Receiving criticism on our writing is difficult (or, to be more precise, heart-stomping, soul-crushing, and dream-dashing). Writing contests are a little like the college flunk-out courses… if you can’t take the heat of a contest, and come out better and stronger, then maybe you should reconsider your desire to be a published author. It’s not a profession for the weak, that’s for sure! And the adage certainly holds true with contests: what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Contests make me feel better about my own writing. Okay, I’ll admit to being petty here. When I read these entries (that have been written by new writers still learning the craft), I admit I gloat because my own writing is so much “better” *hair flip*. Isn’t it human nature to compare ourselves to others? I’m a better writer than this person, prettier than that person, smarter than those people, more successful that these… No? I’m the only one who does that? I’m obviously going to Hell.

Contests show me a better way. For as many times as I get to gloat, there are also times I’m humbled by the skill of the writer. Not everyone who picks up a paint brush can be Monet, and the same goes with writing… Some writers just craft their stories with artistic strokes that make angels weep with joy. When these beauties cross my computer, I pore over them, admiring them and hoping to glean their secrets to impart some of that skill on my own writing.

Contests remind me just how far I’ve come. As writers, we all had to start somewhere, and very few of us put golden words on the page from the get-go. So, as I’m gloating about how I’m such a fabulous writer *cough!*cough!* I am also acutely aware of just how bad I was when I began. And believe me, that’s “bad” as in “horrible, awful, vomit-inducing.” So, every time I make a comment about show versus tell, head-hopping, grammar, character development, etc, I am not saying anything that hasn’t already been said to me. Several times. With frowny faces and face-palms. And if I can grow from where I was to where I am now, then these new writers can do it!

Contests make me a better writer. I judge myself each time I judge a contest entry. And usually find my own writing can benefit from what I tell the contestant. When I suggest an entry “introduce the over-arching conflict sooner,” I think of my own manuscript, and the thought usually follows with a “Crud! I don’t get to my conflict until chapter three! I’d better change that!” 
Contests give back and give hope. Yes, contests are hard. Hard for the entrant who has put his/her heart out there for total strangers to shred (because anything less than enthusiastic praise will do that). Hard for the judge who gives up his/her time from our own writing to help newbies. But, it’s also how we writers help each other. Facebook memes espouse that writing is not a competition; we’re all in it together. And Tim McGraw tells us “When you get where you're goin, don't forget turn back around, and help the next one in line.” Many authors have helped me get to this point in my career, and I’d still be writing (unpublished) schlock without them. Contests are one way I can help others who also want to publish a book they can be proud to call their own.

It’s a humbling, empowering, hope-inducing experience, and I would encourage everyone who hasn’t already done so to both enter and to judge a contest!

Thursday, June 23

Game Time

by Margie Senechal 

This week, we've kind of stumbled upon a similar theme--character building. And I just discovered this new game to aid in that, so I thought maybe we could all try it out together.

So, this week's WIP, Summer Goddess, is a romance about two characters who barely know each other and are now on a road trip driving from San Francisco to LA along the California coast line.


So, to get to know each other, Hutch brings along the cards from
 the game, Loaded Questions, to play as they drive.


Hutch glanced at the card and read the last question. "What do you love about your hometown?"  He didn't even know if Claire was from San Francisco or Boston. Well, probably not Boston as she didn't have even a hint of an accent. "Where is your hometown?"

Claire shook her finger at him. "That's two questions."

"Well, we wouldn't want that." He'd just have to guess from her answer.

"I once had a teacher tell us that we lived in one of the only places in the world where you could drive 90 minutes west and be at the coast. Or drive 90 minutes east and be in the mountains. I love the versatility of my hometown." She reached for a new card without telling him where she was from.

 
Now, it's your turn to play the game as your characters. I've posted two cards from the game, so lets see what you and your characters come up with in the comments. Have fun!