Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Write in the Middle of a Crazy, Wild, and Wonderful Week

I have had a crazy, wild, and wonderful week! It all started as I finished writing my second novel. I’m calling it Shirley’s Cuppa Joe for now. Of course publishers have the final say in titles so who knows what its name will be in the end. I am being very optimistic. I haven’t even pitched it to a publishing house yet. But I like it. For now that is enough.

I hope to go to a writing conference in Wheaton, Illinois next week. We’ll see. As I said, I have had a crazy, wild, and wonderful week.  I had just finished the first complete draft my book. Our daughter in Wisconsin called to tell us she was ready to have her baby. We arrived in plenty of time to welcome our sixth grandchild into the world on Tuesday. They named her Rebekah. I am so honored.

Then on the following Monday, our youngest daughter who lives in Ohio gave birth to our seventh grandchild. They named her Jolene. Our family is exploding numerically and I am feeling this constant tugging to abandon everything else and care for my daughters. And hold my granddaughters.

But that’s okay. I should have time. I subscribe to the “put the book in a drawer for a week or two” method of revision. At least that’s what I call it. I have put the book aside. Out of view. I envision putting it in a dresser drawer for a week. It is still too fresh in my mind. If I try to edit or revise it now, I won’t catch everything.

In this case I didn’t put the manuscript in a drawer. I gave a hard copy to my mother. She is a reader. She loves books. More importantly, she will be honest with me if something doesn’t make sense.

Even with this method, the novel has been so much a part of my life for the last several months, I find myself thinking about it. A lot.

For example, while staying with my daughter in Wisconsin, we were talking about Door County. Although I have not experienced a power outage there, I know they happen. I have a place in my book where Sonja’s electric goes off in the winter causing her pipes to freeze. Now I know why. It was a power outage. It’s a small detail but one I want to include. So I jotted a note about it for later.

When Sonja’s father had a heart attack, he was admitted to a hospital in Kenosha. I realized on this trip that I should add a line regarding its location. Another note in my little notebook. I know I will be making those small changes as well as fixing technical issues such as spelling and so forth. I also know I will have hard work ahead of me to change the manuscript to make the story flow smoothly, clarify events, offer character clues where needed and so forth.

Writing is fun. Editing is necessary. Revision is where the real work begins.

Even though I am not working on my novel for these next couple of weeks I am still writing. I accepted a small freelance job, I have my blog, I am preparing two query letters for articles I want to write this fall, and I am starting work on a new project. I have been challenged by a colleague to write a Christian Romance novella. 

Talk about crazy and wild! So how about you? Where is your writing taking you?  Leave a comment. Let me know.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Writing and the Common Core Curriculum

I have been in the field of education for a long time. Before I decided to turn my pen to writing novels, I wrote professional education pieces and more lesson plans than I can count. I’ve been around long enough to see the recursive nature of curriculum development. I left my position at Cincinnati Christian University just as the National Common Core Standards were beginning to become part of the everyday language of teachers and teacher education departments. And, “no,” to the teachers out there who are wondering if I left because of the common core. As I said, I have been in the field long enough to see curriculum swing, spiral, and spin. Change seems to be the only constant in education.

So what does this have to do with writing a novel? Out of curiosity, I began searching the internet for ways teachers are teaching writing and/or literacy using the common core standards. I found numerous references to tools such as story maps and timelines, topic summaries as well as summarizing a story in a sentence or two, and charts to help students develop characters. I also saw suggestions for teachers to have children draw pictures of the story first or at least a picture that gives an overview of the story as a whole. And revision? There are numerous suggestions out there for both revising and editing.

These are tools I have used in my writing and even referenced in this blog on many occasions.

Story maps and timelines? Check out “Making the Calendar Work for You” (posted January 8, 2013) Use old calendar pages to help students map their stories sequentially.

Summaries? See “The Single Sentence Story” (posted January 1, 2013) Boil the story down to a single sentence. And lately I’ve been reading movie descriptors or television program entries. The writer for these clips packs the entire movie in one sentence. Powerful!

Charts to develop characters? Read “She’s a Real Character” (posted January 4, 2013) Integrate technology in your writing classroom by having your students create spreadsheets for their characters. I use my spreadsheet all the time as I write.

Draw pictures of the overview of the story? Been there, done that. See “Write the End of the Story First? You Have Got to be Kidding” (posted April 24, 2013)

Revision? Take a look at “Writing and Trash” (posted March 12, 2013) Note: I differentiate between revising and editing. Revising has to do with structural changes or changes with ideas and concepts. Editing is fixing the mechanics. Editing is something I do as a go along, but mostly when I reread my entire manuscript.

Those are just a few examples. Hmmm. I am writing along with the common core? Or could it possibly be that the Common Core is based on good writing practices? I think if I were teaching in a middle childhood classroom or in a high school setting, I might try to have my students write a book one semester. Start with a single sentence, create a timeline, draw a picture of the story they hope to tell, develop a spreadsheet for the characters, and write, revise, then write some more.

I am no longer in the classroom. I am a writer. I have just finished my second novel. Well, I have the story line complete. It is a little over 67,000 words. I held 80,000 as a goal, but the story came to its natural conclusion at 67,000. Now the real fun begins, and with it the focus of my blog. I will need to change the focus  to the art of revising…and editing…and rewriting…and…well, you get the idea.

On another note, I am having a crazy but  fun week. Can't wait to tell you all about it next week!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Heart for Writing

If you have read my blog you know that the main character in my new book is a young woman who owns a coffee shop in Door County, Wisconsin. She is an only child and very close to her parents. It grieves me to tell you her dad had a heart attack. He’s okay. Or will be. But he is going to have to change his lifestyle. When Sonja read through the documents concerning his nutrition she had some misgivings. Well, here, read it for yourself:

The next morning Annette and Sonja poured over the pamphlets a nurse in the cardio unit had given them regarding Daniel’s future care.

“No sodium, no cholesterol, no fat? How about no taste?” Sonja laughed. “I’m thinking Daddy will never be able to eat anything I cook again.”

“I’m going to have to learn how to cook all over,” Annette mused. “And no more pizza nights. He’s not going to like this.”

I know how Annette and Sonja feel. My own husband had a heart attack. Like the characters in my book, I had to learn how to “cook all over” again. Writers draw from their own experiences. They weave those experiences into their books. Doing so helps readers identify and empathize with the characters.

I just finished reading Lynn Austin’s book, All Things New. It is the story of a family in the post Civil War South. I really enjoyed the book and when a former slave and the main character, Jo, work together in the garden, I don’t have to have lived in the South or in Civil War times to identify with the experience. I have worked my own vegetable garden. I can feel the dirt under my fingernails. I can breathe the satisfaction of having planted and grown my own vegetables. When Austin includes the experience in the pages of her book, it helps me identify with Jo. I understand her better so I empathize with her when she meets with challenges in the book.

As I said, I understand how Annette and Sonja feel. Now I need to look at some of Sonja’s recipes and see if I can help her modify them so her dad can still enjoy his food at Shirley’s Cuppa Joe. The first one that comes to mind is the Breakfast Pizza Sonja recently put on the menu. Here is the modified, heart healthy version Sonja is going to rename Daniel’s Breakfast Pizza:

2 rolls reduced fat crescent rolls
3 pints Eggbeaters (egg whites work well, too)
1 package Morningstar Sausage Veggie Crumbles
2 C. shredded potatoes
1 C. reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese
1 C. shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt substitute
Other veggies such as chopped bell peppers or onions may be added, but are optional.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using a large cookie sheet, roll out crescent rolls to cover the bottom
 Lightly sauté the veggie crumbles (if you are adding onion and bell pepper you will want to cook them at this time with the “meat”) Use a small amount of water. You do not need oil to prepare the crumbles.
 Spread the sausage crumbles over the crescent roll crust
 Spread the shredded potatoes over the crumbles
 Cover with the Eggbeaters. If you use egg whites, you will need to add about ½ C. milk to the mixture.
  Spread the mozzarella cheese over the entire breakfast pizza
   Bake for 35 minutes at 350 or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  Spread the shredded cheddar on top and return to warm oven for 10 minutes. (I don’t like to put the reduced fat cheddar on too early because it doesn’t melt the same as the regular cheddar)
  Add salt and pepper to taste (light on the salt, if you use the real thing)
  Cut and serve (great reheated, too)

This is one of my family’s favorites. Of course I had to revise it to meet my husband’s new dietary needs, but we all still like it. I think Sonja and her mother will be fine. And in the long run, I think they will all benefit from eating healthier.

And my word count this week? 66,310 words. What? Didn't I have over 69.000 words las week? Yep. To get back into my writing after two weeks of a working vacation (read "help hubby install laminate floors"), I printed the text I had written and began a careful rereading of what I had written. I pruned away at superfluous text and wound up with 66,000 words. I can live with that. Remember, it is not the word count that is important. It's the story. Oh, I can write so much better when I am feeling settled! So if you have joined me on this journey and you are writing your own novel, let me know how it is progressing. What life experiences are you including?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Word Count Wednesday:"I am a writer"

I worked in the field of education for over 34 years. After a stint as a preschool teacher, I taught in an elementary school for nineteen years. After I had completed my doctoral work at the University of Cincinnati, I served as a professor of teacher education at Cincinnati Christian University. I worked at the college for fourteen years and one semester. I was a teacher first and then a teacher of teachers.

Now I am a writer. It struck me this past week when I was talking with a new neighbor. He said, “So do you work?” Without reservation I simply said, “I am a writer.” I told him I write some freelance and have a contract for my first novel. He and his wife were interested. They asked me questions about my book, Breathing on Her Own, and promised to buy a copy when it comes out next year. I told them about my newest project and about the story coming out in Chicken Soup for the Soul 20thAnniversary Edition: Readers Choice this June.

What is remarkable about this transaction? Probably nothing. Maybe everything. You see, I know a lot of people who dream of writing or talk about writing. Like me, they have probably written a lot in the past. I wrote articles for teaching journals. I wrote newsletter entries for the school newspaper. I wrote stories for my students and teen novellas for my own children. I wrote poems on napkins and clever captions for my photo album. I did a lot of writing. I dreamed of being a writer. I talked about writing. But if anyone asked me about my work, I would say, without reservation, “I am a teacher.”

So what made the difference? It couldn’t be the publishing thing. I had been published in “Language Arts” as well as “The Ohio Reading Teacher.” It obviously doesn’t have anything to do with the number of stories written. I had written at least five children’s books (which I may even try to publish sometime in the future), two teen romance novellas (which I will never attempt to publish because they are so bad), numerous short stories and poems for friends and family. And I wrote more lesson plans than I could ever count.

What made the difference is this. I made a decision to be a writer. I write. Now I call myself a writer. There is something about living up to your own expectations. When I taught children, I would emphasize their strengths. They would live up to those expectations.

For example, a few years ago I ran into a young man I had taught in a kindergarten class many years ago. He recognized me and introduced himself. He was in the Air Force and studying to be a doctor. He turned to my daughters and told them how I had praised him in kindergarten for being a good citizen when he stopped in the doorway of our classroom as soon as the Star-Spangled Banner started playing over the intercom. Now he was in the Air Force.

Writing makes me a writer. Identifying myself as one makes me happy.

Now I am working on my second novel. Even with taking time to travel these past two weeks and working with my husband to install a new floor in our South Carolina vacation home, I have managed to write. Perhaps not as much as when I am at home, but that is part of the joy of my new profession. My time is my own. You see, I am a writer.

Now down to the nitty-gritty. My word count for my newest venture? 69,040 words. My goal is to finish the first draft by the end of May. And by the way, you may want to check out Grace On Parade, Karen Wingate’s website. I served as her guest blogger. A story about my grandmother will be featured on Karen’s blog on May 10, 2013. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Art of Persevering

I asked Karen Wingate, a fellow writer and friend to be a guest on my blog today. At first, Karen said, "What could I write about? Persevering?" That is exactly what I asked her to do. I think you will find her insights inspirational. Be sure to check out Karen's blog "Grace on Parade." I will return next week...and hopefully, you will have me back! 

The Art of Persevering 

by Karen Wingate

I'm an award winning author. Yes, sirree! Two years ago, at a writer's conference, I won the "Turtle Award" for the person who has waited the longest to have a book published.

The fact is, I'm still waiting. 

I had the seed of an idea for a unique approach to Christian education curriculum thirteen years ago. One company was interested but wanted it morphed into their structure.  No problem.  I changed my idea and wrote three books. I got paid and was told my books would be published the next year, then the next, then the next.  Two years ago, I was asked to correct the galleys with the assurance they would be published soon.  Six months ago, I was told they were in the spring, 2013 catalogue.

I'm still waiting.

I started writing my novel in 2007. Six years later, I've had multiple rejections.  I'm getting closer.  At least, I now have an agent.

I've read stories, and I imagine you have too, that tell of other authors who have faced years and multiple letters of rejection.  Madeleine L'Engle got 26 rejections for A Wrinkle in Time.  John Grisham was rejected by a dozen companies and sixteen agents for A Time To Kill. One publisher said of The Diary of Anne Frank, "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level."

I have a love/hate relationship with those kind of stories.  They are reassuring to a point, that even the big name authors suffer multiple rejections. On the other hand, there's always that twinge of hope that I'll be different, that publishing companies won't take as long to discover my raw talent.

But, as I've waited and worked and waited some more, I've discovered something. An author doesn't just keep sending out the same manuscript over and over again.  Most authors don't write that perfect, awesome novel the first time then patiently wait for one company to screw their head on straight and see what the common reader will love about that potentially bestselling novel. I can imagine those famous authors tweaked each submission to make it a little better.  Each new contact was made with a little more confidence and professionalism.  Each rejection served as a reminder to keep growing, keep writing, keep shaping and sculpting the craft of writing.

Wise authors continue to hone their craft.  They evaluate why they got rejected and make the next submission better. They read books on writing.  They read other authors.  They keep networking.  They hire free lance editors to comb through their brain child for missing commas and extra quotation marks.  They listen to advice from others, yet have the courage to sort through the advice and find their own voice.  They keep working to make their writing stellar and their proposal appealing. They have the humility to admit they still need practice and precision at their craft.  And while they wait, they move to other writing challenges, so they keep their skills sharp. They keep going so they can keep growing.

And they pray. They serve God's people and listen to God's call on their lives.  They enjoy the journey as they hope for the fulfillment of their dreams. They grow in their trust of God, refusing to give up on the gift He has given them because God refuses to give up on us.

In the end, the turtle wins the race.
Any new skill takes time and practice to perfect, whether it's music, language acquisition, carpentry or cooking.  To become good at what we do, we have to practice, experiment, practice some more, work at it every day, try new methods and alternatives, and practice some more.  Writing is no different.  You may feel like a turtle, but in the end, the turtle wins the race.

That's perseverance.

Karen Wingate has written over 250 magazine articles and devotions, and many units of Christian education curriculum.  While waiting to hear from yet another publishing company about her first novel, a historical fiction set during the Great Depression, she is trying to apply the grammatical rules for commas as she edits her second novel.  Read stories of God's grace passed forward on Karen's website,

Here is a "Praise God" footnote for you! Last night I received this email from Karen:

Hi Rebecca. 
You’ll be amazed at what happened today. That guest blog I sent you starts out with a story of    how I wrote some curriculum years ago and it never got published. Well, today I walked into a Christian bookstore and there are my three books! The company never told me they were coming out this year and I never got author copies! No matter, they’re published. I bought a copy of each of them!
WhooHoo! Finally! The turtle won after all. Smile
Just thought you would like to know.
Karen Wingate