Little steps add up

Step-by-step we make headway Photo: Pete Stanton (Creative Commons Flickr)
Step-by-step we make headway. Photo: Pete Stanton (Creative Commons Flickr)
I saw my middle son off to school today. This time there were no tears because, well, he is 27. As I write this he is eating breakfast with students in his cohort and listening to orientation speeches. Heady stuff.

Nathan (center) and his team at Fred Meyer. "I love these guys."
Nathan (center) and his team at Fred Meyer. “I love these guys,” he says.
Almost two years ago I watched him start out along this newfound path. He stepped down from assistant retail manager to be a sales clerk, working 20-30 hours a week while taking post-baccalaureate classes. More student loans. Tough tests. The GRE exam. Arduous applications. Step-by-step Nathan overcame each obstacle.

I should be teaching him, but this time he taught me. Becoming a professional writer, like becoming a speech-language pathologist, takes time and work and investment. Oh yes, and guts. A change in mindset. A commitment to keep on taking those scary steps, one after the other.

So I’ve been following in Nathan’s wake. I was his consultant for graduate school applications and in turn, he became mine for the Darcy By Any Other Name cover design. He thoughtfully studied my synopsis and back copy and offered suggestions. He pored over each of the graphic designer’s mock-ups.

Over time, Nathan and his brother Michael have become my advisers. I never saw that one coming! But they like my writing and are interested in the book’s journey. Yesterday we debated at length whether the formatted print edition (at 600-odd pages) should be split into two books. Surprisingly, they said no, not this time. Nathan, an avid series reader, was quite convincing.

Who knew my sons would be so smart? They used to learn from me, and now I am learning from them. Step-by-step.

Time to Grid!

I’m editing this week. And oh boy, I’ve found solid help.

Interested in checking this out? Here is the link to all five parts of Shawn Coyne’s mini-course: The Story Grid.

I’ve learned how to use a Googledocs spreadsheet and everything. So much easier than my poor handwritten “map.” That thing became so unwieldy that I abandoned it. I continued to write, but I lost track of details.

Darcy By Any Other Name map. Notice the changes! Gah.
Darcy By Any Other Name map. Notice the changes! Gah.

So far, the macro view of my novel looks spot-on. Since Darcy By Any Other Name has only one chapter to go, I’m content to follow the mini-course.

I’ll be buying and using The Story Grid for all future projects. As a tool it’s that solid and that helpful. Here’s the link to the Kindle edition.

Many thanks to Shawn Coyne for sharing his system with indie authors. And also to my friend and fellow writer, Susan Kaye for the recommendation.

A smiling kind of day

Photo: Parsstudio (Creative Commons Flickr)
“Put another candle on my birthday cake, I’m another year old today!” (Sheriff John) Photo: Parsstudio (Creative Commons Flickr)

It’s my birthday, and my Facebook wall has exploded with kind wishes. Many were from friends I know in person, but many more were from strangers who have become friends. And I’m smiling. It’s that kind of day.

EngageI blame the Engage thing. It’s the word I selected in January to characterize 2015. And then I kind of forgot about it.

But somewhere in my brain, Engage must have found a home. Because I’ve been doing that. Connecting with people. Choosing to be an encourager. Staying at it with my novel, even in small increments. Even when I’m out of ideas.

And Engage is bearing fruit. Today I…

  • Started a Facebook group for former students who still have the itch to write (thus fulfilling a resolution I made in ICU–how’s that for membership appeal?)
  • Had my cover design order confirmed
  • Began edits suggested by my genius beta reader
  • Replied to every person who wished me Happy Birthday

A lovely day indeed. My middle son, who is headed to camp to be a counselor, took me out for breakfast. And tonight, why, I’m going out for dinner with the rest of the family. Yes! What is it about food that someone else has cooked?

My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance. ~Erma Bombeck

Borrowing Brains

The dog days of summer are no excuse. I must act and think, and each are formidable!
The dog days of summer are no excuse. I must think. Oh sigh.

So the next step in publishing my book is getting the cover underway. The graphic design firm I’ve chosen has an online application that is formidable. Not that it’s hard, but it asks me to think.

Think? Yeah, right. There’s a reason I chose that dog photo. There he is, flopped on the floor, rolling his eyes. That’s me. I’m so close to the manuscript that it’s tough to see it as a whole. (Never mind that I’ve forgotten half of what I wrote!)

Coming up with a great cover is no small feat. I’ve looked at enough of them to know. The right cover is evocative; it draws readers in and entices them. The decision to buy is an emotional one, and ‘nice’ just isn’t enough. I learned that with Mercy’s Embrace. (see right sidebar)

burden-of-a-big-dreamFortunately for me, Robin was online yesterday. She’s been my cheerleader for the two years I’ve been working on Darcy By Any Other Name. So I borrowed her brain.

Her insights blew me away. On the application I’d described Darcy as light comedy. Robin reminded me that it’s much more than a fluff piece, it’s an intriguing character study. The humor is not slapstick but sly and clever. Also she pointed out that it’s a romance. How could I forget that?

Well. If you’ve seen as many covers as I have, you’ll know that Romance is serious business. The emotional, angst-ridden or passionate cover is what’s expected in the genre, I just never associated that kind of image with Darcy. Ha, I pity the designer who is assigned to my project because the main point-of-view character is a guy, not a girl. And a beefcake cover guy, with his clothes half ripped off, won’t cut it. Mr. Collins is rather tubby, right? Aint nobody want to see that.

I’ll be sending my request tonight. Stay tuned for developments. This is getting real. And later I’ll be borrowing your brain for feedback.

 

~ Photo: Gianluca Annicchiarico (Creative Commons Flickr) ~

Doing the remarkable

remarkableOn July 31st a switch flipped or something. I felt not only well, but normal.

Normal? I’ve been trying to force that feeling for months. But like the doctors said, it needed time and rest to happen. So in August I hit the ground running.

No more scardy cat. No more waiting until my book is “perfect.” I am moving ahead. It feels good to walk with a stride in my step.

do-one-thingBecause I’m alive. Those days in ICU are behind me. I can work. And work I must, for I have one month to finish the book and get it out there.

Now I’m formatting the manuscript. Me! I am doing this, learning a new skill. And tonight I sent the file to my beta reader. Next week I’ll start working with the graphic designer. Then the file goes to my proofreader. These things are kind of epic.

It feels good to make progress. Even if I’m inadequate and unsure and scared. I can ask for help and get answers. (And lie down on the sofa when I run out of steam!)

Just like I expect my students to do, right? Speaking of which, it’s a relief to know, not just hope, that in September I will be strong enough to return to teaching.

God is gracious, and my opportunity is now. Who knows what tomorrow holds, right? Hey, I’ve also figured out how to do a screen capture, so I’m sharing the formatted title page.

Some people would call this Living The Dream. And you know what, they’d be right. There are times in life when we get to be The Little Engine That Could. Not every day, but I’m okay with that.

When I open the file, I sit and gaze at the title page. A book, my book.
Each day when I open the file, I gaze at this page. A book, my book. I can do this, I can.

Garaged and never driven?

What is lurking in this garage? Hidden treasure?
Hidden treasure could be lurking in this garage. It’s being saved for…what? For “later”?

So I’m stuck at home on the sofa, convalescing. (I know, right? Still. Oh, sigh). Tell you what, I am bone weary of television.

But there are life lessons to be gleaned, even from daytime TV. Yesterday’s episode of Chasing Classic Cars delivered a stunner. In it Wayne Carini, host of the show, purchased a 1960 Chevrolet Impala from a widow. Her husband had bought it in 1981 and parked it reverently in the garage. The car was never driven again.

I'd be driving this car!
If I owned this, you bet I’d be driving it!

For decades this beautiful car sat covered up and waiting. All original, with perfect paint and chrome and very low miles. A convertible, for crying out loud! Heck, I’d be loading up my friends and heading for the beach!

Because a car is made for driving.

Oh, this couple enjoyed their Impala. The widow explained, with misty eyes, how she and her husband would sit in the front seat and talk, sometimes for hours. Her husband was sentimental; he’d bought this particular car because they’d had one when they first were married. He cleaned it and ran the engine from time to time. But take it out for a drive? That would decrease its value.

The husband was not a stingy man, merely prudent. And now it was left for his widow to sell. (Wayne Carini later took her for her first—and last—joyous ride in it.) As I was shaking my head, a thought occurred. What have I got tucked away in my garage? Not my real garage, but my writing garage? Ouch.

What treasures do I have that are hidden away? Half-finished stories, that’s what. Some of them are not too shabby. What am I saving them for? For “later”?

Because stories are made for sharing with readers.

This week for the first time I’m feeling more “normal” than ever. I can move about the house without being worn out or wobbly. I can read without becoming tired and losing interest. I guess these things mean that it’s time to do more than lie around. In fact, this blog post represents my timid return to daily writing. And I’m celebrating. Besides, it’s not worth it to wait for “later.”

 

Photo Credit: Steel Street Garage by Beverly Goodwin (Creative Commons Flickr)

When the doctor says, “You know, you almost died.”

Photo: Marcello Semboli (Creative Commons Flickr)
Photo: Marcello Semboli (Creative Commons Flickr)

The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.
(Proverbs 16:9)

Three weeks ago to the day I stumbled into the emergency room. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to an antibiotic I’d started taking for a urinary tract infection. Little did I know that the infection had crossed into the bloodstream and had become septic.

At once I was put into a wheelchair, and before the triage nurse had finished her questions, I was in a room, being helped into a hospital gown with a team of physicians hovering around.

I was impressed. Ten o’clock on a Saturday morning was obviously the right time to come to the ER. Like Disneyland on a Wednesday—no crowds.

“Laura,” the head ER doctor said to me, “you are very sick.”

“Oh,” I said, “okay.” How else could I reply? I wasn’t in pain and I didn’t feel sick. Other than the fact that I was shaking and laboring to breathe, even with an oxygen mask.

“I don’t think you realize how sick you really are,” he added.

That’s me, Miss Shake-It-Off. The one who doesn’t get sick. The one with the high pain tolerance who just keeps going.

Nobody mentioned that my blood pressure was 40/10, and that I was going into shock. I do remember the doctor carefully explaining that I needed to be sedated, intubated, and put on a ventilator. Horrific-sounding procedures that never registered as scary. “Oh,” I said, “okay.”

After that I imagine things happened very fast, though I didn’t know it. The battle to raise my blood pressure was on. My son Nathan, who basically lived at the hospital and followed the doctors whenever they went into my room (at times up to 14 people!), tells me I was given three different blood pressure medications—everything they had—and loaded up with antibiotics. Then came the waiting game, as the doctors had done all they could. For two days I was the most critical patient in ICU.

Talk about surreal.

God is gracious, and I am a scrappy fighter. I came out of sedation Monday morning, still on the ventilator but feeling okay—in other words, not sick. On Tuesday I began breathing on my own. Only once during my hospitalization was I truly scared, when they drained a liter of fluid from my right lung (doctors get excited about the strangest things). But that’s because all I could think about was the episode of Downton Abbey where the poor farmer has fluid drained from around his heart. Yes, I have an over-active imagination and a memory that retains images.

“I only write historical fiction,” I remember telling myself. “Thank God I do not live it.”

Thank God indeed. Many people were praying for me, including some of you. I thank you sincerely.

And the news isn’t all bad. Because my white blood cell count was high, the doctors ordered an analysis. Everything looked normal under the microscope, hooray. In other words, no evidence of cancer. (I was treated for Hodgkins lymphoma 16 years ago.) And hey, I lost 17 pounds!

The doctors are encouraged and the numbers look very good. My kidneys and my liver are functioning normally, and I am well on my way to recovery. But for Miss Shake-It-Off the road to full strength has been irritatingly slow. The rule of thumb is seven days for every day in ICU (5 times 7 is 35) plus three days for every day in the regular hospital (5 times 3 is 15). So it will be a while. I am sleeping on the downstairs sofa, using a walker to access the bathroom and kitchen. I doubt I’ll be able to return to school this year for more than just visits.

As for finishing my novel—those three elusive final chapters!—I hope to start working in June.

Thank you for your prayers and love. I tell my students that life is an adventure when we walk with God, and isn’t that the truth?

U is for Unwillingness

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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In battle, you forgive a man anything except an unwillingness to take risks. Sometimes you have to put it on the line.

Tom Clancy

What Tom said.

Because doing something meaningful with your life always involves risk.
 

Photo: Charles Hoffman (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

T is for Trust

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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Creativity comes from trust.
Trust your instincts.
And never hope more than you work.

Rita Mae Brown

 Fair skies, a following sea, a flower-strewn path. How’s that for ideal?

Ah, but that path, it climbs steadily—and so must we as working writers.

Trust, Hope, and Work travel together. And Creativity provides beauty along the way.

Photo: Thomas Tolkien (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link. Visit his website

S is for Sell

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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When you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night—there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.

Christopher Morley

I am increasingly aware that time–free time, in particular–is a precious commodity. The fact that someone would spend theirs reading my novels is both humbling and motivating.

Readers deserve my very best as a storyteller–they deserve a real book.

Photo: Paul Hamilton (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.