Does This Sound Like You?

Congratulations! You’ve written an awesome novel, and you’re ready to send out queries to agents and publishers! I’m excited for you! Writing a book is no small feat, I applaud you! But…

is your manuscript ready to send out?

You’ve sacrificed a lot to write this book, I know. You’ve lost sleep you might never recover by staying up late plotting, agonizing over the perfect word for that sentence, and you’ve laughed and cried with the characters in your beloved story. Perhaps you gave up your day job to write full time, got rid of cable television, and sold items in your home to purchase more books to accompany the stacks of books against the wall of your writing nook because you must read in order to learn to write well! Your friends and family are a bit irritated with you for declining invitations, and they’re ready to have you back in their lives. Your dog no longer comes when you call him for a walk because you write in silence, and he’s forgotten the sound of your voice. You seem to turn every single conversation with family and friends into a plug for your book because that’s what you eat, drink, dream about, and breathe these days, and you can’t stop it. You no longer accept dates on weekends because you write 24/7, and you pray you meet the person of your dreams at your book launch, book signing, or a writer’s conference because you don’t get out much.

Welcome to the writer’s life. Wait, that’s my life, but the questions remains: Is your manuscript ready to send out?

No doubt you’ve purchased the current Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents, and spent hours combing through every page, highlighting agents who represent your genre. All this while editing the heck outta your novel, right? You’ve enlisted family and friends to read your draft manuscript, and they’ve given you the thumbs up. A few intrepid souls have read your manuscript again after you’ve made changes, and you’ve promised them the world and then some for the wonderful gift of reading your book. They’re awesome!

Does this sound like you?

You’ve removed all unnecessary adverbs, and reworded every sentence to get rid of the words, ‘that’ ‘really’ ‘just’ don’t help your story. You own a great dictionary, thesaurus, and books on character traits, writing the perfect novel, editing the perfect novel, and books on creating believable characters and dialogue. Perhaps you’ve hired a professional editor for a concept edit, and you’ve decided to do your own editing. Maybe it’s the other way around, you’ll take care of the concept edit because hey, it’s your story, right? You’ve read your story aloud to get the rhythm right, and you’ve even taped yourself reading your book. You’ve read other books in your genre to see what’s out there, and to make sure your story is unique and interesting. Your dialogue is natural, there is tension on practically every page, and the arc of the story is fabulous! Your manuscript may be ready!

May I offer you a bit of unsolicited advice? Read your manuscript again. Edit again and again until you have the most wonderful piece of literature; a book you’ll be proud of. If you haven’t enlisted the help of an editor, please do. Then, send those queries out! Best wishes!

Ellie~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Well-traveled Manuscript in the World

footsteps in sand pr

 

I doubt many 300-page novel manuscripts have physically traveled as far as the original manuscript of my historical novel, A Decent Woman. See if you agree with me.

I began writing A Decent Woman in the Belgian town of Wezembeek-Oppem, a suburb of Brussels, where I lived with my husband and our young children. I traveled with my bound manuscript on several family vacations to Spain, Italy, Greece, and a ski trip to France. In our 13th year of living in that great Belgian house, I finished the manuscript and found myself separated from my husband.

The manuscript was boxed up en route the tiny Provençal village of Uchaux in the south of France, where I lived in the house that was meant to be our dream retirement home. Retiring in France wasn’t in the cards at that time. I was heartbroken to close the doors of our house and say goodbye to my French friends.

So, the manuscript was again boxed up to travel with my belongings across the Atlantic Ocean to Syracuse, New York. I’d accepted a job as a pilgrimage coordinator for pilgrims looking to visit and volunteer at the Sanctuary of Lourdes in France where I’d volunteered for ten years. As a pilgrimage leader, I traveled from New York to France four times, always with my manuscript in my carry-on. Despite loving the job and the great perks of traveling to France, the harsh, long winters in New York forced me to move south after eight months. I also missed my children who were in colleges in Washington, DC and Virginia. I’d never been separated from them.

From Syracuse, I moved to Frederick, Maryland where I worked at a residential treatment center for kids and went back to school. My kids were still in college and after I graduated, I felt the need to move closer to the DC area where long-time friends lived. I would miss the children I worked with at the center who still hold a special place in my heart, but I had to go.

I moved to a two-bedroom condo in Alexandria, Virginia where my parents had retired in the 80’s and where I’d been a college student and a single woman. When my divorce came through, I was once again, a single woman in the DC area. I took a year off to clear my head and finally took  A Decent Woman out of the box. I enjoyed the DC area and being close to old and new friends, but my heart wasn’t at peace in a huge city with so much traffic, noise and air pollution. I couldn’t focus in that environment and felt out of place. I longed for solitude, nature and a big change.

The following year, I moved myself and my boxed manuscript down the road to Falls Church, VA where I lived in a large townhouse and worked as a Spanish language Family Support Worker. The urge to write full time plagued me every day. I just had to finish my novel, but was exhausted at the end of the day after driving to my client’s homes every single day for two years. I’d come home and try to write, but I didn’t have the emotional and physical stamina for it. I was able to do a large portion of my research, however, which served me well. Nothing we experience is a mistake.

A week after my 50th birthday, I decided to change my life completely. That personal milestone propelled me to fulfill my dream of living a creative life.  I found a house for sale in Berkeley County, West Virginia, only an hour and a half from my children who now lived and worked in Northern Virginia. I packed up my manuscript along with cassette tapes with many hours of interviews, loose pages of historical research, and a stack of non-fiction books I devoured for the novel and I moved West.

A lot of sacrifices were made, lots of lessons learned, and in this Federal-style, 107-year old house, I finished my novel.

I am now a full-time writer and I love it. This morning, I gazed at the four manuscript versions sitting on my dining room floor.  I am amazed at the hundreds, probably thousands of hours I’ve spent sitting at my laptop, sometimes from sunup to sundown. Definitely a labor of love. I can honestly say I’ve never tired of reading A Decent Woman and my characters are more dear to my heart than when I started.

I then walked up the attic steps and retrieved the box that holds my original manuscript. I was quite nostalgic when I opened the box. That manuscript takes me back to a very happy and difficult chapter of my life. I read the first few chapters and smiled as you would smile at a child during an important event in their lives. I’ve done everything necessary to prepare my historical novel for the world. It’s time. I am excited for the book launch of A Decent Woman in Fall 2014. I’m ready to share my book with the world.

My WIP, historical fiction, Finding Gracia, is well on its way and I am certain the book will be published during my time in this old house. I hope to see my second novel published in 2015. The sequel of A Decent Woman, Mistress of Coffee, will also be written and published while I continue to live in West Virginia, hopefully in 2016.

Although I doubt West Virginia is my forever home, for the moment…I’m not moving! My dream of returning to live and write in the South of France isn’t far from my mind, however. That is still my #1 dream.

 

Writing Tough or Raw Scenes: How to Access the Emotions

I was sitting on the patio of our river place when this rainbow appeared. I took this as a good sign as I was working with my editor’s last edits of A Decent Woman. The rainbow started on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River and seemed to end somewhere in Virginia or had it begun in Virginia (where I used to live) and end in West Virginia where I now live?

beautiful rainbow at the river May 2014

Recently, a good friend asked how difficult it was to write the tough and raw scenes in my historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman. I knew what she meant and it was a great question. My story is about the complex lives of women in turn of the century Puerto Rico and life wasn’t easy for women of that era. I’d never experienced slavery or physical abuse at the hands of a man nor had I served jail time like my protagonist, Ana. So, how did I write those scenes without personal experience?

How do you write believable, realistic scenes and dialogue when you haven’t experienced the tough or raw situations your characters find themselves in?

It’s not easy, believe me. When I wrote the first manuscript of A Decent Woman, I didn’t have a title, but I knew who the characters were and what their roles in the novel would be. The original story was about the friendship of two women-a midwife and a client turned friend in turn of the century Puerto Rico. No real beefy issues except for a philandering husband. I finished writing in six months and then, discovered a book of non-fiction that changed my story forever. I still believe the Universe placed this scholarly book in my hands.

Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870-1920, written by Dr. Eileen Suarez Findlay, posed a challenge – I knew I had to go deep into uncharted waters or go home with my first novel. The story I had written was  interesting, but flat. The characters were one-sided and I hadn’t delved deep enough into their thoughts, motivations and desires. I hadn’t added challenges to their lives, no drama and the philandering husband had no voice. After I read Imposing Decency, I began the second draft of A Decent Woman, and the stories of my characters within the story emerged. How?

You go to that place in your heart that you’ve kept walled up and protected. We all know that place we’ve put away and kept hidden so we don’t feel the pain again. No one I know, including myself, has been immune to some type of loss. Pain in pain. We might have lost a parent, a sibling or a cherished pet. Many of us have experienced a devastating divorce, the painful loss of a home or job as a result of the divorce or the economy. Our children may have suffered bullying in school or a heartbreaking disappointment in their young lives.

If you have personally escaped such things, you are blessed. In that case, access your heart and be open to the pain and suffering of others. You’ve certainly read tragic stories in newspapers or television. Sit with a sad or tragic story. Put yourself in the person’s shoes and imagine what that person or family must be going through with their loss and grief. Write down your thoughts and if you never use them in whatever you are currently writing, you might later. And if you never use them, you have learned to dig for emotions and feelings within yourself. You’ve accessed that place of raw truth within yourself and your compassion for others has deepened. Both are beautiful experiences.

For writers, it’s important to access our wounds. This involves being willing to remove the bandages and slowly, pick at scabs as we write. It can be intense. You may find yourself crying as you write which has happened to me many times. You are in the moment. Keep writing.

Use your own life experiences. I worked as a counselor, in a children’s residential treatment center, and in a Belgian refugee center. I didn’t have to look hard. I’ve always known that my life experiences would help me with this book. I just had to start and be willing to access what I’d read, heard and seen which was tough.

When I finished the first draft of the manuscript of A Decent Woman, I hadn’t planned on writing tough, raw scenes. The characters in my story live in a tumultuous time. Writing about the complex women’s lives in turn of the century Puerto Rico demanded writing raw scenes because they happened. The current manuscript is one I’m proud of.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway

After an intense writing session of a difficult chapter or scene, I go to the garden and dig in the dirt or I take a mini road trip in the country or along the river. I admire God’s beauty and I let those feelings and emotions go to a place of peace…until the next writing session.

Ellie