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Saturday, January 30, 2010

AFDOC Week 4

I am happy to report that week 4 brought quite a few changes, getting in a major contest entry submitted, completing a piece on the Greek Orthodox Church in Alabama for the Encyclopedia of Alabama, and my taxes are in the mail! Since I needed to submit a portion of a novel to the contest, I decided this week was a good time to begin a major re-write of the first chapter and that's what I accomplished, or at last half of the chapter - word limits and all that {is that the best excuse you've heard or what?} I also made numerous changes to the sequencing of scenes, deleted a few things, worked on my storyboard relentlessly - that's the paper strung around my dining room with all the stickie notes and handwritten notes all over it. I am very visual so seeing it all laid out is essential for me to decipher the flow of things. I'm also happy to report that my new through-lines are finally coming together in a way that makes sense - at least to me, and I hope to my critique pals when they see them.

If you aren't familiar with through-lines, the first time I heard the word was from Darnell Arnoult, a Southern author - check out her web site at - when she was teaching her methodology for writing, revising, and submitting a novel. The idea intrigued me, and thanks to all the notes I took and Darnell's handouts, I started using the concept in critique groups and especially with my own work. Since that workshop, my friend and fellow author and editor, Linda Busby-Parker,, has taught me a great deal about how to use this concept through her creative writing courses at the University of South Alabama. Through-lines are one of the important touchstones against which to measure your progress. Is this what I wanted to say, accomplish with my novel? If it isn't, it's an instant clue that your written through-lines and what your writing aren't working. Maybe you're story took another direction as you were developing it {they do tend to do that, don't they?} Or maybe you don't need to change the through-lines, but you need to re-group and write towards them, not away from them.

Now this explanation of through-lines is very much my own - it's what I'll call A Cleansing Experience and we're going to play-pretend. You remember that game don't you?

Your story is about washday back when we had one of those - now it's throw 'em in on the way out the door and switch them to the dryer on the way in. Take them directly to hangers if you catch the dryer in time or fish the wrinkled mess out of the laundry basket as you head out the door again. Anyway, I digress - story of my life.

Okay, I've got a story called A Cleansing Experience.
Getting my clothes clean is the theme. {Go with me on this.}
Laundry room is the setting, and this is pre-dryers. {You know the ancient times before I-pods.}

1. I ground the reader by sorting my laundry into piles - white, lights, darks, etc. which explains what I'm doing and why {introduces my hook - I don't want that dreaded tie-dye look when I'm finished.}

2. I set the dials on the washing machine - hot, cold, warm {crises of different temps} - add detergent, bluing, bleach, whatever {characters} and let the washer (ideas} swirl - do it's thing {characters react off of each other.} If you want to go pre-ancient times, I "put them through the wringer," but once again I digress.

3. Now I pile the wet clothes in my clothes' basket {a pile of plots, sub-plots, crises} and head for the clothes line. {If you're too young to remember clotheslines, please don't send me questions, it will make feel ancient - look it up on the net.}

4. For you novices, when you get to the clothesline, you hang the clothes in an organized fashion to conserve space and clothespins {look it up.} These are your through-lines. This is what makes my story smooth. It ensures I get all the sheets lined up, the undies together, shirts down the lines, etc. {Primarily, it ensures the pieces of your story flow from end to end in an orderly manner, relaying your theme effectively.}

5. Taking clothes off the line when they were dried was an orderly affair. You folded the sheets and pillowcases ready to go in the ironing basket {yes, we ironed our sheets,} undies were all together and ready to go in the drawers {no pun intended.} If you can sort your story into clear through-lines in advance, writing is much more efficient. You compare your through-lines to your theme as you go. It adds a clarity to the writing process. {I didn't say easy, I said clarity.}
Mine have changed in AFDOC because as I wrote and listened to feedback, I realized what I thought I wanted to convery and what I really wanted to convery were different - gotta love that subconscious mind of ours - so mine are under revision.

I hope your laundry does you proud.


Friday, January 22, 2010

AFDOC Week 3

I made a substantially large entry to my appointment book under October 2010 today. Do not, under any circumstances, set more than one major deadline for January 2011. I seriously over committed myself for January 2010, which has not made for an auspicious beginning on the one thing I really want to do and that is revise my book. I worked on the first chapter mainly because I'm using it to enter several contests and for a few other things all with deadlines by Januar 31. But I found myself making adjustment's I might not have made if I didn't have to keep my eye on the maximum word count. The paper went up in the dining room and the stickie notes go on today to help me with moving scenes around, but it simply wasn't enough for my writing soul. On the other hand, and that's the hand I'm focusing on today, the edits I've done on the first chapter are exciting because I can now visualize where I'm going with a keener eye, and I like what I've done, which is always good news {and hoping some of the contest judges will as well.}

That's it. I'm through complaining. I got a lot done this week along with almost finishing a commissioned piece due January 31 and major critique of a friend's revised first 100 pages of one of her novels. It was a good week, and I'm fixin to get back to work.

A true Southerner knows that "fixin'" can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adverb.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Writing Contests

Get out your pencils, pens, keyboards - whatever medium works for you and enter some contests this year. The Internet is brimming with writing contests all over the country. If you're just getting started in this roulette wheel of writers' games, you might want to stick fairly close to home, especially if you write regional genre fiction like I do - my settings are almost all Southern. That usually gets you at least one rung up the ladder if your piece has any merit at all. But don't let that limit you. One of my writing friends, Polly Pope, wrote a beautiful piece that's very earthy and set in the South on a farm in Alabama. It's heartwarming and speaks to everyone - a real feel good piece - and she made it to the Writers Digest honorable mention list! Go Polly!

Here's a few you might want to check out. Most have a small reading fee to enable them to gather the prize money.

James Jones Fellowship Contest

The Willow Springs Fiction Prize

The Ledge Magazine 2010 Fiction Awards Competition

Remember: The phrase "working mother"! is redundant. -Jane Sellman-


Friday, January 15, 2010

AFDOC Week 2

Week 2 hasn't seen as much progress as I had hoped. I had to sidestep and take care of some business that couldn't wait, like meeting some contest deadlines and working on two books I'm critiqueing. But the good news is I did get back through all 41 chapters and broke them down into scenes and got all that onto stickie notes along with writing and cutting out all the chapter names and numbers so I can plot the book out visually. I used to teach flowcharting and team dynamics and found that flowcharting is a very handy tool for those of us who are visual in our thinking and learning.

In my journal, my list of "what I've learned" in this process so far has grown substantially as well. Here's a few examples of what I mean by that:
  • I need to spread out some of the info dumps over chapters to delete sluggish scenes and spread the wealth, so to speak.
  • I want to strengthen the inner dialogue of my protagonist who is 12 years old and has a mind of her own and a quick wit, but I want the reader to see more of her thought process to help understand how and why she is changing - it is a coming of age story after all.
  • I need to bring the tension and conflict into the story earlier.

Things like that; although, I won't bore you with the whole list. I also found several ideas for plotting and setting place during my fiction reading last week, and I want to incorporate some of those ideas as well. I know some people don't like to read similar stories while they're writing for fear it will influence them and they'll accidently copy another author, but my theory is to read and read and read some more {I did bring home 15 books from the library if you remember.} and if I see a good idea, try to figure out how something of a similar style might influence my story and if it would work for me - not copying but another way of bouncing ideas off of my brain like we do in our critique groups.

I didn't realize until this week how many end of January deadlines I had, so next week I'm going to try and get all my notes up on the wall where I'm wrapping a long roll of white paper around the walls. And I hope to start entering some of the basic changes from my critique pals - typos, verb changes, etc. into the ms.

Here's hoping you get something done on your writing projects as well.


Friday, January 8, 2010

AFDOC: Week One

Happy New Year, fellow writers! I promised you a look at the revision process I'm going through to get my novel in shape for submission to publishers, and here we go. My first week is done and what a daunting experience it has been. A few basics you might or might not want to know are, the novel is entitled A Few Degrees Off Center and currently has 124,153 words spread over 41 chapters. Since I'm a person who believes a lot in the process of anything, when one of my writing friends gave me a beautiful writers' journal from the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a Christmas present, I decided almost immediately after opening the beautiful gift that it would be my journal for the re-write of my novel.

January 1: Full of excitement, I pulled the box full of ms pages from under my bed where I had stashed it for safety during the Christmas chaos. This was get down to it, serious, git 'er done time, and the weight of my mission hit me full in the face as I carefully opened the box. I gathered my family and completely rearranged our dining room to enable me to get to the widest wall where I plan to attach the new roll of paper I bought just for this exercise. You'll hear more about that in future weekly segments of this absorbing saga. It took me a good 30 minutes to carefully sort the contents of the box. Desk lamp plugged in, paper clips in their magnetized cup, different colored markers in a basket, different colored and sized stickie notes stacked close by, stapler to the right, I placed my different colored pens and pencils and a pair of scissors in the beautiful mug another friend had given me at Christmas, which has one of my favorite quotes inscribed on it from Thomas Jefferson, "I cannot live without books." New journal to my left, ms sorted by chapter and in order {so I thought at the time,} extra notes in another stack, and research materials at one end of my dining room table, I made a side trip to the kitchen for a cup of Russian tea - another Christmas gift. I finally sat down.

My first goal was to read through the chapters just like it was a real book, and I started with chapter one, which, of course, is always a good place to start when reading a book. But, alas, I found myself getting caught up in the remarks some of my critique buddies had made and I had never fully absorbed nor had I put the changes I liked into my ms. I realized within a few chapters that I am truly blessed to have such well read, well written, and honest writing peers, who give me an honest appraisal of my work. By chapter five I gave up trying to ignore the remarks and went back and re-read the first chapters and then all the remarks penned in the margins {and penned a few of my own in response} - a wealth of information at my fingertips!

At the end of each session, I wrote in my lovely journal what I was feeling and made a list of what I had learned - I'm anything if not organized. By January 6, I realized I might be developing a medical problem because my abdomen felt like a minuscule wrestler had moved into it every time I sat down at the table, and (s)he was meticulously hammer locking my colon. I knew without a doubt I could not do this, no way, no how. One of my claims to fame when I was gainfully employed {and still today in my volunteer work} is my strong ability to take on seemingly impossible projects and turn them into something successful. But making all the changes and incorporating all the things I wanted to bring to my novel loomed in a frightening way I couldn't comprehend. I've read a ton of how-to-write books, taken writing classes, I edit for other people for God's sake. What was wrong with me? When I mutter a few misgivings to another writer at coffee, she told me exactly what I've told her and others, "Everybody feels that way." She didn't help, and now, of course, I know I've been lacking in helping others who were doubting themselves.

My colon still takes on a decided mind of its own and rather than being like a slinky when it walks, which is how it's supposed to work, mine decided to try interesting Celtic cross designs, but with the stoicism of my English ancestors, I bore on. I finished the last chapter of my ms last night, took my aching head, and went to bed where my jumbled thoughts and designing colon kept me awake for hours. Sometime after 2 am. I fell asleep and my subconscious took over {thank God} to start sorting through my information overload.

My writing angel woke me at 9 this morning, and like the hilarious angel in the movie version of Scrooge with Bill Murray, she knocked me upside the head and told me to get up and get busy. I responded in not a too kind way, went to Wally World and bought 10 million dollars of groceries, went by the library and picked up the 15 books I had on hold {might as well read if you can't write}, put 2 million dollars of gas in the car, picked up my granddaughter from school, and made it home in one piece. My writing angel met me at the door and after I find a place to store all the food I plan to turn into soup and lasagna, {it's freezing in Mobile for a change} you'll find me back in my dining room, working on the scenes in each of my 41 chapters.

Wish me luck.................Mahala

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Back at it

It's January 6, Three Kings' Day, and the day I usually take down my Christmas lights. Couldn't do it. I'm blaming it on the cold weather. True, it's colder than usual in Mobile, but I could have at least unplugged them from the timer. Couldn't do it. Like my granddaughter, Maggie Rose, I love all the colors. Maybe tomorrow. But the weather channel is forecasting rain tomorrow. Maybe on Saturday, if it's not raining.

I did, however, fight my procrastinating nature hard enough to open up the file on "Embedded" and give another tweak or two to the first 30 pages. (I was supposed to start on page 89, but every time I open the story, I begin a review of every page. I'm about to be in trouble with this edit cycle since there are about 400 pages in the story. Maybe tomorrow I'll do better.)

Next on the agenda is getting back at my YA attempt. It's a fantasy piece that I want to write to appeal to the guys. I need to research the language and syntax of coming-of-age boys. I plan to spend more time at grandson Jeff's baseball games (he's playing for Spring Hill College Badgers this year). I'll probably spend some time at granddaughter Johanna's basketball games (Mobile Christian School) as well. I know the story I want to write, but can't guess at the dialogue until I hear teens talk. Wish me luck.

There are a lot of interesting writing conferences and workshops I need to start researching in 2010. My memberships are offering a few to consider. SCBWI's spring fling is one that I'll check out. I sent my name in to Sisters in Crime's "Body Language" on-line workshop (got waitlisted for that one). Google will give me a lot more. And even though I'm not ready with anything, I'll also Google writing contests, and check everything against the Preditors and Editors site.

Well, you take care, and keep on keeping on. I'll try to do the same.

c j

Friday, January 1, 2010


As 2009 slips into its final seconds, I am saddened by news that dear friends in faraway places are seriously ill, or have lost loved ones, or have themselves been welcomed home by God. Some of the news arrived over the past week as responses to Christmas cards I sent.

It hits home how finite are our years on this earth, and how very important is each moment with family and friends.

The second hand has now turned another hour, and a year and a decade have moved into history. I want to make the most of this special moment . . .

I wish you success in everything you do, and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

c j