Ties that Bind: Do I repeat myself?

WordItOut-word-cloud-2111782I discovered yet another layer of revision by making a “word cloud” from my manuscript. I simply pasted my entire manuscript into the tool at WordItOut. You can easily see my overuse of certain words.

I’ve spent the last two mornings removing about half of my uses of know. Only a little tedious. I found most of them were in dialogue that I thought sounded conversational, but was merely boring, you know? Now, maybe I’ll just do that with all the rest.

Thanks to Joan Dempsey over at Revise With Confidence for the link and the insights.

Have you tried this with your writing? What did you learn?

Ties that Bind: How friends challenged me to write a (better) novel

knot on fingerBless their hearts. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

My dear friend, Joan, challenged me to write a novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  While Joan was a NaNoWriMo veteran, I was a virgin. Why not? I was retired now and I’d had this story of love and friendship (inspired by a few real events) rolling around in my head for years. So I rolled up my sleeves, stocked up on coffee and chocolate, and spent the month of November tapping out 70K words. Sure, it was a little rough in spots and probably had a few gaps in the plot. Nevertheless, I believed I could get it into shape during the following year. 

That was in 2008.

Cue the deep, resonant voice of an omniscient narrator: “Little did she know…”

Soon afterward, I ran into another friend, the legendary Western Nevada College writing teacher, Marilee Swirzcek. She was enthusiastic about my accomplishment and invited me to join the local critique group that she had founded. Advice from Marilee and other writers? Sure. Sign me up!

images2
The founder of Lone Mountain Writers, Marilee Swirzcek

I attended a few meetings of the Lone Mountain Writers and critiqued pieces in a surprising variety of genres. Romance. Horror. Memoir. Fantasy. Christian Fiction. Sci-Fi. They all had one thing in common, though: excellent writing. I knew I needed to up my game.

Months went by as I continued to polish my first fifteen pages. I was sure the group would be awed by my as yet untapped literary genius.

Here’s what I heard instead:

  • Beautiful writing, but where’s the story?”
  • “What does your protagonist want and what are the stakes?”
  • “Where is the conflict, the drama?
  • “Who is the POV character? And why does it seem to switch in the middle of this paragraph?

Gulp. While I had read a literal ton of books and had written opinion pieces for the local newspaper for a decade, it appeared I knew nothing about writing fiction. Nothing. I could certainly recognize a compelling story, but did not know how to create it. Yet.

Fortunately, the group included several English professors who could offer both criticism and encouragement in equal measure. The group has been discerning and honest and, more importantly, patient.

They have now read most of my 111K manuscript—twice. Last week, I printed a hard copy of it (300+ pages, double-sided, spiral-bound, $40 at the UPS Store, BTW) with the intent of doing a whole read-through and edit while on a long ocean voyage (18 days, Sydney to Honolulu) this month. Yes, my highlighters, sticky notes, and flash drive are already packed.

What I hope to do here is to document the next few stages of the process. You know, recruiting a few beta readers and doing a final edit—if there is such a thing. I’ll also be choosing how to publish. Shall I try to find a traditional agent and publisher or self-publish? Only e-books or hard copies too? And with whom? If this is to be a DIY project, then the issues of learning to—or paying someone to—format it and design a cover arise. Then there is promotion and, well, you get the idea. There is still a long way to go.

In addition, I’ll finally have a place to point my dear non-writer friends who keep asking when it will be done. I try to reassure them (and myself) that I don’t want to be embarrassed by something that was put out into the world before it was ready. Unfortunately, the wait has also served to raise their expectations. It seems I can’t win.

So watch this space for news of my progress. And please, if you have personal experience with any part of this, I’d appreciate you leaving a comment or link.

Now, where’s my sunscreen?

Legendary Scones

 

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, another scrapbook page from Annie.

 Scones
from the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper

These are so easy to make, especially if you have a stand mixer. I made them every year for St. Patrick’s Day at school. With only half a stick of butter for a big batch, they are pretty low in fat, if you worry about such things. And people tell me they have magical healing qualities so are the perfect gift to take to an ailing friend.


4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup raisins
1 3/4 cup buttermilk (or milk soured with 2 Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice)

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter. Add raisins. Add milk and egg. Mix until dough forms.
  3. Knead 2-3 minutes on floured board. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into a flat circle, about 12 inches across.
  4. Cut each circle into 12-16 wedges. This is the shape my grandmother made her scones. At this point you can sprinkle them with course sugar, such as Demerara, if you like.
  5. Bake 10 minutes on lightly greased or sprayed cookie sheet. As soon as they are cool, place them in a zippered plastic bag. Serve with marmalade, raspberry jam or lemon curd.

Variations: Raisins can be replaced with currents, dried cranberries, or other fruit. The cranberries work especially well if you substitute a little orange juice for some of the liquid and add a bit of grated orange peel. I’ve also added nuts or chocolate chips from time to time.

scone cranberry

Novel cookies from childhood

 

fudge cookie1

Quick Fudge Cookies
From the kitchen of Libby McCormack Cooper
Aunt Ellie made these for family picnics, but I think every Home Ec class in the 1950s and 60s made them too. They are great to make in the summer because you don’t have to turn on the oven and heat up the house. And who doesn’t like peanut butter and chocolate? You can even call them “healthy” because of the oatmeal, right? I think they’re gluten-free, too. Who knew?!

Mixture #1: 2 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons cocoa
¼ cup margarine or butter
½ cup milk

Mixture #2: 1 tsp vanilla
Pinch salt
½ cup crunchy peanut butter
3 cups quick oatmeal

Cook Mixture #1 at rolling boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add Mixture #2. Mix well and drop by spoonful (or use that scoop again) onto wax paper. Let set until firm and cool.

oats

This novel recipe is icing on the cake. Literally.

Another page from Annie Cooper’s Recipe Scrapbook. You might begin to see why Libby struggles with her weight.

Fluffy White Icing
From the kitchens of Fran McCormack & Libby McCormack Cooper
I’m not sure where my mom got this unusual frosting recipe, but it was always a hit, especially when piled high on chocolate cake. Unlike regular buttercream, it stays soft and fluffy instead of developing a crust.  And since I don’t keep Crisco around (does anyone?), I just use more butter.

3 heaping Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
¼ cup Crisco (I substitute more butter here, another half stick)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring flour and milk to soft boil in saucepan and cook until thickened. Cool completely. Transfer to mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients. Beat until fluffy.

Are you a worrier?

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“If there is no solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem, then don’t waste time worrying about it.” ~Dalai Lama.

This column appeared on New Year’s Eve a year ago in the Nevada Appeal. Click on over to read… Count your blessings

Seeing failure as our teacher

martianResilience is a survival skill, something we need to cultivate in ourselves and our children. The Martian by Andy Weir served as inspiration for my latest Fresh Ideas column in the Nevada Appeal. It’s about Failure and how we can give our children the skills to overcome it. Click on over to read.

Reading is antidote to toxic stress of childhood poverty

read aloud 4 Low income children suffer stresses that would buckle our knees and yet we expect them to learn and grow and develop at the same rate as their higher income classmates.

My Fresh Ideas column published this morning in the Nevada Appeal. Click here to read why Reading is the antidote.