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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Writer's Safety Net

When the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed, Strauss revolutionized construction safety by stringing a net under the area. Only 19 men fell into the net when, statistically, 35 were expected. Why? The stakes. When you aren't fearful of falling to your death, you relax and are less likely to fall.

A query is not a difficult piece to write, technically; however, because the stakes are huge, the difficulty is dramatically increased. Writing a query can be agonizing.

The only way to reduce the difficulty is to reduce the fear, to use a net of sorts. For writers, who are virtually guaranteed to plunge into the sea of rejection, that net is perseverance. There will be another agent, another publisher, another article, another novel. There will be another blank page. Like the net, perseverance doesn't stop the fall, but it stops the fear.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Writers Don't Grow

Scott Eagen at Greyhouse Literary Agency asked this morning why some writers don't seem to grow over time.

I have always been ruthless upon myself for improvement. At one point, I cut 25K words from a manuscript in one fell swoop simply because it was short of my personal standards. My computer cringes whenever I highlight large amounts of text.

When I began my writing journey and had a decent-sized manuscript, I shared my 'baby' with another writer. She had three books under her belt, several anthologies, and had worked in TV/print journalism for years. After I sent my piece, she asked me out for tea. As I drank chamomile and mint with my pinkie out, she slaughtered my child in front of me. After the shock wore off, I realized that she had rescued me from the wraith that had masqueraded as my manuscript. Painful as it was, it spurred me on to improve, change, and grow. And now I wait for the next person to point me to another level. I will not be so arrogant as to assume my growth is inevitable; I can only hope I have the fortitude to continue.

Perhaps writers don't change because they can't move past the point where their own hand is poised over the band-aid, ready to rip open an old wound that has healed incorrectly. It really is masochistic, but until there is an entry in the DSM for writers, insurance companies will not cover therapy. We must simply keep our eyes on the goal—and pull the band-aid quickly.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ice Storm: 4 Essentials You Don't Want to be Without

The weatherman had the audacity to use the ‘s’ word on the air: ‘snow’! Those of us around here in South Georgia and North Florida know that dem’s fightin’ words. It’s a Yankee invasion all over again. Gov. Deal has put in a diplomatic request for Minnesota to come get this stuff and take it back where it belongs, but I hear negotiations are icy.

I suppose we will have to prepare. Here is a list of essentials:

1) Bread, milk, and eggs.

Everyone knows that the most important thing anyone needs in an emergency is hefty supply of French toast. Please hurry to the store and buy them out. You might want to spring for some cinnamon and syrup, too. Oh, and maybe some powdered sugar.

2) Deodorant

Ice is heavy. It knocks over trees. Which knock over power lines. Which renders hot water heaters useless. Which leads to stinky people. Stock up on deodorant. Those with teenagers should grab at least three and double up on the French toast supplies, too.

3) Board games

You will need a fair way to determine who goes first when it’s time to resort to cannibalism. I recommend something fairly straight forward like Chutes and Ladders. Candyland would not be advisable here. When people are already salivating over you, you don’t want them thinking of food any more than they already are. If you have a significant knowledge of random information, you might want to aim for trivia-style games. Here’s where your expertise in sci-fi celebrities of the 1970s can really be helpful.

4) Flashlights

No matter the emergency, there is always a run on flashlights despite the fact that there was a run on them during the last emergency three months ago. Where did all the flashlights go? It’s simple. They shrank, just like wool sweaters and favorite jeans shrink. Between hurricane season and ice storms, while no one is looking, they migrate under the bed and slowly waste away. I hear this happens with snow shovels, too. Please help spread the word. Tool Migration Awareness benefits us all.

Dear reader, do be sensible, prepare, and act wisely. The Red Cross and other websites have great recommendations on what supplies you should have on hand during bad weather. Keep safe and stay warm.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sold! Thomasville Townie, Table for Nine

I am diligently preparing to send out query letters to solicit an agent for my novel. That is a very scary process. Nothing like a little rejection to brighten your life!

This week, though, I sold a piece to Thomasville Townie, the local independent newspaper. Nothing else could have bolstered my confidence like that did!

My column is called Table for Nine, and in it I tell the funny stories and antics of my large family (7 children!). This first piece is about the changing laws of physics.


Friday, December 27, 2013

The 10 Most Influential Books in my Life

The 10 books that have influenced my life the most:

The Bible. I won't even put it in the list as its influence was so profound

1. Uncle Wiggly, by Howard Garis. I remember snuggling in bed with my mom reading 'just one more' Uncle Wiggly adventure. This is the book that introduced me to the joys of reading.

2. Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White. This was the first book I fell in love with and obsessed over. I read it over 30 times in one year. 

3. The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander. This was the first book I ached to read—but it was above my reading level. I finally sat down with the book and a dictionary and read through it, looking up every word I didn't know. It took forever, but by golly, I read that book.

4. These two go together: The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatly Snyder. This book taught me that I could have ideas, too, and that those ideas could come to life. Sing Down the Moon, by Scott O'Dell. This book inspired my imagination and made me think that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to write stories of my own. 

5. A Skeleton in G-d's Closet, by Paul Meier. This book made me question how I would react if my religious beliefs were proven to be false. It forced me to question, not the basic premises in my life, but why I believed what I believed and whether I was flexible enough to look at new evidence (It inspired a pretty cool school archaeology project, too). 

6. What's So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancy. This book taught me how to extend grace to myself and gave me a dose of freedom I sorely needed. 

7. This is My G-d, by Herman Wouk. Reading this book resulted in my making drastic changes in my life. 

8. The Social Contract, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This book formed the foundation of my political beliefs. 

9. Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend. This and another book helped me through a difficult time in my life. 

10. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. This is the most wonderful story ever written.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

10 Awesome Things to Donate to the Food Bank

1. Spices and Seasoning Packets

Having to live on bland basic staples because you can't afford more is hard. Having to live bland basic staples without spices is worse. One can vary a simple fare of beans and rice quite a bit with a change of seasonings. Spices can make all the difference between a thrifty life and a miserable one. 

When you buy your favorite spices, grab another one to donate. I tend to center around cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and the occasional oregano. I have a love affair with paprika--maybe someone else does, too. I don't use soup packets but many people do. If you are one of those, grab two and donate one.

2. Baby Stuff

Babies need tons of stuff, but only people with babies think about that. Diapers, wipes, baby food, formula, tear-free shampoo, bottles (both linerless and liner styles). Everything helps, and food stamps don't cover diapers.

3. Feminine Products

Pads, tampons, panty liners. People don't like to think about these, so they never get donated. These are cheap to pick up, especially if you coupon. They don't spoil, so you can buy large quantities in bulk. Instead of buying the cheapest brand you can find, consider donating a pack of the ones you use. 

Also, consider donating reusable forms of these products. Cloth pads are not so overwhelming as cloth diapering can be, and a gift of reusable pads can keep a woman supplied for a long time.

4. Toiletries

Deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toilet paper. I always try to donate toilet paper. Again, it's one of those products people don't like to think about, so they don't donate it. 

Those little bottles of free shampoo from hotels are nice, but they don't go far and are hard to use. Remember how annoying it was to have to hit it against your hand until you had a little ring on your palm in order to get enough out to wash your hair? Yeah. Try to donate full-sized bottles.

5. Protein Sources

Beans are awesome. Beans and rice form a very complete protein complex. But beans can't save the world alone. Try donating canned meat, but not the meat that is more chemicals than food. Tuna, chicken, natural beef jerky. 

6. Fruit Sources

Like not pineapple or fruit cocktail (*shudder*). Applesauce, peaches, pears. They are a great source of vitamins, but because pineapple is cheaper most people won't donate it. Pineapple is extremely high in sugar and really gets old after a while. 

7. Crackers, Tortillas, and Cereal.

These go fast and tend to be cheap for the calories.

8. Socks and Underwear

If you shop at thrift stores often, you realize that socks and underwear can't be found there. And they are relatively expensive, even at Wal-Mart. I buy socks to send to soldiers overseas, but they are needed here in the states, too. 

9. Something fun

People are always quick to judge someone on food stamps who buys cookies, cakes, or soda, but stop and think. People on food stamps have kids with birthdays, too. They may have just gotten through a rough week or gotten a new job or just want to unwind with something special. Cake mixes, cookie mixes, chocolate bars, and candy are always appreciated. 

10. Allergen-Free foods

Gluten-free grain products can be hard to find at grocery stores. They are nearly impossible to find at food banks. Consider buying gluten-free Bisquick or Tinkyada gluten-free macaroni. And gluten-free cookies might be someone's gift from heaven. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Murdering Mayhem

I learned grammar in middle school.
I learned about literature in high school.
But I learned to write in college.

My professor, Betty Harrison, taught us students the ins and outs of solid technique. She was engaging, creative, and full of laughs, but when it came down to it, she had a whip and a cattle prod to goad us into becoming better writers whether we went willingly or not.

On the first day, she assigned a theme entitled, 'How to Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.' We thought she was crazy. When we arrived in class on the second day and saw peanut butter, jelly, and shower caps, we knew she was crazy. She had us read our compositions and perform what we had written.

"Spread a piece of bread with peanut butter and jelly."
You described only one piece of bread.
You get only one piece of bread.

"Spread peanut butter on bread."
You didn't describe a knife?

Use your hand then.

The second drafts of those compositions were much more descriptive.

Her most memorable quote: 'If you like it, be proud of it. If you really like it, cut it.'

True concept.

We've all been there. You wax poetic and purpley prosey and throw mimsey to the wabe. You read it back and hear the bells of heaven pealing. But your editor hates it.

"No, no, no!" you protest. "This is it! My masterpiece! My David, my Pietá, my Starry Night!"

And you cling to it with wild-eyed fervor.

Yet as time wears on, the piece rests; your mind becomes distracted by other words and other projects, and you realize your editor was right. And, really, you knew it all along.

The more maniacal I am about a passage, the more likely I am to kill it down the line, to murder my darling, as Quiller-Couch would say.

If you really like a passage, my writing friend, murder it. Just make certain you describe the knife.


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