Archive for March, 2008

Crossing the finish line

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , , on March 28, 2008 by Trina

The hardest part about writing a novel is in crossing the finish line. Once the first draft is done, the finish line is in sight, but the final stretch is where the hardest work lies. I blogged that I’d finish my young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT, by the end of 2007. I’m not finished. I’ve lost count of the number of revisions I’ve made to the novel, but in reading through some of my older posts, I am reminded of the reasons for those revisions. In each pass through, I’ve improved specific things.

As I previously posted, I had to create a fantasy world that would be logical and real to a twelve year old. This was probably the most difficult and time consuming and yet the most fun. Time travel, morphing into animals, appearing and disappearing and being invisible had to become routine parts of day-to-day life for Katharine.

Beyond the magical elements, the history also had to be accurate. Everything in the room I write in—the electric lights and the computer, the bottled water I drink, and the climate controlled air conditioning —was as imaginary in 1775, as fantastic, as Narnia or Hogwarts are today. So I had to revise with attention to detail that I hope will make Boston of 1775 real to young adults.

I’ve also fixed the POV problems I had with Katharine and her fellow wizards shape shifting into animals.

In the first chapter where the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart is introduced, my writing critique group found several areas that needed to be reworked for logic and consistency. I was tempted simply to hit the delete key because I didn’t want to put forth the effort and energy needed for the corrections. See Motivating the cognitive miser. But after some elbow grease, I think the chapter is now both stronger and more believable. I often find that the hardest scenes to write are usually the ones that I am most happy with.

Now, I’ve made another change, also as a result of feedback from my writing group–whose input has been invaluable in making the novel better. I reorganized the order of the chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT so that Katharine travels back to the past sooner, which means I’ll have to write some transition scenes and delete others. I don’t want to do it. I keep reconsidering the ordering. But I think the new order is important to remove any parallels with Harry Potter: Katharine is a wizard who is just learning to use her powers and there is an evil wizard trying to kill her. But that is where the similarity stops. I want to make it clear to readers that my novel is an historical fantasy, unlike J. K. Rowling’s novels. So, it is important to bring out the unique aspect of the book earlier, thus the trip to the past must happen sooner. I think it will be more interesting for young people this way and I am reminded that elbow grease usually leads to writing that makes me proud.

Still, I can’t seem to get momentum flowing into finishing THE MAGIC QUIL. I know what the problem is. As I previously posted, my strength seems to be writing for and about children. But I’m discovering I don’t like writing for young people as much as I enjoy writing fiction for adults. I love reading psychological and medical thrillers for adults, which is what I want to write.

Why? In writing from the point of view of a twelve year old, I can’t use the vocabulary I could for adults. The dialogue and plot are much simpler. In other words, it’s harder to write exciting stories for children. It is much more limiting. Yet, I think the story in THE MAGIC QUILT needs to be told. It is a coming of age story full of history and magic, but Katharine’s real accomplishment is not in defeating the evil wizard Dr. Ziegawart, or playing a role in the battle for freedom. Her growth in character comes in finding the strength to take the first steps in ending the neglect and abuse from living in with an alcoholic mother. I wanted to write this story because there is little literature for children and young adults living with neglect and abuse.

It really shouldn’t matter what I want to write. I should just suck it up and finish THE MAGIC QUILT. It is nearly done–and I think it’s pretty good. Yet I can’t focus on finishing. I sit down at the computer and do anything else, including laundry, organizing my e-mail contacts and cleaning my office.

As a result, I spent several months working on short stories and I pretty proud of a couple of them. I have also been reading stories on Critters Workshop and have learned a lot from other Critter’s critiques of my work and others. One thing that I have learned is that there are numerous awesome writers out there who are dedicated to their art. Many resubmit two and three drafts of a story to the workshop. Their patience in perfecting their work is seemingly endless. The secret to success seems to be dedication as well as talent.

March: one year later

Posted in All posts, Life with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2008 by Trina

Today is the one-year anniversary of my mother-in-law’s passing, so in her honor, I’m reposting March.

Sometimes, life has a way of reminding you that there’s nothing more important than being with the ones you love. I want to offer my sympathy to everyone who’s had a loved one pass away suddenly. And I want to thank friends and family who comforted my husband Harry and I. When your world is turned upside down in a minute, it is hard get beyond the emptiness to find a way even to grieve.

It’s been a long, hard week. I was too emotionally drained to work, even today, although I sat at my computer and pretended that I was able, while my mind drifted to the events of the past week. If I’m in a state of emotional overload that has left me exhausted, I can only imagine the grief that my husband is feeling.

Harry’s mother, Beulah M. “Snooks” Calhoun, passed away Monday morning, March 19, 2007, from a cerebral vascular accident, a stroke.

I met Harry’s father for the first time as we walked across the hospital parking lot late Saturday afternoon and then met Beulah Calhoun where she lay in a hospital bed, an oxygen tube in her nose. She opened her eyes and looked at my husband, made noises, but nothing that resembled words. She didn’t recognize her son. It is the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed, or ever hope to.

Days followed: funeral arrangements, the viewing, financial matters and family dinners. Each day ran into the next and ended with Harry and I falling into bed exhausted and numb. When we came home on Saturday, although we had been gone for not even a week, it felt like an eternity.

I noticed on the drive home from the airport that in our absence winter had departed. After the cold and rain in Connellsville, Pa, the sights and sounds of spring in North Carolina were a welcome sight. Tulips had broken ground, pushing through the hardy daffodils. Pink and red azaleas now dotted the hedges, seemingly overnight. The oaks hung heavy with seedpods and cottony dogwood flowers rained pink and white petals, joining maple seed airplanes on the recently cut grass. The sight of gold finches fighting for seed at the bird feeder made me cry. We were home.

Beulah’s loved ones describe her as being most happy out of doors, so I think it fitting to end this entry with “March,” written by Hal Borland. Although I never knew her in life, the narrative seems to fit the mother of my husband. So, in memory of Beulah Calhoun, whose funeral was held on the first day of spring, and for her son:

March is a tomboy with tousled hair, a mischievous smile, mud on her shoes and a laugh in her voice. She knows when the first shadbush will blow, where the first violet will bloom, and she isn’t afraid of a salamander. She has whims and winning ways. She’s exasperating, lovable, a terror-on-wheels, too young to be reasoned with, too old to be spanked.

March is rain drenching as June and cold as January. It is mud and slush and the first green grass down along the brook. March gave its name, and not without reason, to the mad hare. March is the vernal equinox when, by the calculations of the stargazers, Spring arrives. Sometimes the equinox is cold and impersonal as a mathematical table, and sometimes it is warm and lively and spangled with crocuses. The equinox is fixed and immutable, but Spring is a movable feast that is spread only when sun and wind and all the elements of weather contrive to smile at the same time.

March is pussy willows. March is hepatica in bloom, and often it is arbutus. Sometimes it is anemones and bloodroot blossoms and even brave daffodils. March is a sleet storm pelting out of the north the day after you find the first violet bud. March is boys playing marbles and girls playing jacks and hopscotch. March once was sulphur and molasses; it still is dandelion greens and rock cress.

March is the gardener impatient to garden; it is the winter-weary sun seeker impatient for a case of Spring fever. March is February with a smile and April with a sniffle. March is a problem child with a twinkle in its eye.

Hal Borland: Sundial of the Seasons, 1964

Stories aren’t buckshot

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , , on March 12, 2008 by Trina

Don’t shoot. The shotgun approach to story submission is not effective. A few days after posting about living with rejection, I ran across JA Konrath’s post about using short stories to promote novels–I am enjoying Konrath’s humorous thriller series featuring Jack Daniel’s, a female detective. I discovered his novels after reading one of his stories in the Thriller anthology edited by James Patterson.

Unlike Konrath, I am not trying to promote a book with my stories, I have yet to finish my YA novel, but I think Konrath’s advice is good for anyone trying to get short fiction published.


Would you spend hours making a key without having a lock it can open? No. But many authors write whatever the hell they want to write and then erroneously believe there will be a market begging to publish it. That usually isn’t the case.

Magazines, anthologies, and websites all have specific demographics. They want specific stories to please these demographics. It’s much easier to write for a market than write according to your whim and then try to find a market that will buy it.

When you have found a market, read it. Don’t guess what you think the editors will like. Discover what the editors like by reading stories they’ve already published.

Also, it makes good sense to write stories about the characters who are in your novels. The closer the tie in, the more likely you are to sell a book if someone likes the story.

Got it? Good. And if it stifles your muse, remind yourself that writing is a job.

This is the best advice I’ve read lately. I had been writing stories about whatever I wanted and then hoping to find markets for them. This sometimes works, but it is a struggle to find just the right match. Hence, the 136 rejection letters.

Konrath also listed the pros and cons of various markets including: magazines, anthologies, limited editions, and new markets. I found this very helpful. I had not before considered, for example, that the majority of readers I may reach with magazines will only read my work during the month the magazine is fresh, whereas anthologies may stay in print for years and the Internet is eternal.

I’ll be taking a break from writing and submitting to visit my Mom in Missouri this weekend. I can’t wait.

Living with Rejection

Posted in All posts, On writing with tags , , , , , , on March 1, 2008 by Trina

Dear _____,

I am submitting my science fiction story, “Cyber Attack 2018” (4,100 words), for your consideration in _____ science fiction and fantasy anthology.

Experts predict a devastating attack on the nation’s information networks, an attack that could bring society to a standstill. “Cyber Attack 2018” depicts that very real possibility. …


Dear Trina,

Thank you for submitting your story for consideration for inclusion in _____. Unfortunately, I am unable to accept the story for publication, but do wish you every success with placing it elsewhere.

Best regards,

editor, _____


Yesterday I received this letter, my 136th rejection. I felt the usual reactions I have to such a rejection: do I really have any talent, should I stop writing. Then I realized there was a lesson here. I had submitted the piece before it was ready. And I had to admit that Harry was right. My husband sometimes reads my work before I submit it, which has helped to make several of my pieces stronger. I appreciate his time and value his opinion, so his reaction to my story had hurt my feelings and caused an argument.

He felt “Cyber Attack 2018” rambled, that it was not so much a story, but more a stream of facts and actions. There were too many details and too much going on. He didn’t even want to read the last few pages, said it was not interesting enough to read further. Gawd. I though his criticism of “Cyber Attack 2018” was overly harsh. But was he right?

I had spent several hours tightening the piece and thought it was pretty good. Maybe I’m not a good judge of my own work. So, what do I do next? I always ask myself that question after a rejection. I liked the story. Harry and the editor who rejected it did not. Is it worth reworking “Cyber Attack 2018?” Would my time be better spent on a new story? I don’t know. I’m too close to it. As writers, sometimes we are at a loss in determining the value in our own work, especially in the face of rejections. My critique group could help. The other members of Raleigh Area Women Writers have helped me rework numerous stories and parts of my YA novel. But the critique group doesn’t normally read genre writing.

Knowing I need some help with my science fiction and fantasy stories, I’ve recently joined Critters Workshop, which is an on-line workshop/critique group for serious writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. I hope they can help me with “Cyber Attack 2018” as well as some of my other genre pieces. I’m enjoying reading the stories there and learning a lot from other writers work.

I have reworked several other stories. It gives me a sense of pride to revise a story that’s been sitting on my computer, enjoyed by no one but my hard drive. There is always an emotional tug for me in my work. I care about the characters and I’m happy to share the resolution of their unique conflict and tension. I’m also usually tired when I reach “the end.” But the next step is always more exhausting: finding the right market for the story and submitting it can take several more hours. Sometimes, like today, when I sit down at the computer I feel too drained to go through the process again, especially on the heels of rejection.

As I previously posted, it isn’t finding time to write that is the problem. It is finding the energy. It takes a great deal of mental effort to write that tough scene or rewrite the paragraph that just isn’t working. I just can’t do it today.

I regularly read Tess Gerritsen’s blog, so I enjoyed her Writer’s Guide to Staying Sane. Some of her suggestions don’t apply to me, since I’m not a best selling author, but here is an excerpt from her post that I found helpful.

The publishing business is already enough to drive a writer crazy, so why should we make things even worse for ourselves? Here are some sanity-sparing suggestions that I myself am trying to stick to:

Last autumn, I sprained my knee while hiking down a mountain. For two months I could barely walk, much less hike. Stuck at home, I got grumpy and flabby. Then winter set in, and the roads got icy, prolonging my inactivity. Finally I got fed up with how listless I felt and made one of the best investments of my life: I bought a treadmill. It sits right here in my office and it’s my new best friend. First thing in the morning, I turn on National Public Radio, climb onto the treadmill, and take a brisk uphill walk for half an hour. When I’m done, I feel pumped and ready to dive into my writing. And I can stop feeling guilty about my sedentary job.

Indulge your hobbies. Feed your curiosity. Life isn’t just about meeting deadlines and seeing another one of your books on the stands; life is also about doing and learning cool stuff. We get about eight decades on this earth. That seems like a lot of time, but as I get older, I realize how precious little time that really is. Although I spend most of the year racing to meet my book deadlines, I’m also learning how to read ancient Greek. I’m trying to read through my copy of Herodotus, which sits on my nightstand. I’m trying to memorize a Chopin Ballade on the piano. Probably none of these hobbies will end up being used in a book, but why does everything have to be about the writing?

That might be the best advice I’ve read lately. I intend to indulge in other interests outside of writing. As a start, Harry and I are planning a relaxing day including reading, a long walk with our labrador, wine tasting and romance. I am always happy to sample new wines and give him my feedback for his wine column.

I’ve just finished Tess’s novel THE BONE GARDEN, which I loved. This historical fiction story about the grim reaper was my favorite of her books and I was sorry to reach the end. I’m now well into Patterson and Ledwidge’s STEP ON A CRACK. I’m intrigued by the detective/negotiator with ten kids and the super kidnapping of the world’s most famous.

My newest goal is chase other interests. Hopefully this will give me the necessary energy to become a better writer and overcome rejection.