No Name Novel

I’m terrible at naming my novels. While some have names for their manuscripts before they noname1 even open a new Word document, I finish them and go through umpteen edits before settling on a name. My first manuscript has gone through four different names and now I’ve gone back to the third.

My eighth novel was originally called Assimilation until its final chapters when I came up with the most awesome name ever. Maybe my book naming woes were over. I was so proud of myself. This was a gooder. It matched the theme and had a deeper meaning that the reader would only catch after reading the book. I called it The Lilith Strain.

noname3It was great until I said it aloud. Go ahead. Say it aloud. Tongue get all tied up and twisted? Mine did. Say it three times fast—The Lilith Strain, The Lilith Strain, The Lilith Strain. Okay, that name had to go. So, now it’s called The Miller’s Daughter, a title I’m not enthusiastic about, so it probably won’t stick either.

I struggled to name my children too. I was more concerned about the meaning of the name and that it didn’t rhyme with any body parts than the actual name. I mean, how could I give my child a moniker that meant smelly haired (Brendan)? My daughter’s name means lion of God. It’s a good strong meaning and nonamesince she bit the doctor on the way out and, in my Demerol induced stupor, I imagined she had a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, it seemed the perfect name

I’m days away from finishing my ninth novel. And it has no title. I’ve tried out several names, but none are quite right. For now I’m calling it the No Name Novel. Catchy isn’t it? Doesn’t that just make you want to grab it off the shelf and take it home?

Obsessive Editing

Just one more edit. Just one more teensy edit. That seems to be my mantra lately. I picasso2contacted a friend who was about to read my manuscript and asked her to delete it because I wanted to edit it one more time. Not a huge edit; I just came off one of those. Just a little edit. A once over to see if the last edit did it’s job. Hmmm. There is such a thing as over-editing, over-thinking and, dare I say, obsessing.

There’s a story told about Picasso and how he would sell his paintings, then buy them back because he, probably after obsessing for awhile, would determine that the painting wasn’t quite done. I don’t know if the story is truth or legend, but I totally understand why an artist would do that.

How I feel every time I send something out.
How I feel every time I send something out.

As I’ve considered my work over the years, it’s clear that I’m a better writer now than I was when I started and I’ll, hopefully, be better in ten years than I am now. Will I look back on my 2014 work and shake my head, be embarrassed at my writing? Since nothing is ever perfect, I’m sure I will. Whenever I send anything off, whether it be to a beta reader, agent, or editor, I get this sense of anxiety. There is a finality to it. Their image of me as an author and my writing will be formed around the piece of work I’ve sent them–AS IS. As exciting as it is to have people read my work, it’s also terrifying. And so, I edit.

I’m editing the piece I have for probably the 25th time. Deep sigh. It’s probably time to stop.

Personal Value Measured in Dollars

I’ve been thinking about worth a lot lately. What is my work worth? I can tell you from a aaa2monetary standpoint it’s a big fat ZERO.

I don’t get paid for caring for my family and I get paid very, VERY little for my writing. I just earned two figures from a short story I sold. Yeah, that’s right. I might be able to indulge in a haircut. Don’t be jealous.

I won’t go into what the hourly wage would. Let’s just say, right now I’d be thrilled to earn minimum wage.

While I know that just because an endeavour doesn’t pay money doesn’t mean it’s worthless, it can feel worthless especially considering the need to pay mortgage payments, buy food, and having a child dangerously close to requiring post-secondary education.

March 2014 has been a deadline for me. This is the month I have to apply for my medical aaaradiology program and I have to decide if I’m still going through with it. Completing this program is almost a guarantee of a pay check—actual money. Gasp. But, I’ve lost my zeal for it. I know I could do it and do it well. But, the writing is a siren singing my name.

I’m reminded of the movie, The Never Ending Story. The boy is told to stop dreaming and get his feet on the ground. That’s what I feel I’m being told, not by any person in my life, but by my own sense of responsibility. I’m torn in two: the sky or the ground. The sky seems a lot more appealing.aaa1

Right now, I’m stuck. I don’t know quite what to do, so I’m praying and waiting a little longer. And wondering, if writing is my path, how to get over the feelings of worthlessness that come with not being able to contribute financially to my family. Maybe that’s my biggest hurdle—not which path, I think I may know that already, but how to feel valuable in the midst of it.

Educate Girls, Change the World

girlrising4Tuesday, the Winnipeg Real to Reel Film Festival kicked-off with the documentary, Girl Rising. The film takes us on a journey around the world, from Peru to Egypt, Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, to hear the stories of nine girls and their struggle for education. The film’s mission is to share a simple fact with the world: that educating girls can transform societies.

The filmmakers paired each girl with an author from their own girlrising3country to tell their story. Each beautifully written story, told from the individual girl’s point of view, had a unique voice and style. It plunged the viewer into the girl’s life, her family, and her culture.

girlrising2I expected heartbreak when I entered the theatre and I got it. Did you know that the leading cause of death for girls aged 14-18 around the world is childbirth? That blew me away. But what I didn’t expect was the hopefulness—the grin of a spunky Haitian girl who refused to let anyone tell her she couldn’t go to school, the courage of a twelve-year-old rape victim who called herself a superhero, an eleven-year-old mother determined to continue her education. Each of these girls was strong, resilient, and hopeful. They wanted to get an education so they could change their worlds.

girlrising5This documentary is a must-see. I walked away with a better understanding of the impact educating girls can have on poverty, child marriage, and family and community health. This is a cause worth fighting for.

If you’re a Winnipegger make some time this weekend to come out to the film festival and catch Girl Rising, showing Friday, February 21 at 8:30 pm and Saturday, February 22 at 6:30.

Death, Questions, and Reflection

IMG_5013Death always causes us to question and reflect. What am I doing for others?

That’s the question I’m left with after my grandmother’s memorial. During the sharing time, her friends and family shared over and over about how much she gave of herself for them. One friend asked everyone to raise their hand if they’d received a hand-made gift from her. Most of the mourners put up their hands.

She left a legacy of care and love that won’t soon be forgotten. It made me question, what kind of legacy am I leaving?

My grandmother was a gifted painter and quilter. Everyone in my house sleeps under IMG_5058quilts she made. But, how can I use the things I can do for the betterment of others?

How can I use my writing to lift others up? I’m really not sure at this point. I’ve been keeping my eyes open and I’m hoping that if I’m searching, an opportunity will find me.

Querying: Almost as Fun as Childbirth

I’ve started querying agents again.

I feel a little like those purple minions from Despicable me 2.minion

I sent out a handful of queries last fall which resulted in a delightful collage of form rejection letters which left me feeling a little battered and bruised. die hard

I know some writers love this. They’re like, “Dude, I got another rejection letter. It means I’m real writer!” If you suffer this delusion, excellent! You’ve found a way of framing rejection positively. Stop reading now. I don’t want to ruin that because I wish I had the same Pollyanna attitude as you.pollyana

I, however, think that’s a big fat pile of poo. Anyone can get a rejection letter. Anyone. If my gerbils could hit the send button on an email, they too could get a rejection letter.

Those of you who contend it’s evidence that you’re putting yourself out there and taking a risk as a writer—that I’ll subscribe to. I need to submit, but I’ve come to associate querying with pain. Did you know that the part of the brain that processes pain is the same part that processes rejection? Indeed. Rejection is painful. So right now, I feel like I’m nine months pregnant. I need to get this baby out of me (aka my manuscript), but the only way to do that is to go through twelve hours of the worst pain known to man. Unfortunately, there are no epidurals for rejections.

I'm smiling because the guy behind me is the anesthetist.
I’m smiling because the guy behind me is the anesthetist.

Hey, and as I write this, the first rejection came in, just a couple hours after I sent the query. It was a personal note, which I always appreciate. She’s not interested in YA sci-fi. Deep breath. Move on.

How to Start Your First Book

Back in November when I was at ComicCon, promoting the Manitoba Writer’s Guild, I encountered a lot of new writers and pre-writers (those that want to write, but haven’t started yet). One question came at me over and over. “How do I start?”

Today I’m here to tell you, in very simple terms, how to start.

1.  Write one paragraph describing what your story is about. Just one paragraph, so you know where you’re headed. Keep it simple and open.hiroshima

Three genius brothers stumble upon a means of time travel and accidentally transport themselves to Hiroshima, Japan on July 31, 1945. They have a week before the bomb is dropped to figure out how to get themselves back home.

This paragraph helps you to anchor yourself and keep your story on track. It gives us a loose structure. We know we need three brothers. We know our setting—initially the present and then World War II Japan.

 2.  Decide on a protagonist—your lead character. You will tell the story from their point of view (POV). Notice that the word “character” is not plural. You want to tell the story from five different perspectives? Too bad. This is your first book. My children are pianists—they started with Hot Cross Buns, not Bach’s Piano Concerto #7 and so you start with one protagonist.

But how do you choose? Which time travel brother should be my protagonist? My protagonist should be the character that undergoes the most change. The change could be physical, emotional, spiritual, ideological.

For my time travel boys I’m going to choose the youngest of the three. He’s arrogant, thinks he’s smarter than his brothers, and risks their lives and the time-space continuum when he ventures out on his own. The other brothers will be secondary characters.

3.  What is your inciting incident? The inciting incident is the event that sparks the rest of your story. It’s the kick that gets the ball rolling. It doesn’t have to be a big kick, just one change that will, in the end, change your protagonist’s life. In the hunger games it was “the reaping.” In Twilight it was Bella moving in with her dad. In The Fault in Our Stars it was Hazel going to the support group. In Pride and Prejudice it was Mr. Bingley moving into town.

hiroshima 2In my time travel story the brothers get into a big fight and one of them gets shoved and trips over wires, short circuiting their experiment. Sparks fly and the next thing they know they’re in Japan.

4. Decide if you’re going to tell the story in first person or third person. In first person POV the story is told as though it’s your story. I tripped over the wires. I got transported back in time. First person is limiting in that the story has to be limited to what that person can personally know. He can’t know that his older brothers are scheming against him in the next room. Though it can be limiting, first person draws the reader directly into the head of the main character and gives the reader intimacy and a tighter bond with the protagonist. 

In third person the story is told from an outside POV. He tripped over the wires. He got transported back in time. Though, as a narrator, you could make yourself all-knowing, I still recommend sticking close to your protagonist so your reader can bond with him.

Now start writing. You know where your story begins. You know who you’re writing about. You know your setting. You know your main character and some of your secondary characters. You know who is telling your story.

Griff Karaplis got suspended for cloning the frog he was supposed to be dissecting in biology class. No great loss. His older brothers, Cal and Nate, had been stuck at home since they hacked into the Homeland Security main frame from the school computer lab and implicated Principal Skinner’s cat in a terrorist plot…

This is your rough draft. Don’t worry about Grammar and chapters and if your characters change part-way through. Just write. My first book has been through at least twenty drafts. This is not to discourage you, only to give yourself permission not to nit-pick. Set aside some time every week to write. Keep going and don’t give up.

Any questions? Leave a comment below.

For more on writing visit my children’s writers blog at www.vastimaginations.wordpress.com

The Mother Who Sits

We rarely recognize the good that is done by a sitting mother.

IMG_00000107Christmas long ago lost some of its magic for me. It’s different when you’re the mom. I don’t look forward to it. In November I compose a mental list of all that needs to be done. Gifts. Baking. Shopping. Christmas Cards. Dinners to organize. Grocery shopping. Decorating. Tree hunting.

For me Christmas equals work, more stuff to buy than money, and a responsibility to make the holiday magical for those around me. And I know what you’re thinking—this is a depressing blog post. Don’t get me wrong. I love the looks on my kids’ faces when they open gifts. I love sharing my home with others and helping them to have a merry Christmas. I do derive some joy from it, but by the end, I’m tired. IMG_1617

There’s always so much to do and we often get praised for those accomplishments—the dinner cooked, the sweets baked, the house decorated—it’s all doing. What about being?

So this blog post is both a reminder and permission giving. I want to celebrate the mother who sits.

  • The mother who sits down to dinner with her family.
  • The mother who sits and reads her children stories.
  • The mother who sits and sings to her children.
  • The mother who sits at the bedside of a sick child.
  • The mother who sits long enough for a child to fall asleep on her lap.
  • The mother who sits and watches Christmas concerts.
  • The mother who sits and nurses a baby.
  • The mother who sits and prays for her family.

The mother who sits is an available mother and an approachable mother.

May your Christmas be filled with what’s truly important. May you disappoint some because you’re being instead of doing. May your children nestle into your side and know they’re loved.

The First Kill is Always the Hardest

I still remember the first time I killed someone.death scene 2

Three years ago I was riding in my van on the way to the grocery store and the thought streaked through my mind. What if Mr. X died? My initial response: No! I didn’t want him to die. I liked him. I’d criticized other writers for being too sympathetic toward their characters. Now, here I was, doing the same thing 

death scene 4The thoughts persisted. And I resisted. The more I thought about it, though, the more a necessity it became. By the time I finished loading the groceries into my van, I was plotting his demise. death scene 1

It’s unpleasant to annihilate someone you care about. He’d been with me for two books and I was rather attached—and so was my protagonist. The scene happened to come over Christmas. I put off writing it. I already knew how he was going die, but the act of sitting down and doing it—writing out every detail, watching it through my protagonists eyes, suffering with him and her—was daunting. I decided it was best saved for after the holidays.death scene 3

So, three days after Christmas, I sat down with my computer and a box of tissues and pounded out the scene I’d been dreading. I wept, sobbed, accumulated a pile of waded tissues. I blubbered like sane people cry over real people who pass on. And then, he was gone. We held him as he died. We buried him—my protagonist and I.

I did what I had to do and the story is better for it.

IMG_3295

Building My Own Thanksgiving Altar

Last night while I worked on dinner, my daughter played a song on the piano that I hadn’t heard in a long time. Steve Bell’s Here by the Water (lyrics below). The lyrics flooded back to me and I remembered again why this song is one of my favourites.

Not long ago I read an article about how good feelings are fleeting, but for some reason we hold onto bad feelings. You know how it is—you’re elated over something good that happened and the high only lasts a short time. It’s human nature that we quickly forget the good and hold onto the bad.

To me, this song speaks to thanksgiving, to remembering all the good in our lives. When the Israelites passed through the Jordan River, God told them to pull twelve stones from the riverbed. They built an altar. When I hear the word altar, I always think of a place of worship or sacrifice. While that may be true, I think it’s more about a visual reminder of what God did for them.

We need these stones, these memorials in our lives. Something we can look at, touch, and say remember when… when we came through suffering, when we saw a miracle, when our prayers were answered.

I have so much to be thankful for—a family, friends, a home, good health, warmth when it’s cold outside, good schools for my kids, the written word, healthy food, and the list goes on.

Each of these blessings are a rough stone and from those stones I can build an altar of praise.

Here by the Water

(Music and Lyric by Jim Croegaert © 1986 Rough Stones Music)

Soft field of clover

Moon shining over the valley

Joining the song of the river

To the great giver of the great good

As it enfolds me Somehow it holds me together

I realize I’ve been singing

Still it comes ringing

Clearer than clear

Chorus:  And here by the water I’ll build an altar to praise Him

Out of the stones that I’ve found here

I’ll set them down here Rough as they are

Knowing You can make them holy

Knowing You can make them holy

Knowing You can make them holy

I think how a yearning

Has kept on returning to move me

Down roads I’d never have chosen

Half the time frozen Too numb to feel

I know it was stormy

I hope it was for me learning

Blood on the road wasn’t mine though

Someone that I know

Has walked here before