Monday, December 30, 2013

Word(s) (that) Count

By Pamela

A recent email exchange between Elizabeth and me led me to search our blog for an old post I thought one of us had written regarding word count. Since I came up empty, I thought it might be time to address this oft-pondered subject.

As writers, we typically care little about numbers until it comes to word count. Then we become a bit obsessed. Too few words in our manuscript and we fear not being worthy of calling it a novel. Perhaps 'novella' or even a really long short story. Too many words and we run the risk of being compared to War and Peace or maybe Atlas Shrugged.

But how many words should comprise your manuscript? How about: Enough! Not too few; not too many. Be Goldilocks and get it Just Right. But if you want your writing to compare to those who come before you, here's a breakdown of some popular titles and what I could find online as far as their word counts. Granted these might not be 100 percent accurate; I didn't take the time to count them myself. So, use them as a guideline and nothing more. Keep in mind genre has a lot to do with what's expected in terms of word count and older titles seemed to get away with extremes in both directions.

(Title/author/word count)

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King:  269,493
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: 69,306
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: 561,996
  • Beach Music by Pat Conroy:  275,272
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett:  114,928
  • Carrie by Stephen King:  59,859
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker: 66,556
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon:  62,005
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck: 225,395
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg:  94,540
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry:  43,617
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls:  74,218
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling:  84,799
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling:  257,154
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett:  158,012
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford:  92,994
  • I Know this Much Is True by Wally Lamb:  305,520 
  • Joy School by Elizabeth Berg:  48,020
  • The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards:  137,858
  • Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks:  88,551
  • Olive Kittridge by Elizabeth Strout:  92,574
  • The Pact by Jodi Picoult:  148,903
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving: 236,061
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd: 93,316
  • Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington:  60,586
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:  99,121 
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed:  129,044

What do you aim for when completing your WIP? A particular word count goal or just enough words before typing: THE END?

Friday, December 27, 2013

An Amazing Debut: Becoming Josephine by Heather Webb

By Kim

Synopsis of Becoming Josephine (from the book jacket):

Rose Tascher sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution.

Through her savoir faire, Rose survives and secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls—until the heads of her friends begin to roll.

After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century—Napoleon Bonaparte.

Becoming Josephine is a novel of one woman’s journey to find eternal love and stability, and ultimately to find herself.

About Heather Webb:

As a former military brat and traveling addict, it was tricky choosing a landing pad. At last, I settled in a rural town in New England. For a decade I put my degrees in French and Cultural Geography to good use teaching and coaching high school students.

Currently, I am a novelist and work as a freelance editor (For rates, check my editing page.) You may find me lurking at the popular RomanceUniversity.org where I contribute to their blog with editing advice, and at the award-winning site, WriterUnboxed.com, where I pose as Twitter Mistress (@WriterUnboxed). I also kick around a local college teaching classes called “Write to Publish” and “Crafting Your Novel”.

When I’m cross-eyed from too much screen time, I flex my foodie skills or geek out on history and pop culture.

Review:

I’ve had a morbid fascination with the French Revolution since I read The Scarlet Pimpernel as a teenager. As you can see by this photo taken at Madame Tussauds in London, back when I was all of fourteen, my interest extended to Napoleon as well. I had been itching to get my hands on a copy of Becoming Josephine from the moment I heard about it and was thrilled when Heather Webb sent me an ARC.

Sometimes when I’m familiar with the subject matter of a novel already, it disappoints. This one amazed! I’d only known “Josephine” as half of a famous couple before, but Webb introduced me to Rose Tascher, who was a force to be reckoned with. Napoleon did not make an appearance until about page 175, and I didn't miss him. Not a bit. He’s not even named when he’s first introduced, and the description of him made me sputter my mocha latte all over myself at Starbucks. I was tempted to read that part aloud to those who stared at me for laughing.

Webb resisted the urge to turn the novel into NAPOLEONandJospehine from there, and I’m glad. He was there enough to make me love him, despite that he could be a smarmy little tyrant, but the story remained Rose’s.

And what a story it was…a sensual feast that begins in Martinique and catapults through thirty years of her life. Readers won’t just see Paris during the French Revolution. They’ll hear it, taste it, and smell it, too. (The latter is not always pleasant, especially during the scenes in Les Carmes. It’s a wonder anyone survived that.)

If you are a historical fiction fan, you must read this book. Set aside a weekend because you won’t want to put it down. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advanced copy of the book mentioned above gratis in the hope that I would mention it on this blog. Regardless, I only recommend books I've read and believe will appeal to our readers. In accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” I am making this statement.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Twitter, a collective

by Joan

At my true writing best, I am alone. Mind focused, hands on the keyboard, set off on my lone creative mission. And yet, I crave interaction with like-minded literary types. For me, this journey is more than a solitary endeavor. So I continue to seek out others, in person or online, to connect, to share, to commiserate, to celebrate. Sometimes I feel like I am part of the Borg, one drone in a collective we call 'writing community.' 

My collective encompasses my blog partners, author and other writer acquaintances, FaceBook friends, workshop participants and professors, to name a few. I like being part of this vast network. 

Dani Shapiro says "I am here, and you are there, and we are in this thing together."

I started scoping out Twitter about a year ago, but I’ve only recently begun connecting with people and following groups. My lone writing still comes first, but when it's time to catch up on the publishing world, I turn to Twitter as a first stop, craving my feed like a news junkie. And I find the compressed nature of the tweets actually saves me time. (How's that for justification!) 

On Twitter I see what books everyone is raving about, read reviews and essays I might not find on my own, learn about author readings and signings, get the scoop on what's going on with my favorite novelists and bloggers, and track treasures that museums and libraries are digging up from our literary and artistic past. Oh, and I stalk agents and publishing houses, too.

The list of whom I am following is still growing, but I thought I’d like to share a few I’ve found helpful and interesting.


Granta Magazine @GrantaMag


The Paris Review @ParisReview

LA Review of Books @LAReviewofBooks

NY Review of Books @NYReviewofBooks

NY Times Books @NYTimesBooks

Kirkus Reviews @KirkusReviews

The British Library @BritishLibrary

The Bodleian Library (Oxford) @Bodleianlibs

Guardian Books @GuardianBooks
News and reviews from the other side of the pond


Politics & Prose  @Politics_Prose
Washington, D.C. independent book store

NPR Books @NPRBooks

Publishers Weekly @PublishersWkly 

Publisher's Lunch @PublishersLunch

Lit Chat @LitChat
An all book chat Twitter feed from author Carolyn Burns Bass

Goodreads @Goodreads

Galley Cat @GalleyCat
Book publishing news and tidbits

Writer Unboxed @WriterUnboxed
Wisdom about the craft and business of writing

The Rumpus  @The_Rumpus
Source for book reviews, interviews, and essays


And us, of course (those of us who tweet)!

What Women Write @WhatWomenWrite
Joan @JoanMoraWrites
Julie @JulieKibler
Kim @ KBullockAuthor
Pamela @PamelaTHammonds
Susan @SusanPoulos1

Who's in your collective?

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Next Step

By Susan

All of us here at What Women Write have been pretty open about our writing journeys—our dreams and fears, our habits and pitfalls. Sometimes things work out exactly how we imagined they would. And then at other times? We have to be careful what we wish for.
This year my writing path has taken several interesting turns. At each fork in the road I've been forced to make decisions, and sometimes I've made choices I couldn't foresee happening. I'm still writing short stories and poetry. I still blog twice a month here, on What Women Write, and I post daily insights and thoughts on my personal blog. 
And my novel is still "in the works." After tearing it apart and rebuilding it over the course of the past twelve months, the manuscript and I have come to a standoff series of agreements. The first is that the manuscript is in charge, not me. The second is that I can't rush the donkey—and right now, my novel-in-progress is most definitely acting like an ass. The third is that in order for me to stretch my potential as a writer to where I want to be, a big decision is required.
My novel-in-progress looks like this: sweet, but stubborn.
For me, that decision was to apply to graduate school.
After years of thinking about it, researching schools and surveying my friends regarding their experiences with different programs, I finally took the plunge and applied for my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing.  I choose a low residency option through the University of Tampa, a three-year-old program with lots of potential. After careful deliberation, discussion and due diligence, I hit send on my application and waited.
The acceptance, followed quickly by a scholarship offer, accelerated my writing trajectory. I was suddenly tasked with exciting ideas like writing samples, coursework, and required readings. At the same time, I was inundated with the minutia of university life: questions like housing for my residencies, submitting a photo for my student ID, and dealing with the bursar's office. I graduated with my BA twenty years ago. Being a student again feels both thrilling and terrifying.
By the time I write my next post on January 3, 2014, I'll be in Tampa for the first of my five residencies. I'm both overwhelmed and exhilarated at the thought of what's ahead of me: things to learn, books to read, papers to write. Of course, throughout it all, I'll bring the donkey with me, and between the two of us, we'll continue to plow the field.
Going in to a new year is a clear demarkation of out with the old, and in with the new. What are you planning to keep or to throw away? How will your writing trajectory change in 2014? You can wait-and-see, or make some big decisions for yourself. Which will it be?


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Writing Tired

By Pamela

I'm tired ... emotionally, mentally, physically fatigued like I haven't been before. I'm miles from home but yet, back home. I've spent the past six days packing up my mother's house in Indiana, attending her memorial service and tying up loose ends. I've talked to more people in the past week than I do in months, since I'm normally well-secluded from the rest of the world as I write from home at my kitchen table, my sofa, my office.

My mother as a baby with her mom and sister.
My mother was not a writer and not much of a reader until she retired. But after going through her personal belongings, I've learned she did write--lists, travel journals, notes and letters galore. And each time one of my siblings or I came across something with her handwriting on it, we were reluctant to toss it in the trash, even if it was a grocery list or details on how she decorated for Christmas.

Mom was a great cook and I'm returning today to Texas with her recipe box in hand. Not only have my siblings, nieces and cousins instructed me to send copies of her recipes, they want them in her handwriting. Her penmanship is as unique as her fingerprint--we all need to feel that personal connection to her still. To see her words in her own hand, especially since we know she's written her last ones.

This coming year, I'm resolving to pick up journaling again--a practice I've abandoned in recent years after blogging and Facebook replaced my need to jot down my life experiences. This morning I realized that none of my children will fight over a printout of my blog or wish I'd posted more on Facebook, but I can see them clinging to my journals, arguing over who gets to keep them--maybe even slipping one into his or her bag while the others aren't looking.

My writing goals are usually geared toward publication--seeing my byline in print, eventually publishing a novel. But quite possibly my most memorable, most notable work will be seen by only a few. And that's just fine by me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Back to Normal?

by Elizabeth

What a weird week it's been. This time last Monday we were still eyeing the icy driveway of our retreat house wondering if we would be calling the landlady and begging for one more night. Instead, we rolled up our pants cuffs, scraped ice off the two sedans blocking the two cars in the house's garage, and all of us got on the road home. One by one we texted we'd arrived safely home (I was last, toting Kim and stopping twice for fried chicken to feed our ravenous families), school was on all over the place, and by Tuesday morning, it was back to normal.

Except it kind of wasn't, at least for me. December, remember, I was quickly reminded with the arrival of the mail and some Christmas cards in the box. (I quit sending them myself about half a dozen years ago, and though my name has dropped from others' lists, it's a task I have yet to regret eliminating.) Candy to make, gifts to buy and wrap, and with two teenagers in the house, stress over upcoming finals to deal with.

My manuscript, rife with post-its and handwritten notes, sat untended.

But not in my head. As I (finally) walked the dog, the real purpose of a secondary but critical character gelled. As I stirred a pan of boiling butter and sugar, a plot point as sticky as the toffee I was cooking resolved itself. And best of all, as I picked up a couple of gifts, the characters I'd drawn on the page felt as real and alive to me as the people for whom I was shopping.

In the following days, I managed to sit down in front of my PC and work through the notes I'd written at the retreat. I'll tackle more of it today, and throughout the week before the kids are home for break beginning Friday. I hope to work on it while they lounge in their pajamas enjoying the respite from school, but what I learned this fall I plan to carry through the winter: make a modest goal based on a spectrum of time rather than a daily lashing, and the work will get done. Not only done, but done faster, because for me, that longer-term goal is one at which I succeed, whereas the years have taught me that insisting on a daily word count is a good way to take three years to complete a first draft.

So normal? Well, the ice has melted, the tree is decorated, the kids are at school, and after I make a run to the airport, I have some time to sit down with these folks I love and find out what gets plugged in or pulled out. It's the new normal. And I'm loving it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Contentedly Iced-In

By Kim

The freezing rain started shortly after the last of the What Women Write crew arrived at our retreat house in Granbury, Texas. It lasted through the night, covering houses, roads, and countryside with a layer of ice.

We do get ice storms around here every once in a while and when it happens the world pretty much stops.

Our cities have no supplies of sand or salt to put on the highways. Basics like eggs, milk, and bottled water disappear from grocery store shelves. Schools and offices close. News reporters beg everyone to stay home and wait for temperatures to rise. Those who don't heed the warning may be trapped on expressways for hours.

Everyone gets cabin fever except for us, apparently.

Though we were a short walk from one of the Texas’ quaintest down towns, no one lamented being unable to tour it. When husbands and children texted their concerns about us braving the roads to come home on Sunday, we called the landlady and she granted us an extra day. We took that time without guilt, scurried back off to whatever corners we had claimed for ourselves, and most of us had a productive day.

We never lost power and we had plenty of food. A temperamental coffee pot was our biggest inconvenience, and even that was swiftly overcome by Pioneer Susan who rigged up a French press and made coffee the old-fashioned way.

The best part of being iced-in, though, was that when emotions ran high, and they did for most of us at some point, the group became closer in ways that may not have happened had we had the option of escaping each other.

Those who needed consoling or encouragement got it. Those who needed a dose of tough love got that, too. I went into this retreat so discouraged and overwhelmed, I was dangerously close to a nervous breakdown. I didn't realize how close until I heard the things I needed to hear to stop the wheels spinning in my mind. Now home, I’m not only calmer than I have been in years, but I also know without a doubt that I have five women who accept my quirks and have my back.

I've never had that before and it’s one heck of a gift.


What about you, readers? Have you ever found yourself closer to a group when you are trapped together by circumstance? Or, has it soured relationships for you? 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Going against the flow

By Julie

Every year, we make goals for our retreat before we go. Along with a few jokes about how I'm the one in charge of junk food and wandering around, I halfheartedly make some goals. Well, I take that back. I make my goals with very good intentions. But inevitably, as we go around the table in the evenings, everyone else recounting how their day went and what they accomplished, I'm saying, "I didn't get a single thing done today, as usual."
Photo credit: Christi's Flickr photostream

It always seems to come as a surprise, and yet, not a surprise, that what I accomplish at these things is not exactly what I set out to do. I know it, but I still attempt to make it happen differently. I relearn this lesson every year. (Sometimes more than once, as I've been on a few retreats like this with other groups in recent years.)

The thing is, as much as I love them, my What Women Write ladies and myself, we are not alike. The main thing being, I am a die-hard night owl with a daytime focus problem. Susan and Pamela are night owls to a degree, yet they always still seem to be up and at it fairly early in the morning. I plan to go to sleep when everyone else does and wake when they do so I can partake of "coffee" (or as it so happens with me, an iced drink), breakfast, and morning conversation, bright-eyed and bushy tailed as the rest, get right to work, and pound out the words.

Right. This never happens. Ever.

The nice thing is, I kind of figured out why this year.


At home, I am typically on fire from about four or five in the afternoon until about three in the morning, writing, working on blog posts, etc., with short breaks for picking up kids from school, making dinner, etc. Yesterday and today, I was back home and in my normal environment, waking sluggishly to the day, sipping on my iced tea midday, looking around at my Facebook newsfeed, reading blog posts, reading a book, etc., until suddenly, around 4:30 p.m., my brain switched ON.

And I was off and running.

This weekend, I'd end up doing the same thing, except I'd try to wake up early, then give in to the temptation of actually getting enough sleep, because of course I had been awake until three a.m. or later. Then when I did get up, I'd wander down to the kitchen, pour myself a glass of iced tea, and eat my "brunch," just as everyone else finished lunch and scattered back to their various writing hideouts.

A few hours later, my brain would suddenly kick in. Right as everyone else was ready to wrap things up for the day and start getting ready for dinner, I'd be truly settling into the space I'd claimed in the study of our retreat house. I'd rush to get down on paper what had been brewing in my mind most of the day, but was torn as I felt like I needed to go help in the kitchen or otherwise participate in whatever was happening. I'd usually choose to reluctantly rejoin the world, because I have to admit that having this skewed schedule always makes me feel a little out of the loop. I have that weird feeling I'll miss something important. It's that human longing to belong, I guess.

But the realization dawned: If this is the way my brain and body function at home, why on earth do I think I can change it for a weekend? Why do I think I can change it overnight?

Am I kind of crazy?

Not to mention, it typically even takes me several days after returning from vacation or traveling for book events, etc., to settle back into this routine that works. I am, in general, a wanderer. So why do I think I can settle in and really produce on a retreat that only lasts three to four days?

And then there's the fact that while I'm no longer the shy person I once was at all, I am completely an introvert. While you'd never know it from the amount of talking, laughing, and joking I do around others, people actually exhaust me. I need lots of down time to recoup the energy I expend while among them. I've spent the last two days, to a degree, recovering from all the togetherness, as fun as it was.

But in spite of all that, here's something:

This weekend was NOT worthless. 

Once I admitted to myself yet again that I probably wasn't going to get much tangible "stuff" done, I relaxed and mostly enjoyed just chilling out, having long, deep conversations with various members of our group at odd times, thinking through my own dilemma of "what I'm supposed to be writing next," and actually making some pretty big decisions about that during group read-and-critique sessions and my times of quiet contemplation, lying in my cozy twin bed in the wee hours of the morning or later when I awoke but before I emerged to be among people.

As it turns out, retreats don't work the same for all of us. Once I settle in at home, I get a lot of work done. I usually manage to partition my time and obligations fairly well and do what I need to do--often by doing it late at night. I don't necessarily need a retreat to produce words like some of my fellow writers do.

But I do need retreats to simply get away with like-minded people, get away from my everyday routine--maybe even to shake things up a bit.

If I ever decide I want to take a writing retreat where I really get words on the page, I suspect I'm going to need to find a few people who work on my schedule--and that could be pretty tricky--and most likely I'll need to be gone a hefty number of days so I have a chance to settle in well and really get going.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy these chances to hang out with my friends, my fellow writers, and accept what I receive there.

What about you, readers. How do your routines or circadian rhythms mesh with others' when you go on retreats? Or vacations? Or life in general? How well have you accepted that?






Monday, December 9, 2013

Retreat Wrap-up

By Joan

For our fifth annual retreat, we again chose a new house. We keep searching for the perfect combination of comfortable sleeping arrangements, space to write solo and snug group quarters for dining and critiquing. Aside from a poorly stocked kitchen, this house came pretty close to ideal.

Lost in a good book
A good thing, too, as we were iced in from the enthusiastic storm that swept across the country. In fact, we were forced (yes, it was awful) to stay another night to wait out some treacherous road conditions. We had plenty of food, wine and imagination.
Susan and Joan

Every year marks a new chapter in our individual writing journeys and this year was no different. Julie’s book came out last January and she’s had a whirlwind year of book-club appearances and author signings. We shared our pre-retreat goals last week and over the next week or so, I’m sure a few of us will share our thoughts on the weekend. Several of us are writing new manuscripts, others revising stories that won't let go of their hearts. I mapped out my new WIP and wrote fresh words. I also read a scene I’ve been dying to share with the group.

Pamela wrote: “Together we have laughed and cried more than the previous four retreats combined. As we collectively grieve tremendous loss, personal struggles and professional pitfalls, we've grown closer in our vulnerabilities.” We did that, yes. We also goofed it up in matching sweaters that Elizabeth brought for us. We watched one of our favorite movies, Love Actually, to give us a dose of lovely plot, characters and dialogue (not to mention Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman.)


We’re all safely back at home tonight after braving cobblestone ice and crazy drivers. Hope you all are safe and warm, too.

"Everyone wear blue!"

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bad Writing Advice

By Susan

     We're here at our retreat--ice- and snow-bound in Granbury, Texas.
     Each one of us is currently sequestered to our own cozy writing space. Thankfully, we haven't lost power. I'm sitting Indian-style on a queen-sized bed, looking out over the snow-covered lawn. I'm warm and content, with my laptop in front of me. I hope you all are safe and warm wherever you are, too!
     Each of us are churning out words today, working toward personal goals we set well before today. At last year's retreat, I think I added about 6000 new words to my manuscript. This year, I'm not so sure if I'll be that productive: we'll see. Yet comparing last year's productivity to this year's progress makes me a little hard on myself. I'm beating myself up before I've entered the ring. And it reminds me of lots of bad writing advice and habits that we writers seem to employ when attempting to goad ourselves into putting words and scenes on paper.

     Here are some examples:
1) Write 2000 words a day.
     We all know this one. Since Stephen King penned On Writing, every writer knows that Mr. King writes 2000 words a day, every day. He preaches it wherever he goes. The problem with this standard is that most writers I know do NOT write 2000 words a day. And when they decide that they must write 2000 words a day because Stephen King says so, they end up either a) feeling terrible for their massive failure, or b) not writing at all because they can never be Stephen King.

2) Write every day. 
     This is not bad advice in itself, and I actually do write most days, although it's not always fiction, and it's not always toward my manuscript. I journal. I write letters to friends and family. I occasionally produce a poem or short story. Yet do weekends pass without a word on paper? Do I give myself a break when I need to think through a plot point or a sticky character development quirk that arises? Most definitely. I would suggest instead writers should think every day, write as much as possible, and not be too hard on themselves if they take a day (or a week) away from the page.

3) Edit as you go.
     Yes. We all edit as we go. But that doesn't mean that your first draft is complete when you get to the final page. Editing as you go does not replace revision, rewriting, scene elimination, continuous new words, plot changes, and POV fixes. Fixing typos is not the same thing as editing a manuscript. Don't fall into the thinking that keeping your manuscript clean of errors as you end each chapter means your manuscript is a book when you type the words "The End."

Instead, let's focus on some good writing advice:
1) Read as much as you possibly can and do so without guilt. 
2) Write whenever you can, whenever you feel like it. (Unless, of course, that means "never." Writers most certainly write.)
3) Understand and love your first draft. And your second. And your fifth. Make every draft the best possible work you can complete at that time. 
4) Write what you love. 








Wednesday, December 4, 2013

And We're Off...

At various hours tomorrow morning, after we drop kids at school or start the dishwasher or maybe throw a final kiss at the spouse who will run the house for the next few days, cars will be packed and the trek will be made to Granbury, Texas, for our annual retreat. It's always interesting to see what different stages each of us are in our efforts, what progress is being made, what hopes and dreams seem close or far. This year is no different, although we, as ever, certainly are. Here's a bit of what we each are hoping for from this year's retreat.

Pamela:
I'm approaching this year's retreat with a heavy heart as my mother died one week ago today. I debated attending at all, but decided that four days spent among my close friends could be only balm for my soul. So, I hope to embrace it for the blessing the retreat always is for me and utilize my time wisely--whether it means adding some serious word count to my WIP or outlining the ending that's been keeping itself at arms' length up until now. Perhaps I'll do some journaling to help me through my grief. I do hope we'll enjoy good weather as being able to get outdoors and stretch my legs after long hours at the computer is always a treat. As usual, my favorite part of the day will be getting to listen to the others share what they've so brilliantly composed while we are there. And the food and wine and companionship never disappoint.

Elizabeth:
My new laptop will make its inaugural appearance at this year’s retreat, and I’m sure my fellow ladies will be thrilled that I don’t yet again hog the prime real estate nearest a power outlet. (My sad old machine would not hold a charge.) I’ll likely write some words on it, but most of what I have planned will be old-school, hard copy: I've printed up the just-shy-of 100K words I've written, and plan to spend most of the weekend shuffling them around, reorganizing them into new order, and call it a manuscript instead of work-in-progress by the time we pull out of town. Which I can then tackle again in the following weeks, and set it aside over Christmas. Come January, I'll read it again, polish it up once more, and get it to Beta readers. Oh, and I hope to eat a lot, walk, and maybe Susan and I will spend an hour or two getting our Ohm on.

Susan:
Every year, I look forward to our retreat. I can’t believe this will be our fifth year! This time, I’m focusing on the structure for my latest—and hopefully, final—draft of The Angels’ Share. I’m excited about the possibilities ahead of me. A new goal for me this retreat is to start a new poem each morning we’re there, and to flesh out my writing goals for 2014. I’ve learned so much about writing craft and the publishing industry in 2013. I’m hoping that this retreat will be a good time to reflect on this year’s journey and to plan for the months ahead. And a few long walks and some yoga, along with good friends, food, and wine, won’t hurt a bit.

Joan:
After a few years of revisions and rewrites, I’m finally excited to say I’m working on a new manuscript at this retreat. Characters and scenes are flying at me quicker than I can write them, and in no particular order. Like Kim, I typically hide away in my room or in a quiet spot on the lawn, but I always look forward to walks, evening readings, wine, food, and laughs. I’m constantly amazed and humbled at my luck in finding this group of quirky, brilliant writers, each of whom I bond with in a different way.
 
Kim:
I will probably spend most of the retreat holed up in some corner with my brand new laptop. I had intended to try to rack up as much word count as possible on my new manuscript, which is mostly outlined and has even been started. Plans have changed, though. There are rumors of further cuts to my husband’s division at work, and they tend to do layoffs in the spring. On the chance that I end up having to rejoin the working world in a few months, I want to make certain that the edits on my already completed manuscript are done so I can continue submitting it. Agents and beta readers alike agree that I’ll have an easier time marketing the book as upmarket women’s fiction instead of historical or literary fiction, but in order to do that, it must be switched to an all-female point-of-view. I’ve stewed over how this can be done for the last couple of months and it all came to me in a rush. Now the story won’t let me go again. I’ll be getting as much editing done as possible over the retreat.

Julie:

I'm the person in charge of junk food and general wandering around. So as always, while everyone else is gathering eggs and yogurt and granola and other healthy things, I'll be stopping by Trader Joe's or some other fun store and randomly grabbing whatever looks the tastiest and least healthy, because I try my hardest to corrupt my writing sisters that way. The forecast calls for freezing rain, so I'll make sure we have plenty of hot chocolate, marshmallows, and spiced cider to simmer on the stove. Cider is a fruit, no? And writing? Oh, yeah! I'm counting down the days to the paperback release of Calling Me Home (January 7--one month from the penultimate day of our retreat), and doing random tasks in preparation. But I'm also on the last legs of a revision/rewrite of a manuscript I started a long time ago that hasn't ever let go of my heart. I have big hopes of finishing it by this weekend so I can submit it to my agent. Of course, you know what Robert Burns said (To a Mouse) about the the best laid plans of mice and men...

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
But we are What WOMEN Write, so maybe we'll be lucky and our best-laid plans and schemes will not go awry. We'll let you know how that turns out.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Ten ways to know you've made it as a writer

By Pamela

10. People endure the painful process of getting inked with an image symbolic of your book.

The Mockingjay from The Hunger Games.

9. Children dress up as your book's characters for Halloween.

Harry, Luna and Ron

8. Reese Witherspoon plays you in a movie based on your memoir. 

Cheryl Strayed | Reese in Wild


7. Your book goes through an insane number of printings and experiences various cover art. (My edition is the 22nd printing!)



6. A section of an amusement park is devoted to your book series.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

5. Someone pays an amazing artist to sculpt your book.



4. You get a street named after you.

Author of The Maltese Falcon
3. You get a drink named after you.

serve in a cocktail glass
2 oz. white rum
1/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
juice of 1/2 lime
1 oz. grapefruit juice

Squeeze lime juice into a shaker, add remaining ingredients and shake briefly with a glassful of crushed ice. Serve in a frosted cocktail glass. 


2. Your book signings draw crowds reminiscent of a rock concert--well, almost.


1. Your childhood home gets converted into a museum.

Flannery O'Connor's childhood home, Savannah, Georgia.

What's your benchmark for success?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Twas the Day After Thanksgiving

My happy angel in 2010
by Kim

 For the past few years my daughters have spent Thanksgiving weekend at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas, performing in Chamberlain Performing Arts production of The Nutcracker. I've spent Thanksgiving weekend in the wardrobe room, attaching halos to heads and helping the "mice" put tights and leotards over tights and leotards. I also catch glimpses of little girls practicing the choreography for the Ballerina Doll or Clara's Friend, roles they dream of performing in seven or eight years. The excitement is contagious and leaves even parents feeling like children on the night before Christmas.

Hence my (somewhat pathetic) rendition of the famous poem...

'Twas the day after Thanksgiving, when all thro' the Eisemann,
are children so excited, you’d swear they won the Heisman;
The costumes are hung in wardrobe with care,

In hopes that Party Girls soon would be there;
The dancers wait impatiently in their Keds,
While visions of Dew Drops dance in their heads,
And the Sugar Plum Fairy in her tutu, and the Cavalier in his cap,
Must wait until January for their long winter's nap-
When out in the hallway there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to the door to see what was the matter.
Away to the dressing rooms I flew like a flash,
Alerted the chaperones to send the Angels, and off I did dash.
They wear dresses and halos like new fallen snow,
Smiles and curls bring “awwws” from the audience below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and Unicorns instead of rein-deer,
With two drivers, Clara and the Prince,
I knew in a moment, their steps would cause no one to wince.
With the grace of ballerinas, the dancers they came,
And we pointed, and whispered, and called them by name:
"Now! Bakers, now! Pages, now! Candy Cane, and Mother Ginger,
"On, Seraphims! On, Polichinelles! On Cossacks and bell dinger (?)
"To the front of the stage! To the back of the stage!
"Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As dry snowflakes before the wild blizzard fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the balcony the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Nutcrackers – Clara and her Prince, too.


Happy Holidays!


My girls with NYC Ballet dancers Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle



Photo credit: Deborah Downes


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanks for Waving

by Elizabeth

The cat's out of the bag now, party over, so I can say here that I spent a good amount of time the past couple of months getting ready for my mom's 75th surprise party. The biggest part of the surprise, surely, was that all six of her children, from the one across the street to the one across the state, to the four across each side of the country, were all present to welcome her third quarter century. Dressed in poodle skirts and hipsters, no less! The second biggest pleasure, a durable one, was a life retrospective photo album we all put together for her. It took some work.

Sorting through long-taped boxes of stuff a few weeks ago, I came across not only pictures I'd forgotten about, but old journals as well. I spent an embarrassing half hour reading my diary from age 13, and less pink-tinged time flipping through old journals. I also found my old poetry book, and was reminded that I became a paid author via poetry. Yup, in the early 90's I entered one of those poetry contests you see in magazines, and a few months later was notified I'd won first place (not the grand prize, though), and a check was in the envelope along with the invitation to buy the anthology. Yeah right. The five buck check would hardly cover the price of the tome, and I nearly threw it away. Then I looked again. Five hundred dollars. Seriously? Seriously. I wish I'd bought something lasting with the cash, but instead I got an exercise machine that sat unused for five years before my mom finally dumped it at a garage sale.

Thinking about the party, thinking about that winning poem, thinking about mothers and Thanksgiving and what tomorrow means, I decided I'd share the poem here with you. Between my mother, and Pamela's, and Joan's, mentioned in the past weeks here on the blog, it seemed fitting to remember mothers on this day that is not about turkey but is very much about gratitude and memory. Kim and Julie, too, have often talked about their mothers on the blog, and like me, are blessed with their proximity. As we head toward our retreat in a week and a day, we are wishful for comfort for all our mothers, we are grateful for the times we've had with them, and we are hopeful for the best.

Waves

Perhaps my first memory is of the carousel
The whirling joy in the jangle of bright song
Bringing me back around to wave with four year glee--
Every time--
At the smiling mother who waved back--
Every time.

Or maybe the train ride across Wyoming
Where I waved at every horse
In every field--"Hi, Hochie"--
I named my red wheeled horse after them
And my mother always waved back when I came around the block.

Is this what motherhood is?
A series of waves at children on toys, on bikes,
Leaving for camps, dates, colleges, weddings?
No, but how do you
Define motherhood?
So leave it to say
What I got from my mother
Was an aching drive to wave.

She waved to me as I was wheeled into surgery,
Nineteen, ovarian cysts.
"Can I still have children?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said, "let's wait and see."
And in those hours I felt my birthright
Slip away like a miscarriage.

When I awoke, I saw my mother
Waving.
The doctor told us my life was intact
And I realized how closely knit
Our hands are to our hearts.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why NoMo

by Joan

I was all set to participate in NaNoWriMo. Then life intervened. Several years back when I was ready to start a new story, I began in November and wrote about 30,000 words. I’m not a fast writer, but thought I could benefit from some added motivation. Last year I was revising a manuscript and didn’t want to start something new.

I’ve never loved the idea of cramming words on a page because I have a hard time moving on from a sentence if I know it sucks. I’ve always been one to revise as I write, then edit and revise some more. But a few months ago I started researching and sketching ideas for my next novel, so the timing was right this year.

Karen Harrington ran a wonderful post about her own NaNoWriMo experience and encouraged writers to go for it. Then I read a FaceBook post from Caroline Leavitt. “Writing is not typing!” I thought that was wise, too. And so, as always, there are no “shoulds” in writing, only that each writer must do what works best for her or him.

I’m spurred on by Karen’s encouragement and the excitement of this idea that is a story only I could tell. I have a voice in my head that I seem to have met a long time ago. A voice that has been hiding, waiting to grab the keyboard. I’m letting her go. For the first time I’m leaving blanks and highlights everywhere. Names, places, games, lots of details that will emerge from further research of the time period. I’m allowing myself to write quickly and not everything is in order. As the scenes come to me, I write them.

I began to tally my November words. On the 7th, my 89-year-old mother fell, broke some ribs and punctured a lung. I moved up my Thanksgiving flight and extended my stay in Maryland and slept next to her in the hospital during those first days. The most writing I did was to jot questions for the doctor or punch out a few texts to family and friends. “She’s confused and in pain,” or “hospital is so understaffed.” There were some bright moments: “Today my mom said, ‘for some reason, all of a sudden Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a big hit again.”


She was transported to a rehab facility on a blustery cold day and is slowly learning to use a walker again. Because of some cognitive issues, she might not get back to living as independently as she had been. She’s still a fall risk. One day she was caught using her tray table as a walker. 

I’m writing most days and have managed to write about 12,000 good words. She’s telling me snippets of her life I’ve never heard before and I’m writing them, too. I’ll never know if they’re true or a product of painkillers. I won’t get to 50,000 words, but I’m spending time with my mom who likely won’t be around to see any of my books published.


Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. And how’s your NaNoWriMo going?
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