What a Pane

So here’s a photo of my next project.

When my dad came to visit last time he brought this beauty with him. It was my sister’s.  She lives in an old house. This window was part of that house. It has been sitting in her basement for at least a decade that I know of.  She always thought she’d do something with it and never did. (It has a lovely little latch and handle on the other side.) It was hung above the door, horizontally. I prefer it vertical.

So here’s the plan: strip off the paint, reseal each pane of stained glass, paint and/or stain the frame. The natural wood is very dark and aged. If I’m right that it was original to the house it’s about 150 years old. I can’t wait to see what it looks like cleaned up.

In my house we have a set of stairs from the kitchen that has a very tall wall at the landing. So my thinking is that right at the top of those stairs is the perfect place for it to hang when it’s finished. But instead of leaving its middle pane empty, I thought a nice picture would be good.

So Stage 1 of Project Pane happened this weekend. I had  little photo shoot. I need something that I can blow up to the size of the middle pane.

My photo shoots are odd. Usually outdoor pics. You’d think it’d be easy to take a lovely lakeside picture for the pane, but the right angle, the right zoom, the right light. I took about 50 pictures and decided 16 were good enough to keep. I took 6 pictures of the same walnut tree, for starters. I wanted the sunburst between the branches. I wanted enough light for the yellow/green of the walnuts to show through.

Here’s the one of the six I chose:

I decided to skip the sunburst and went for the color.

I also took several pictures (perhaps a dozen) like this one. I chose this because I like that this one is right in front and going the opposite direction of the rest.

From the perspective across the lake a tree had a gorgeous reflection on the water. Five tries for this beauty.

(it’ll need to be cropped, but I thought it was lovely).

The blackberry vine.  After much weed stomping and standing way too near the bank to  leaning for the right shot. Only two shots for it, because honestly if I’d kept trying for perfection I would have had to slip out of my shoes and get into the water for it.

I lay on the ground for this one! Two shots later…I think it might be the winner!

Now I have to choose which will look best in the window.

Jack and Skippy helped with the photo shoot. Here’s Jack’s contribution:

Here’s Skip’s. (Chasing the boy is a very important job for a little dog. He did it well. In this shot he got distracted by something at the bank, which is also a very important job for a little dog.)

I’ll be sure to post progress and final product pics.  See if we can put the photo shoot and the art project in the “Winz” column.

Here are a few of the failed pics just for fun:

First, I took about 8 shots. I was going for that taut fishing line, glistening in the sunlight with just enough water to make it sparkle a bit. Yeah. Not so much. Here’s that disaster:

I just never could get the right angle on it, and the water looks nasty. pfft.

It’s very difficult to do when your helpers are busy doing other things.  Holding a fishing pole and snapping the shot. Big fail. See here:

There were a couple shots that ended up with a vehicle or building in the frame. So not what I was aiming for.

And then there’s this. It’s the picture you take thinking it might have appeal you didn’t recognize. It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Sometimes you have to see the image later to know what you got. This though, just bad. You look at it and think, “Why did you take a picture of that log?” At least that’s what I think.

Of course, not long ago I took a picture of muddy boots that turned out so fabulous I hung it on my bathroom wall. People compliment the photo all the time. So who’s to say randomness doesn’t work sometimes. Here ’tis. (just so I can end on a good note.)

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A little taste

After I finish the edits of Yet It Will Come, I have the start of the next book I’ll be working on called Collections. It’s several thousand words in already, but I put it aside to write Yet It Will Come.  Some stories have a touch of urgency to them when they sink  into your brain.  Collections has been simmering for a long time, while the other was a “hot iron” so Collections had to wait. was put aside.

Anyway, since writing seems to be taking up most of my free time, and books have been so much on my mind lately what with querying Ernest, I’ve not had many other fun things to post about lately, (no new cooking fiascos, no new art projects, no baitcaster nightmares to disclose).

So, I thought I’d show you the first pages of my books. The first page is where a writer makes the first impression on the reader. I have never been good at beginnings and these beginnings have all changed several times.

The Lake Effect

[LOL – sorry, it’s so not worth reading. Trunk novel and all. I said good-bye to it a long time ago. I couldn’t even make myself open it.] 😉

Taking Lessons from Ernest (Page 1)

Ernest likes chronology. He didn’t like my Chapter One. He said this was the wrong place to start the story; he said, “It started much earlier.”

That is true. It did.

I told him I’d go back and tell those other pieces later, because if this was truly chronological, I’d have needed to start it in the 1920’s, hop to the 1960’s, make a couple of brief stops in the 1980’s, and arrive at myself entering the picture, present day, quite near the end.

“True,” he said. “That could pose a problem.”

“So for now,” I told him, “We’ll set the scene, early morning, eastern United States, in a car going across country.”

“How cliché. A car?” he said.

“Okay. Okay. A week before that, then?”

Finally, we agreed. So here we are, a week before that.

~*~

I was summoned to the house. As I walked up the path, I had a sense of déjà vu. My chest felt hollow, though. I was an empty shell just then, recognizing everything around me but not belonging there with any of it anymore.

I made my way up the sidewalk and noticed the pattern of bricks. I’d lined my Matchbox cars up on those bricks. Tim and I raced them there too many times to count. The predawn light blurred and softened the bricks now, and while I knew the pattern well, I barely recognized it.

Then I looked at the front stoop as one might look at an old photo of something beautiful but long since lost. I wanted it to be exactly the same – not like it was the last time I’d left when my father told me not to return, but of the time before when I was part of the family.

Yet It Will Come (Page 1)

Each day I face Megan, with her coffee house coffee, always the same flavor. Hazelnut. Her bobbed hair swings against the collar of her jacket. She approaches me on the platform with the click click click of four-inch heels.

“You look like hell, Charlie” she says, and sighs under her breath, “again.”

Of course I do.  I can’t sleep. I close my eyes and am assaulted in my sleep.

This is what drove my grandfather insane. Lack of sleep. I would visit him at the hospital, though really it was a mental institution. Other elderly patients wandered the halls muttering to themselves. Old women, who would have terrified me as a child, approached me in the hall, calling me the names of their own sons or grandsons, hoping someone had come to see them. Patting my face and telling me I was getting handsomer and should visit more frequently.  I should please look after the cat left behind and could I tell so-and-so that their letters arrived by post and were most appreciated.

My grandfather though. He did not imagine he was in the past or mistake me for his long-dead brother. He didn’t talk about a cat that has been dead for thirty years as though it was still living. No. He had his senses in those regards. He just happened to never sleep, and obsessively searched train stations, studied schedules, wrote notes with times and dates, scribbling frantically all night long, as though needing to find the right combination of dates and trains to get to the lady.

“I know she’s out there, Charlie.” He would continue writing, pacing, tapping his chest, counting on his fingers, muttering under his breath. “No one believes me.”

Collections (page 1)

I’ve known Edison St. James since I was eight years old. That was the year he was collected up by his grandfather. The same year, he wet his first line. Not missing his mother felt worse than missing her would, he told me. But something about a lake, a gentle breeze and waves lapping up the side of an aluminum john boat made the not missing not hurt so much.

I grew up in Celina, Illinois, on the banks of the Illinois River. Nothing interesting or even peculiar happened in Celina until the day the old man who lived in the brown house next to mine left one day. He never left, so this was something I noticed. Also, no one in Celina ever had a reason to lock their doors, but this day, Old Mr. St. James locked his front door. I watched the house each day to see if his car had returned. Each day that passed I got more curious.

“Come away from the window, Ty.” my mom said. “People’ll wonder what’s afflicting you.”

My dad told her that being curious is good. “Curiosity is a sign of intelligence, Constance,” he said. “If the boy wants to collect river critters and rocks from the banks, climb trees and stare up at clouds, or look out the window, I’m not going to stop him. It’s good for a boy’s brain to be engaged.”

Dad made this sound more important than it really was. I was mostly just nosy. Mom didn’t want people to think there was something wrong with my head, wanted me to keep clean, wear shoes, and make friends; staring at the neighbor’s empty house while I hauled mason jars full of river junk to the shed didn’t accomplish any of these.

Three days later though, after nearly constant watching, Mr. St. James came back with a boy.

I moved the sheer white curtain to the side and stared out as this scrawny kid, smaller than me, got out of the car and lugged two suitcases by him self up to the front steps of the cracker-box house. His red Keds mustered up little dust tornadoes as he shuffled his feet up the drive way.

Old Man carried a small, green duffle bag and another suitcase. He set the suitcase at his feet and unlocked the front door. The boy looked around from the porch, eyeing the neighboring houses, and stopped particularly to look at Gus, my hound back in his kennel. Any boy who liked Gus was okay with me. Edison smiled at the sight of Gus, so I made the promise then that I’d smile at that boy when I got the chance of it.

Mr. St. James had lived alone for my whole life until then. He had a stern face with deep frowny cracks around his mouth that kept me and most of the other neighbors from paying much attention to him. I worried about the boy staying there with the old grump, and how he wasn’t even looking at the boy. The kid looked darn near invisible to Mr. St. James.

And finally, just for fun. The first page of the blog novel I share with Kevin Craig at Yours Mine Ours… (page 1)

Mickey scrambled around the garage, lifting one tool after another and setting each one aside as he ruled it out in his search for the perfect cutting implement. I fell onto the couch in the corner and raised the bottle of wine to my mouth. The strawberry soda of wines had a tinny aftertaste from the screw-off cap. I’d grown to regard it as flavor you can only get from a $2 bottle.

A look of EUREKA streaked across his face then faded with my disapproval. “It’s two in the morning. We’re not using a chainsaw.”

I closed my eyes against the onset of dizziness and waited.

“We have to cut it down by hand?” He pushed some boxes aside and raised an orange handle. “Ax?” He swiped his shirt sleeve across his brow.

My non-reply answered his question.

The same scene, in different variations had taken place for the last six years. Each year Mickey searched for the perfect tool, only to arrive half an hour later at the same conclusion; we just needed a handsaw. I had always let him look though. In previous years it humored me that he hadn’t yet seen the handsaw and pieced together that it was what we used the previous year, and the year before that.

What do your first pages look like?? 🙂

Best Ways to Beta

For those not in the writer-life, a beta reader is someone you trust to be honest who’s agreed to read your manuscript prior to sending out queries. The book usually goes through another round of edits after a beta reads the work, so any changes or comments or found errors can be fixed.

Betas proofread, sure, but they also tell you things like, “I didn’t really like this character in the beginning. You need to make him more likable.” (My good buddy Haggis told me this and it helped me realize that I needed to show other characters liking my main character and to show them why.) Or they tell you, “I didn’t understand this paragraph” and “what the hell were you trying to say in this sentence anyway?” (My Bug did this for me!)

Lately, I’ve wanted betas to tell me about the voice of it. Is it consistent? Is the narration effective?Did you want to turn the page?  Was it believable? Was that scene over the top? Are my characters “real” enough?  (Yes. Even the ghost ones have to be real. Did the switches in points of view jar you at all? That kind of thing. A big bad thing for a beta to say is, “there’s a problem with your premise. I had a review of my query letter, and the reaction of some of them said, “Ernest Hemingway was a womanizing jerk. Why would you want him being a ghostly mentor to your character?” Well…he’s not a jerk in the story.  🙂  And it’s his mistakes and shortcomings that make him real and makes my character relate to him.

Betas are also really good at telling you that a pronoun should be “I” instead of “he”, and when a sentence is missing a word, and that I forgot end quotes on dialog. (Yep. We do that kind of thing and even after reading the story twenty times, I still miss some of those things.)

I love when a beta talks about the story and the characters and mentions the “I loved this character” or “this was a great line”. I love when a beta tells me, “oh so-and-so was my favorite character.”  I like when they say, “you didn’t tie up this loose end.” I like when they point out that little inconsistency such as “Ok, he was putting his shoes on to go out then one paragraph later he’s lying in bed.” (Yes. That happened.)

And I especially love it when they read this book I’m querying now and tell me it makes them want to go read a bit of Hemingway’s work because they’ve never read any. I like it when a beta tells me the book made their day happier.

Some people have started my novel and not finished it. I think that speaks loud and clear that it wasn’t for them – and is possibly the harshest criticism I could receive. One friend is an avid reader and is afraid to read the book because she’s afraid if she doesn’t like it my feelings will be hurt.

Everyone betas differently. Some will read it and only say, “I really liked it!” or they’ll say, “that part where he falls through the wicker chair is funny.”

Others will put comments – good and bad – in the margins and track changes on punctuation and grammar page by page.

I try to be a thorough beta reader and have done plenty of it. I want to be useful to the writers, and be honest, but also encouraging and gentle. I think the people I’ve read for have found the way I beta useful. At least I very much hope so. I’ve learned a great deal about writing by beta reading too. Different styles, what works and doesn’t, the flow of words and the flow of plots. Beta reading is a fantastic education for a writer.

So I’m still learning what’s the best way to beta, and that every story is different and that every author wants a different kind of beta read done. I’m still learning what works for me when others read my work, too.

I do go for the variation though. Someone doing a good proofread, someone different talking mechanics of the story, someone who just gives a review of how the story “feels”, someone who lists out each character and re-hashes plot points. Someone who offers specific suggestions and someone who just says, “this part is a little wrong”. It’s all useful.

A mix of writer-betas and strictly reader-betas works well, I’ve found. The ones who write are more specific about the craft. The ones who just read are specific about the story.

The biggest question I think, if you are going to beta for someone is: “is this book ready to go out into the world and if not, what will get it there?”

If you’re a beta for someone, or someone is about to be a beta for you, be sure they keep that last question in mind. You won’t hurt my feelings if you’re helping me see what I’ve missed and are helping me get the book ready to go out into the world.

Happy beta reading!!

Yet It Will Come – Titles!

“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.” This is from Hamlet, and it’s also spoken by quite possibly the creepiest character I’ve ever written. She’s in my most recent work in progress.

I’m editing it now.  And I finally came up with a title I like. It’s from that quote. Yet It Will Come.  This was a huge deal as normally titles are easy for me but I struggled with this one.

A little about the story:

I have a character, Charlie, on a time slip-n-slide. He’s in a love with a woman who’s also on the slip-n-slide. He thinks he’s losing his mind as he figures out that he has to save the men in his family who, (along with himself and the woman he loves but can’t seem to find), all wound up on the revenge list of the previously-mentioned creepiest character ever.

So onto the good part…

My favorite thing about this book is  that I’ve never used chapter titles in any of my other works, but Yet It Will Come needed them – had to have them!

Here are some of them:

For I Must Hold My Tongue

Lemon Chiffon

Almost Ingrid Bergman

Ahem

To Sleep…

Dreams of Jolly

Bev’s Blue Skies

Lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-la

Frailty thy name is what?

The Reason

Bacon and Bedsheets

The Crazy Room

More Fun with S Words

Out of Joint

Clickety-clack Don’t Look Back

Like Paul Newman in Hud

Something Dangerous

Lemon Chiffon II

And Never The Two Shall Meet

Perchance to Dream

Necessitas Legem Non Habet

Shuffling Off

The One-eye Love

Shiny

Fucking Beautiful Fucking Mind, John Nash’s Garage

Some of my chapters are still title-less and some of these might change (particularly that last one!).  Charlie’s in a screwed up world, and the titles seem to show that; maybe that’s why they make me smile so much.

 

 

 

What does fresh mean anyway?

Voice.

For writers voice is not the physiological act of forcing air past vocal chords. Rather it is the tone of the story. It’s the narrator’s – whether a character’s own narration in first person or a third person narrative – way of telling the story. Some voice is very closely associated with the  character (Nick Caraway in The Great Gatsby for example or Red in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption), even a third person unnamed narrator (as in the narration of Gaiman’s Neverwhere).  Some voice is terribly unique to the narrator.  Norman Mailer gave voice to a demon as an omniscient narrator of a young boy Adolf Hitler’s life in Castle in the Forest. It is unique and distinctive. The narrator was all-knowing, but rarely interacted with the subjects in the story. Rather, his narration made him a bigger character than many others within the story.

Neil Gaiman and Diana Gabaldon and Dave Barry and Christopher Moore and John Sanford and Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Stephen King. All impeccably skilled at voice. Amazingly their voices in their books are unmistakably theirs, but also unique to each book.

That’s what I want to do. Mostly what I read of my own writing though sounds oh..I don’t know…exactly like me, maybe? *phooey!*

Agents and Editors ASK for “voice” whether they say “strong and distinctive voice”, or “fresh and clean voice” so we get to interpret that very vague intangible idea of voice and try to produce it.

As I edit my most recent manuscript, I am seeing what I’ve seen in my previous books. The voice of the book comes about in first draft, not in the first paragraph or first chapter, but somewhere in the middle, as I get to know my characters better I get a better feel for the movement and tone and, yes indeed, voice of it.

Editing, for me, is inserting “the voice” of the book where it was lacking in the first draft.  It emerges halfway through the first draft and my job is to carry it into the parts of the story that don’t have it.

Giving a story a “fresh voice” is a challenge.  Voice is a concept that’s a wicked little exercise in consistency of writing. Add fresh to it. What exactly does FRESH mean, anyway?  A new feel, a new flow, something that doesn’t feel tired and “already done”?

So we write and a voice peeks out at us. It feels right, so we edit it into the rest of the story. Then we wonder… Is it too serious, too playful, to hurried? Does the narration carry the story? How does it feel ? Is it more than just a vehicle for carrying the story? Does it mesh form and function?

It’s one of the things, I’m realizing in this most recent edit, that  I’ll need to start discussing with my betas. Describe the voice? Is it consistent throughout? My narrator is my main character. Charlie spends a bit of time rather confused through the story. Telling the story through the eyes of a confused narrator? Tricky.

This “voicing a novel” experiment will never end for as long as I write.  Capturing the right voice, writing the right voice accurately, keeping it fresh, keeping it true to character and/or narrator.

Read widely, write often, edit the hell out of it.

question for writers:

When and how do you find the voice of a story?

 

 

 

It’s a Writer Thing

Probably the biggest experiment, or at least the one that’s lasted the longest for me, is writing. I’ve written for as long as I can remember. Middle school is when it started.
Several years ago I wanted to step up the game. The challenge was to write a novel. The only true way to know if you can write one is to write one. The only sure way to find out what your personal novel-writing process is is to experiment. I quickly learned, for example, that I’m incapable of writing to an outline.
When I finished the book, The Lake Effect, I was immensely proud of it. But it didn’t take long once I started researching publication to find out that it wasn’t publishable. I blame (or rather credit) this place for educating me about what a “trunk novel” is and that The Lake Effect, sadly, was one of them. (R.I.P. trunk novel).
Failed experiment? Not by a long shot. After all the goal was to write a book and I certainly had done that. I never said the goal was to write a good book. So I did what any writer does, I wrote another one.
Taking Lessons from Ernest was born. I loved that book (still do). It was edited, read by betas, edited, restructured, edited, read by more betas. One big ongoing experiment in how to write a GOOD book. Example: I’ve written no less than six chapter ones for Ernest.
Next mini-experiment in the big scheme of writing: query letters. Mine was horrible. That first query letter is probably the first major fail of this whole writing thing. The Lake Effect at least proved to me that I could write novels. But queries? Didn’t prove a damn thing except that I was no good at query letters. Version after version, rejection after rejection, I hit sixty rejections and decided to give Ernest and my bruised pride a break.
For a while I focused on poetry and short stories, I collaborated on a very fun writing experiment with Kevin Craig on Yours, Mine…Ours . I started yet another novel which began as a two paragraph snip of a story and expanded (thanks to June Kramin ) in a game of Word Wars. That one needs a re-write and a heavy editing hand, but it has to marinate for a while first so I put it away. In the meantime I went back to dear old Ernest, gave him another read, gave him a subplot. Got more beta reads, line edits, new query! *whew* Started the agent search again and started sending it back into the agent-y world. More rejections. Then two agents asked to read the book. *grins*
So the experiments go on. Some wins, some failures, and while pieces of this big experiment can be tagged with success or failure, as a whole “done and won” will never happen. Even if I were to get published, the experience of each new book I write, the experience of generating more complex and challenging plots and characters, the thrill of finding new ways to use words will always be there.
Eventually I may wear out Ernest again, when/if that time comes, I’ll have another book to query. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” In writing, I’ve made a lot and probably always will. On a lighter note, I would say this experiment for Experimental Stew needs a pretty heavy emphasis on the “mental”. My writer friends will agree. Writers are MENTAL – it’s a writer thing.

Other People’s Junk

I can’t help it. And my husband encourages it. He brings things home he knows I’ll make a project of. When I dragged the rusty white cart from behind the barn where he’d put it he said, “the wheel’s broken”.
“That’s okay. I’m not planning on wheeling it around all over the yard.”
Now, freshly painted, it’s decorating one side of our patio, in a little area with rocks and plants.

This is a win.