Tag Archives: Novel

Book Buzz: The Space Between Sisters

The ingredients for a pleasurable summer read are all found in The Space Between Sisters, Mary McNear’s latest novel in her Butternut Lake series.

Book Buzz; The Space Between Sisters

Take a scenic and charming lake community, add in two sisters and two eligible bachelors, combine with the allure of summertime, sprinkle in a bit of nostalgia and a few secrets, finish off with a dash of whimsy with a cat named Sasquatch, and voila.

The Space Between Sisters

Poppy and Win have the same parents but couldn’t be more different. Now adults, Poppy is impetuous and flighty and Win, a widow, is organized and steady. They haven’t lived together in 13 years, but one day Poppy appears on the doorstep of the Win’s lakeside cottage in Butternut Lake — jobless, out of money, and having nowhere to go.

The cottage, once owned by their grandparents, had been their summertime destination when they were children. The sisters both have fond memories of idyllic summers spent in Butternut Lake. When the grandparents died, Win — the more responsible sister– inherits the cottage, and she decides to live there year-round.

Poppy and Win were close as children, relying on each other perhaps more than most siblings do. Their household was chaotic. The parents were negligent and for large chunks of time the girls were on their own, even at a young age. They yearned for a stable home environment but the parents were unable to provide it.

Now adults, the love is still there. But it’s complicated.

Living together for the first time in many years, the sisters still love each other but find new tensions in their relationship. Win is frustrated with Poppy’s lack of initiative and her messiness. Poppy is irritated by Win’s OCD type of organization. At the same time, they are trying to reframe their broken lives: Win, reeling from the death of her husband, and Poppy, struggling with a painful secret she has been harboring for years.

But the bonds of sisterhood prove more durable than the adversity each has faced. Poppy and Win realize they are both ready to find closure with the past. Willing to move on, to accept what is and put it behind them, they find strength in the ties that bind them. In doing so, they find that they have much more in common than they once thought.

This is a breezy, easy read that definitely meets the requirements for a great beach book (even if you’re not at the beach). And if you haven’t read the three prior books in the Butternut Lake series, no worries. The Space Between Sisters is fine as a standalone.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Space Between Sisters. Please leave a comment below and enter the giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

I received a copy of The Space Between Sisters from William Morrow for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Writing a Book Made Simpler in 1-2-3

This book writing stuff. It’s really hard.

My novel has been a work in progress for a good year and a half, and I wish I could say it was almost done. I realized, however, during three days of writing workshops at the Philadelphia Writers Conference that I have much to do before calling it a day.

Book writing isn’t just the writing.

A key part is the planning, the structuring. There are mechanics to novel writing that can not be ignored. Each character, for example, must have a story arc comprised of the situation, the spark and the conclusion. A character must have a goal and obstacles that must be overcome to reach that goal. And once that is established, the character’s arc must intersect with the other characters’ arcs.

Dialogue needs a context and a subtext. Dialogue must be authentic but not mundane. It can be reported or condensed, and it needs to propel the action.

I could have done this differently.

There is another way, a better way, that writer and editor Stuart Horwitz presents in his new book, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love it, the third book in his Book Architecture Trilogy.

Writing: Finish Your Book in Three Drafts

Horwitz is the founder and principal of Book Architecture, a firm of independent editors based in Providence, RI (www.bookarchitecture.com) whose clients have reached the bestseller list in both fiction and nonfiction.

I was fortunate to meet Horwitz at last year’s Philadelphia Writers Conference, and his keynote was one of the highlights for me, so much so that I approached him after his presentation to tell him how much I enjoyed it. Not only is Horwitz a smart guy, he is down to earth and has a great sense of humor. As a writer, he totally gets the frustrations we writers experience with endless revisions. He’s been there himself.

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts gives writers, fiction and non-fiction alike, a practical way to get through the revision process with minimal consternation. Horwitz proposes that a book can be completed in three drafts:

  • The messy draft: which is all about getting it down.
  • The method draft: which is all about making sense.
  • The polished draft: which is all about making it good.

“I think about the people who don’t publish their books, and too often it’s not because they lack the writing skills. It’s because they got lost along the way. One draft isn’t going to cut it, but neither is twenty,” Horwitz says. “All you need is three drafts, and the tools to know where you are in the process.”

What’s more, Finish Your Book in Three Drafts is interactive. The book is nicknamed “3D” because it contains nine stop-motion videos that bring the concepts to life through the use of action figures, and nine PDFs for when you want more detailed information and instructions about topics such as “How to Find Your Theme,” “The Five Definitions of Scene,” and “How to Construct Your Book Proposal.”

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts is available in both print and digital editions from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

I’m taking a look at my novel through a different lens now, and it is so worth the extra time.

 

I received a copy of Finish Your Book in Three Drafts for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

Get Me Rewrite! Starting the Third Draft

Get Me Rewrite! Starting the Third Draft

I am writing a novel.

These five words have become my mantra, something I repeat silently to convince myself it is real. Not a dream, not a figment of my imagination. Not something I began and never finished.

This time I am getting ‘er done.

By putting it out there I am also making myself accountable. When “How is the book coming along?” is asked I don’t have to flounder around for a lame excuse.

It’s coming. I’m getting there. It’s moving forward.

“So after the second draft,” a friend asked me the other day, “your book is pretty much done, right?”

If only. But not by a long shot.

Get me rewrite.

Last fall I attended BinderCon, a writing conference for women. Among the many valuable sessions was a panel of four freelance editors, each of whom had worked in publishing for years. I was impressed with their knowledge and approach to helping writers make their book the best it can be. So after the conference I contacted one of them and I am working with her now.

I submitted my second draft to her and waited anxiously for feedback. Would she love it? Hate it? Biting fingernails, chewing the inside of my mouth, binge snacking: I engaged in every nervous habit I could think of.

Well, we had a phone call last week to discuss the book. There was good news and bad news.

Good news: she liked the story, thought the characters were well drawn, enjoyed the historical setting of the novel, and thought it would ultimately fare well with readers.

Bad news: a major rewrite is necessary.

Good news again: The rewrite is going to make it SO much better.

Before this feedback, I was having trouble seeing the forest for the trees. I was too close to the content. It was impossible for me to be objective.

With a few brushstrokes of her vision, she gave me clarity that I was unable to find on my own.  As I rewrite the second draft, I will:

  • Take a swipe at the number of characters. There were too many. “Beyond four or five major characters,” the editor told me, “people start getting confused. And it is really hard to make their voices unique.”
  • Narrow the time frame. The expanse was too wide, too Belva Plain. Instead of 50 or so years, now it will be five. And that’s enough.
  • Focus on the motivations of the characters. This has to be credible.
  • Intensify the drama. Make the precipice higher. This will make the reader want to keep turning the pages.
  • Be careful with the historical events. This is not a history lesson. Make the events part of the narrative but only in the context of their impact on the characters.
  • In each chapter, define where we are in time, what is going on with the family, and what significant event takes place that propels the story forward

These simple suggestions will eliminate many of the problems I had with the plot line and the development of the main characters. Instead of feeling angst, I feel a huge sense of relief – and excitement.

I will be deleting a huge chunk of my work, maybe even 50%. Perhaps some of it will return in another novel another time. A sequel, perhaps. Doesn’t that sound nice?

Onward.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

The Second Draft: A Debut Novelist’s Journey

The Second Draft: A Debut Novelist's Journey

When we last heard from our hapless heroine, she was tied to the railroad tracks, screaming for help as the black locomotive chug chugged toward her. Where is that damn hero on the white horse, she despairs.

Whoops, wrong story.

Or is it?

My real life scenario isn’t quite as dramatic, but there are certain similarities. Restrained sitting in front of my computer screen, I scream (silently) to my creative Muse, Inspire me! Rescue me from the agony of an unfinished manuscript!

The hero on a white horse? My imagination jumping into the saddle.

Whoever said writing a novel was easy … wait. No one said writing a novel was easy.

To recap,

  • I waited until age 60 to get serious about writing a novel.
  • I wrote 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo in November 2014.
  • I submitted a first draft to a developmental editor in March 2015.
  • Working off the editor’s notes, I revised and edited, revised and edited.
  • I submitted a second draft (75,000 words) to my editor last week.

Hallelujah! The second draft is out the door. What have I learned?

Just to be clear, this is how the process is going for me. Every writer has his or her own style so I can’t speak for everyone, obviously.

A second draft is better than a first draft, but it’s not as good as a third draft.

My manuscript still needs work. If I had done more prep, perhaps it would be further along.  I would venture a guess that most writers start out with an outline. It makes sense to have a road map and a reasonably good understanding of your plot, your characters, and all the other elements in a novel.

But I am not an outliner. Never have been. So my process evolved differently. I had a basic premise of a story in my head and just sat down and wrote.  Without an outline, that road map was about as effective as my car’s faulty GPS. There were unexpected twists and turns, roadblocks and potholes. There were also dark tunnels that led me into the light.

Also, I heard voices.

You’ve heard writers say their characters speak to them?

They do. Mine did. They told me about their likes and dislikes, the way they walked, their desires. I let them take the lead and show me the way. So what I came up with was not exactly what I thought I would.

Experts tell you to not edit and write simultaneously. For the first draft, you should let your words flow unchecked. You finish the draft and let it marinate for a while. Then you come back to it with fresh eyes, better able to critique it.

As I soldiered on through my second draft, the things I focused on the most were:

Making sure each character had a distinct, unique voice. Was the point of view clear? Did the dialogue ring true?

Showing, not telling. SO important.

Justifying why each sentence should be there and trimming the excess.

Eliminating cliches and metaphors, of which there are way too many in this blog post.

So, what comes next?

Hopefully, hopefully the mistakes in the second draft will be fixed and the next draft can focus on fine tuning. When it’s in its final form I will share it with several beta readers for feedback. Revise and edit, revise and edit.

And I’ll be a little bit closer to freeing myself from the ropes on the train tracks.

 

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

When Your Work in Progress is Not Making Progress

I got used to the incessant drone of crickets around here.

Not the ones chirping outside our bedroom window. Those I like.

No, it’s the crickets inside my head that bedeviled me. The crickets that invaded the space where my writing inspiration should be.

When Your Work in Progress Is Not Making Progress

Writing a novel has been a lifelong dream, one that has eluded me thus far. Ten months ago I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and banged out 50,000 words of my novel. It was actually a stress-free, even pleasant experience. I let my creativity flow and I sat back and watched what happened.

The outcome surprised me. My characters, with flaws and desires I hadn’t predicted, made choices I hadn’t foreseen. Major characters switched places with minor characters. My setting evolved from blurry to crystal clear, vivid and colorful, the way Oz looked when Dorothy’s house plunked down in it.

I felt like I was on the sidelines observing the action in a lively football game.

I kept at it, several hours a day. In the end, I proudly tacked the NaNoWriMo certificate of completion on my office wall. I did it! It would be smooth sailing now.

On a roll of self-confidence, I didn’t let the momentum subside. I continued to work on the draft, writing more chapters, editing, and finally in March, submitting the work in progress to a developmental editor. I wanted a professional to take an overview of what I had done so far.

Nervous to hear her say I would never be a writer get her feedback, I was relieved to get thoughtful, helpful notes of ways to improve my story.  She pointed out where the holes were, alerted me to inconsistencies in the timeline and, since I am writing historical fiction, suggested ways to give the reader a fuller context of the time period.

Charged with energy, I dove into the second draft, certain that 2015 would be my year. The year I finally finished the novel.

That’s what I thought.

Welp. It’s not happening.

Why? Well, life kind of got in the way. My son got married. My daughter got engaged. My dog got sick.

Maybe I should not have let these interruptions derail me, but I did. I was distracted. I couldn’t get back into my novel.

Chagrined, I started to feel like a failure. Would this novel never get completed? I had come so far, done so much work. Invested so much love in this project.

I sat myself down and did some soul searching. Some DIY psycho therapy. I resisted the inclination to slip into self-doubt. What could I do to get back on track if I couldn’t muster the energy to work on my draft?

I did three things.

  1. I gave myself a pep talk. Instead of my normal refrain — I can’t, I won’t, I’ll never — I told that inner voice to shut the hell up. I gave myself permission to extend my deadline. It’s my deadline, no one else’s.
  2. I continued to write, blogging at least once a week on topics of interest to me. This gave my writing muscles a regular workout.
  3. I kept reading. The hours that were not spent writing were devoted to the stack of books next to my bed. There’s nothing quite like reading brilliant writing to inspire your own.

The upshot?

I’m back. The juices are once again flowing, the wheels are turning. I’m happy to say that my work in progress is again progressing.

And I’ve kicked those crickets out of my head.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

A Checkup With a Developmental Editor

I once wrote a post comparing writing a novel to baking bread.

Now that my first draft is written, I can also compare it to giving birth after a verrrry long pregnancy.

And now, I realize that a round of editing by a developmental editor is much like a baby’s checkup at the pediatrician.

So, if you’ll bear with me through this metaphor, here is a summary of my baby’s first doctor visit:

Scrutinized by critical eyes, my baby was gently weighed and measured. A stethoscope was held to my baby’s heart. The pulse was strong. Eyes and ears were checked. Notes were written on a progress chart.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my baby was pronounced healthy and ready for the next phase of growth.

A Checkup With a Developmental Editor

Yessir, that’s my baby. My novel, that is.

My novel is a work in progress now, not merely a figment of my imagination. I kind of took a leap when I participated in NaNoWriMo last November to get the ball rolling.  I reached my goal of 50,000 words knowing that this was just the beginning.

Every writer has his or her own method, and I’m not the most organized person in the world, although I try hard to be. So in preparation for the month of intense writing, I did … nothing.

I didn’t outline. I didn’t develop my characters. I had an idea and started to write on November 1. My goal was to write about 2,000 words a day. And, to my surprise, the words came easily. I reached the 50,000 word goal line with several days to spare.

The upside to that was my story flowed in unanticipated new directions. The downside was that I got lost in a thicket of too many characters and plot lines that went nowhere and chronology that made no sense. I needed a road map. Hell, I needed a forest ranger who could lead me out of the brambles into the clearing.

I reached out to my writers’ circle and got hooked up with a very good developmental editor to whom I entrusted this wildly flailing bundle of not-yet joy.

What is a developmental editor?

A developmental editor will take an overview of your manuscript and assess the organization and big picture, and then suggest changes to make it work better. I knew I needed this help because I was too close to my work to be objective.

From the time I hit Submit til today, when I received her feedback, I tried not to think about it too much, because when I did I dissolved into a pile of insecurity. I guess I really must be a writer now, because that insecurity kicked in big time.

A Checkup With a Developmental Editor

I felt insecure about my story, about the caliber of my writing, my chutzpah in even thinking I could write a novel. I was open to criticism of the book. I just didn’t want to be criticized as a writer.

I didn’t want her to tell me to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And she didn’t.

Instead, she had examined my baby with extreme care and thoughtfulness. As I read her extensive notes, I nodded in affirmation. Yes, yes, yes. This is exactly right. With her checklist of suggestions to guide me, I feel confident heading into the next phase working on Draft #2.

My developmental editor will remain nameless, but someday her name will be front and center in the Acknowledgements section at the end of my novel. That visual makes me smile.

For now, thank you, thank you,  nameless developmental editor. And if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

How to Bake a Novel

Baking and writing have some similarities, it occurs to me as I plug away at my manuscript.

I bake, I write.

For me, both have been passions and creative outlets since as far back as I can remember. After all, I did proclaim “books is wonderful” at the tender age of four, and years later would make that the name of my blog.

And baking? To this day, each time I bake bread I am transported to my childhood and my maternal grandmother.

How to Bake a Novel

Nana lived clear across the state, so her visits to our house were infrequent and highly anticipated. After giving us big hugs at the door, she wasted no time in changing out of her travel dress to her “house dress” and, on top of that, an apron that she tied around her waist.

And then she got to work.

Her mission? To supply us with enough baked goods to last until her next visit. Clearly, there was nothing commercial that could compare to her bagels, onion rolls, coffee cakes and mandel bread. We shouldn’t have to be deprived. And did we protest? Of course not.

Her week-long bake-a-thons filled the house with continuous sweetness and and yielded enough goodies to take up most of the room in our full-size freezer.

Watching her in action was awesome, but I wanted to be part of the production line. “Let me help,” I begged, and she obligingly gave me a turn at kneading the bread dough until my arms got tired. When the dough had risen and was ready to be formed into loaves, she tore off a glob for me.

Together we would bake “gingerbread” man – ginger-less, of course – plucking off pieces of dough that I rolled out with my little rolling pin. I smoothed them out, gave them symmetry, rolled and re-rolled and pinched and prodded, poking in raisins for eyes and buttons. After the gingerbread men had baked and cooled, Nana made a thin icing out of confectioner’s sugar and water that we piped on for a final flourish.

This is pretty much what I’m doing now with the novel I started during NaNoWriMo last November.

The NaNoWriMo sages tell you that you shouldn’t worry about creating a masterpiece during the 30 days of writing. Rather, the goal is to “get it down.” That is, get 50,000 words in your manuscript. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

In the end, like a glob of bread dough, you will have something to work with.

And that is what happened. I made my bread dough.

Indeed, my 50,000 words did not have the smoothness, the elasticity of a well-kneaded hunk of dough, the perfection needed to move onto the next step. It needed a little of this, a bit of that, and then another bit of this.

As I wade through the morass now, I am smoothing out the phrases that didn’t make sense, prodding and prompting a better description of my settings and characters, garnishing a scene with a gloss that makes it shine.

It can be both frustrating and exhilarating, depending on the quality of my ingredients. So each step of the way I have to inspect. Be critical. Make changes to get it as perfect as it can possibly be.

And when I know I’ve hit on something just right– just like when my bread dough rises perfectly — it is immensely satisfying.

How to Bake a Novel

I know that Nana would understand exactly what I  mean.

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg

10 NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers

Goodbye Thanksgiving, goodbye November, goodbye NaNoWriMo.

And hello to my novel!

NaNoWriMo Tips for Writers

I did it. I wrote my 50,000 word novel last month, a hugely gratifying experience for me. To  everyone who participated — whether you reached your goal or not — congratulations on putting in the work.

This was my first time doing NaNoWriMo. My preconceived ideas turned out to be wrong. It was not stressful; it was fun. It didn’t involve late nights and lame excuses.  And it helped me realize a lifelong dream.

http://gty.im/117601520

I share these NaNoWriMo tips that you can use anytime, not just November, and hope that they might encourage any struggling novelist (as I was pre-NaNo). If you are determined to do this, you.will.do.it.

Disclaimer: these NaNoWriMo tips worked for me. Not saying they will for everyone.

NaNoWriMo Tips

  1. Accept that your first draft will be kind of awful. An awful first draft does not mean you can’t write.

And it should be kind of awful. Because your focus should be getting it all down on paper (or computer screen). You will pretty it up later. This is a different kind of writing than what I’ve been doing with my blog posts and essays. You can’t fret over each word. Get it out, get it down, and leave it be. For now.

  1. You don’t have to outline.

I may get criticism for this because I know most writers do it. I’m not a good outliner. Never have been. So I had an idea in my head of where my story was going but kept an open mind and just let it flow. That worked for me.

  1. You don’t have to write chronologically.

Like, start with the prologue, then Chapter 1, Chapter 2. I did not do that. I jumped around and wrote chunks of the story as they came to me, and then fit them together, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.

  1. I did not spend a lot of time getting to know my characters before I started to write.

Again, this is probably blasphemy. And certainly I will be spending plenty of time on character development during the editing process. I found that the more I wrote, the more the characters’ personalities emerged. I have a much better idea of who they are now.  I also added new characters as I went along.

  1. Characters really do talk to you.

I had heard this but thought, oh, come on now. But it’s true. I let them have their say and believe me, they did, along with some surprises. One of my minor characters turned out to be a major character. Several characters demanded a sex life. I had not been prepared for that, but how could I deny them?

  1. Discipline is good. But so are breaks.

I was strict with keeping a schedule. I think this is important but the actual schedule depends very much on your free time and biorhythms. Being a morning person, I started writing around 8 and stopped around noon to eat lunch and take the dog out. And often on that walk I would come up with fresh ideas, come back and do a little more work. When I needed a very short break I would sneak a peak at social media. But I didn’t stay for long.

  1. Writer’s block is not inevitable. But there is help out there if you have it.

I was lucky. I had dreaded the thought of writer’s block but it never happened. And yet, I was prepared for it. I learned about online resources to spark your creativity or give you writing prompts or even put you on a tight schedule with rewards/punishments, like Write or Die. Or if you work well with a little background noise, there is Coffivity that recreates the white noise of a coffee shop. The NaNoWriMo site has tons of help, and of course the Facebook groups of NaNo writers were my go-to for support and encouragement.

  1. An artificial deadline can work wonders.

So why had I been unable to do this my whole life and in one month I did? I didn’t really have a deadline, but completing the NaNo competition seemed to drive me.

  1. Tell your friends and family you are doing this.

I did, because I thought it would keep me accountable. I knew it would be embarrassing to  come up short, and having a cheering section definitely helped me keep going. So tell everyone that you will have done x amount of work by Jan. 1, or whatever date is reasonable.

10. You really can do this.

Trust me, you can. Because I never, ever thought I could do it, and I did. It wasn’t painful. It was exhilarating. And now I can mold this lump of clay into a real book.

Do you have writing tips that you can share?

 

If you like my blog post, please share it!
Facebook Twitter Email Stumbleupon Pinterest Linkedin Delicious Reddit Tumblr Plusone Digg