More Stubborn Than My Dog

Stubborn and untrainable. No wait. That’s me. But not me in the picture. At least not after I shave. 

I’m going to be honest here, so please don’t hold it against me. I’m one of those people who love their own children, but not all children. And I like/love my dog, but not other people’s dogs. Honestly, there’s plenty of adults I don’t like either. If I’m going to be honest I might as well get it all out. But I digress. And so soon.

We’re in the middle of dog training. Munson is two and he needs some tweaking. Well, it’s really me that needs tweaking. I know how this dog training business works. You’re really training the human. Munson and I have had our share of problems in the past year. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s say I wasn’t exactly thrilled with him either. Are we noticing a pattern here? I’ve always said the Coffee King is nicer than I am. Anyway, back to the point.

Dog Training. It’s overwhelming. Have you done it? The trainer comes to our house and shows us what to do. He makes it look so easy. I have to keep reminding myself he has over twenty years experience. It’s kind of like when I read a Stephen King novel and then wonder why I bother to write at all. I suck compared to King and the dog trainer. Has King written a book about a dog trainer? Well, he wrote a book about a possessed dog. I should check that out again. I’ll feel better about Munson. He’s not possessed. At least I don’t think so.

When the trainer leaves and I’m left alone with the dog all the things I’m trying to stop happen again. It’s like the dog knows to behave in front of guests, but the minute the guest leaves, ka-bam! Trouble.

I repeat to myself the cues like “eyes on your dog.” I start the process of “go to, sit, and down” over until he listens so he knows I’m not giving up until he does what I say. Guess what? He’s not giving up either. One stubborn husband and two stubborn children weren’t enough. Oh, no. I had to get a stubborn dog too! Does everyone have to have a mind of their own? Can’t he just listen to me?

The trainer says I’m better than I think. I don’t believe him. That feeling of “I can’t do this” creeps up my spine the second I take the leash. How am I suppose to get him to follow me around the yard when all he wants to do is eat bugs and the leash? The dreadful feeling of incompetence reminds me of when I first became a parent and had to bathe Noodge 1. If it wasn’t for my mother, he’d still be dirty. All right, that’s not funny considering his age. He would’ve been dirty for the first three years. How’s that? Better?

I have to admit, it’s pretty cool when I tell Munson to “got to the desk” and he knows exactly where that is. At moments like that I think maybe I can do this dog training thing. Maybe he and I will get to a compromise we can live with: I’m the pack leader and he’s the soldier. I understand this. Why can’t he?

I guess like everything, all in good time. Some day I’m going to learn patience. In the meantime, I have to be more stubborn than my dog.

Do you have any dog training tips? Please share. Munson really wants to learn.

Editing Tip Tuesday

I might be dating myself by using this movie picture, but what the heck! If you’ve never seen it you can check it out here.

He said. She said. 

Tag lines.

What is a tag line? A tag line identifies who’s speaking in a story. (For our purposes we’re talking novels, novellas, short stories. Script writing identifies speakers differently.) Tag lines are really just a little reminder or clarifier because if you’re doing your job right each character will sound differently and the reader will know who’s speaking by the words and mannerisms you choose.

But sometimes we need a little he said, she said. And that’s all the tag line should be. I know you’ve read thousands of times things like, he replied, implored, intoned, asked, and on and on. You might think it gets boring using said over and over and you might be thinking the reader is tired of seeing it, but trust me that’s not the case.

The reader skims over your tag lines. “Said” is the most appropriate for that. Again, it’s just a little grounding in the scene it’s not a giant identifier or explanation. Whenever I’m reading and a writer chooses something other than said it throws me from the story. That might be the editor in me, but why not have a clean manuscript? Why not make your dialogue work hard for you? Don’t rely on the crutch of he intoned. He said it. Plain and simple. If you want your character to implore then show her begging or making a very serious emotional request. That would be a much better use of your words.

We’ll talk show vs tell next time.

Until then….any questions? I love hearing from you.

Driving In Cars With Boys

classic car
Courtesy of Flikr Creative Commons

Okay, it should really be, driving in a car with a boy. My boy. Noodge 1. Noodge is taking an SAT prep class this summer. After much research the Coffee King and I decided on one about thirty minutes from our house. Just about everything is thirty minutes from my house. After five years of living in the country, I’m starting to get used to it.

Anyway, today we were getting on the highway and traffic was backed up on the on ramp. Traffic is bad at rush hour in NJ, but this was really bad and sure enough there was a tractor trailer on fire and we were being rerouted.

Thank God for technology and my kid. He navigated the Waze app and I navigated the roads. They were long, windy, and bumpy. Wherever we were driving was way more country than I was used to. No worries, I can handle this.

Until we came to a downed wire. Some crazy people were driving under it. I turned around and went back the way we came not sure how to get back to the highway or to the school with the SAT class. But, technology served us again and with a little guidance from my co-driver, we took more windy, curvy, bumpy, and frighteningly small bridge roads.

Then there was a police officer blocking our way. We’d been in the car for close to if not over an hour by now. I was starting to get the feeling the Universe didn’t want us to get to the class. Far be it for me to argue with the Universe.

So we headed for home. And when I was finally back to an area I recognized I was behind a very large construction truck doing 25 in a 50. My patience had worn thin. I wasn’t handling things so well any longer. We know I’m not a patient person, (number one flaw besides being judgmental) and I hate driving in cars for too long. I expressed my feelings about the slow driving truck out loud. (Big mouth, third character flaw.)

Noodge 1 said, “You sound angry.”

The child is spot on. Scary really.

Me, “I hate driving in cars and we’ve been in the car for an hour and a half.”

Him, “But you got to spend time with me.”

Shut up. Feel badly. Mommy guilt. How could I be so stupid and when am I going to learn to shut my mouth? (Considering my age, probably never sadly.)

He was so right and I hadn’t thought of it that way. Don’t get me wrong, I love being with him and try to tell him that every chance I get. Plus, he’s the kid that lets me hug him unannounced and I take full advantage of that.

But I shouldn’t have become angry at the truck driver even if he was driving like a putz. I should’ve taken a big deep breath and thanked the Universe for saving us from some horrible event and for getting a full hour and a half with my kid. Uninterrupted. No video games. No earbuds.

I quickly apologized for my misstep and thanked him for being my navigator. He’s also the kid that doesn’t hold a grudge, so I was forgiven in a quarter of a mile. But lesson learned. Be grateful for what you have and never mind the rest. It wasn’t wasted time getting a tour of the hills of New Jersey it was quality time with Noodge who will be going off to college in two years and driving around with others instead.

Don’t resent cooking dinner. It means we can afford to eat. Don’t hate doing laundry. It means we have clothes to wear and I don’t have to go to a laundromat to do them. Don’t hate running the vacuum because I have the strength to do it. Don’t worry that your bathroom isn’t updated. At least we’re not peeing outside. Don’t worry that I’m not a best selling author. I have the privilege of spending my days writing and the health that allows me to sit at a desk and type. You get me?

So, how about you? What are you grateful for? What do you toss aside as a nuisance that you can turn into a blessing? I love to hear from you. You, my faithful reader, I am grateful for too. For without you, how would I spend my time besides driving in cars with boys.

Editing Tip Tuesday

25 buttonRecently I heard an author describe his book to a potential reader. And then I watched the reader’s face glaze over. It happened more than once. No one bought a book. What went wrong?

I’ll tell you. He never told the reader what his book was about, but he went on and on for several minutes. This may not be a traditional editing tip, like how many words you need for a thriller novel, (around 90,000 – 110,000) but once your book is published you have to sell it. No matter which publishing road you take. The author is always selling. And even before you sell it, you might be pitching to an editor or agent. You have to be able to tell others what your book is about.

In 25 words! Okay, I’ll give you one or two more, but it needs to be in one sentence. Have you heard of the elevator pitch? That’s what this is. Thirty seconds to tell someone what your book is about. Not five minutes like my author friend from earlier.

Here’s mine from my first book, Welcome To Kata-Tartaroo: A thirteen year-old boy was catapulted to the scariest place imaginable and has twenty-four hours to collect three mystical objects to save him and his two new friends.

That was twenty-eight words. Now, if I have a chance to explain more to my reader I can, but if I can’t, you get an idea what that book is about. It’s middle grade (thirteen year-olds), probably a fantasy (mystical objects and catapulted to the scariest place imaginable), has thriller like elements (twenty-four hours ticking time bomb), friendship (two new friends) I’ve told you a lot without making your eyes glaze over.

Ask yourself what the core of your book is about. Write it down. Or do you already have back cover copy? Does that truly reflect the essence of your story? Cut that down. But if you’re doing this for the first time write down your core message. Don’t worry about the word count yet. Then you’re going to put your editor hat on and you’re going to cut that message down. Keep the 25 word count in mind. Aim for that. Bounce it off your critique partners. Or other writer friends. You’ll know when you’re ready.

Any questions? I love to hear from you. Drop a line. Twenty-five words or less.😉

I Told You So.

finger pointing
Courtesy of Flicr Creative Commons

I told you so!” 

Don’t you just want to say nah, nah, na, booby when someone says that to you? Of course you do. I do. So, you must too. It’s that awful moment when you know you’ve made a mistake and some other person thinks they’re smarter or better than you and is about to point out that ugly truth. Go ahead and say nah, nah, na, booby to me. Go ahead. ‘Cause I’m about to say, “I TOLD YOU SO” to you.

Well, not all of you. Just a few (what few? Tons) of you who told me to let Noodge 2 die her hair blue. Do you remember that conversation? If not, or if you missed our discussion, you can check it out here and get up to speed.

About a week or two ago I was in the car with the kids driving them to one of the hundreds of places they need to go to during the week. I don’t even remember what brought the conversation up, but Noodge 2 sat in the back flipping through her phone. Noodge 1 sat in the front probably knee deep in some music playing through those earbuds that are now a permanent extension of his ears. (Which you can see now because he cut his long hair.) When Noodge 2 says, “Mom, you were right. I’m glad you didn’t let me die my hair blue. That would have been awful.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

I thought the heavens had opened up and angels were singing. I was right??? Of course, I was right. She would’ve looked ridiculous with blue hair and I didn’t care that hair grows back and what’s the big deal? She has beautiful very dark brown hair that would’ve been ruined if she tried to die it blue not to mention in four weeks time she would’ve had dark brown roots. And looked more ridiculous.

There are plenty of times when I don’t know the answer to a request one of my children makes. I’m constantly weighing the choices. How much freedom do you give without giving too much too soon? I struggle daily with my role of mother and trying to do the right thing without screwing up too much. But sometimes, I’m certain and no blue hair was one of those times. So, thank you for your input, but I told you so!

Recently, Noodge 1 asked if he could spend the weekend with a new friend at this friend’s lake house. My answer? After I was done laughing? Absolutely not. I had met this friend only once. The young man barely muttered two words. Common for some teenage boys. Noodge didn’t know where the lake house was located or what they would be doing while staying there. And the boy’s father would be the only parent present. You do know that 95% of pedophiles around the world are men, right?

Here’s my source:

• Nearly all the offenders in sexual assaults reported to law enforcement were male (96%).
Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement, 7/00, NCJ 182990, U.S. Department of Justice

That decision was an easy one. Not going. End of story. Oh, and did I mention, no adult had discussed this idea with me or the Coffee King? For all I know, the friend’s dad didn’t even know about the invitation. Either way, the answer was still no. I don’t care how old Noodge is. When he lives on his own he can do what he wants. While we’re footing the bill, he answers to us. And he wasn’t going away with total strangers for a weekend.

When the kids were little I used to think things would get easier as they grew, but nothing gets easier. It just changes. The challenges are different. Instead of trying to find the best way to potty train or learn to ride a bike, I’m dodging questions about blue hair, Victoria Secret underwear, and weekend getaways with Jeffrey Dahmer. Okay, kidding, it’s probably not that bad. Having an over active imagination doesn’t help them any. I’ll tell you that.

And some day I’ll look back and miss this craziness. Then it will be your turn to tell me “I told you so.”



Editing Tips Tuesday

pen imageI’m getting ready to open up my doors as a developmental editor. There’s still more to do before I officially hang out my shingle and I’ll keep you posted when the time comes. But I decided to add editor to my resume because 1) I like helping other people make their writing better 2) it’s fun (I know I’m weird) and 3) I realized after years (around 8) of helping other writers mold their work, I’m good at it. In the vain of being an editor, I thought I’d offer up some kind of tip every Tuesday (Editing Tips Tuesday) on how to fix or make better what you’re working on. I’d love to hear from you and your thoughts on Editing Tips Tuesday. Don’t be shy. We’re all friends here. (And if someone isn’t our friend, I’ll kick them out. ;-] )

Now might be a good time to share the experience that qualifies me to be an editor. I wrote six books and published three. I attended countless workshops and seminars on the craft of writing over the past twelve years. (Not to mention all the books I read on the subject.) Educating myself has been a priority to creating good fiction. Many authors, published and unpublished, have asked me to review their work and taken my advice. (That’s when it started to occur to me I might have a secondary career here.)

Know your genre. Read widely in it. It’s important to know what readers of that genre expect. If you’re writing a thriller, your book can’t be 900 pages long. Unless you’re David Morrell. No first time or unknown author can publish a 900 page book and keep the reader or hook an editor or agent. If it is 900 pages long? There’s stuff you need to cut. Stuff you have probably fallen in love with and think the reader desperately needs to know. I promise you they don’t. Reevaluate. Cut out the backstory. Backstory is all the things that happen before your story begins. Ask yourself: where does this story really start? Answer: At the action.

Another rule of thumb: Think of your book like a movie. A two-hour screenplay is 120 pages long. The inciting incident needs to happen in the first 20 to 30 minutes to hook the audience. That’s 20-30 pages in. Where is your inciting incident? If it’s happening past page 30 move it up. And if it happens off-screen? Big no-no.

I’d love to hear from you. Are you having trouble cutting pages from your book? Unsure where your story should begin? Drop a line. I can help.


I’m a Self-Publishing Snob

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons 

I’ve wanted to be a published author my whole life. It wasn’t just writing I wanted to do. I wanted my name on a hardcover book, copies in all the big book stores, and tons of readers. By the time I was really ready to publish a book, the publishing industry changed. The odds of seeing my name on a hardcover book dropped to nil and my books in a book store? Well, what book stores?

But that was okay, I could adjust the dream. I wanted an agent and a traditional publishing deal. I wanted someone on the other side of the gate to validate me as a writer. And I came pretty darn close. An editor of a small publishing house loved Welcome to Kata-Tartaroo. She said she’d never seen anything like it before. Finally, I found success. Not. She fell off the face of the earth for a year. She ignored my emails wondering when we’d get started with our process then one year later she wanted to know if my book was still available. Really? I wanted to say. Where have you been all this time? 

The book wasn’t available. After much deliberation and some advice from a successful friend in the industry, Jen Talty, (Check her out. You’ll love her books) I decided to self-publish.

I hate that term. Self-Publish. I didn’t do it by myself. I hired a professional editor. Someone who worked in the traditional business for fifteen years before going off on her own. I hired a cover designer and my covers rock. They look better than many traditionally published books. I hired a formatter to set my books up for print and the E version. I never paid anyone to publish my books. A way for me to put my books out in the market had become available without the aid of an agent or an editor of a publishing house and I took advantage of it. It shouldn’t matter how I published, but it does and not just to me.

I spend a lot of time educating myself on the craft and business of writing. I follow Bob Mayer religiously (someone else you should check out. His books are great and he’s the expert in the industry on publishing. If you’re a writer reading this and you don’t follow Bob, start.) Bob says if you’re a new writer you should traditionally publish first then switch to self-publishing to become a hybrid author. (The term Bob coined.) I didn’t follow that advice, maybe I should have.

As a self-published author (instead of self-published how about avant-garde publisher?) there are things in the industry not available to me. Writing organizations won’t allow me to call myself an author because I’m not with a publisher on their list. I can’t get reviews from the elite review organizations unless I pay for them. And today I found out an event I attended last year isn’t open to me this year because they went and changed the parameters to traditionally published only. Which really made me mad.

I know why they do it. Anyone can self-publish. (Let’s say that’s different than what I did. Remember, our new term, avant-garde publisher.) Anyone can write a book, slap their pen down and upload it to a publishing site and voila! Millions of people can now see your book. Many and I mean many of these writers don’t take the time to learn their craft. They wrote their first book and think it’s so fabulous it must be a best-seller. (I did too, but that isn’t the book I published. I learned why it shouldn’t be published.) Now, don’t get me wrong, some people do publish their first book ever written, but if it isn’t at the insistence of an editor, I might hesitate.

Maybe these self-pubbed authors even hired an editor like I did, but they really don’t know the craft well enough and they still publish too soon. I’ve met a lot of these people. I meet a lot of writers many of them self-published. I check out their work just to see if I’m wrong and I’m usually not. They make all the amateur mistakes new writers make and then they go ahead and publish anyway. Because they can. And that makes it bad for writers like me.

What makes me an expert on how to write? Twelve years of attending workshops, conferences, and seminars. Writing six books. Learning from my critique partners. Teaching creative writing to others. So, I recognize right away when an author decides we needed to know all the backstory on the first ten pages before the story even begins because the author thinks the reader won’t understand what’s happening. Amateur mistake. And good Lord, it’s made a lot.

Quite honestly, I don’t want to be in that group with those writers. I don’t want to be alongside the writers who don’t know how to write, (like the author who wanted to write a romance novel about a married couple who were in love. And showed me the description for the back cover copy. What??? I wanted to say. Have you even read a romance???) but put a book out there because they could. So, yes, I’m a self-publishing snob.

I hate when people ask me who my publisher is because I don’t want to tell them. My writer friends tell me not to worry. Everyone is self-publishing now. Yes, authors who were with a traditional house are switching over because you have total control of your books, your brand, the price you charge and the design on your covers. You also make more money on each book. The same goes for me so that’s the up side and a strong one at that. Plus, traditional and self-pubbed have to do the same amount of marketing themselves, unless you’re Stephen King, so why traditionally publish at all?

To swim with the big kids. Just once.

Maybe if my sales were sky-rocketing I wouldn’t care about my self avant-garde published persona. Who needs your stupid event, I could say. Sales have nothing to do with where the book is published. That’s all on me and way harder than I ever thought it would be to find readers.

Why do I need this traditional validation? I have readers who like my books. Book clubs making their woods into Kata-Tartaroo. Students doing book reports on my book. Another who drew me a picture of one of my characters. I know I’m a good writer, but it’s like being the only one not invited to the cool kids party. It hurts. It’s not the dream. And I’m left standing in the corner with the kids picking their noses. (Don’t yell at me. Not all first time self-pubbed authors are the kids picking their noses, but I promise you, there are more than you think and some of you don’t know who you are. Here’s a tissue.)

Do I give up? Maybe. Write another book? Doing that now. Traditionally publish? Some days yes. Some no. Avant-garde publish? Kind of like the ring to that.

I don’t know what the future holds. I hope there’s a spot with my name on another book. I hope I find more readers out there. Or maybe it’s time to take up the violin and put the writing thing away. Who knows. Not me.

Are you a snob about anything? How do you handle it? I’d love to hear from you.