Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Book Diet

My book's on a diet. Not South Beach, Atkins, Mediterranean, Grapefruit . . . or any of those food-related fads. My book is on the EDIT diet . . . and, strangely, the word "edit" even has the same letters as "diet." Very appropriate, since both dieting and book editing have something in common: getting rid of the excess (pounds, inches, or . . . pesky adverbs) to achieve a healthier and more attractive state of being. Whether that culminates in an appreciative glance (as in "Whoa, lookin' good there--been working out?") or an enthusiastic read ("Wow, I couldn't put this book down--when's the next one coming out?"). Of course in a perfect world we'd combine those two: "Great book, and can you believe that someone that attractive can write like this?" But I'm not greedy, just very grateful that my new publisher, Tyndale House, has assigned me an incredibly talented editor: Lorie Popp.

A few posts back, I mentioned my excitement at having been teamed with Lorie--amid great rushes of goose bumps, since she also edits stellar authors such as Karen Kingsbury and Angela Hunt and Susan May Warren. But now, a few days into the "red-line" stage of editing CRITICAL CARE, I'm even more grateful. She's on a mission to make this book shine, for sure. A large part of that involves whacking away at the "fat" in my manuscript, unnecessary or unclear dialogue, repetitive words, lengthy stretches of narrative, "plucking" my characters' tendency toward eyebrow movements, and re-organizing sentence and paragraph order.

She also must fix punctuation, grammar, and spelling (who knew blond didn't have an "e"? Obviously I don't read my L'Oreal boxes). And catch glitches like . . . when a pet a turtle somehow changes into a goldfish 200 pages later.

But perhaps most amazing is Lorie's ability to make substantive suggestions toward improving the overall story impact. In the case of this particular book, she asks that I show even more of an inside glimpse into the action taking place in the ER--letting my readers "scrub in," so to speak, on life and death drama. One such suggestion prompted me to add an additional scene to the opening of CRITICAL CARE. Trust me, by the time a manuscript first reaches an editor the all important opening pages have been written and re-written upwards of a dozen times. Maybe far more. Blood, sweat, tears, angst . . . coffee rings, pizza splotches . . . type-toss-type-delete-groan-moan . . . you get the picture. We get typing tendonitis. That's why most writers are married to their opening scenes by the time they turn them in to the publisher, and hope to never have to tinker with them again. UNLESS:

The red-line suggestions are brilliant . . . as my editor's absolutely are. The new opening paragraphs of CRITICAL CARE pull the reader into the trauma room as fast as you can start CPR. And set up the subsequent scenes for maximum emotional impact. It's like finding that last cardboard bit to the 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I've never been happier with a diet.

So here's to the blessing of a talented editor, the benefits of diet . . . and the weirdness of that Google image I've posted above. A comb in a plate of spaghetti? Shouldn't that be a fork?

Trust me, my editor would have caught that glitch. Thanks Lorie!

Monday, September 22, 2008

So . . . What do you write?

I flew back from the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Minneapolis last night and am currently experiencing a jumble of emotions. Which has me alternately: hugging hubby over and over (I'm pretty sure he's guessed I missed him), delighted by the comfort of my own pillow, the shape of my favorite coffee mug . . . and also experiencing sad little waves of conference withdrawal. Because, face it, it is a rare and wonderful thing to be in a group of 500-plus people who can talk 24/7 about writing and never get bored. Folks who will discuss semi-colons at the drop of a hat, point-of-view endlessly--people who think that hearing voices in your head is . . . well, normal. People (unlike many neighbors, co-workers and even some family members) who are truly interested in this zany world that is the writing life. It occurred to me, that writers at conference--not unlike hopeful singles in a speed-dating venue--even have our own "pick up line." You'll hear it over and over:

"So . . . what do you write?" Ask it and you'll hear a wide variety of answers. Because though these particular writers have in common a desire to write stories that inspire and uplift, there is a wide variety of sub-genres. Including: Historical (from Medieval to Western to Civil and World Wars), Romance (both contemporary and historical), Suspense, Mystery, Legal thrillers, Lits (chick, hen, Mom), Women's Fiction, Young Adult, Children's, and Speculative fiction (sci-fi, fantasy,supernatural) . . . and more. Trust me, a room full of 500 writers brainstorming ideas is like that scene in Star Wars when the Millenium Falcon makes the leap to hyperspace--hang on!

As an ACFW conference "first-timer," I was blown away by the experience. And though its almost impossible to relate, I did promise to share some highlights. So here are a few:

1) Having a long, leisurely lunch with my agent Natasha Kern. She's an amazing woman.

2) Lunching/chatting with Tyndale editors Karen Watson (who initially read Critical Care back when it was titled The Healer's Heart) and Stephanie Broene--both of whom were fabulous.

3) An array of top-notch workshops with titles like: Survival of the Fittest, No Cookie Cutters!, You Write Like a Girl--handling the male point of view, Multiple Deadlines: Blessing or Bane, Colonel Mustard in the Library, and Let's Talk Dialogue.

4) The opportunity to see several first book contracts awarded by editors to surprised and tearful contest winners--made me cry too!

5) The leadership, humor, and heart of author Brandilyn Collins. And awesome addresses (humorous, touching and inspiring) by keynote speaker and best-selling author Angela Hunt.

6) Gathering with 500 fellow authors for daily Worship--contemporary music and inspiring Personal devotions.

7) The glittery (ala Hollywood red carpet) awards ceremony to announce winners of the Book of the Year, unpublished book of the year (Genesis) Mentor of the Year, Agent of the Year and Editor of the Year. Where I had the opportunity to giggle, laugh and share with authors Leanna Ellis and Julie Lessman, Tamera Alexander--and applaud Mary Conneally's Book of the Year win--all of us clients of Natasha Kern. A family of sorts, for sure.
8) Literary agent Chip MacGregor . . . in a kilt.

But perhaps best of all was the chance to meet new writers, all at different stages of the journey . . . from brand new, to multi-published best selling authors. And to see the encouragement and genuine fellowship warmly shared, regardless of where the writer's feet fell along that path. Hugs, tears, sharing of triumphs, empathy for rejections . . . writers understanding writers. Very cool indeed. Hopeful and excited faces, so many smiles . . . Mary, Deb, Rose, Ginny, Phyllis, Donna, Laurie, Carrie, Elaine, Sarah, Diego, Lynne, Patricia, Gin. And many, many more, from all across the US and Canada. From Hollywood to New York, to rural Midwest farms. Several arriving from the chaos and destruction of Hurricane Ike. Shared passions, shared dreams. Incredible talent, big hearts, good people . . . all asking:

"So, what do you write?"

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Writing Life: A Roller Coaster

I wouldn't be the first to describe the writing life (and especially the road to publication) as a roller coaster ride. It can slick your hair back, for sure. In all stages of the journey. As a NEWBIE writer, learning the craft: story structure, formatting, show-don't-tell, battling your vicious and nay-saying Internal Editor. As a writer SEEKING publication: attending conferences, entering contests, querying agents and editors, dealing with the Big R (aaagh . . . Rejection), waiting (always waiting) for The Call (acceptance from an agent and/or editor). Then as a PUBLISHED author: meeting deadlines, doing revisions, marketing and promotion, book tours and signings, speaking events, holding your breath for those early reviews, watching the sales numbers . . . brainstorming the next new project. Up, down, sideways, inside out--a thrill ride at the very least. It has been and still is that way for me.

And now, beginning Chapter Eight (or at the 35% mark, not that I'd actually work that out on a calculator of course) of DISASTER STATUS, I'm dealing with a roller coaster ride within a roller coaster ride. That is, I'm sending my hero and heroine (ER nurse Erin Quinn and fire captain Scott McKenna) off to the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk, where they'll be riding the famous Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster. The 6th oldest roller coaster in the country, it offers a spectacular view of Monterey Bay, and has appeared in motion pictures including “Sting II,” “The Lost Boys,” “Dangerous Minds,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Sudden Impact."

Legendary San Francisco columnist Herb Caen once wrote of the The Giant Dipper:

" . . .the great roller coaster arose amid screams above the golden strand of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk ... a tooth-loosener, eyeball-popper, and one long shriek.”

Don't ya love it? And if if that's not enough to whet your whistle, here's a Virtual Ride on the Giant Dipper. Click on that website's virtual ride photo if you dare. And don't be a sissy-- hold your hands up while you watch. (I've been on this coaster several times . . . this video is spot on!)

It's going to be great fun to write, and--face it--with characters who are up past their eyebrows in trauma, blazes, and a community-wide hazardous material disaster, I can't skimp on the R&R. I'm probably going to throw in some pink popcorn, mustard-slathered corndogs, Marini's salt water taffy . . . and then maybe a romantic walk on the beach under a spectacular sunset. Erin and Scott deserve at least that much, after the paces I've put them through in the first 7 chapters.

Speaking of roller coasters, the writing life, and R&R--Wednesday I'm flying off to Minneapolis to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference. I'm excited!! Not only will I be able to mingle with fellow writers, take part in workshops, lunch with my fabulous agent Natasha Kern, meet two Tyndale editors; I'll also be attending a star-studded booksigning at the Mall of America--which, of course, has its own roller coaster.

I'll be home on Sunday, and promise to share the conference highlights via this blog. And then I'll be back to the keyboard, strapping myself in for a wild ride on the Giant Dipper.

Stop by the office, I'll be easy to spot: the writer with the slicked-back hair and bits of pink popcorn (and the silly smile) on her face.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Soul Food

No, you are not seeing things : those are candy pumpkins and . . . beans and franks. Not exactly what might come to mind when you think of manna from Heaven. And frankly (pardon the pun) not exactly gourmet, optimally nutritious, or even very beautiful . . . unless you like orange on orange. (Which actually I do--but that's another post). So why "soul food?" Good question.

Let me first explain that as a nurse I know a bit about nutrition, and that cooking (like writing) is a joy for me. I realize, given the images above, this is hard to believe. Before you panic and imagine me tossing a handful of candy pumpkins into a batch of beanie weenies and ringing the dinner bell, let me tell you what I fixed for dinner last night when we had friends over for dinner:

1) appetizer: East Indian cheese ball with wonderful ingredients like chutney, peanuts, golden raisins, green onion and coconut

2) Wild Alaskan Salmon (with dill, lime and brown sugar rub) grilled under a glorious sunset

3) corn muffins loaded with bits of roasted Hatch peppers

4) cold fresh asparagus and cherub tomatoes with Balsamic vinegar dressing

5) Melon balls (Tuscan cantaloupe and watermelon) with fresh basil, mint, simple syrup, lemon and amaretto

A wonderful chilled California chardonnay

And for dessert: lemon sorbet with a sugar-sprinkled ginger cookie

Tasty, healthful and pretty on the plate: way more colors than orange.

BUT, it's September, and that means autumn, and . . . stirs all sorts of memories for me. Crisp Northern California afternoons, the scent of woodsmoke and hot apple cider, the crunch of fallen leaves, fat bunches of chrysanthemums, grocery store bins piled high with Indian corn, fancy striped gourds and pumpkins.

Candy pumpkins too:

Brach's mellocreme pumpkins, so sweet they hurt your teeth, ridiculously cute on a gradeschool cupcake. A seasonal surprise from my mother to me, then from me to my children--harbingers of autumn. Along with a primal urge to cook hot dogs and beans. Pork and beans right from can (except for the weird white "pork" thingy--gotta toss it) , mixed with sliced onions, brown sugar, ketchup, dash of mustard, worcestshire . . . and sliced up hot dogs. Cooked in a saucepan til it bubbles. Eaten with a spoon and cornbread.

For some reason it became a tradition to make hot dogs and beans before my kids went trick-or-treating, perhaps as a protein buffer against Tootsie Roll overload. Maybe because it was an easy answer to antsy, eager little Darth Vader and Strawberry Shortcake. But more likely because Mom did that for my brothers, sister and me.

She passed away on September 15th of last year.

So now, as fall approaches (despite the heat and humidity in Texas) I'm thinking about candy pumpkins, hot dogs and beans . . . and the kind of food that does more than fill your plate or your stomach. And I fully expect my grown children (in California) will call before long to report that they've bought their first candy pumpkins, or to say they've had a sudden urge to make hot dogs and beans and can't remember if it's yellow onions or red.

Because the real "food"comes from the sharing and the warmth of the company, the love, the laughter . . . the priceless and achy-good memories.

Whether it was last night with good friends, over a dinner I had fun fussing with all day.

Or decades back when Mom opened those cans of pork and beans for her children, and then I did the same for mine.

For me, a candy pumpkin means : I love you in this new season, I miss you, I remember you . . . It's a sweet reminder that the blessing of love is our real soul food.