Sunday, September 28, 2008

Of Roller Coasters and Fresh Challenges

Sometime in the last five year I got a wild idea. I decided that before I die, I would like to ride a roller coaster. Why? It’s not as if I’ve always been a daredevil kind of personality. When it comes to the serious things of life, some folks might even consider me a stick in the mud. So don’t ask me where this yen came from. When I first got the idea, which was also the first opportunity I had to do it, I’d been undergoing therapy for my neck, so such a thing would have been foolhardy.

Because roller coasters aren’t on every corner in life, I’ve gone stretches of time without thinking about it. But this weekend, my husband and I have visited at a theme park, and it occurred to me that the place undoubtedly had a rollercoaster—though it was not visible in the central venues of the park. Hmm. Did I dare? Would it be foolhardy? When I checked the map of the place, I discovered it had two, one of them looking from the map to be more monstrous than the other. I decided the better part of wisdom, given my age and lack of experience, was not to choose the most monstrous-looking one. My sweet husband didn’t stop me, bless his heart, though he wasn’t feeling up to joining me.

So I did it. Even though the Tennessee Tornado isn't one of those creations that tries to outdo all the competition, it is plenty serious . . . breath-snatchingly fast, upside down in a complete circle twice, and sharp, sharp turns that would have launched me like a Hail Mary pass if I hadn’t been securely anchored. The scariest moment was a complete surprise, which added an extra flash of terror. We came charging up over a high peak—and there before us was a solid wall! This would have been a serious place to scream, but I didn’t (then or ever). Instead of plunging into the wall, we plummeted straight down, low and under the wall—and into a dark tunnel with strobe lights.

The good thing about going at such mind-bending speeds is that almost in a flash it is over. As we walked away, I overheard someone say it lasted a minute and forty-eight seconds.

Did I enjoy it? a friend wanted to know. In the sense that I came away completely satisfied that I had done it, yes—but I don’t feel any need to do it again. (Big smiles all around)

If I can do what I did today, then I have to believe I can rewrite the beginning of my story the way it needs to be done. Truth is, the more I think about it, the more I know it is the right thing and the more excited I am to get started. During the last several days I’ve been waiting on the Lord to show me how to go about starting with that scene my writing friends thought would make a good opening.

With God’s help, I think I’ve figured it out. Now to try and do it. Can’t be any harder than riding a roller coaster for the first time at my age.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Of Invitations and Awards

I can’t believe I’ve been home from conference almost a week now. It’s fun to relive some of the special moments, including the two when I was invited—when I have the thing revised and “ready”—to “send” to them a proposal and sample chapters. Invitations to send are highly treasured. It doesn’t promise something will come of them, but it is an important step. I had three invitations to send from the conference I attended in May last year, and I “sent,” but none of them materialized into anything further. Nevertheless, they were good experience.

Now let’s see if I can put in a picture and get it in a good place. It was nice to see author Deb Raney again. I studied under her at Blue Ridge last year, and she sort of remembered me. She told me that she and Tamera Alexander (more on her in another blog) both had to cut the original beginnings of their early efforts. BUT--the last night of the conference, three of Deb’s recent books won the prestigious Book of the Year award. I’m hoping some of that rubs off on me .

Meanwhile, my mental wheels have been turning about my story, and I’ve been journaling. I think when I get back from this weekend trip, I will be ready to tackle at it. And my local writing group has decided to make October one of our periodic “marathon” writing months. Isn’t that timing perfect? (Of course we still have to keep up with the other parts of our lives.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


This was an experiment with how to add pictures, but apparently I can't delete it now. Oh, well. At least I know how to do it for the future--without experimenting. I want to add pictures of some of the authors I'll be talking about when I share some of the things I learned at conference.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Look Back and Looking Ahead

We got home from the conference late yesterday. My husband tells me we traveled 1800 miles. Joan and Krista and I not only did well together but we had had some really good times. All three of us missed our husbands, and Krista missed her three little girls, but we all profited from the conference and were glad we went.

Sunday night on our return trip we stayed with my daughter Laurie and family outside Chicago. The evening had some excitement when their sweet Desi dog tangled with a skunk in the backyard while son-in-law Rick was setting up the patio with their comfortable chairs around the fire pit. As we three sat there with our laptops, we got to laughing, so much so that Laurie said, “I think you ladies had entirely too much fun on this trip!” We didn’t argue with her.

On the rest of our way home Monday, we did that long trek the length of the state of Illinois. After lunch Joan was driving. She has some fascinating family history about an ancestral family where some of them were massacred and some captured during the French and Indian War. Joan’s next a novel, about a third already written, is built on that true story. We were having a great time talking about it when suddenly Krista realized we had missed our turnoff onto I-24 that would take us across Kentucky toward Nashville. Fortunately, she caught it when we had only gone eleven miles beyond, and we were able to cut across another road to catch the right one without backtracking.

As for looking ahead, a few minutes ago I printed out the “storybook” blocks of text that I will use to decide what to do with the eighty pages/forty scenes that will be affected when I start the story at a new and more active point.

It was interesting to talk to some other authors about this at the conference. Gail Martin, who has now sold 2.5 million books, told me that on the first book she published she had to cut the first 102 pages. Deb Raney, who had three books in three categories win “Book of the Year” at the conference, said she and Tamera Alexander have both had to cut multiple pages from where they originally started some of their books. It’s apparently common for less experienced authors to start their stories too early before the real action begins.

What I will do is cut out the blocks of text that I printed (in very large type so they are easy to work with) and use them to sort those parts of the story. Examples: What happened in this scene will be gone completely. Or, I need the essence of what happened in this one, but I’ll have to work it in another way. Or, this scene may need to be a full-fledged flashback (though I will have to be sparing with those). The biggest challenge will be how to subtly work into the new beginning what has happened before that point. I’m sure you’ll hear more about that as I go along.

In closing for tonight, I can’t believe how many typos were in the blog I posted from the hotel. Sorry about that. I fixed some of them on the trip home, but I discovered yet another one today. They were all the kind of thing spell checkers don’t catch because the wrong words were nevertheless real words. I guess it happens to all of us.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Big Day at Conference

It has been long day.

It started early for me, sometime between three o’clock and four o’clock. I spent the next two hours in bed practicing my “pitch” in my head and praying about the day ahead. In addition to the big “continuing ed” class in the morning and three workshops in the afternoon, I had my paid critique with Tamera Alexander, an appointment each with an editor (representative of a major publishing house) and an agent, as well as two introductions to give for ladies teaching two of the classes I was taking.

Krista (one of my travel companions from Nashville and a first-time conference attendee) was also nervous about the day, so I was happy when the Lord reminded me of—and I shared with her--that wonderful promise that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Oh? So when we feel inadequate, we have all the more opportunity to experience God’s help in special ways. Today was a perfect opportunity for that truth.

Fortunately last evening we were able to get Internet connectability (I know, that’s not a word, but it works for this; maybe ten years from now it will have become a word). I say fortunately because I needed to get from the website the info I needed for the two introductions—how many awards they won, the fact that one of them has sold 2.5 million books, and the services they both offer to writers through their websites.

As it turned out, when I got on the net in the morning, I found two items of major interest on my work e-mail, so I was grateful afresh that we had been able to arrange of Internet access here in our hotel room.

So how did the day go, you ask?

I’m happy to report that I would say 90% of it sent super-abundantly well. God definitely came through, and He gets all the praise. The editor invited me to send a proposal and sample chapters of my book when I have them ready. And the Lord set me up perfectly with the impromptu opportunity I was hoping for to speak one-on-one with Angela Hunt about how much her class helped me get on the right track when I took it in 2005. Angela is the keynote speaker for our conference.

Sometime soon when it is not so late, I’ll give you an update on the matter of restructuring the opening chapters of my story. For now I’ll just say that today brought clear confirmation from the Lord that I have to do that—and I am happy about it. My original opening and all the ways I’ve tried to improve on it over the last four years have continued to leave me concerned.

Now I know why. Though I haven’t figure out the “how” of that restructering yet, I'm actually getting excited about it. I have confidence that God is going to guide me through it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Thirty-six Hours from Now . . .

That’s about how many hours are left until I and my two traveling companions set out for Minneapolis and the writers’ conference. Someone warned us about last minute tensions and panic, and I thought at the time that I was doing pretty well. But the panic started setting in today. You know those last-minute jitters you get when you start wondering if you’ve remembered everything?

For a writers’ conference that is multiplied because I have all those strange things to think about such as whether my pitch is good enough, and whether I’ve printed everything I need off the Internet, and whether I will remember everything I need to get copied to the flash drive before I leave. Hmmmm.

Then there is the matter that came up Saturday about whether I need to consider restructuring the beginning of my story. I committed it to the Lord and told Him I was sure He would give me the right answer in His own time. I didn’t have to wait long to know what I need to do and to have peace about it.

No, I’m not tearing into the story and starting to chop it up. That would be foolhardy. Instead, I’m going back to exactly what I was doing before Saturday. I’m continuing where I left off in polishing and applying what I’ve been learning. That’s my first priority. Deciding what to do about rearranging anything is not something to be rushed into.

Part of what comes with the conference is one appointment with any editor of your choice and one with an agent. You submit four choices for each, and when you get there, you find out with whom you’ve been scheduled on both counts (possibly your first choices, possibly not). That’s another area you commit to the Lord for His perfect will and direction. There are additional chances to meet and talk to editors and agents at meals and informal encounters.

So there is a lot of anticipation stirred together with a lot of unknowns. We’re told our best preparation is being well “prayed up,” and I’ve been working on that. I’ll be grateful for the prayers that anyone else wants to add to mine. It’s hard to believe that next week at this time I should be freshly arrived at home. I’m confident I’ll be loaded with some rather amazing memories.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What? Make It the Beginning?

We had an interesting time at our monthly writers’ meeting this morning. The agenda for the meeting was to offer each other critiques on two pages that anyone wanted to submitted. Five of us were brave enough to do it, though two of them ended up sick and couldn’t come. (If you want to be a writer, you have to learn to accept input and even criticism from others, so this was a good practice opportunity.) Of the nine of us present, at least three were published authors.

The two pages I chose were a scene with an emotional conflict between two main characters (twenty-year-old girls). Near the end of the scene, one of the girls hauls off and slaps the other one because of something she said. The scene ends with the slapped girl saying caustically, “All I’ve got to say is, you’d better not cause my brother any more grief!”

Since I hadn’t offered any background with the two pages, those reading it didn’t know what had gone before or that the scene comes about eighty pages into the book. Imagine my surprise when the group liked the scene so well that they thought it should be the beginning of the book! We discussed it around for several minutes, and I said I’d think about it.

And I have. It is just possible that, after all this time and all the work I’ve put into the first quarter of my story, I am going to need to restructure at least that much of it.

As you can imagine, you will be hearing a lot more about this.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not a Hoax, Just a Long-ago Mistake

Nowadays all of us on computers are forever getting e-mails with great or dramatic news that turns out to be a hoax. Well, it turns out our Mayflower connection was not correct after all, but it was not a hoax. It was simply a mistake made a century ago which had been corrected in some records but not all, and not the one I was looking at that day. I have to admit it was fun while it lasted, but no real damage is done. I hadn’t even gotten used to the idea. Also this week I’ve learned that, while my ancestor William Compton had his jaw shot off and died fighting in the Revolution, the second Consider Tiffany, in a completely different ancestral line, was a Tory and on the side of the mother country, England.

Much more important at the moment are the preparations for conference. The two ladies and I who are traveling together have burned up the wire with a few e-mails about the trip--like route, whose care we will take (looks like it will be ours), how we will share costs of gas, what we like to do in the car, where we like to eat, do we get car sick? We all plan to attend our monthly meeting this Saturday, so we’ll be able to finalize things in person then.

I’ve made decisions about the outfits I’m going to take, keeping in mind that it should be cooler in Minneapolis than what we’re having in Nashville now. Probably time to put away the sandals and white shoes. I need to get my hair cut this week. Tomorrow I pick up my business cards from Staples.

I still haven’t decided whether I’m taking the laptop with me, but I’m guessing I will. I still need to print out the file I’ve collected with names and brief sketches of those of us who are first-timers (we’ve been getting some great online advance orientation). I also need to print out my proposal and synopsis again, as well as the bios and pictures of the agents and editors who will be at the conference. I’ve been studying them, trying to get a head start on recognizing them.

I think it is all coming together.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Freight Train Bearing Down

The American Christian Fiction Writers’ annual conference was a long way off when I first wrote about it back in May (“Minneapolis Writers’ Conference” and “Learning Craft at a Conference”). Those blogs are in the Archives down the right side of this site; click on the little triangle beside May.

Now the conference is bearing down on us like the proverbial freight train. An endless number of messages have gone back and forth, forums have been buzzing, and advice—good advice—has been available on every side. Everyone is talking about one sheets, pitches, and appointment etiquette, not to mention clothes, business cards, and a lot more.

To get to the conference, I’ll be traveling with two ladies from my local writer’s group and sharing a hotel room with them. Two weeks from now, on Wednesday the 17th, we’ll be on the road all day, getting as close to Minneapolis as we can, then finishing up the next day.

The conference starts on Thursday afternoon with a special session for first timers, otherwise known as newbies. Then we’ll have the first of three keynote addresses by Angela Hunt. There will be panels to introduce the agents and editors who have come to the conference. Part of the evening program is worship and devotions, and at the end of the evening, the first round of late-night chats. The next morning we’ll begin with the classes, and in the afternoon the workshops.

Volunteers do a lot to make the conference run smoothly. Some time ago, a call went out for volunteers to introduce the presenters at each class and workshop, and I jumped in. I got my assignments this week, and I am delighted. I’m going to get to introduce an author who helped me a huge amount with one aspect of my writing—Susan May Warren. I haven’t met her in person yet, but her first book in the Noble Legacy series, Reclaiming Nick, helped me see the way to do “back story,” compared to all the advice I had previously heard on how not to do it. I hope one of these days to tell you more about it. Of course I’m going take along Nick and the one about his brother, Rafe, and get them signed . (Lord, will I ever get to sign books for folks?)

I’ve also been assigned to introduce Gail Gaymer Martin, the teacher for the Level 2 Continuing Education class I’ll be taking. In ten years of writing, Gail has signed forty fiction contracts and has more than two and a half million books in print. I’m looking forward to learning a lot from her.