Saturday, January 21, 2017

Night Writing

I’m swamped.

I’m a mom, an involved grandmother, a wife, active in my Church, my community, and three writer’s groups (plus three more online). I’m an author and writer. I've published thirteen books, and I'm currently working on two novels while researching one more, plus contemplating another cookbook, and scouting out magazines to sell articles to. I'm also in the middle of converting all of my books to audio book format, a time consuming task.

I juggle the household management, the yardwork, and most of the planning in our family. I’m a friend, and I try to reach out to those I don’t know as well. I'm accused of being a good listener. I sew, I donate to good causes, I encourage where I can, and take up service projects right and left. I’m an avid reader, but frequent migraines don’t always allow that pleasure. I have health issues that cause constant aching, sap my energy, concern the doctors, and trigger a little voice in my head to chant “If you take on one more thing, you’ll go up in a puff of smoke.”  

Our society touts a word I don’t understand. Multi-tasking. Honestly, is there any other kind of tasking? What is the opposite of multi-tasking? Uni-tasking?  Is that even possible? Are there really people who don't apply face creme while brushing their teeth or reach for notecards when waiting for a train to pass?

I sleep poorly. I’m so tired I’ve taken up sleep-writing. That’s not by choice, mind you. I’ve kept paper and pen by my bed for decades, because I find that place between sleep and wakefulness is where Great Ideas spawn. I don’t want to stay awake to remember them, or risk forgetting by morning. 

The last few months, my tired subconscious seems to go on without me. I wake up most mornings to scraps of paper on the floor beside my bed, all scrawled in a half-asleep, written-in-the-dark script. I don’t recall writing them!

Some are ideas for a scene in my novel, or a dialogue between characters I hadn’t figured out yet. Last week I found a note telling how to disguise the poison in an upcoming scene, and you can bet I wasn’t thinking about an Iranian souk as I fell asleep.

Some list things I need to buy next time I go shopping. One was a half-decent sketch for a neckline on that blouse I’m planning to embellish in my spare moments; I’ve also discovered  a book cover design that’ll fit the size I’ve been mulling, perfectly. One reminded me to check on my friend who had a new baby. Others baffle me. 

“Don’t Forget To Paint The Milk.”


“Delete Seattle.”

 I can tell you, that’s not going to go over well.

"Don't fear the grapefruit." 

uh, okay. 

Anyway, as I was whining saying, I’m a busy person. So if anyone can suggest a way to utilize my limited time and energy, I’m listening!

Some time ago, I attended a workshop on Writing Efficiently. One comment stood out. I’ve heard my whole life, it seems, that A Writer Must Write Every Single  Day, No Matter What. I never knew why, beyond the obvious: what doesn’t get written remains...well, unwritten.

The presenter said, “You must Write Every Day, even if it’s just a few lines. This will keep your project in the forefront of your mind. While you are doing other things, your inner self and subconscious can work together to move the story along. While you’re stirring a pot, a plot point may pop into your mind, or you’ll find that knot in your dialogue untying as you drive. Give your brain the tools it needs to multi-task.”

There were days, whole strings of them, when I was simply too swamped to get near my computer, let alone “squander time” writing. I complained, “How long can I call myself a writer if I’m too busy to write?”

 No more! 

Writing is a priority, no matter what else the rest of the day throws at me. I found he was right; while I’m racing pell-mell through my other tasks, my mind does wander to my current writing project, rewording a phrase, fleshing out a character. And, based on evidence, this goes on in the night, too.

 But I still have no plans to paint the milk. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Slashing Word Count is Much Like Losing Weight

About eight years ago, I was on a quest. Over the course of my marriage, I'd managed to pile on an extra 130 lbs. I was tired of being winded after climbing the stairs, or holding my breath to tie my shoes, or avoiding sports all together. I wanted my life back!

I began working out, eating right, and learning new skills to become healthy.  It was torturous at first. There were many habits I'd grown to enjoy, and foods I did not want to give up.  I'd lulled myself into a sense of complacency by saying I was fine the way I was. In the beginning, I was able to lose lots of weight by making minor changes. But as the pounds came off, it took more work to earn the same losses. I had to stay focused.

Soon, responses from friends, family, and strangers began to pour in, driving my desire to push onward.  After several months, I'd lost nearly 90 pounds and 8 pant-sizes. I was a new, improved woman with a renewed sense of purpose.

I've spent the first weeks of 2017 cutting nearly 20,000 words from my manuscript. That's more than 25% of my story.  It was a story that, up until October, I thought was perfectly fine just the way it was. There were characters and vanity scenes I didn't want to give up, but I fooled myself into thinking it was fine to keep them. Eventually I acquiesced. Quit frankly, I was tired of writing this book, and I wanted to write other stories.

In the beginning, I was able to make major cuts by taking out scenes, or deleting characters who had no purpose. Those changes resulted in massive losses to my word count. But there came a point in my journey when I had to work harder.  Each sentence was examined, and every gesture considered, until I lost 19,763 words and had a tighter, more focused story.

My new and improved manuscript is the result of hours of work, learning new skills, and a willingness to remove things that didn't enriching the story. Learning to cut words mirrors that of losing weight.  The journey is often agonizing, but results in a tighter story, more praise, and a quality work that we can be proud of.

Is getting rid of the extra baggage easy? Not by a long shot. But I promise you, it will be worth every ounce of effort you put into it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trying to Catch Up

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

Wow! I have to apologize. I've missed a bunch of blog dates. The last one I did was way back on November 8, when I announced that I was beginning an online workshop. Nope, I wasn't starting up a new project, I was commencing a course of study under the able oversight of someone who is a much more experienced writer than I am. And, well, I fell off the earth for a while, learning to write.

Then, Thanksgiving and Christmas happened. And planning for a new year for the kids' department at church. And ZooLights.

So here I am, back in the land of the living. To alert you beforehand, I've signed up for another workshop, which takes place in March and part of April. I suspect it will be even more brutal. I'm just sayin'.

And taxes.

I can't forget that the workshop will happen right in the Heart of Tax Season. I'm not a tax preparer or anything like that. I'm only a humble taxpayer, with a self-run business. Sometimes it gets complicated.

I've planned ahead for this writing and publishing year, too, and have high expectations that I will write and publish six works this year. Good luck to me!

I'm working on the first project now. It's a non-fiction guide to a certain aspect of indie writing that I hope will interest writers who look toward becoming independently publishing authors.

I likely won't make my first projected release date on the book, but I set the date before reality dawned big and bright and I realized that what should have been a small, simple project has expanded into a big, complex one. Why? Because I looove to explain things, and the topic demands some explanation to make things crystal clear.

I've got some fun fiction projects coming this year, too. I'm hoping to make one shorter than I at first envisioned, so readers can more quickly learn about the genesis of the Owen Family. We shall see what comes of that wish.

Enough about that. How was your day?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

We Are in Mourning LOL

by Terri Wagner

Losing a football game defines you more than winning. So many people seem to think Alabama fans are arrogant. I see us as excited and confident. No matter. In the end being gracious win or lose defines your character. Learning what you did wrong and right or accepting the winds of fate ie referees is all part of the process.

A rejection of our work defines our writer character. Many years ago I wrote a book about what I thought was a unique perspective on race relations. The first and admittedly only publishing company did not reject me out of hand, but offered what I thought was weird advice. Obviously they had not read my summary and first three chapters because he assumed I was a run of the mill southerner making apologies. I put my book away and gave up. What he told me convinced me the conventional wisdom on southerners and race will always be defined by a certain are either an apologist or a racist. The confirmation hearings on my Senator Jeff Sessions only tells me it hasn't yet changed. Losing (or rather rejection of my proposal) defined my perception. I choose to live my written convictions rather than write about them. Perhaps that is what Heavenly Father would prefer any way.

That said let me congratulate my Crimson Tide on a perfect season ending in a in a game lost only in the last 6 seconds. Well done.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


Woo-HOO! My first-ever book just garnered its 293rd review on Amazon! And that doesn’t even count the non-USA ones, or on other sites: Amazon only.

The last review is so recent, it’s still warm. I read it, twice. Okay, it was three times.

Face it, we humans crave recognition, an acknowledgment that somebody noticed us, our work, maybe even liked it. Selling 24,985 books is great (it really is!) but actual feedback from readers is a different level. You won’t get as many reviews as you like, no matter what. In my How To Complain book, I write that for every person who speaks up, about a hundred more feel the same way, but never comment. Humans are a lazy bunch.

Still, 293 is not sneeze-worthy! do I get reviews?

I ask. No one calls me subtle. I learned decades ago, if I want something, I need to make my need clearly known. Randomly dropping broad hints is futile. At the end of each of my books, I include a  paragraph, clearly titled A Shameless Plea. I respond to personal connection; I assume others do, too. I make writing a review sound so easy; why wouldn’t they?

I say how much a review means to an author, relating it to the book in hand. For a cruise book, I’ll say it means as much as a $200 tip to a cabin steward. In my children’s activity books, I’ll compare it to a bag stuffed with brilliant ideas to entertain a wild scout troop. In my cookbooks, I’ll say a review is equal to the best recipe your friend ever shared, the elegant one that impresses everyone on sight and takes fifteen minutes to prepare.

I say a review takes mere moments to compose, and can even be posted anonymously if they wish.

I have a hyperlink from there, right to the review page for my book. All they have to do is click that spot, and type something profound while the book is still fresh in their minds. Make it easy, and people will write. 

293 times, if you're lucky!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Little Blue Bird

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved birds. While other three-year-old boys pretended to be firefighters and superheroes, this boy told everyone who would listen that he wanted to be an ornithologist.  And those who heard the little boy smiled because he used words that were almost as big as he was.

Whenever the boy wished for a bird of his own, his mother told him that they were too noisy, or too messy, or too expensive. Besides, they had a cat and a dog who would probably try to eat the bird. The boy understood, but he didn't stop dreaming.

One afternoon, a summer dust storm blasted the neighborhood where the boy lived. His mother watched the storm through the kitchen window while she washed dishes. When she turned her back to dry and put away a plate, she heard a "WHACK!" against the pane.

The boy heard the noise, too. He ran from the family room where he had been playing with the other children. "Mom! Another bird must've hit the window. We have to save it."

Mom stepped between the boy and the door to outside and knelt in front of him. "Son, it's probably just another pigeon. It will be okay."

"But Mom! We have to save it." The boy jumped up and down. "Please, Mom!"

"Okay. I'll go take a look. But you have to stay inside. Promise?"

"Yes, I promise. Hurry Mom. He might be hurt!"

The last thing Mom wanted to do that day was deal with a dead bird and the resulting tears of anguish that would ensue. She stood up and turned to go out the door. A flash of blue caught her attention. She threw open the door and scanned the patio. The wind caught the door and sneaked a swirl of dried leaves and desert dust across the threshold before Mom could push the door shut.

A bit of sand flew into Mom's eyes and blurred her vision. She looked down and blinked hard. When she opened her eyes again, she saw it - a little blue parakeet - what some people would call a budgerigar, or budgie for short. It fluttered its sky blue wings against the wind and sought refuge under a patio bench. Mom watched the little bird for a moment to see if it would fly away.

Inside the house, the boy jumped up and down. "Mom. Is it okay? Mom. Where is it? Mom. I want to see!"

The parakeet settled against the leg of the bench, ruffled its feathers out and tipped to one side. Mom took a slow step toward the bench. The bird didn't move. Mom reached down and touched the blue puff of feathers. Still no movement. Mom scooped the bird up with both hands. It fluttered a bit, then went still again. She could feel the rapid beat of its tiny heart in the palm of her hand.

"Mom! What is it?" The boy couldn't wait any longer. He threw the door open.

"Shhhh! Settle down. You don't want to scare this little guy. Look. It's not a pigeon after all. Do you know what kind of bird this is?" Mom stepped back into the house and motioned for the boy to close the door.

"A parakeet. It's a blue parakeet. Is he okay? Look, everyone. Mom caught a parakeet. Oh, can we keep him? Please? Oh, Please? We need to get a cage. Can we please go buy a cage?" The boy tried to whisper, but he could barely contain his excitement.

The other children gathered around Mom and the boy. A bird! The boy had wished for a bird and he got one. Everyone spoke at once.

"What will we name it?"

"Is it a boy bird or a girl bird?"

"Where did it come from?"

"What if its owners are looking for it?" At this question, everyone stopped to wait for Mom's answer.

"Well, I think we need to put up signs around the neighborhood and ask if anyone lost a bird."

The boy crossed his arms and the corners of his mouth turned down. "But I want to keep him. Finders keepers, losers weepers."

The boy's older sister handed Mom a small box with some paper towel wadded up in it. Mom set the bird in the box and looked into her son's eyes. "How would you feel if this was your bird and it got lost?"

The boy looked down.  A tear ran down the side of his nose and hung on the tip for a moment before it dripped onto the boy's tennis shoe. He looked back up at Mom with a determined look in his eye.
"Okay, but if no one calls us in a week, can we keep him?"

Mom ruffled the boy's hair. "Sure. But we have to give it a week. And I expect you to help take care of the bird."

"Yes! We have a bird. I knew we would get a bird. I just knew it." The boy high-fived his siblings and everyone chatted about making signs for the neighborhood and how and where they would get a cage for their new pet.

A week went by and no one claimed the little blue parakeet who flew in with the wind. The boy declared the bird to be named Gusty Sky - Sky for short. The family bought a cage and researched the types of food and how to care for Sky. One time, Sky got out of his cage - oh, yes, the bird specialist at the pet store declared Sky was a young male, but of undetermined age. The dog barked and chased the bird, wanting someone to play. The cat stalked the bird and was ready to make a meal of him, but Mom snatched the bird in the nick of time. Sky refused to be taken out of his cage after that.

The boy grew. He started school. The family moved to another state and the bird went with them. He even spent a summer in a tent trailer with the family of the boy and that crazy, stalker cat. A couple of times the family found the bird in his cage on the floor. Sky looked ruffled, but he never told on the the cat.

More years passed. The boy went to high school and every afternoon the bird was there to greet him with a tweet when he returned home. Sometimes the boy played his piano or cello and the bird sang along. If the boy and his Mom forgot to refill Sky's food dish, that cunning parakeet would lift the edge of the dish with his beak and then let go so that the dish would bang against the side of the cage. Over and over and over again until he got what he wanted. He had great communication skills and he had his people well trained.

When the boy left for college, the bird was left with the Mom and Dad. His chirps and squawks became less frequent. Sky took longer and longer naps on his perch in the sun. He often got grumpy with mom and would nip at her fingers when she cleaned his cage. He missed his boy.

One day, Sky fell from his perch. He flapped his wings and squawked frantically. Mom reached in to the cage to calm him. When she picked him up, one foot appeared to be paralyzed. Sky calmed down when Mom set him back on his perch. A day or two later, Sky couldn't perch any more. Mom didn't know that birds could have strokes. Mom tried to make him comfortable, but she knew that sixteen years was a long time to have a little blue parakeet, not even counting how old he was before he crashed into their lives on the wind.

January 2, 2017, Gusty Sky rode the wind back to his creator. The boy doesn't know yet. He's in Russia serving as a young volunteer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The kitchen at the boy's house is hauntingly quiet without Sky's tweets and chirps and squawks. His noises had helped the Mom adjust to the quiet the boy left behind. Noises that somehow went unnoticed until they were gone.

Rest in peace little blue bird. Watch over the boy, would you please?

Life is magnificent.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Is it 2017 Yet?

Elisha and Jason Lee, Married 12/17/16
at the Spokane, WA temple
I want to apologize for missing my last two blog posts.  I don't know about you, but these last few months have been crazy, busy for us. I came home from the NW Retreat at the end of October and kicked it into overdrive.

Somehow, I managed to find time to work, finish NaNoWriMo in November, have Thanksgiving (that's the holiday with a turkey dinner, right?), taking my daughter through the temple for the first time, plan for and have a wedding the week before Christmas, THEN have Christmas, followed by sending my husband and son off on their "Christmas gift": a trip to Denver to watch the Broncos play football.

I'm sitting in my chair, nearly comatose, my house looking like a tornado hit it, and a pile of un-finished writing assignments and tasks screaming for my attention. My neglected to-do list is pages long, and I'm ready for it to be over already.  Much like 2016.

And although 2016 had many incredible highlights, I am ready to move forward onto bigger and better things.

This year I hope to focus more on my health, strengthening my family, and carving out more time for writing.  In 2017 my youngest daughter will get baptized and my oldest son will be a senior in high school.  This will be the year I hope to have my first book published - either traditionally or independently.

When I look back on 2016, I'm tired; weary from the struggle of growth and endurance.  But when I focus on the next year, my spirit lifts, and I envision so many hopes for the future, and all it's possibilities.

I hope that as we say good-bye to the old, and usher in the new, we can take a moment to reflect on the lessons we learned, the blessings we received, and the lives that we touched.  May you find strength and peace in last year, while experiencing giddy anticipation for what lies ahead.

Happy New year everyone!  I'll see you next year!