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An Interview of a Different Kind

interviewYesterday I was interviewed by the area public radio station. We talked about my novels, but the interviewer also focused on how the books were conceived and how I achieve the details that were including in the writing. His questions challenged me because I’ve ever discussed such things before–especially on the fly. Most of all, I wanted to sound like I had something on the ball as a writer.

If I had given the interviewer a truthful answer, I would have told him I truly don’t know how writing these books first started. Apple Pie and Strudel Girls came on the heels of having a disappointing experience with another woman who wanted her strange story of meeting a witch made into a novel. Originally, we decided to co-author the book, but in the end, she put her name on the book cover. As I didn’t earn any money for my writing and most of all fleshing out a story that was a page-turner, I felt I had been duped. The good news of the experience is I showed myself I could write over 50,000 words. Up until this point, my longest piece was a three thousand word special report I did for a business magazine.

After that disappointing experience, I decided to embark on my own, and to my surprise, I wrote a pretty good story about girls who grew up during the war years. What I didn’t realize was I needed an editor and excellent proofreader. I wish I would have considered that piece out of the gate because now I see mistakes that were missed, and frankly, I’m a little ashamed the book was published with these boo-boos.

But, back to the interview. Just how did I conceive the story and why did I choose this time period? After pondering for a few seconds, I realized it was my curiosity and love of history that drove me to want to know more about a time period when young people didn’t believe they would have a future. When bombs fell on houses in England and when one man literally enslaved every country in Europe, I wondered how people survived such horror.

With that said, I also learned I had to concentrate on the day-to-day lives these characters were living as the world events shaped their lives in a way they never conceived. This part was easier because the characters began talking to me as I developed the story. They interrupted my sleep, shopped, vacuumed, and yes, I did admit this to the interviewer. I wonder now if he thought I was schizophrenic–but this was a true fact. These pesky characters whispered in my ear until I wrote down what they told me.

The interviewer also thought it was interesting I kept an Excel Spreadsheet to keep track of the timeline. Using this tool saved me from repeating the same research in subsequent novels.

Character sketches were also helpful. Then there was the research of reading journals and personal accounts of real people who expressed how they felt when bombs were falling on their neighborhoods while they huddled in bomb shelters. I read accounts of men in battle, and got a taste of the fear they endured as they did things they never dreamed they would have to do. There is no glory in war, just dirt, grime, death and suffering. I also read letters written by women who were waiting for their men to come home. These real-life accounts helped me to immerse myself into the time period, as well as the lives of people who survived the horrific 1940’s.

The experience of speaking with an interviewer on the fly kept this author on her toes, but I would welcome the opportunity again and again. It was fun to think on my feet and project myself as a credible writer. The show will air on Thursday at 8:00 a.m. on 91.1 FM – WGTC. In the meantime, I’ll just write.

Writing Restraints

wrist supports wrist supports2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been two weeks since the doctor put me in hand and wrist supports. She wants me in these restrictions 24/7, which I’m finding tough. Things have improved, though. On Sunday, I was able to get through the whole day without taking any pain medication. The tingling in my fingers has ceased most of the time, so it’s safe to say that with the supports my nerves are getting a much needed rest. Unfortunately, so has my writing.

As you might imagine, typing in these things is challenging and frustrating because I must go slower and I experience mucho typos as I go along. So all you proofreaders out there, take the next month off. I don’t need any more aggravation.

My blogging has taken a hit, and so has my novel, but yesterday I eecked out a couple more chapters to the first draft of my eighth novel. For anyone who’s been following me for a time knows it’s my quest to write and publish enough books to fill up my bookshelf in my living room. When I see an interview with Paterson or Nora Roberts, who both could fill a library with their stories, I know I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to compete. But should I?

It’s taken a forced retirement to get to the point where I have the time and inclination to dedicate myself to to write fun stuff. I have a twenty-year career of writing for profit, as a freelancer, a copywriter, a communication specialist, a marketer for small business, and a website developer.  I’ve written just about everything, from technical copy to sales materials to website copy. I don’t claim to be great at all genres, but I have enjoyed the writing ride.

After writing novels for the past three and a half years, I can’t say this kind of storytelling is more fun; it’s just different. My imagination, along with the research I do, does a dance with my own life experiences or people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Then I let the characters tell their stories.

What remains the same is the writing process–A draft, a second draft, a third and possibly a fourth draft, then a pass to the editor, a rewrite or two and then off to the proofreader.

I have a tough boss. Me. If I don’t like the product, I can’t sell it. If I don’t understand a product, I can’t sell it. The only thing that has really changed is the deadline because I’m the one who sets it.

So, if you ever pick up one of my books, my promise to my readers is this: I promise to do my best to weave a good story that will keep the pages turning, so you will feel your money was well spent.

And the wrist supports–well, they may be with me for a time, but I will adapt and the writing will continue. I’ll leave the typos to the editor and proofreader.

What’s This? Working on a Sunday?

workI usually don’t blog on Sunday morning because I think I need the day off. That’s rather curious because other than a part-time teaching gig and being a caretaker for my husband, I don’t work.

WORK — It’s a crazy word. What does it really mean?

In our society, most people think REAL WORKING involves leaving home, driving several miles to another place, spending at least eight hours there, while most of the time we’re wishing we were somewhere else. We complain about how stupid bosses are and that we don’t make enough money for the effort we exert. Worse yet, if we don’t involve ourselves in this kind of activity, society pretty much sees us as retired or slackers.

Debating with myself over this issue I turned to the dictionary to describe to me what work really is. Here’s what the old Oxford Dictionary had to say:

WorkNoun 1. activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result; 2. mental or physical activity as a means of earning income; employment; 3. a task or tasks to be undertaken; something a person or thing has to do.

Of course, this is just a snippet of the full definition. Most writers I know don’t go anywhere to participate in their profession. Lucky writers may have a studio in their homes or they may take themselves out the local coffee shop for inspiration.  Personally, I sit in an over-sized chair in my living room with my dog sleeping and snoring beside me as I pound out pages of prose.

My blue-collar family still makes me feel like I’m not working, and the dictionary definition confirms they are right. Definition number one comes close to what I do, but when I write, I don’t always have a purpose. Number two is certainly not my experience. I’ve written seven novels and haven’t earned a penny even though they all have been published by a “traditional” publisher. And, finally, number three isn’t accurate because I chose to write; no one is putting a gun to my head, (although sometimes when I’m blocked, that terror might help.)

So, I guess it’s true. I’m not working. I’m creating. I’m having fun thinking. I’m spinning stories many people have told me they have truly enjoyed. What is it that some anonymous soothsayer said:  Find something you love and you’ll  never work again. Yeah. That’s the path I’ve chosen. Royalties or no royalties.

Incredible Stories

historyMy first love — after my husband and my pug dog Ernie — is writing. My second love is history. The best combination is writing about history.

I think I love history because I imagine what I would have done in a  particular situation. Of course, none of us really knows how we act. Will we be the hero or would we run away as a coward? Would we have been strong enough to stand up for our ideals with the threat of death or would we would hide our true feelings and go with the flow? When it boils down, no one truly knows. You have to be immersed in the facts and action of the time and space.

So much of true history is lost because people who write down the history we learn are usually the victors.

I’m not interested in the lives of the heroes that are celebrated.  I want to unearth the unsung heroes who are lost in time. That’s why most of my research is about ordinary women who have always risen to the occasion when their men go off to war. Because woman have been considered “the fairer sex” or even worse as “property,” their stories often get lost.

I would bet most of you didn’t know British women were drafted to work in the factories during WWII. I would also bet you didn’t know how Russian women pilots defended their country in combat in the battle of Stalingrad. Have you ever hear of the WASPs? How many nurses have you come across who landed with the troops in North America dressed as GIs with no weapon except a red cross on the sleeve of their uniform? Yet all of these situations actually happened.

All of these stories are out there, but you have to need a pick and shovel to find them. My novels, pay tribute to these women through fictional characters. I want to pass on these extraordinary stories because they are too amazing to ignore.

Stephania Hits the Presses

Stephania Comes to America0001Yesterday I signed off on the final manuscript of  my most recent novel — “Stephania Comes to America.” When I do my final review, I pray I’ve caught all of the typos and missing words that my brain didn’t catch the first time around. Much to my chagrin, after the book is finally in my hands, I haven’t caught all of the mistakes. It’s my most frustrating part of my writing.

It turns out I’m fighting my common brain. Yeah. That’s right. My brain fills in the missing words, and it doesn’t allow my eyeballs to see all the typos. I understand this because of a  program on the Science Channel called, “My Bleeped Up Brain,” This program demonstrated why this happens. It seems our brains can’t process EVERYTHING it takes in, it edits for us. In the case of editing, our brains automatically fills in words where they haven’t been written. How do we fight that?

I thought the answer was to have my eagle-eye buddy Linda proofread the manuscript after my editor had passed her critical eye over the book. I’ve had many people tell me that they have enjoyed my stories, but the missed typos have driven them nuts. I assure you, my friends, this frustrates me as much as it does others.  When I see mistakes in a piece of writing, I also think the author must either be careless or hurried. Now I understand it’s neither. It’s humanity frailty.

So from on, I am more tolerant of other’s typos (and my own, too). Perhaps someday, I’ll have an omniscient editor who has better eye balls than I do.

Lost in a Sea of Words

writingA professional must go to work whether he or she wants to or not–this simple fact separates amateurs from the real deal. When I graduated from college, I pursued a professional writing career, which has taken me through twenty years of freelance and staff work. I’ve written technical copy, ad copy, brochure writing, newsletter writing, training materials, web copy, etc. I was a kind of jack of all trades kind of writer to keep employed.

Now I’m retired and I’m still writing. My writing nowadays is either reflexive pieces or storytelling through novels and short stories, which is a lot more fun than writing about farm equipment or sensors or switches, but the pay is not as lucrative.

Writing always offers a challenge no matter what kind of writing is involved. I think that is why I like it so much. The only time I don’t like the task is when I’m too tired, too discouraged, or too frustrated because I feel like I have nothing to say. Like right now. But I’m a professional, right? I should be able to come up with something profound, and if I keep typing it might happen. Not. Some days even professionals have an off day.

I’m mainly writing these words to let you know I’m still alive with a promise of something more entertaining next week. Part of my funk comes from recovering from criticism of another blogger chastising me for not spelling Stephen King’s name correctly in my last post (along with other not so nice comments). She took the wind out of my sails because a great deal of what she said was right. So, I’m parking my writing boat in a slip to sail another day.

Even a professional needs to take a day off once in a while to recharge her batteries for another day.

What is Writing Excellence?

writing excellence

When my first novel was published, I thought I had achieved excellence. My family and friends said they loved the read, but now as I study the book, I wish I could take another whack at it. Typos and other annoying things jump off the page and taunt me. The story is good, but I wish I had a magic wand to improve the novel with the help of my editor and my proofreader.

Book cover 1APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS hit the shelves in 2010, and I had visions of being as prolific and successful as Stephen King or William Paterson. So far, though, I’m hardly a household name, even though four more of my books have gone to press. With 40,000 books published everyday, I’m hardly a whisper.

Am I a failure in pursuing excellence because my books aren’t on the best seller list?

Yes and no. I failed to bring in royalties so far, but I achieved a childhood goal to be labeled an author. I failed to create a big national buzz, but I spoke at our local library’s “Breakfast with the Authors,” was featured in the local newspaper, and interviewed on the local radio station.

A writing career is a journey, not a destination. A writer is a life-long student of observation of  life. This self-education is then explored on paper and shared with other to inspire, inform, or entertain. To build a reading audience writers make themselves vulnerable every time they publish. Reviewers and critics of all kind have the ability to make or break them. What’s more, the public eye causes people to scrutinize not only your work, but you. Still, public exposure is a necessary evil.  Failure to advertise is fatal because without it authors will remain invisible.

Through this journey of writing, I have learned not everybody loves my subject matter. I write about what fascinates me. That’s why my novels are all set in the 1940’s, a time when the world went crazy and emotions of every kind were at a fevered pitch. Each story can stand alone,, but certain characters may pop up again and again from book to book. I wanted it this way because the novels can be read in any order, but cohesive links exist.  For example, the next release, STEPHANIA IN AMERICA, is a prequel to the second book, STRANGER IN THE SPOTLIGHT.  LOVE IMMIGRANTS is a sequel to TEA & BISCUIT GIRLS.

But let’s get back to the question—what is writing excellence? I believe excellence to be an allusive quality like perfection. I also believe excellence means different things to different people. Someone might find excellence in a book which keeps them turning pages. A good yarn to one is drivel to another. Something deeply thought-provoking to one person is hard work for another. Excellence boils down to personal preference, but critics get the last word.

My goal is to write the best story, article, or post I can at that particular time and space. As I explore and share my ideas, I hope to touch my reader with something they may remember, and hopefully, they will return wanting more from me.

So you see, true success for me is not quitting. Being willing to fall is not failing,; striving to improve is a constant challenge; and facing a blank screen day after day is courage. That’s true excellence in writing.

We Lust for Conflict

The_Apples_Fall_From_Grace_by_FlyinG__DutchmaNWhy don’t writers write novels, short stories or even blog posts about beautiful things? Why is the candy-coated story considered boring by most?

The answer lies in what makes writing worth reading. Conflict needs to be present in order to keep readers interested. The story has to have a problem a character needs to solve. Don’t we all like stories in which characters fall from grace, and then scratch and claw to reinvent themselves in order to get to the top again? We root for them; we cheer them on; we all want them to clear their name or we want them to win. I could make a long list of characters to demonstrate, but I think you know what I’m talking about.

Maybe the lack of conflict is the reason I don’t find poetry interesting. I appreciate its thought-provoking qualities, the vivid word images, and the cleverness of word usage, but when push comes to shove, I’d rather read a juicy novel about hardship and struggle than a book of poems from cover to cover.

Perhaps rooting for people who have fallen from a pedestal is why our news media has evolved as it has. Instead of reporting the facts, they have turned the industry upside down, making a news story entertainment. They do such a thing to increase ratings.

Seriously, do we really care if a politician is sexting or carrying on with a mistress? Politicians are powerful men and women, and I would bet if we took a poll, over 90% of them engage in such activities. So, why is such behavior news? I really don’t care who is screwing who. Why is such behavior a lede story, especially in a society where extra-marital affairs have become common, and we have accepted sex without marriage as okay.

The only reason for such reports seems to be our appetite for exposing famous people and to see them sweat. We enjoy their  fall from grace. We berate them, damn them, and then cheer them on to come back. It’s the conflict we love.

My simple life will never be put on a pedestal and that is just fine with me. The fall from grace provides a hard landing–all for the sake of conflict.

What’s In Your Writing?

writingI found a terrific editing tool, compliments of Peter D. Mallet’s “Writing in Color” website. Peter has done us all a favor by providing several links to tangible aids that can help strengthen our writing. The one I explored yesterday was AutoCrit Editing Wizard

A guest to this site can copy 500 words into the Wizard and have the text analyzed. Without buying a thing or providing a credit card number, a person can use the tool three times a day. (For those of us who aren’t math geniuses, that’s 1500 words). I bravely plopped in the first chapter of the first draft of my novel, Stephania In America, and within seconds the tool spit out an analysis.

I’m not saying that this editing wizard knows everything about editing, but I discovered I have a tendency to use the verbs, WAS  and WERE, a lot. As writers, we know  these verbs are indicative of passive voice . . . a true no-no in forceful, good writing. The other thing I like to do too much is to begin my sentences with conjunctions.

The value of this tool is to give writers a chance to critically study their prose through the eyes of a computer program. It has no feelings or judgment like a human editor. Instead, it gives you a cold analysis of things you do frequently in your writing. I thought it was eye-opening. I never dreamed I had become so lazy with my verbs, but there was the evidence right in front of me–I had lazy, passive verbs plastered throughout my text.

Using this tool reinforces what I tell my writing classes. We all have words we constantly misspell. (But now we have Microsoft Word which automatically points these out to us as soon as we type the text like a sassy English teacher with a red pen.) We all make the same grammatical errors again and again. We misplace modifiers, have pronoun references that are not clear, and use passive voice, etc. We do these things because we write the same way we think and speak–at least the first time around. There’s no way to really avoid these mistakes.

So, how do we overcome our writing weaknesses? Our only option is to be aware of  our ever-occurring weaknesses and strengthen them with practice. The second step is to go back, fix the spots that need fixing, and many times that means chopping out unnecessary words, phrases, and even sentences. (With my students, I call this phase “killing your babies.”) In the real world, it’s called editing. Good writers do this after the thoughts are put down on the paper. Think of your first draft as a lump of clay sitting on a potter’s wheel. It needs to be shaped and molded into what it was meant to be.

Using the AutoCrit Editing Wizard was a good Sunday afternoon exercise. If you haven’t tried it, I encourage everyone to kick the tires, and take this tool for a spin. You might end up in a surprising destination, just like I did.

Last Chance for Fixes

Latest Novel from McCloskey

Latest Novel from McCloskey

Yesterday I missed writing my blog because I had to anchor my big butt in my writing chair to proofread FINDING GESSLER for one last time before it goes to press. This is a necessary step because my publishing house doesn’t provide editing or proofreading. so the responsibility falls on the author. After the book has been formatted to go to press, the author is given 48 hours to comb through the text one last time to make last chance corrections. I always feel a lot of pressure at this stage because it’s my last shot to look good in the eyes of my readers.

This time I thought there would be less to “fix” in the 419 pages because I had added one more layer off scrutiny to my team. Linda is a wonderful proofreader, so I thought between me, Heidi (my editor) and Linda I would breeze through the manuscript and find very few things to change. Not so. I still found missing words and wrong word endings–two of my most notorious errors in my prose–to the tune of 4 pages of corrections. Damn! And because the manuscript is sent in a PDF file, I had to make a spreadsheet designating the page number, paragraph number, line number, prose to be fixed, and how it should read to indicate to the publisher where the errors were. It’s a very tedious process, and it took me from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. to get it done. (I did allow time out for potty breaks and lunch and dinner.)

As much as I dislike this part of the process, I know it is so important. In many ways, I wish I could take another whack at my first novel because now I see many things that got missed or could have been better. Maybe someday that will happen if we do a second printing.

In my writing classes, I try to impress upon my students that we all make the same kind of errors over and over again, and they should analyze their writing and spelling errors to uncover what their personal shortcomings are. Knowing your weaknesses is a strength. But like many of my words of wisdom,  more often than not, my tips fall on deaf ears. The fact that the students don’t heed my warnings maybe do to the fact that most of them are not writers. They are struggling to get down a paragraph and be satisfied with their first draft. They don’t believe me that writing is a process. They just want to endure the pain once, get the assignment in, and get out of the class as fast as they can.

So, now that I’ve confessed to you my weaknesses, it’s only fair that you share your writing traps. After all, they say misery loves company.