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A WRITER IS TENSE ABOUT TENSE

Throw the book out?

I am revising one of my earlier novels with the plan to publish it as an eBook. It’s the story of a woman married to a DEA agent, who is abusive. How can she leave a DEA agent, who has endless resources, so he can never find her?

If you’ve read either of my published books, you know emotion is strong in my stories.

As I revise A Marriage to Die for, I don’t feel the inTENSE emotion I’d like to portray. I rewrote one of my protagonist’s (Jane) scenes using the first person, present TENSE, and sent it to my critique partner, author Sandra Fontana. She really liked the effect.

Valiant and daring as I am, I plan to write all of Jane’s scenes this way. The reader will be right in the moment with her, be in the throes of her TENSE situations, share her deep emotions.

On the other hand, I want some distance from the DEA Ace, Brock. Although, I’d like the reader to know what he’s up to—to know things Jane does not. All of his scenes will be in the third person, past TENSE. As will other characters in the story.

Wish me luck. I may be breaking some rules here. Since I’m planning to offer the book free on Amazon for a limited time, read it, and let me know what you think in a review. I’m aiming for a few months. Sign up on my website: http://www.gerrileclerc.com, and I’ll send you a newsletter when A Marriage to Die for is available. Then I will blog on your responses.

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A Writer’s Thanks Giving

Bitter Berries

Bitter Berries

It is the beginning of the Happy Holidays. When we eat bad food that tastes good; get together with distant family; go to parties and catch up with friends. Happy. But when bad things happen, these holidays make the pain worse.

I am always so grateful for my writing. I know I share this gratitude with other writers. The work of writing a novel is not about becoming famous, but for the ability to string together an entertaining book. The added gift of telling stories is the control you have over the lives of your characters. I am able to turn a bad diagnosis to a healing; send an abuser to prison for life; allow a poverty-stricken life to change with a lottery win. I’ve even been known to remove a bad person permanently from a good person’s life.

For those who have sorrow or worry on their plate, take heart in this quote from Kahlil Gibran:

“Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”

And the Literary Agent Said

New friends; My red wine!

New friends; My red wine!


Agent Katie Shea Boutillier, literary agent at Donald Maass Literary Agency. Keynote Speaker

Agent Katie Shea Boutillier, literary agent at Donald Maass Literary Agency. Keynote Speaker


Last week I attended a terrific writer’s conference put on by the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. If you write women’s fiction, you need to be a member of this great organization. The classes were fun and informative. The networking with new friends was enjoyable and educational. I took the opportunity to pitch an agent.
No matter how often I pitch an agent, I get sweaty palms. I told myself I am self-published with great reviews. I am about to publish the second book in my Knoll Cottage series. So, I had no reason—being the mature, accomplished woman that I am—to be nervous. And why pitch an agent at this point?
I wanted to chat about the new world of publishing. I came armed with a paperback copy of Missing Emily, book one in the series; comments from my editor; a synopsis of Silent Grace.
The young agent from Trident Media Group, L.L.C. was very professional and took notes. I told her I am self-published and I have done all the hard things right, based on the reviews and comments from readers. She asked me about sales. I said they aren’t good, which is why I am nervously sitting in from of her. I need guidance! All of the information I’ve read about marketing, driving sales, email lists haven’t helped me. And I wondered if, in this new world of publishing, I could still have an agent represent me.
And the literary agent said: Yes! She said having a published book would not stop an agent from representing the author.
I told her the stories of both Missing Emily and Silent Grace. She asked me questions, and I answered. I accomplished none of this with grace because my throat was a little tight. In the end, she asked me to query her on both novels. I offered her the paperback of Missing Emily and the literary agent said: Yes.
In truth, I’ve never pitched an agent at a conference who didn’t ask for more material. Even on my very first book. But the space between the query sending and rejection sending is a warm and hopeful place. I will let you know what happens!

That Darn Back Blurb

Aarrrgh!

Aarrrgh!

So you’ve written nearly 100,000 words. You’ve revised the manuscript 100 times. You’ve had 20 people read for you, then you revised it 50 more times. It’s perfect! It’s ready!
All you have to do is write down the 100,000 words to about 250 or less and slap it on the back of your book.
I struggled for hours yesterday and came up with a bunch of words that convinced me no one would ever read Silent Grace. Yuck!
Thank God for the internet! Today, I visited two websites: http://www.blurb.com, (who knew blurb would have its own website!) and http://www.digitalbookworld.com. Thank you to all the folks who bring writers such terrific information on the web. I highly recommend both of these sites if you’re struggling with your own blurb. No charge, just have at it and go back to work. I did. I rewrote the blurb based on the data I mined from the two sites. I am so much happier and confident it will intrigue readers.
Next, I send it off to my trusted and capable critique partner. If she likes it, it’s a go. And Silent Grace is one step closer to publication.

Self-Publishing – Is it for you?

Very Early Self-Publisher!

Very Early Self-Publisher!

It has been a little over three months since I self-published my novel, Missing Emily. Some musings on how I feel now.

Every resume I put in for my many nursing positions–as my husband’s career involved frequent moves–contained the words “detailed oriented”. I also listed problem-solving and organizational skills. Those attributes were not my natural talents; they were learned, beginning with my nursing education. You must be sure you are administering the correct medication. You must hand the correct instrument to the surgeon. In order to care for multiple patients on a hospital shift, you must be organized.

When I began to write, I utilized those same skills. It was a huge learning curve. Writing is not instinctive. Over centuries, published writing styles have changed right along with the changing societal mores. Charles Dickens’ writing style gives me a blood sugar spike. Hemingway’s less-is-better started a whole new diet of written words. But few writers make such tsunamis when they publish a book. Most of us write because we must. Because we have stories to share, or a memoir of all or a bit of our lives we want our family to read.

I learned about writing novels. Current trends in reader popularity. I had great helpers along the way, coaches and teachers and conference speakers. When my first manuscript was ready, I began the agent search. More to learn. Query letters, synopses, credentials. I was moving forward, made it to semi-finals and finalist in some contests. Had some exciting manuscript requests, and some bummer rejections. A lot of bummer rejections. I was still climbing the hill when a dear friend, who has 11 million books of her own in print, offered me a hand up to self-publish. Her peeps became my peeps. I formed my own tiny publishing company (another learning curve), worked with a book designer, David Seager, who is fabulous; an eBook converter, Diana Birdsell, who is also fabulous. My friend, Donna Green, the artist with all the published books, who runs a foundation for children with cancer, took time to do an extraordinary illustration for my cover.

My Amazon reviews are all good, even the ones from people I don’t know. No Hemingway or Dickens, just a writer who learned her skills and lucked out with a story people like.

Self-publishing is a huge job. There are years before it that are filled with learning, wins and losses, ups and downs. There are something like 8 million books on Amazon—the absolute best place to sell a book. But think of yourself as a grain of sand on a beach, not a sand sculpture. A star in the sky, not a super nova. It’s wonderful to see your book page on Amazon! The problem is there is no filter for books that are not ready to be published. The filtering that agents and editors do for publishers. So, how do you make your book stand out?

The stigma of self-publishing is way less than it used to be. But because many not-ready books are for sale, barriers exist for self-published writers. One I recently experienced is with our local weekly newspaper here on Cape Cod. They restrict all “author published” books. I get that.

Good News. The industry is still changing. A group of book bloggers are helping to sort the good from the bad. Some publishers offer self-publishing assist and may take on the writer if the book is good enough. Agents are working with self-published authors whose books stand out on Amazon.

Bottom line: Learn your skill. Work at it and don’t be impatient. Enter contests that give you reviews; query agents who may give you some advice or encouragement. Have fun! Go to conferences and yak with fellow writers. Keep learning and keep working.
I may be a wavelet and not a tsunami, but publishing my book is one of the best things I’ve ever accomplished. It’s amazing fun. I wish the same for all of the writers out there!

Writers’ Create Mode

My Dead Hydrangeas

My Dead Hydrangeas

This morning I realized these hydrangeas, which had dried to lovely hues of green, blue, and purple, were completely brown. When did that happen?
I am in creative mode. After months and months of rewrites and edits, I am writing a new book—the third and last in my Knoll Cottage series. This is the mode writers live for. As Stephen King calls it, the closed door writing.
Creative mode=absent-minded-professor. I walk into the kitchen and stand before the open door of the pantry, baffled at what I’m doing there. I drive to the supermarket, realizing when I step out of my car, I am wearing my bedroom slippers. (Writers, keep a pair of flip-flops in your car!)
I can listen to the TV news, play Spyder Solitaire on my tablet, and suddenly figure out a plot problem. “Aha!” I say to my husband, “Julia needs a PI.” If you are a writer, you know the “look” he gives me.
This wasn’t my planned blog for today. When writers are in creative mode, we aren’t the best planners. But as I write this blog, I just realized Julia’s PI must be a woman!

Characters

Some of my favorite characters!

Some of my favorite characters!

How do writers create their characters?

One day, while rushing around the supermarket, my attention was caught by a woman’s irate voice. Her anger was directed toward a small child in the shopping cart. As I watched, the woman took a swipe at the child—which I felt all the way down to my soul. How do you see this scenario? Do you want to give the assumed mother a piece of your mind? Grab the crying child and hug her? Call child protective services? I still see this picture clearly in my head.

Years ago, my husband was assigned to the US Embassy in London. I had a toothache in the same tooth that had been coddled along with fillings, root canals, and a crown. The Embassy has a list of doctors and dentists for ex-pats. I made my appointment and arrived at the dentist’s office. I pushed the button on the brass plate and a male voice buzzed me in and told me to have a seat in the waiting room. That room—the size of my walk-in closet—was lined with overstuffed, comfy couch and chairs. A few minutes later, a kindly, tall and slender man came to say he’d be with me soon. A one-man-band. A few minutes later, I sat in the dreaded chair. While this soft-spoken, courteous, gentle man poked and prodded and x-rayed, I sat fascinated by his eyebrows. Right out of a Dickens novel, his long-haired, wildly alive eyebrows performed a spell-binding dance. Have you ever been in a situation where you had to laugh so hard but couldn’t?

When feminism had entrenched itself into our society, I was camping in a National Park. After hiking all day, my friend and I stood in the long queue for the women’s showers. Maybe twenty-five women in front of us, while only about seven waited in the men’s line. Empowered women that we were, we strode over and joined the line for the men’s showers. The reaction of the men was varied. Some thought it was funny; some I think hoped they’d get a peek; a few behind us were angry that we were delaying their shower. But we hung in there. A little shook up when we got to the open urinals, but the men thankfully avoided them. And then it was my friend’s turn, and she walked away to a closed shower stall, leaving me alone in line until another shower became available. Through all the hoots and remarks, I held my head high as I walked to the next available shower. Have you ever pulled a stunt you wished you hadn’t? If you’re a man, would you be the smiling guy or the nasty one?

People wonder how authors conjure up memorable characters for their books. They are all around us!

Writer’s Research

One of the most difficult things for me to do as a writer is interviews. It seems odd because as a nurse I worked in the medical review department for a health benefits administration company. I often called and asked for information—sometimes personal and delicate information—and I never had a problem. In fact, I had a gift. People usually told me more than I wanted to know.
Maybe because I’m writing about fictional situations, I am reluctant to take up time for busy people at work.
Recently a fellow author critiqued my work-in-progress and said I’d nailed the prison scene. He asked if I’d ever been to a prison. When I said no, he asked if I’d like to go. Oh yes, I would. A retired teacher, he volunteers at the Brevard County Jail Complex, teaching English classes to the inmates, and he kindly arranged my jail tour.
Two things I want to say. First of all, Brevard County residents, you have a jail to be proud of. The jail buildings are well-maintained structures with clean lines and narrow windows. The complex is surrounded by fencing with barbed wire. I met the Programs Officer, a female Corrections Deputy, in the visitor area where I was given a badge. The Deputy led me through various areas of the jail, answering all my questions. Since I write women’s fiction, I was especially interested in the women’s jail. The women are held in an open bay area, divided into two large rooms with rows of cots, unlike the men who are in cells. Women wore either stripes (those who could go outside the fence) or beige pajama-like garb. An officer sat in a raised office which gave her a panoramic view of the two bays. Other officers were on the level with the inmates. There is no privacy for the inmates save a half-wall between the toilets. Everything was clean, and bag lunches were being passed out.
None of this was what I expected. Many of the women were in their twenties of thirties. They were well groomed and appeared relaxed, even friendly with each other.
Programs are offered to the inmates, like anger management and GED classes. The Chaplin’s office provides spiritual help and counseling. The women are permitted three hours a week of outdoor recreation. For those in stripes, there is a sewing program where they make everything from sheets to uniforms. Paws and Stripes® is a program where rescued dogs are trained and cared for by inmates, some of whom obtain employment working with animals upon release. These programs, many instituted by my tour-guide Deputy, have cut the recidivism rate dramatically. When inmates leave, they are given a manual listing every kind of assistance organizations to ease their return to society. I was truly impressed with The Brevard County Jail Complex and its officers. I am grateful to the dedicated Deputy who took time to show me the jail, knowing it was to improve my writing accuracy. Also to her supervisor who approved my visit, and to my colleague who made it all possible.
The second thing I want to say is that since the jail was completely different than I expected, I now know I have to be persistent—think pain in the neck— in going to the source for interviews. The internet provides a plethora of information on any subject, but there’s nothing like the real thing!