Sunday, July 31, 2011

Random Tidbits

Random updates and tidbits this week!

This round of rewriting Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack is done. I know I'll see it again when the copy editor takes a crack at it, but for now, off it goes.

Oh. Those of you who are into the business of writing may be interested in payment structure. It used to be you received 50% of your advance upon signing, and then 50% upon "acceptance"...acceptance being at the stage where your editor says "cool beans" and passes the manuscript off to the copy editor.

In other words, now.

(Assuming, of course, that she says "cool beans" which, by the way, is an expression I adopted from her.)

But with "the economy" there's been a restructuring of payment so now it's 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on acceptance, and 1/3 on publication.

Next tidbit:

I'm "training" for a new marathon. It's more like slogging out the miles. Those of you who have followed along here know that every  marathon I run I swear is my last. And I really thought the last one was.

But then my son said he was thinking he'd like to train this summer for his first marathon.

And then my other son said he'd do it, too.

So the 4 of us are doing a "family marathon" where we'll all run together for Exercise the Right to Read with the goal of crossing the finish line together.

But my younger son is having second (third and fourth) thoughts. So getting him up in the morning to do our runs has been...challenging.

After all, it's summer and, more to the point, he's a teenager.

Today our training chart called for a 12 miler -- the furthest distance yet. So I mapped a route that I thought might help keep our reluctant runner trucking along...including a detour to his girlfriend's house. I'm happy to report that it went fairly well and that we can check off the 12 mi in the box on the refrigerator.

(Don't tell my son, but I'm sore and tired and wondering why in the world I'm doing this again.)

Next tidbit:

Risky Whippet (family rock band!) played at a party this week--just a handful of songs but it was loud and raucous and fun.

My sons have been having a "do you remember" summer and decided they wanted to watch The Sword & the Stone VHS video from their childhood.


I donated that to Goodwill.

"What about our other videos?"

"Uh...donated. We could get your favorites on DVD?"

"No! It's not the same!"

Talk about being in the dog house. But this week I got my hands on 10 old VHS Disney movies from a girl who was having a yard sale.


So I'm mostly out of the dog house. For now, anyway.

(I wonder if they'll get nostalgic over their Beanie Babies...)


Every day I tell myself I've got to respond to the comments from the last few weeks. Some of them are so good! And every night I fall into bed telling myself I'll respond tomorrow. I will! soon, promise! Meanwhile, know I always appreciate that you visit me here and send me comments.

All for now. Good night!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bloodied and Blind

It’s rewrite time!


Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack returned to my doorstep this week with a two and a half page letter from Nancy attached.

I once received a 15 page editorial letter from Nancy. (That was for Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Moustache Mary when I had a full time job teaching, my kids were tiny, and I was seriously frayed from trying to keep it all together.) So I know—a two-and-a-half page editorial letter isn’t bad.

Besides, I don’t read the letter right away.

It’s full of work, and I know it.

Instead, I go straight to the manuscript and flip through it page by page, ignoring all the little red marks that do not say HA! or NICE! or GREAT!

I live from HA! to HA! if you must know. It’s what keeps me going through the daunting process of analyzing three hundred pages of edits, especially after spending the past six months re-writing the same manuscript into what I hoped was a state of perfection.

Well, near perfection, anyway.

But now here it is, back on my desk, bloodied.

Actually. the pencil she used may be red, but it’s a faint red. I’m not sure if her glasses have gotten stronger of if I just need a pair myself, but some places the writing is so small and faint that I can’t help but wonder if she was on her bed, recovering from a nasty flu, or perhaps a migraine that stress from tardy manuscripts has been known to trigger.

Regardless, I don’t want to read the faint stuff at first anyway, so at this stage I’m perfectly fine with not being able to see it. I focus on only the HAs and NICEs and GREATs in their glorious swoopy red circles so I can gather into my psyche the strength needed to lift a magnifying glass and face all the scribbled suggestions.

But after I’ve soaked in all the good stuff, I still don’t read the letter.

I boycott it.

I'm not yet ready to face what’s wrong with what I’ve written.

So I shove the letter along with the manuscript inside a desk drawer and let the good stuff settle in for a day or two.

It needs time to get securely attached.

Really, it does.

And then, finally, when the good stuff is settled and secure (and can claim squatter’s rights on my emotional state), I pull open the drawer and face the work.

First I read the letter.

Then I let out a big sigh of relief.

Not so bad.

Then I re-read the letter, this time making notes about broad-picture corrections and needed additions (or adjustments in tone).

Then I take a deep breath, roll up my sleeves, and start on page one of the manuscript, grateful that I’ve got an editor who is still willing to show such attention to detail and give me such astute feedback—even on the 15th book in a series.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crazed and Confused

Years ago when we moved into our house, Mark’s parents gave us an old “petticoat table” as a house warming present. It was an antique and looked like it had been banging around in garages for the last hundred years. The finish was crazed, the marble dull and cracked, and although it had claw feet which I liked, it was not something I was wild about having in the entry hall of our new house.

Now, I knew from early in our relationship that Mark’s parents were into antiques.

I was not.

I couldn’t get past the smell. The four of us would go check out some barn full of antiques somewhere, and the minute we walked in I’d want to leave. Maybe it’s because antiques are just old and have been stored in the basement and the attic and the shed and the garage (because, hey, nobody really wants them in their house!) Or maybe it’s because antique furniture was stuffed with horse hair and hundred year old horse hair can’t smell anything but bad. (What is horse hair anyway? From the tails? What are they thinking, stuffing furniture with horsey tails. Giddy up?)

Anyway, the point is, antique “warehouses” smell, and then there’s the issue of springs. Do not sit on antique furniture. If it doesn’t crumble underneath you, it fights back.


The seats are full of perilously bound springs. You have to worry about placing your bottom down carefully and just so, or risk getting goosed by an old rusty spring (wrapped in stinky horse hair).

Now, I might have appreciated the wood and the unique carvings on some of the furniture if it wasn’t for the fact that antique collectors insist that you can’t remove the “patina.” (Also known as crazing.) Crazing is a combination of dust, decay, and wood finish. It’s like the shellac (which, by the way, is made from a secretion of the female lac bug) in a state of cloudy decay makes the piece more valuable than if it’s stripped and newly finished. After all, it would be a crime to get rid of all that history of neglect and garage storage.

So, yeah, the last thing I wanted in my brand new house was a crazed old petticoat table.

And besides, a petticoat table?

What the heck'sa petticoat table?

And who’s wearing petticoats around here?

(Just so I don’t leave these questions unanswered, 1) the table is about three and a half feet tall, four feet wide, and two feet deep with a mirror against its back wall which dainty ladies could use to check their petticoats before leaving the house. 2) Nobody.)

So no, I didn’t want the senseless, ugly, crazed, outdated, smelly thing in my house.

But my in-laws are awesome and I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.

After all, in their view they were giving us a family heirloom.

A rare and wondrous treasure.

One with valuable patina.

Anyway, Mark, being Mark, saw the potential in this piece of firewood and decided to commit a cardinal sin:

He stripped the thing and refinished it.

Weeks later what emerged from our garage was a breathtaking piece of furniture. (The picture doesn't even begin to do it justice.) It with beautiful, matching grain, stunning feet, and a finely polished (but still historically weathered) marble top.

For the first time I found myself really appreciated wood.

It wasn’t just for building fires!

You could do more with it than frame a house!

You could create furniture that was truly art.

That was our first piece of furniture and now our house is full of antiques. We’ve collected “firewood” furniture which Mark (and a really great upholsterer who’s happy to get rid of horsehair) have brought back to life. Not only is the reworked furniture beautiful, but I like the thought that the people who put such care and artistry into creating it have their work appreciated all over again.

I’ve been told that I make, uh, off beat connections, and I confess that the reason I’m babbling about petticoat tables and stripping antiques is because I realize that I myself am “crazed.” The petticoat table is a good reminder that sometimes you have to let go of the past to really shine in the present.

Underneath the crazing there’s life.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Blood: Lost In Translation

I have always loved the melody to the French National Anthem (La Marseillaise). It’s spirited and uplifting and memorable. And although I was familiar with the sound of the words and could mimic the opening lines, I had no idea what any of it meant. But hearing it recently (don’t ask), I recognized a word:


Not as in sing-sang-sung—that’s English.

No, this word forms half in your throat and half through your nose…. Sang.

The reason I recognized this word is that my book Swear to Howdy has been translated into French and the title is Pacte de Sang.

Pact of Blood.

So I got curious and looked up the words to the French National Anthem.

First the direct translation:

(Direct Translation)

Arise, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us of the tyranny
The bloody banner is raised, (repeat)
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They're coming right into your arms
To slit off the throats your sons and your companions!
To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let's march, let's march!
That a tainted blood
Water our furrows!

Holy smokes! I know many national anthems were written in times of war, but...when a French citizen wins a gold medal at the Olympics in 2012, these are still the words the French hear in their heads?

And then I remembered that several stanzas into our American National Anthem there are some pretty, uh, robust lyrics (look it up)…but not in the first stanza (the only one anyone knows) and nothing like this!

Upon further search, I found the “English Versification” of the French National Anthem, which, beginning with the same French words, winds up this way:

(English Versification)

Ye sons of France, awake to glory,
Hark, hark! what myriads bid you rise!
Your children, wives and white-haired grandsires.
Behold their tears and hear their cries! (repeat)
Shall hateful tyrants, mischiefs breeding,
With hireling hosts, a ruffian band,
Affright and desolate the land,
While peace and liberty lie bleeding?
To arms, to arms, ye brave!
The avenging sword unsheath,
March on, march on!
All hearts resolv'd
On victory or death!

Wow. How completely different the tone and meaning of the same words can wind up, depending on the translation.

We authors allow our works to be translated into foreign languages with the agreement that translations stay true to the story. Still, after my little eye-opening adventure with the French National Anthem, I can’t help but wonder what sort of story Swear to HowdyPacte de Sang—is to the French who read it. Since learning French is nowhere near my bucket list, I’ll likely never know.

And maybe that’s just as well.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Dandelion Seed

After Mark and I finished our morning run yesterday we realized that we were out of both milk and money. So before going home we got in the truck and made a quick detour to the grocery store where our bank has an ATM.

I’m no beauty queen to begin with, but after my morning run? Please. Hide me. So I sent Mark in to the store alone, and while I waited for him to return I happened to notice a dandelion seed in the empty parking slot beside me.

It was a joyful seed. Bright white and frisky, tumbling over and over, spinning and lifting off a little before landing again, going round and round the asphalt beside me. It danced and did cartwheels, played with sunlight, and seemed to celebrate just being.

The more I watched it, the more it mesmerized me. I kept waiting for it to dash off, or lift off and be gone. It was so exuberant and full of life that I just knew it was meant to frolic beyond the confines of a supermarket parking lot.

And then it got caught in a little puddle. Some fluid or another from the car that had previously parked in the slot beside me. Maybe it was oil. Or tranny fluid. Maybe water.

I watched it struggle, hoping the fluid was water. A dandelion seed could break free from water. Water wouldn’t hurt its delicate little fuzzy arms. If it could catch enough wind it could lift off and dance once more.

The seed strained and pulled in the breeze and my heart caught for a moment when it tumbled forward. But the seed only made it to the edge of the fluid before being held back again.

And there it sat, straining.

And there I sat, watching.

Come on, I thought. You can do it!

I told myself that I was being silly. Why did I care about this little dandelion seed? Dandelions are weeds, aren’t they? They get sprayed and yanked and cursed.

But this seed had spunk. A real zest for life. And I hated to see it stuck in the puddle. I hated to see it give up. With each passing minute the spirit of this little ball of life was dying, I could feel it. Soon another car would come along and park in the slot. The seed would be shadowed.



Before it had even had a chance to really live its life, it would be crushed.

I saw Mark approaching with a small load of groceries (and, presumably, money). I smiled at him through the glass and reached back to open the rear door. I tried to block the dandelion seed from my mind. I told myself that there are billions of them around the planet.

What did this one matter?

But as Mark started to close the back door I called out to him and he popped his head back in and said, “Yes?”

I pointed, feeling ridiculous. “Could you pick up that dandelion seed?”

He didn’t go “Huh?” and look at me like I was a lunatic. He just closed the door, picked up the seed and held it out to me with a smile.

I shook my head. “Just set it free.”

He did, and there it went on a gust of wind, up, up and away.

When he got inside the truck I told him, “Sorry. I know that was silly.”

He started the motor and smiled at me. “No it wasn’t. I totally get it.” And as he backed out of our slot he said, “Sometimes little things are metaphors for the bigger things in life.”

And so they are.