Friday, April 29, 2011

Near Mrs. - excerpt from Chapter 7

For those of you who have been waiting patiently for a glimpse of the final manuscript, I have a short excerpt here. The final draft is out with readers now in hopes that they are able to hunt down and point out all of the typos that the gremlins have let back into my file. I no longer trust myself to distinguish between words like "form" and "from." Enjoy! 

Cover Art courtesy of Becky Schmelzer

“You? A bridezilla? I find that hard to believe. Aren’t those the girls that get into fistfights with the caterers and stuff like that?”
“I’m not that bad,” I said, defending myself, “but apparently I’m a little focused on the task at hand.”
“What bride-to-be isn’t?” he asked incredulously. “From the minute you girls get that ring you live and die by your wedding magazines.”
I laughed, “I didn’t even wait for the next day. I stopped at the convenience store that night and bought every wedding magazine on the display. Marc expected me to be fawning all over him and all I wanted to do was look at the dresses.” I smiled to myself at the memory. I looked up at Garrett and explained more seriously, “I don’t have a fancy wardrobe and I wear a uniform to work. I’ve been looking forward to picking out my wedding dress since I was in high school. I’m a pretty simple girl. I think I deserve this one day.”
“And he doesn’t think so?”
“He’s a little put off by the amount of time I spend working on the wedding plans. Recently he started in on me saying that at the rate I’m going, there isn’t going to be anything left of our relationship come time for the vows.”
Garrett raised his eyebrows. I shrugged and ate some more of my salad.
“You’re serious?”
“Yup,” I said popping a chickpea in my mouth. “But we had a nice night out last night, just the two of us, and I think he realized I’m no different than I was a few months ago when we got engaged. Maybe he’ll even start helping me with the wedding.”
“Well, what is he in charge of?”
I laughed and nearly spit the chickpea across the table. Luckily, I slapped my hand over my mouth in time. I carefully chewed the little bean and swallowed, careful not to choke. 
“He’s in charge of getting himself to the church on time.”
“Hannah, you have to give him some things to do. You can’t keep control over all of it and expect he’s going to feel involved.” 
 “I wish that was the problem. At least then I could do something about it. I’ve asked for his help and looked for things that would be easy for him to do. I’ve even tried asking him to do things with me. He’s not interested. For all he cares we could be married by the justice of the peace at town hall in our jeans and sneakers,” I spat.
“Is he serious?”
I paused, basking in Garrett’s incredulity. Maybe he would know what I should do. He was a guy. Maybe all I needed was a guy’s perspective. 
 “According to Marc, the wedding should be about me and him, and what we wear and eat means nothing.”
I felt stupid saying it. When Marc explained his points, they all made sense. But now that I was explaining it to Garrett, it sounded ridiculous. A dull pain resonated in my gut followed by an urge to call off the wedding. Was this what people meant by cold feet? Before I really freaked myself out, Garrett interjected his opinion.
“But it’s your day to celebrate. If he’s not putting anything into the day, how is it his wedding, too?”
“So I’m not crazy? That’s what I was trying to tell him, but he wants nothing to do with it. If it weren’t for my sister, Olivia, there wouldn’t even be a wedding. She’s helped me with everything I expected Marc would help me with, and she doesn’t even like him.”
“So, your sister doesn’t want you to marry Marc?”
“You could say that.”
Garrett didn’t say anything. He sat there, eyes unfocused, lost in thought. Several minutes passed before he spoke again.
“Are you ready?” he asked. 
I nodded and before I was standing he had taken both trays.
“Why do you do that? I can clear my own tray,” I insisted, but I was talking to his back as he walked toward the tray carousel.
“I’m sure you can, but I wasn’t raised that way,” he said when he walked back toward me.
“And neither was I,” I huffed, “I’m not helpless, you know,”
As he walked past, he bent his head and whispered into my ear, “I know you’re not.”
I stood there for a moment, dumbstruck, considering what he said, and slightly distracted by how close his face had come to mine. 
“Are you coming?” he asked, stopping a few steps past me. My face must have registered my confusion because he smiled and said, “Chivalry isn’t dead, you know. Some of us still know how to treat a woman.”
He stared at me with his warm brown eyes, which were surprisingly not mocking me. Instead they were soft and sincere. He actually meant what he was saying. It wasn’t some line, it was simply a statement.
I shook my head and sighed. Men like Garrett only existed in movies, fiction novels, and my imagination. Yet here he was very much real and alive. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Show v. Tell in First Person

Writing is creative freedom.  Revising is honing your craft.

It took me over two years to write my novel.  That time included the first seventeen chapters that I scrapped, and that final glorious moment when I wrote those two elusive little words - The End.  The time in between was filled with exploration, doubling back, forging new paths and pondering the roads in front of and behind me. Out of focus scenes came into sharp relief, and fuzzy characters sought, and found, definition.

It was hard work.  Having never written a story that long, I struggled to pull it all together so that the words on the page matched the ideals in my head.  I switched from first person, to third, and back to first when I realized that first person gave me the intimacy I needed to pull off Hannah's backstory.  This mattered a great deal, since the backstory was the reason for writing the book in the first place.

Hannah's backstory is my backstory.  It's a piece of myself that I needed to share.  Devastating loss shaped who I am, and I emerged from the experience wiser and more aware of exactly how overcoming adversity builds character.  People every day face challenges, and they need to know that there is goodness and hope so that they have the strength and courage to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to face another sunrise.

If you read over the above three paragraphs, you'll have a good sense of the style in which my novel was written.  It was very introspective, with a great deal of internal monologue on Hannah's part.  She considers different aspects of a situation and arrives at various conclusions throughout the story.  This is an integral part of her character development and justifies her epiphanies and subsequent resolution of the plot.

This is not to say that the manuscript is 60,000 words of her thinking.  There's plenty of dialogue and action to carry the story.  But the narrative had that distance - that thinking quality about it - that although it felt like showing, was really telling.  Take special note of the parts in red.  They're telling culprits.

Let me show you what I learned about showing v. telling.

Twitter was my new friend.  Elizabeth S. Craig's feed pointed me in the direction of countless useful blog posts.  I devoured them.  Then I forwarded them to my new writing group with overwhelming enthusiasm.

In more than one post I found sage advice, which I reluctantly followed.  I printed my whole document and read it out loud to myself.  The sound of my own voice droned on in the quite sanctuary where I worked.  My main character nodded her head.  Twice.  I scratched out the word 'head' both times and moved on.

During the next round of revising it hit me.  Hannah was too distant.  She needed immediacy.

I remember when it hit me.  I was thinking back to one of my blog posts about a technique I used to write a scene: I closed my eyes, and watched and listened as it unfolded, promptly putting the images and sounds to paper.  It wasn't enough.  I needed to be Hannah.  Immediately, I stopped imagining the scene with Hannah in it and instead looked at it from within her.  I closed my eyes again, but this time I saw what she could see, heard what she could hear, felt what she would feel, smelled what she could smell, and tasted what she could taste.

Suddenly, the scenes took on new life. I deleted every sentence where I stated the emotion I was trying to convey.  The original words used to craft the passage vanished,  replaced with those that were upsetting to hear.  Hannah's reactions became those of an upset person.  Emotions of every shape and color filled the pages.  When Marc took her out to dinner, their mutual attraction was palpable.  

Can you feel what I figured out?

This immediacy was the missing factor.  Without it, my manuscript deserved rejection.  With it, I'm confident it has a fighting chance.  The story was compelling.  The storytelling wasn't.

To be honest, this post was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be.  Writing the experience of my epiphany took several revisions to pull out the telling and replace it with showing.  The words are different, as is the sentence structure.

Are you there with me as I discover the power of Twitter?  Do you feel yourself sitting in front of printed pages, revising?  Can you feel the internal shift as I discovered what was missing?  Did you close your eyes and picture your own story from within the POV character?  Was my renewed energy toward revising evident in the focused changes that I was making?

I wasn't just telling you about it.  I took you there with me.  And that, my fellow writers, makes all the difference.

I'm glad I didn't rush and submit before I figured this out.  I've totally blown my personal submission deadline, but I refuse to submit what I know is substandard.  Now, I'm working hard toward completion and I'm getting excited about finally being ready to submit.

Have you had a similar experience in struggling with showing v. telling?  I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blog Comments Are Like Presents on Christmas

You may have noticed I skipped my blog post last weekend.  I'm in the throes of my final revisions of Near Mrs. and for the life of me I couldn't come up with a blog topic.  I prefer to blog about things that I'm passionate about, and anyone who's revised a novel-length manuscript can tell you that there's not a whole lot of passion happening there.  It's methodical and tedious and really quite boring. So rather than bore you, I spared you from a flat, meaningless post.

Then something happened tonight that I felt I really had to share.

My daughter has recently discovered a passion for poetry.  She's actually a really deep person, which you might not notice faced with her sarcastic and sometimes obnoxious attitude.  I nearly missed it, being the one to have to put her in her place on a near-constant basis.  But recently I was floored when I read a poem she wrote for school.  I'll share it with you.

The Answer
by Tara McNiff

Mysteries swarm in my mind
While I struggle up the mountain
Waiting on the highest peak awaits
The answer
A few more steps until I achieve my goal
My stomach felt weird
Like life danced around me
Finally the last step
My heart racing
The question is what means the most to me
And the answer is
My family

Who knew?  Kids don't naturally let you into the world between their ears, and my daughter's no exception.  And if she didn't have an amazing teacher this year (love you Miss Criscuolo!), I may never have seen this side of her.  In fact, she may never have discovered this side of herself.

So I did what any proud mama would do - I broadcast her work to my friends and family who I thought would be interested.  (Don't be upset if I didn't send it out to you - our family is huge remember?  It takes time to catch up with you all!)  Then, I convinced her to enter it in the Writer's Digest non-rhyming poetry contest.  Will she win?  Probably not, but it's not about winning.  It's about having the courage to put yourself out there and maybe someone will find meaning in your writing that resonates.

Well, to be honest, Tara didn't really have the courage at first, but when I told her about the cash prizes, she found it within herself to agree to submit.  I think the decision took her all of about two and a half seconds :)  What can I say?  Money motivates the girl and I played on that just a little bit.

All of a sudden she wasn't so shy about her work.  But it didn't stop there.  The stuff she thinks is interesting, and when I suggested giving her space on my site to post her work, she actually went for it, albeit a bit reluctantly.  The logistics of getting a second blog on my WordPress site was actually a lot harder than I anticipated, and as time passed, she actually started pestering me to know when her poems would be up.  She'll tell you she doesn't want the attention, but I think she secretly loves the spotlight.  

So I went back to the drawing board and decided that instead of trying to wrestle with my site, I would give her a blog of her own.  I set it up with a cute little header and posted one poem to show her what it would look like.  Then it was all about how the color was wrong, and there weren't enough poems up there.  Instead of going to bed, she learned to add posts and I took a few minutes to craft a new header in the right color with the right font. 

She really is an awesome kid.  She was excited and passionate about her poems, and I felt a motherly duty to warn her that not all commenters are nice people.  I wanted her to be prepared for the first jerk to make a snide remark and tell her that her poems are no good.  She seemed to understand, and then went on a mini power-trip when I told her she could delete any comments she didn't like.

Wouldn't you know, as we were tweaking her site and setting up her "about" page, she got her first fan!  Her blog's been live for less than 24 hours, and not only is someone reading her work, but they're commenting on it!  And in a nice way! 

So, a big thanks to everydaylifestyles for not only taking the time to read her stuff, but for being a nice person in the comments.  (By the way, she read your haiku Raining Purple Rain – Haiku Poem and thought it was cool!)

If you want to check out more of her poems, her site address is