Thursday, July 31, 2008

Announcing the Winner!

Congratulations to Christina Berry, who won the drawing for the $25.00 gift certificate today. Christina is a long-time reader and subscriber, so I'm very happy to reward her.

Wish I could reward all of you! Then again, if I had that kind of money, I'd probably move to the beach, become a completely lazy bum (as opposed to the partially lazy bum I am now), and never blog again. So don't get your hopes up.

Speaking of being a lazy bum, I've been very bad about blogging this week. I've been trying to get ready for a camping trip we're about to take. I'm worn out and we haven't even left yet. I'll be gone for a few days so I may not blog again until the middle of next week. After that, I'll try to do better.

Have a great weekend--and watch for the next contest, which will be coming soon!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Answer Is...

Well, I thought I'd given you a challenging question yesterday, but it took Bunny B. about five minutes (literally) to identify the author in question as J.K. Rowling.

I myself was as fascinated by this little tidbit from Rowling as I was by Francine Prose's declaration that sometimes you should tell instead of show. I realize that J.K. Rowling can pretty much write what she wants to now and it will be published and successful, but the quote seemed to indicate that she's never worried about who her target audience is. How do you ever get a publisher or an agent with an attitude like that? Generally when you do a proposal, you have to be very specific as to who the book is intended for. Amazing!

Anyway, Bunny B. gets an extra five entries in the drawing. And I'd like to ask you, Bunny, to leave a comment here telling me how you got the answer so fast. Had you read the interview? (Which, by the way, is available on Or it just sounded like something Rowling would say?

Anyway, I'll try to think up something harder next time!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Want 5 Bonus Entries in the Drawing?

First, a reminder that the drawing for the $25.00 gift card will be held on July 31.

Second, if you'd like a chance to get FIVE additional entries into the drawing, take a look at the following quote from a contemporary author:

"I never really imagine a target audience when I'm writing. The ideas come first, so it really depends on the idea that grabs me next."

The first person who posts the answer here, correctly identifying the author who said that in a recent interview, will get five additional entries.

If no one gets it by tomorrow, I'll post another hint.

Have fun!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Winter Keeps Us Warm

I never thought I would refer to T.S. Eliot twice in a short span of time. As I've mentioned, I'm not big on poetry, and it sometimes seems to me that I spent half of my college career slogging through The Waste Land and trying to make sense of it.

Only one line really stuck with me through the years: "Winter kept us warm." I mean, what the heck did that mean? I hate being cold and therefore have always hated winter, and couldn't figure out what ole Eliot was getting at.

Today, as I shivered once again in the middle of a typical Georgia heat wave, I understood. That's right--we're having a heat wave and I'm shivering. If you're cold-natured like me and you've ever spent spring or summer in Georgia, you'll know what I'm talking about--a little thing called "air conditioning."

Lately, in winter, I do fine. I put on my boots and my sweaters and, except in those really bad cold snaps, do fine. The central heating in all the public buildings is generally kept at a reasonable level, so all is well. In other words, winter keeps me warm.

But just let the outside temperature climb to about 65 degrees, and everyone runs for their air conditioners. They may have to set them on 62 to make any difference, but if that's what it takes, by golly, they'll do it.

Most public buildings feel like meat lockers. I tend to dress in layers, wearing sleeveless blouses so I can make it from my car to a building in the blazing heat without fainting, then whipping out my sweater the moment I get inside. Occasionally, as the blasts from the a.c. vents and ceiling fans whip around my head, I wish that women still wore hats.

The interesting thing to me is that everyone talks about "going green" and conserving, but no one seems to be scrimping on the air conditioning around here. A couple of years ago I stayed in a ritzy hotel that had little printed notices all around the room about their conservation efforts. They boasted that they wouldn't be changing my sheets every day for the sake of the environment, and they asked me to re-use my towels. And yet, the air conditioning was set on 58 degrees when I came in! Worse yet, after I turned it WAY up, the housekeeping staff turned it back down the next day.

Church is interesting, too. The men are all dressed in shirts, coats and ties, and thick socks. Women are in sleeveless dresses, with no stockings and sandals. How can anyone possibly get the temperature right with a disparity like that?

Personally, I think the men are winning.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Writing Blasphemy!

I gasped and nearly spilled my coffee as I read the first chapter of Francine Prose's book called Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.

Prose advises writers not only to read good, well-written literature, but also to pay attention while reading, and to take note of why the writing is so effective. Chapter 1 deals with the power of individual word choices. She gives examples of opening paragraphs from writers like Flannery O'Connor that Prose found to be particularly strong, and right away I noticed a problem. If I wrote those same paragraphs and turned them in to a contest, the judges would rip through them. Every one of the judges would scream, "You're telling us, not showing us. Show, don't tell!"

That's when Prose did it. She spoke the words that are considered sheer blasphemy in the writing world: "Finally, the passage contradicts a form of bad advice often given young writers--namely, that the job of the author is to show, not tell. Needless to say, many great novelists combine 'dramatic' showing with long sections of the flat-out authorial narration that is, I guess, what is meant by telling. And the warning against telling leads to a confusion that causes novice writers to think that everything should be acted out--don't tell us a character is happy, show us how she screams 'yay' and jumps up and down for joy--when in fact the responsibility of showing should be assumed by the energetic and specific use of language. There are many occasions in literature in which telling is far more effective than showing."

A gleeful, guilty little thrill ran through me as I read the words. Finally, a "real" writer, a woman who's been publishing acclaimed novels since the seventies, was saying what I felt in my darkest, most rebellious moments.

In following the "show don't tell" rule, I sometimes have felt that my characters are turning into a collection of nervous twitches and quirky little movements. I've wondered how many times they can raise their eyebrows, widen their eyes, clap their hands to their mouths or rub their foreheads in one book.

I understand we need to put the emphasis on showing. A novel that is mostly telling would be boring beyond belief. But as Prose stresses about this and other aspects of writing, a good writer knows what works best for any given sentence or paragraph--and isn't afraid to do it, regardless of what those contest judges do to them!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Words that Last

I wish I could write psalms. The book of Psalms is one of my favorite parts of the Bible, and often when I sit down for my quiet time with God, I wish I could put my feelings into such beautiful lines. So far it hasn't happened, though. Probably because I'm so terrible with any kind of poetry.

One thing I love about the Chronological Bible I'm reading this year is that, as I'm reading about the life of David, if there's a psalm he seems to have written at that time of his life, the editors include it at the appropriate point in the narrative. I've always loved the story of David, but reading his prayers, his emotions as he cries out to God in the middle of the events of his life makes me feel so close to him. Sometimes I wish I could tell him--and the other psalmists--how often I have turned to their words to express my own feelings. To calm my fears. To remind myself why I should trust the Lord.

Last night, one of David's psalms had these lines: "O Lord, what are mortals that you should notice us, mere humans that you should care for us? For we are like a breath of air; our days are like a passing shadow." (Psalm 144:3-4, NLT)

It's true that David is long gone--gone like the vapor or shadows he named. And yet, there I sat, reading his words, breathing them in, feeling the truth of them fresh and new for myself. I was reminded that, though we mortals don't last very long, our words do. Words for good and words for evil.

It's both an inspiration and a caution for those of us who write. How I hope to be able to pen words that will last, but only if they're true and good. Only if someday, they can bring someone else a ray of encouragement and faith on a dark day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Time for Another Contest!

It suddenly hit me I haven't done a contest for awhile. Since I have nothing else to say today (stop the cheering out there! It's deafening me), I decided I might as well announce a new drawing.

I'm not feeling particularly imaginative right now and y'all seem to like the amazon certificates, so let's do one of those again.

Each post that you comment on from today until July 30 will earn you one entry in a drawing for a $25.00 gift certificate. Subscribers get an extra entry for being faithful readers--or at the very least, allowing me to clutter up their inbox.

I'll announce a winner on July 31.

Good luck, and thanks for playing!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wishing for Duck Feet

I re-read a very profound book the other day, written by a sage named Theo. LeSieg--more commonly known as Dr. Seuss. The book is called I Wish That I Had Duck Feet.

I hadn't read it since I was about seven years old, and trust me, that was a long, long time ago. But it always stuck with me, probably because it scared me. Yes, it's true. I've admitted here before that I was once traumatized by Muppets, and I Wish That I Had Duck Feet made me squirm a little, too.

The boy in the book daydreams about various wonderful things that animals have that he doesn't--like duck feet, deer antlers, elephant trunk, etc. One at a time he envisions himself with these new appendages, first picturing all the neat new things he'll be able to do and the admiration he'll get from his friends. But then realizes the drawbacks and has second thoughts.

Here comes the scary part. He imagines adding all these new attributes to himself at once, which turns him into a whole new creature called a Which-What-Who. In this sorry state, with webbed feet and a long trunk and big old horns, he's not admired but feared. Eventually, he ends up in a cage on display at the circus.

All this is only a daydream, of course. He makes the wise decision that it's best to just be himself, and all is well.

So why am I telling you this? This book kept coming to mind as I mull over my so-called writing career, and the direction I need to take in the future.

When I first started writing, I was just little old me. I wrote the stories that presented themselves to me and didn't worry too much about what to call them.

Then came writers' conferences, and critiques, and meetings with editors and agents and authors, and loads of well-meaning advice. "I think this is really a young adult novel. You should adjust the language." "This is really an adult novel. The characters should be older." "This is close to being a romantic suspense, but you need to look at those guidelines." "This is too literary for a commercial novel. Maybe you should become a literary writer."

One after one, I've taken my poor manuscripts and glued on other appendages. Whacked off my nice psychological ending to give it the traditional romantic suspense, heroine-backed-into-a-corner ending. Removed the "literary" language and tried to make it sound commercial. Sawed it off at the ankles to stick on those duck feet.

After all those Frankenstein treatments, a few of my manuscripts have ended in the trash heap. I think I turned them into unrecognizable Which-What-Whos.

So now the challenge is to be myself, even in my writing. To take the good things I've learned and apply them, but not try to attach so many foreign appendages that I turn my stories into monsters. To discover what I want a novel to be and make it just that--not a conglomeration of ideas and genres and goals.

If any of you out there are as wise as Dr. Seuss and would like to chime in on this, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fourth of July with the Washingtons

Hope you had a great Fourth of July. I can honestly say I celebrated the Fourth in a very appropriate way this year. I attended the Independence Day Festival in Henry County, Georgia, along with George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Patrick Henry, and others.

Best of all, Martha was played by none other than my niece, Kristi (second from right, next to George), whom you last saw as the Kissing Wench at the Renaissance Festival. Quite a step up socially, from Kissing Wench to First First Lady.

It was all quite authentic, right down to the genuine Colonial camera man.

I myself am not the greatest camera person in the world, as evidenced by the above photo, but I wanted to show this one for the beautiful scenery. It really was a fun festival, on a farm that's a historic Civil War battlefield. The characters presented a running story throughout the day, with Redcoats breaking up a proclamation by Patrick Henry, duels, and a ladies' tea where women's issues of the day were discussed. (It was heartily agreed by all that women should be educated. Whether education should be co-educational was a bit more controversial.)

Since I normally spend the Fourth of July catching up on projects, like cleaning out my closets, this was a welcome break.

Did you do anything special? Hope you'll share!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I'm So Confused!

I've been doing a lot more reading lately than I usually manage. Part of this is due to the wonder of audiobooks, which I can zip through while driving, house cleaning, cooking, whatever. A couple of days ago, I finished two books almost simultaneously. The first was one of the best books I ever read--the kind that haunts you for days, that seems to hold a part of you in its world so that you wander around in a fog, not completely back to reality.

The second was one of the worst I ever read. I had to force myself to finish it. It was dull, cliched, and pointless.

So guess which one I'm supposed to be reading so I can learn to write for the line that publishes it? Which one am I supposed to be emulating, molding my writing to be more like it? Yep, you guessed it.

My agent feels I need to do this as a stepping stone to eventually writing the kind of books I want to. But I'm very confused. Sometimes I feel I'm changing my writing so much to conform to all these rules and guidelines and genres that I'm losing my own writing voice. Sometimes I worry I won't be able to go back.

Last night, as I finished reading the vile book which shall remain nameless, I started praying for guidance. Here's what showed up in my devotional reading:

"The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.'" (Psalm 32: 8-9, NLT)

I love it that I got immediate assurance that the Lord will guide me in the right direction. And I certainly don't want to be a mule, although for a moment I had to wonder--is writing something that's against my own nature being senseless, or am I being stubborn and willful by questioning my agent's advice? After all, God sent her to me in a pretty miraculous way.

So, for now at least, I'll try to produce a suitable manuscript for my agent--and hopefully one that still retains my own voice and style. It's going to be tricky.

I'll keep you posted.