Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Over and off

The Romano British mystery has been sent to the agent -- complete with a longer synopsis and a copy of the Newcastle Journal article. In the end, I simply wanted it gone.
Yesterday, everything was conspiring against me. The washing machine broke (clogged drain -- culprit the middle one), the old computer had problems (culprit the youngest who changed the password and promptly forgot the new password -- result sniping and fighting from the other two) and then the photocopier at the Co-op jammed (culprit --the eldest as he tried to take photocopies of his Dungeons and Dragons book in preparation for friends coming over) In addition, the aga is running low and it appears we may have subsidence cause by an increased flow of water through the stream (insurance company sending out structural engineer on Monday). Oh and not forgetting the front tyre of the Laguna which has a slow leak in the valve.
All this and then the printer ran out of ink! Luckily I had a back up cartridge, but that one did not seem to be very good. The minor irritations just seemed to pile on and on.
Why when I am trying to get things accomplished do unexpected things happen?
Now, it is the stomach clenching wait. My only consolation is that I will have several weeks to wait before I can expect to hear back from this agent. And I do have a plan of where to next if she should not be enthusiastic. The point is that I feel the mss is now as good as it gets for my current state of mastery of the black art.
I now go into preliminary research mode for the regional saga. I have a fair idea of what I want to write about and the barest sketch of a plot. It is a big undertaking but it is the plot which is calling to me the most at the moment.
However, my heroine does not like her name. She wants to be called Rose. I have nothing against Rose but I had thought up another perfectly good name. Now whenever I think of the story, instead of Bess, I keep thinking Rose and I am not sure why save and except the whispering of the muse.
I had also decided in enneagram terms that she was a 2. She wants to be a 6. It does make more sense for her to be a 6, but I shall have to see how this changes the plot. Luckily my hero is happy with Robert and being a 3.
Today, though is HOUSE CLEANING. My long suffering husband has been making noises and it did suffer when I was busy with the Romano British. Ironing is good for plotting.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Urbi et Orbi

Until I went to Rome, I never qutie understood the reason why the Pope's message is for the City and the World. The answer is of course St John in Latern -- the world's first Christain basilica and the basicilica that all otehrs are based on. It was built on land from Constantine's family way back in the 4th century.

Constantine was the Roman empreror who leagalized Christainity. He was the child of a Roman emperor and a tavern wench, Helena. It was Helena who was Christain and who advised Constantine to favour the Christains in Rome. Thereis a question ofnwhether the cross he saw was simply good public relations or not. Her story is truly remarkable -- a single mother who changed the course of an empire.

She was also responsible for bringing many of the hly relics such as piece ofthe true Cross, and Pilate's stairs to Rome. Some relics as the crib one can have doubts about, but others she was probably able to trace due the Roman's obsessive record keeping.

It is also easy to forget what risks the early Christains took, and how the relkigion grew until it well behoovedthe Empreror to become Christain rather than send Christains to meet their death. Sometimes it seems if the early part of the Christain experience is overlooked in favour of the medieval or later experience. And yet it is that growth in the first three centuries of the religion that testifies to power of the message.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Tension on every page

I have finished the proofing reading exercise. Now I am taking the time to go randomly through my mss and check there is tension on every page. Putting it in a binder has helped with this exercise.
It is an exercise from the Donald Maass workbook -- something that takes time but hardly anyone does.
It goes like this:
1.Open your mss to a random page. Put your finger on a random sentence. Is there tension? Is there anyway to increase that tension.
2.If there is tension, go to the next sentence. Increase the tension there.
3. Repeat the exercise until you have gone through the mss in a random manner.
It is forcing me to examine individual sentences in isolation, rather than taking an overall view.
Tension can be some many things. The same sort of tension all the time becomes repetitious. It is resisting the urge to explain. It is making sure the yearning is increased. Or that something is attains a greater value. Sometimes tension is increased by making the actions more over the top, and others by toning it down to almost nothing. It is adding layers to simple statements.
The one thing is certain the most memorable stories have dollops of tension.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday and processions

Today is Good Friday. Always a sad day to my mind. I know it had to happen in order the Easter promise to be fulfilled but the horror of it.

When in 1990 I went to Spain, my dh and I were caught in the Palm Sunday celebrations. We had gone out to find a place to eat, and became engulfed. The parade with its people in faceless cowled robes beating themselves with whips, the one with chains around his middle and the low keening of the women was all very pagan. One man reached out towards me and I saw blood on his face from the whip he used. Then every where we went in Southern Spain, the towns seemed to have some sort of procession with people doing public penance. This, I thought, is what the Spanish Inquisition wrought.

A few years later, we were travelling from Santa Fe NM where my father spent his teenage years back to Denver via Taos. Along the way, we saw the pilgrims going off to Chimayo. Many were walking, and a few carried large crosses. One man was bent double with the weight. In light of my previous Spanish experience, I had no wish to go and we bypassed the town.

I do find it rather comforting that Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Equinox. It does hark back to the early days. And I do find comfort in Good Friday but it is the processions that haunt my dreams.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Dealing with Agent Rs

The post this morning was not so welcome. It brought a rejection from another agent. At the bottom was scrawlled a note -- Every success with another agency!
So I suspect as they are one of the larger agencies and get 200-300 subs per week, they did not think it commerical enough to waste their time on.

It makes sending the full off to the first agent much easier. This way, she has it for as long as she wants. But I have also gone through and listed the agents who I will query IF she decides that she does not feel passionately enough about it. I want an agent who feels passionate about my work.

I also know another London agent is willing to look at my regional saga...once it is completed.

As luck would have it, the post also brought the Society of Author's The Author magazine. There was an article on the slush pile. It made for interesting reading. Some agents who are listed in the Writers and Artists Yearbook who are listed as no unsolicited material will actually accept unsol. Also, it would appear smaller agencies and new agencies are easier for authors to taken on by, partly becuase they need the work. Agents need to be hungry to grow their lists and some are not that hungry.

There was also an interesting article about the growth of independent publishers and how it might be easier for authors to hit the big time with an independent than with one of the big five. It has to do with marketing and the requirements of reprinting. Alistair McCall Smith is an author who has cause to feel grateful to his small publishing house. There is also a move by Waterstones to look beyond the catalogues of the big five. They want to find quality and sometimes it has been sadly lacking from the consensual approach of the big publishers. The most important thing for a publisher to have: enthusiasm and passion for a book. Without that the book will languish.

Fingers crossed I will find an agent and an editor who have the passion and enthusiasm for my Romano-British mystery.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


At the moment, as I am readying myself to write a regional saga, I have been reading Josephine Cox's Born to Serve. This is an obviously very popular novel(as it has been reprinted about 20 times in the last 10 years) and Ms Cox is up in the best seller lists at the moment. but I have a problem with it -- the antagonist.

The villian of the piece is an evil woman who has no redeeming features, save her beautiful face. She also still lives with her mother who is supposed to be a saint. The reason she is so spoilt is supposed to come from her father, a father we learn in the course of the book who has been absent most of the girl's life. Um, I have a problem with that as the mother should bear some responsibility for how her child turned out. She is also a gently bred girl with a taste for sex -- a total opposite to her saintly mother. Yet there is no real explanation of how she became that way (ie saintly mother totally absorbed in other people's good works but neglecting child's needs). She just is. In my experience, people at some level do tend to absorb their parents' morals and ideals. I just didn't understand the motivation.

The heroine is sympathetic, but at points she is pathetic. Why would anyone stay in a household where the daughter of the house is clearly a nymphomaniac and has just seduced your finace away from you? And to top it off, she is willing to take a pay cut out of her meager earnings to help out the long suffering mother whom she admires but for exactly what reason I am not sure.
Then when the baby is born, the heroine decides she is going to take care of this child and protect it from the villian who shows no maternal feelings for the child. The net result is the villian become a cardboard cut out and the heroine starts to look pathetic. If the villian had been protrayed more sympathetically, given a few feelings of human decency, then the story would have resonated more with me.
So yes, Josephine Cox can write, but there were some major plot holes that I was not expecting to find in such a popular author.
I am also reading Ian Rankin's Witch Hunt. In this crime thriller, the Witch is given a few humanizing characteristics. It makes her all the more frightening for it. For me, creating an antagonist who is human is part of the battle. It helps make the protagonist's action more believeable.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

One round done, the hardcopy to go

I have just finished doin this round of editing. A matter of reading, eliminating scenes, POV and tightening things up.

I am amazed how much of the orginal first draft has gone. Motivations have changed. About all that remains the same is the characters and genral over all plot.

Now comes the proof reading bit -- all to get it ready for the agent.

When I reached the final paragraph, I felt proud and had a tear in my eye. Finally I think I have done some sort of justice to this story.

Undoubtably there will still be things to change. i think I have plugged all the plot holes and have tied up all the dangling threads. It feels finished in a way, it had not felt before. Is this a good sign? Or memrly a sign of desperate madness?

It is satisfaction of a story well-told I am feeling now. This time next week, I will be prying the mss out of my hands and giving it off to the nice post lady and the nerves will start but for now I can feel well satisfied. In my opinion, I have told a well paced, readable story.

I do feel it is good enough to get published. It is simply a matter of finding an agent and an editor. After that comes the marketing. And so it goes. But at least this is done.

Bring on the proof reading and paper edits!

Monday, March 21, 2005


One thing I notice as I am going through this mss is that I am much more aware of making sure the stakes are raised. Both public and personal. There has to be both. It needs to matter in the larger scheme of things and on a persnal level.
Why should the reader care? Simply putting the hero's life in danger is not enough. There are dozens of stories with that premise. The reader has to care deeply about the character. The character's problems have to resonate with the reader. What are the consequences of the action? How can things be complicated? And how aware the characters of the consequences? What sort of complications arise? How are characters changing? How can the past affect the present? What happens if they fail? How can I convince the reader that they will fail? And yet sow enough seeds that when they triumph, it does not seem to be a deus ex machina.
It is making for a better mss, in my opinion. The answering of the why.
Or the thinking -- something more needs to be here. How can I show this? How can I make sure there is tension on every page? (Okay this really comes at the next stage -- the hard copy reading stage but I am thinking it now as well)
I know this mss has to be better than good. It has to be superlative. It is probably going to be a hard sell. The time period is not the most popular and it may be that the publishers have indeed overbought.
More than that is my own arrogance. I want the reader to hang on the every word, and also to feel they need to know what happens. The other thing I would like is for when the agent reads it -- for the agent to forget she is a professional and simply to be swept into the story.
It is not there yet but it is getting there. I am far happier with it than I was. I think I am getting better at spotting my holes, repetitions, decreases in tension and general not getting it quite right. Also I am less tolerant of my own failings.
It is taking the rough clay of imagination and shaping and moulding into an intricate sculpture. I don't want something crude but something more.
My fond hope is at the end of the mss, the reader will finish with a sigh of satisfaction. And her cup of coffee will have gone cold. She will have a missed a meeting or stayed up too late. That my writing will have become an obession to her.
It is a tall order, but I do live in hope.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Copy editing

I suppose I should explain about my copy editing remarks.

Once upon a time, over 20 years ago, I worked as a copy editor for my college's weekly newspaper -- The Carletonian. Great fun it was too, but I did learn a lot about what a copy editor does and so I wasnt too concerned about the easily fixable mistakes my mss might have. After all, a copy editor will get most of them. Right? WRONG!!

When I received the proofs of TLS, and actually went over them with a ruler, I was horrifed to see the mistakes I (and here I say I because I was the person who printed the mss out and sent it off to Hale) had allowed to slip through -- missing words, transposition of names and even sentences which did not make sense.
Unfortunately, some of it was not caught by the copy editor, and Hale had to re-copy edit the whole thing.

Ultimately it was not the fault of the copy editor but my own blind arrogance that caused the difficulties. So I have changed my methods of working. Hopefully it will make the copy editor's job easier, the next time around.

My final read through before posting anything off includes a paper read through with a ruler -- forcing me to concentrate on each line. With my recent queries, I have found numerous small errors and have been able to correct them this way.

Hints for a more professional mss:
1. Make sure you format correctly -- Word has a paragraphing function. Don't guess by indenting several spaces.
2. Keep a check list of names and places so that you can check they are consistently spelt the same way through out the mss. (D Company for example not Company D -- one the TLS mistakes)
3. Use a ruler to focus on each line.
4. Be consistent in your spelling, particularly with words such as realise (realize).
5. If writing a historical, have a dictionary that lists date of first usage to hand. Websters Collegiate Electronic is brilliant for such things. Be prepared to go to the local library and use the OED if you are really not sure. (ie ridicule is not listed in Websters as slang for a net bag, but it is listed in the OED as an alternative with the earliest usage date being 1809. Dickens also used it)
6. Have a final hard copy read through. Words look different in hard copy as opposed to reading on the screen. It is here you might pick up frequent use of a particular word, phrase or body language.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


I am currently in first stage of polishing. Now this has already been revised twice and I am starting to get tired of it. A good sign I think. It is less -- where can I add more, have I forgotten a bit than making sure everything squares up.
In case anyone has not noticed, I forget words when I am typing. Or rather, I think the words, but they fail to appear. Thus, after this round of revision, it is the paper round; the getting it proof read round because after my experience with TLS, I am not prepared to trust copy editors anymore.
So at the moment it is getting rid of small conversations that don't add much, expanding on description, elimanating repeated beats of actions and worrying that this whole thing does hang together and that the reader will not guess the villian of the piece too quickly.

Yesterday, I received from Kate Allan the final rendition of the cover. In ways I love it and am very proud of it and yet in others, it is not exactly what I had envisioned. Still it shows romance and adventure without being a bodice ripper -- so all is well, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Getting the Post

For an author with submissions outstanding, there is nothing quite like getting the morning post. What will be there? Any plain white envelope is examined for the franking -- could it be? Any envelope with my own handwriting is greeted with sinking heart. The clench of the stomach, the tremble of the hand, post never felt as good.

This morning after taking the Lab to the vet for a booster as well as so she could examine his infected ear, I pulled open my mail box. My mail box is black plastic purchased at a hardware store in Washington DC. It sits proudly just inside the gate. The arrangement suits the postman who fears the dogs, and the dogs who fear the postman.
Sitting proudly on top was a typed white envelope -- no return address but with a Mount Pleasant postmark. Okay -- so not from Mills and Boon or Har/Sil, I thought. It was too early for the agents I queried. London Book Fair and all that. Two weeks at least, I figured before I heard anything from them. Besides, it was not in my handwriting. But the postmark bugged me.
I walked inside, greeted the Border Collie and put my keys down. At last I could stand it no longer. I tore the envelope open. My hands started trembling. An agent, one who I queried because another agent suggested her to me had written back requesting the full manuscript.

Oh help.

I now have to polish and polish again. I do think it is just about ready, but it has to be up to that next level.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Tossing sheets in the wind

There is always a moment when writing a book, you know -- it is not going to get any better and it had best take its chances. This has happened to me. My Romano British mystery is now about as good as it is going to get and needs to take its chances once again in the cruel world.
Where as before I had the nagging suspicion I was missing something, this time I am pretty proud of it. The work I did with the Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, I think paid off. Plot layering, upping the stakes, making sure tension exists on every page, creating meaningful subplots and looking for connections between characters is not easy but it is essential.
After dealing with the proofs for The Lady Soldier, I now know to proofread my work with a ruler. Simply using my eye, does not work. It is too easy not to focus on the little words. A ruler helps me focus on the exact line I am proofing.
While I wait for an answer, I am not taking a break. My muse is already whispering to me. But I also get the enjoyable task of researching a new era and reacquainting myself with the area around Newcastle. Easter holidays are going to be spent -- revisiting old sites with a new eye.
Off to a brainstorming 101 session

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Rebecca and gardening

There are times when only a comfort book will do. last night with the start of a cold was one of those times. I chose my old stand by favourite of Rebecca, a book I haven't read in several years but one I enjoy.
As I was reading the opening where the 2nd Mrs De Winter is wndering through Manderley again, I was struck by the fact that I knew that sort of garden. In fact my garden was once that sort. When we first looked at this house, I thought this garden was loved once.
As I was reading, I began to wonder how much of an influence the description about Manderley's garden or the garden in The Secret Garden or the garden at Green Knowe or the garden in The White Horse had.
I love gardens with character. Where you can see the love and attention was fostered. Old gardens with hidden nooks and crannies, old walls festooned with ivy and yews and hollies trimmed in fantastic shapes.
Plants can add so much character to a novel. The gnarled oak, the first daffodils, the green returning after the snow. Or even the blackned fingers of a long dead tree sticking straight up against the grey sky.
My current garden is 8 years into a 25 year reclamination project. It is all my favourite garden landscapes roll into one. There are times I have dispaired and others I have rejoiced as a single shoot grows on a tree I thought long dead.
When we first moved here, the area that is now the bee garden was dominated by a large and ugly evergreen.
"I never went down there" the ex-gardener said. "It's not the sort of place you go. She (referring to the old owner who went mad) said it was kept for the birds and to be disturbed."
When I started to cut the shrub down, the AGA which was solid fuel at the time went out. It was the first and only time I burnt myself on the AGA as I struggled to get it relit. I then went and finished clearing away.The AGA again went out and the children swore a great rushing noise went through the house as I cut the last branch from the stump. I always wondered but the children did seem to sleep easier after that.