Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The End, Back it Up

I finished writing (working title) CODE TRIAGE, the third book in my Mercy Hospital series a few days ago--getting the first draft of the last chapter down on paper. Well, not paper. Electronically down. Tucked into a file and a couple of back up files--at my house and off site. I stop short of having the words tattooed on my body, but I do make sure they are in a safe place. If you want to see a writer's forehead bead up with drops of blood, whisper "I can't find your manuscript file . . . anywhere."

I'm confessing for the first time publicly--right now--that this happened to me once. Several years ago with one of my first manuscripts. Before I made an initial sale. My agent had several editors interested, and arranged to call me to go over some last minute manuscript concerns. She wanted me to "fix" a few things, and planned to have me pull up the manuscript on my computer and she'd synchronize on hers. And we'd input the changes, page by page. Seemed logical, and really techno savvy to me--I was a rookie and she was (is!) a pro and I was sponge-like in my eagerness to learn. So I sat in the chair. Waited for her call. Got butterflies in my stomach. Answered the phone. We synchronized . . . and I pulled up my file (an 80K romantic comedy I'd been working on for more than a year), and . . .

The file was BLANK. Empty. Gone. No. Longer. Existed.

I'd accidentally copied over the manuscript file and obliterated it.

You would not have wanted to own my stomach at that moment in time.

When I could breathe, I . . . hedged. Choking around my heart wedged in my throat.

"Oh . . . wait. . . . Can I call you right back?"

I hung up, slid to the floor and wailed. Then . . .

Because (we are blessed by a merciful God) and I married an amazing techno savvy man--

While I wailed and writhed on the floor, he performed some sort of hard drive search . . . and found it. Then (with the wonderful compassion of every hero I've written since) scooped me up off the floor. Gave me a hug. And whispered sweet file "back up" information in my ear.

My guess is that this same nightmare has happened to every writer at some point in time. Whether it involved a lost paragraph (always brilliant in hindsight of course), page, scene, chapter, blog post, or (like moi) an entire completed m-m-m-m-manuscript (sorry, flashback finger tremble). Due to power failure, author induced glitch, lightning strike . . . whatever. It happens. And it's awful.

So, while I'm still not the sharpest crayon in the box technically, I do take steps to prevent such a disaster. This is what I personally do:

1) Hit "Save" often ( compulsively) while writing.
2) Install a daily back up system (free ones available through MicroSoft) on site.
3) Save files off site/online (in case of fire). Via a paid storage service, or even by uploading nightly to a online site like a Yahoo Group. (I do this).
4) Burn a CD and keep it in safety deposit box.
5) Send chapters to critique partner.

As writers, we spend hours, weeks, months, sometimes years completing a particular work. Not to mention the angst, heartburn, sweat and tears involved. We don't want to lose that work.
And, take it from me, you don't want to sit in your office chair during a phone call with your agent (or editor), open a file . . . and slide under your desk as your entire circulating blood volume shunts to your feet.

Back it up!

Now that I've gotten all that off my chest, here's where things stand with CODE TRIAGE:

First draft completed: 94, 255 words, 334 pages, 28 chapters plus an epilogue.
It's been read by my awesome critique partner (who is a finalist in the Genesis contest!).
I've read through it once in electronic form, inputting changes based on her comments.
I'll be reading it again on the computer with an eye toward the story's time line (easier in this book because the action spans only a few days!)
Then I'll print it off. Hold it in my hands. (Smell it probably) As fellow writer Bridget Chumbley says, that's the moment it feels "real." She's so right!

Then I'll sit down with the stack of pages and read it through again (much of the time out loud, to get a feel for the dialogue and rhythm), with an editing pencil in hand.

Next I'll input the changes into the computer. (Back it up!)

And let it "steep" (rest) for a week or so.

Then read it again (with fresh eyes), picking out "crutch words" ("weasel words" as some folks say).

And finally . . . I'll send it off to my editors at Tyndale House.

Who will suggest revisions . . . so I can pick it back up again and improve the story.

The End. Fur, feathers, stripes . . . and curly tail.

Feels great!

Writers: how about you--deletion horror stories, saves, back up tips? Do share!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tying up Loose Ends

Last night I was awakened at 2:30 AM by a book. No, not my husband swatting me with one for snoring (and please don't suggest this to him). I was prodded into wakefulness by the book I'm currently writing, (working title) CODE TRIAGE, the third in the Mercy Hospital series. The characters, San Francisco police officer Nick Stathos, ER physician Leigh Stathos, chaplain Dana Hale, a one-eyed donkey named "Tag," and his thoroughbred pal "Frisco" insisted on face time with this author. Even though (after writing 3,880 words that day) my face was very happily scrunched into my pillow thank you. It was 2:30 AM, for goodness sake. That said, I really wasn't surprised. Because . . .

Yesterday I wrote the final chapter of the Code Triage story, and now all that remains in this initial draft is to write an epilogue. A last chapter, set several months after the plot ends, to gives a reader a stronger sense of what happens to all those characters. As the subject title of this post suggests, it "ties up loose ends." And, if the book is part of a continuing series, may also hint at a story to come. Because this particular book is the third in a 3-book contract, I'm in the interesting position of tying my loose ends into sort of a tightrope, so I can walk . . . into the unknown. Will there be a spin off character? A new series in a new setting? The reality is, at this point I don't know. CRITICAL CARE has barely launched, DISASTER STATUS is in production but won't release until January, and CODE TRIAGE is in draft stage. There are plenty of unknowns, a good stretch of tightrope to walk. Something I've done before as a published author--my balance is pretty good.

My series characters, however, are antsy. Everyone wants to be sure that he (she/it) gets their particular loose ends tied up. In Code Triage and, to my surprise, the preceding books as well. At 2:30 A.M., those folks were prodding this author and whispering, "reunion." They laid out a case for an epilogue party--a wedding--a chance for the characters in all three books to gather together. They said it could work. They told me the locale where it should happen. They promised to behave. And reminded me that it was logical, because:

1) they all worked in the same hospital system
2) most of them already knew each other.
3) All had suffered at my hand (I may have heard that wrong, I was half asleep).
4) And therefore deserved a reunion party

They set forth a pretty good case. The whole caboodle of them: characters you're meeting now in Critical Care (Logan "McSnarly" Caldwell, Claire Avery), folks you'll meet at year's end in Disaster Status (Erin Quinn, Scott McKenna), and my current rabble-rousers, Nick and Leigh Stathos in Code Triage. I won't even go into how surreal it is to have a 2:30 AM visitation from their assorted menageries: one-eared cat, geriatric goldfish, yodeling Chihuahua, a cockatoo . . . and that donkey. Very tough on the bedroom carpet. But they got my attention. So . . .

I'll be tying up loose ends. Writing an epilogue for this third book. Keeping my balance . . . and considering these characters' requests. The truth is, they did struggle for me. And did me proud. But . . .

How do you tie a party hat on a goldfish?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sign Me Up

These are my new book signing shoes--Crocs studded with cutesy charms that I bought for a song on e-Bay and on sale in a small Christian gift store in town. See the Bandaid, the medicine vial, the teeny thermometer, stethoscope, Heavenly hearts . . . and strange blue germ (?) with its tongue sticking out? See the author who is a complete sucker for branding frou frou? Um, yes . . . that would be me. Even down to the shortbread cookies stamped with artsy designs:

Yes, those are crosses with hearts . . . and a fish. If I'd had cookie stamps along with books, we'd have sold a bundle! For those of you who are curious about these (highly addictive) cookie stamps, check out RyCraft. They have an incredible collection for every occasion. I bought these two stamps in Fredricksburg Texas at a very cool kitchen store called Der Kuchen Laden. Interestingly, it occupies an old hospital building, where all the patient rooms are now filled with coffee grinders, aprons, cookie presses, dishware, baking pans . . . and every wonderful culinary gizmo you never knew you needed.

Because I'm branding myself as the author of "medical hope opera," I'm waltzing through the doors of bookstores for signings dressed in full ER nurse regalia: Scrubs, my old service pin-studded name badge and stethoscope, along with a button that boldly proclaims RX: Hope. Check out the photos from Saturday's signing at LifeWay Christian Store San Antonio:

Alamo City chapter American Christian Fiction writers
LifeWay Staff San Antonio
The LifeWay staff did an awesome job of setting things up: a table right in front of the door, fully laden with copies of CRITICAL CARE ( which they offered at an enticing sale price especially for the occasion), comfy chair, pens . . . and lots of smiles and cheerful assistance for author and patrons alike. We had a great time, sold plenty of books, munched cookies and chatted with readers, fellow authors, as well an aspiring author. Which brings me to the very best part of book signings: those "golden moments" when an author realizes exactly why she was supposed to be there that day. Not to be a "brand," not only to sell books, chat with readers and bookstore staff (and eat cookies) but to really connect with someone who needed encouragement that day. If an author's receptive, it occurs more often than not.

Yesterday my special connection was with that aspiring author. An English teacher who has spent her life teaching others to write, and is now taking first (anxious, exciting) steps to further her own writing. She'd come to the bookstore after a writers' meeting (her first!) and wanted to talk with me about her plans, her concerns, her goose bumps . . . and she hoped I would understand how she was feeling. She wanted to share that, and I was completely honored.
I encouraged her about the exciting journey she was starting; we talked about conferences and critique groups, Christian fiction subgenres, agents . . . the whole enchilada. With a side of shortbread. And a warm hug.

She left with more than a signed book, and I felt my prayer answered--the one I'd whispered in the car on the way to the signing. While wearing my fancy shoes and juggling a Tupperware container of cookies and a bigger-than-life poster of Dr. McSnarly. The same prayer I say before every author event: "Please help me remember that this isn't about me. And if it's possible, let me be a blessing in someone's life today."

Amen. If I could stamp it on a cookie, I would.

Thank you, Rosie. You made my day.