Thursday, May 27, 2010

Editing Your Novel? A Round-Up of Some Good Advice

I'm always fascinated with how other writers revise, edit, and otherwise beat their manuscripts into submission. Trying to make more than 80,000 words all make sense is a tough task indeed. If you are looking for a little help, don't miss some of these great posts about editing:

Three Stages of Revision
This excellent post is by Natalie Whipple, a YA writer. It was a huge relief to read this and realize I was trying to do way too much in one round of edits.

Line Editing in 10 Easy Steps
By David Louis Edelman, if you want to really sharpen your prose, check this post out.

Dialogue is Not Necessarily How We Talk
By Heidi Thomas. Great breakdown of what to watch for in writing dialogue.

A Critique on Keeping Verb Tenses Consistent
This is an actual critique by D'Ann Mateer of a piece of writing. It does a great job of showing how writing can be strengthened, rather than just telling you how to do it.

Oh, That's Subtle
This post by Janice Hardy points out how just one word can mean the difference in a piece of writing that works or falls flat. Complete with examples.

Three Simple Stages of Self-Editing
By Jody Hedlund (whose blog you should definitely follow, btw). She explains the difference between substantive edits, line editing, and copyediting and what to look for in each one.

Use Wordle to Check for Meaningless Words
By Carrie Heim Binas, this explains how using a Wordle "word cloud" on your writing can reveal which words you prominently use. I found this technique pretty fascinating.

On a personal note, I'm happy to report that I'm diving back into my novel again. It requires me getting up at 5:30 a.m., but if that's the only way to keep it going then that's what has to be done. I'm also headed off to St. Simon's Island for a much anticipated vacation. I love Nashville, but I need to step away for a bit and reset everything. Have a great Memorial Day!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Keeping Your Book Fresh When You Aren't Writing

On deck right now:
--Six articles to write
--6-8 storyboard scripts to complete
--One freelance book proofing project to wrap up
--One gratis article about the recent flood

I'm not listing this out to be a look-at-how-busy-I-am whine, because I think most writers and creative types end up with a lot going on. But it's more to point out that there's one thing missing on this list. Do you see it? Yeah. My book. Where is that?

Like the half bag of lettuce that got stuck in the back of the produce drawer, it's wilting beneath the other projects. Good projects. Needed projects. Welcome projects, even. But my favorite thing to do is work on that book, and time has not been in abundance.

So how can I ensure my manuscript stays fresh? How can I keep my characters from, as Stephen King put it, "going stale" until I can dive back into their world?

I once heard a writer say in an interview that if the only time you spend with your characters is when you face the written page, then you don't know them well enough. So, in the midst of other writing demands, I'm trying spend some time with my characters.

How would they react to the traffic I'm sitting in?
If I had lunch with one of them, what would it be like? What would they order?
At this time of year, what kind of clothes would they be wearing? Where would they shop?
Would they have let that man cut in front of them?

All kinds of little things. Frankly, when I get far away from my work in progress I start to forget sub-plots and the sequence of clues and timelines and all those other really important things that you shouldn't lose track of. Fortunately, I've got those written down for reference. But it's the voices of the characters I don't want to lose. So I try to spend time some quality time with them in my head until I get to sit down with them once again.

What do you do to keep a project fresh when you can't get to it?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Mystery Review: Grace Under Pressure by Julie Hyzy

Ever since Olivia Paras whacked an intruder over the head with a commemorative skillet in State of the Onion, I've been a fan of Hyzy's work. So it was with a lot of excitement that I received an ARC for the first in her new Manor of Murder mystery series, Grace Under Pressure.

In this book, Grace Wheaton, assistant curator at the magnificent Marshfield Manor, must untangle the web of deceit and intrigue that surrounds the shocking murder of her boss. The trail leads her down a unexpected road into her own family secrets and puts her in the path of a killer bent on revenge.

I thought Grace was a satisfying heroine who is fully capable of running the estate but with plenty of cracks that threaten her composed surface. From a past that just won't lie down to an office assistant who irritates and helps in equal measure, Hyzy has an ability to layer her characters with plenty of conflict without seeming contrived.

The plot was carefully crafted and delivered an ending I did not see coming. I also enjoyed the setting of Marshfield Manor. It takes a skilled author to make the setting almost a character in and of itself, which Hyzy does well.

I'm looking forward to the next one in this series and especially some more face time with Jack Embers, the landscape architect at Marshfield. In my opinion, there wasn't enough of him, so props to Hyzy for leaving the reader wanting more. Grace Under Pressure is set to release in June.

(A Manor of Murder Mystery #1)
Berkley (Prime Crime), June 2010
ISBN-10: 0425235211
ISBN-13: 9780425235218
320 pages Paperback

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sneezing Gypsum

After a week spent driving to work through my devastated neighborhood, I finally got the opportunity on Saturday to do something about it. I, along with hundreds of other volunteers, helped clean up flood-ravaged homes.

Our job was to stabilize the homes and get the homeowner in a position to begin rebuilding. This meant demolishing and removing everything—right down to the concrete slab and the wooden studs. Then the home will be sprayed and disinfected. After that, rebuilding begins.

It was hard work, but it was rewarding. I tore out drywall (my new nemesis), popped out window sills, and pried up carpet tacking. Collectively, we were able to accomplish what would have been a monumental task for a family or an expensive one for a contractor.

I was impressed by the spirit in the neighborhood. Individually or with a company, people streamed by offering water, free food, and free supplies. Children would tote a wagon full of trash bags and alcohol wipes. The Purity Dairy man carted around a cooler full of ice cream and popsicles (he was popular).

It was hard to hear the homeowner's stories, but sometimes that was what they most needed. Many of them are older and have a lifetime's worth of memories in pictures and letters that are now gone. Carrying bits and pieces of their home out to the huge debris piles was tough. One lady stopped us as we carried out her fireplace mantel.

"Can't we save this?" She ran her hands over the top. We turned it to show her the other side so she could make her decision. The submerged wood had dried and split; the back was black with the beginnings of mold.

She sighed. "I guess not. Throw it away." There were many decisions like that one throughout the day.

On Sunday, after a 6:30 a.m. worship service , we returned. Another house. Another tear out job. My body aches, but every bit of me that is sore is worth it. It was a massive reminder that I am so incredibly blessed. Not just in having my home, but in every possible way—spiritually and emotionally, I am rich in faith, in family, and in friends. If this had happened to me, knowing that people care so much would make all the difference in the world to how I would get through it.

To see this unfold on my doorstep is so different than just reading about it. It tends to stamp out a lot of pettiness and materialism. It has also shown me that we are capable of so, so much more than we realize. I've probably never had quite a work ethic as I brought to the table this weekend. It's incredibly motivating.

There is still much to do, however. Nashville is still bleeding. Clean up and rebuilding is an ongoing process, and we need to ensure no one falls through the cracks. If you can volunteer your time, Service International is continuing to send out crews from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. from Bellevue Church of Christ until further notice. You can find more information here, or just shoot me a comment.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When the Words Won't Come, Do the Next Thing

My momentum is shot. If you read the previous post it's pretty obvious why, but it bothers me just the same. I can't concentrate on anything other than the flood that poured into my world on Saturday and is slowly receding.

There is so much to do to clean up what is going on around me, and at some point I'm going to have to put my own internal house in order. I'm not quite sure how that is going to happen.

A while back I remember reading a book by Elisabeth Elliot, a woman whose missionary husband was killed in the jungle in Ecuador. She made a statement about how, when you don't know what to do, do the next thing. It may be a little thing, but it is the next thing. It's where you begin.

Looking at the monumental tasks that surround my community, it could be very easy to give in to a sense of hopelessness and frustration, but we need to do the next thing. I need to do the next thing.

A note: I realize my purpose for this blog is to talk about writing, and I apologize to any writerly readers that have landed here lately from other links and wonder if they are in the right place. You are, and I thank you for stopping by. Life intruded quite a bit in the regularly scheduled focus of this blog. I'll get back into the writing groove soon, I promise. Until then, please keep Nashville in your prayers. If you want to know what you can do to help, please scroll down to the bottom of yesterday's post.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I don't know how to process what happened this weekend. Writing has always been my outlet, so I'm hoping that updating the blog and sharing some of this will help me through it. When I leave my ultra-connected office in one part of Nashville, I will drive home into a neighborhood that has been devastated by flood damage.

This is River Plantation in Bellevue, on the western edge of Nashville. We were one of the areas that was hardest hit by the flood that has swept over the city.

Incredibly, I live across the street from this photo, on the "high" side. I was spared. I am blessed. We still have water and electricity. My home is safe and dry. We have no phones (including mobile) or Internet, but we can live without those for a while. Just across the street it looks like a war zone. On Sunday, with rain pelting down, the end of my street turned into a command post for water rescues.

An elderly couple trying to drive across this intersection got caught in the water and drowned. We saw the fire crew trying to revive them on the lawn across from my house. I can't get that image out of my mind, and I don't know how to unpack all that I've seen. 

This is the main road I drive on to get to the grocery store and the YMCA. Normally, there is a driving range on the left. There's a bridge in there, too.

More of the neighborhood. See where the water is eddying next to the bank? There is a car under there.

If you've never seen what it looks like normally, it's hard to gauge what happened here. The above picture is the main road into my subdivision. On left there are shops, including a hairdresser and a pub. In the middle of the picture there is a bit of metal sticking up out of the water. That is the light on top of a police car.

There are other areas of Nashville that have been greatly affected by what has happened. This is just my corner of it all. Because of other big events, this has not really been covered much by national news outlets, which is a shame because it is going to take a lot of support to get the city back on its feet.

If you'd like to help, you can make an online donation to the Churches of Christ Disaster relief. This is reputable organization, right here in Nashville, that can get aid to those who need it the most. I've volunteered for them before. You can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Most of all, we need your prayers to get through this.