Trying to find the “Ties that Bind” my novel together

knot on fingerWith some trepidation, I sent a “completed” draft of my novel (working title Ties that Bind) to four friends who had graciously volunteered to be first readers. Three are fellow members of Lone Mountain Writers. One is a member of my book club, although I hesitate to say “just a reader.” Without readers, there would be no writers. Right?

Every page of this nearly 400 page beast has been read, critiqued, and nit-picked repeatedly, but the whole thing all at once? Not until now. I really wanted to know how–and if– it hung together. Two manuscripts are still out, but the two critiques that have come back are so vastly different, I hesitate to make any major changes before seeing the final two. What? Two readers had very different opinions about one piece of writing?! Unheard of! (And where’s that sarcasm font when I need it?)

My “reader” friend had few comments and wondered if I’d finally publish it now. As if it were within my power to hit “publish” and make my book land on the shelves at Barnes and Noble next week. I explained the daunting process of researching and querying dozens of agents, hoping to convince just one to take on the task of selling it to a publisher. That process could take months. Years, maybe. I was recently told that until I had queried and been rejected by one hundred agents, I shouldn’t consider calling my attempts “failed.” Yes, self-publishing is an option, but…

My “writer” friend thought it was fine writing, just not yet a novel. It lacked a through-line of cause and effect to compel the reader. Crap. She also caused me to question my own judgment about the scenes I had deleted when I cut nearly 14K words from the original 112K manuscript. Had I unintentionally cut out the heart of my story? Double crap.

In light of that, I’ve begun rethinking the structure and scope of what I had originally envisioned as a story of a lifelong friendship between two very different women, the choices they make, and the consequences of those choices. Here’s the most recent version of the blurb:

“Baby boomer, Claire Jordan has spent decades building a satisfying career in international relief while running away from the losses that plagued her troubled youth. However, when she receives news that her one lifelong friend Libby is ill, she books a flight home. Libby too, has built a life, but one tangled in the very ties and expectations that Claire has so 8b3ed867bde576ef92055e9335bd4711scrupulously avoided. Together they will discover if it’s ever too late to change your mind about who you believe you are.”

Too much or too little to drive a novel?

While I ponder that question, I’m re-reading books on craft, especially the sections on plot and story arc. My two much-highlighted and dog-eared sources: Writing Fiction (Janet Burroway) and The Emotional Craft of Fiction (Donald Maass).

I remind myself that I asked for this help. And in recent yoga classes, I’ve meditated on remaining receptive to my teachers and trusting I will be able to untangle the many threads I’ve created and weave them into a story.

Stay tuned.tangled


Book Report: Can you make room for hope, faith, and opportunity?

tiger drive

Three cheers for Carson City, Nevada author, Teri Case on her debut novel! I was lucky enough to receive it as a gift from a friend.

Teri gets deep and personal in this family drama set in a trailer park very similar to the one in which she and her siblings were raised. The voices of the mother, father, sister, and brother are both vibrant and heartbreaking. Each character demonstrates the damage that poverty, abuse, and addiction can wreak on human beings. To protect themselves, they inflict further damage by keeping secrets from one another. While readers may not like the characters, they will find it hard not to empathize.

“Do you ever think we all would just be happier if everyone worked together and supported each other? I feel like my parents…and my older siblings only take care of themselves. It’s like my family doesn’t think there is enough of a good thing to go around, so they all scrap for the best of the worst, climb over each other, fight over rations, and then boom…they vanish when someone needs them. And that leaves me no better than them and looking out for myself…”

The author successfully paints each character into a corner, where neither they nor the reader can see any way out. Could these characters ever find redemption? Each of them will need to find resilience and the fierce drive of a tiger if they are to survive much less succeed.

More importantly, I believe Tiger Drive reinforces one of the reasons I read–to experience lives outside my own. The characters’ desperate lives and blistering responses to the chaos swirling around them are so foreign to my own life, that I was at first taken aback. Their struggles caused me to reflect on the assumptions and judgments I may have made when I encountered troubled children and families not only in my teaching career, but also in my life. I hope I have at least been kind. As a human being, kindness and compassion should be my first response. My prime directive. It costs us nothing to “make room for hope, faith, and opportunity” in our hearts. Having one person believe in us can make all the difference.

Thanks for a compelling read and the lesson, Teri.

Teri case
Author, Teri Case

Breakfast solutions with less dairy and fewer eggs

Closeup on hands framing a heart on a woman belly

A few months ago, my Nurse Practitioner and I determined that a three-day bellyache was the result of an intolerance for milk protein and eggs. Since that time, I’ve cut back on both. Especially challenging has been finding breakfasts that have enough staying power (i.e. protein.) I also want these to be high on taste and fiber while staying low in fat, calories, sugar, and hence, Weight Watcher Smart Points (SPs). Yes, after over fifteen years on Maintenance, I still follow WW. Mostly.

According to this guideline, I need 64 grams of protein per day.

Certainly, I could make a smoothie with veggie protein powder, but a tall, frosty glass of anything isn’t appealing when there is snow on the ground. And frankly a smoothie isn’t a very satisfying meal in general. I like to chew my food. In fact, the chewier the better.

With that in mind, here are a few breakfasts I’ve put into the morning rotation with no unborn chickens and only a little dairy now and then. It seems to be working. The Smart Points (SPs) are given, because that’s how I roll. For perspective, my daily SP budget is 23. All protein and Smart Point counts are estimates based on my calculations.
Something on toast: Tofutti cream “cheese” on half a bagel (6 SPs, 7 grams protein) or Better ‘n Peanut Butter on a Thomas Double Protein English Muffin. (7 SPs, 11 grams protein)

Bulgur wheat porridge: I’ve been making a big batch with almond milk instead of water. It takes about 20 minutes to cook but saves nicely in the fridge in an airtight container. I can simply microwave a portion for a few minutes, then add whatever fruit and sweetener I want. Berries or a banana are very tasty. 1 cup =5 SPs, 8 grams of protein made with almond milk and without added sugar

Garbanzo flour mini-frittatas: I found the recipe for these on Pinterest. Sauté whatever veggies sound good (spinach, zukes, onion, peppers, mushrooms…) and portion it out into muffin cups. Put ¼ cup of the “egg mixture” on top and bake. It makes a dozen, so I freeze 3-muffin portions in zip-lock baggies. They are a bit bland, so I splash on some green Tabasco before I eat. 3 mini-frittatas= 6 SPs, 10 grams of protein

apple sausage
Apple & turkey sausage pita pocket

Apple & turkey sausage pita pockets: I admit this one is a little weird. Maybe it’s my German heritage, but I think it’s super tasty. 1 chopped apple, 3 fully-cooked turkey sausage links cut into discs, 1 pita pocket (I like Josef’s), 2 Tbsp syrup (I used sugar-free, but that’s just me). Toss apple chunks into a fry pan that you’ve sprayed with some Pam. Start browning. Add turkey sausage. Cook and stir until they are browned a bit. Remove from heat. Stir in about 2 Tbsp of syrup. Spoon the mixture into two halves of a pita. 2 filled pita halves= 4-5 SPs, depending on pita, with sugar-free syrup, 13 grams of protein

Bob’s High Fiber Cereal: I can only find this online (or at Bob’s store in Portland, OR when I’m there), so I order a case and store it in freezer bags in the deep-freeze. Here’s my favorite way to make this: In a large-enough-to-allow-for-bubbling microwavable bowl, measure 1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill Organic High Fiber Cereal, ½ Cup (or more) frozen mixed berries, and a scant 2/3 cup water. Microwave 5 minutes on 70% power. Top with 1 Tbsp brown sugar and ¼ cup of fat free plain Greek yogurt. Yes, yogurt. As long as I keep milk products to a minimum, my belly seems to be fine. One serving=6 SPs, 13 grams of protein when topped with Greek yogurt.

I still enjoy Eggo Low-fat toaster waffles with berries and yogurt from time to time and indulge in a couple of perfectly poached eggs on toast every few weeks. So far, so good. I have yet to explore the world of scrambled tofu. Maybe that’s next?

tofu scramble
This recipe looks promising.


Book Report: Two friends, one survivor


Cat, now a young woman, remembers one difficult year and her friendship with the manic Marlena. With its troubled, reminiscent narrator, this tale goes deep and dark. Divorce, poverty, neglect, alcohol, meth, and the Oxy epidemic all get the “up close and personal” treatment. While the writing is beautiful and rich, the themes make for an emotional journey.

Acclaim (what drew me to this book):

A National Book Critics Circle Leonard Prize Finalist
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Named a Best Book of the Year by Vogue, BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, NPR, NYLON, Huffington Post, Kirkus Reviews, Barnes & Noble
Chosen for the Book of the Month Club, Nylon Book Club, and Belletrist Book Club
Named an Indie Next Pick and a Barnes and Noble Discover Pick

Just a few samples of the gorgeous, insightful writing because I can’t say it any better than the author, Julie Buntin.

On adolescence

“Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
At fifteen, I believed that I would grow up to be the exception to every rule.”
For a teenage girl, a beautiful mother is a uniquely painful curse.”
I loved her, as my mom and as a person, for everything, for being the one who stayed.”

On opioids

“Our universe was limited to each other, hemmed in by the perimeters of Silver Lake and the towns around it, where Oxy had already laid down roots, farmed out by doctors treating pain that most everyone seemed to have.”
There were kids like us all over rural America, I’d find out late; we were basically statistics, Marlena especially, members of a numb army, ranks growing by the day. Alone in our bedrooms, falling asleep in class, meeting in parking lots and the middle of the woods.”
Now it strikes me as a profoundly American thing—an epidemic that started as an abuse of the cure, a disease we made ourselves.”
…but I never tried Oxy, not after watching how it scraped at her with its long fingernails, leaving nothing but a body.”
I’ve never believed in the idea of an innocent bystander. The act of watching changes what happens. Just because you don’t touch anything doesn’t mean you are exempt.”

Like I said, it’s deep and dark, but worth it.