Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Little Magic: A Happy Holiday Story for Writers

      “How’s your book going?” my writing group buddy, Chris Elfin asked.
“I almost finished the final chapter, but I got stuck and had to go back and revise parts of the first few chapters because of the ending. It’s like working a puzzle that sneaks in another twist after you think you have it solved,” I said with my nose wrinkled and my brows knit as I remembered the knot in my stomach when I realized all the rewriting my new ending necessitated.
“It’s a lot of work.”
Deep sigh. “Yeah, but it’s the most fun kind of work I’ve ever done.” I grinned at the small, white-whiskered man who slouched back in his chair with an echoing grin and crinkled hazel eyes.
“If it’s a labor of love, you’ll succeed.”
“What’s the status of your book?” I asked him.
“What book?”
“Your Kansas City mystery—the one we critiqued for the past two years.
“Oh. That book.” He shrugged.
I looked at Chris over my glasses and raised an eyebrow while a surge of warmth from my heart area threatened to turn up the corners of my mouth. This guy had given each of us good feedback on our chapters, asked questions that made us think about how to improve, and supported us on social media with “likes,” comments, and links to helpful sites. His chapters submitted for critique were so well-written that we needed only to enjoy the story and praise his use of witty dialogue. Now, we were reading a second entertaining story of his, chapter by chapter, but what had happened to the first?
“Did it get scooped up by an agent or a publishing company?” I probed.
“Why do you ask?”
“I like that story. It’s good. Should be published so lots of people can read it.”
“We should all be published,” he said.
“I want us all to be published by the end of the year,” I said looking upward with a melodramatic “wishing on a star” demeanor.
“Publishing contracts for all during the holidays—a time of miracles.” He nodded with a serious expression and regarded me with eyes that now looked golden brown.
By the end of September, everyone in the writing group, except for our newest member, had written and sent out multiple query letters. While helping to critique the queries, Chris had declined to share one. My head reeled with imaginings of my letters sitting unread at the bottom of great piles on agents’ desks or in their e-mail accounts. I’d received a few flat, generic replies telling me the agencies weren’t accepting new clients at this time or said, “You story does not fit our criteria.” What were the criteria my story didn’t fit? What criteria would my story fit if not those stated in the agency and publishing house Websites? Other group members had similar experiences, and it helped little when we told each other that some best-selling writers had tried for years before they were published.
In early November, I got an e-mail from an editor at a local press asking for a summary and the first three chapters of my book. The poor editor probably heard my whoops and squeals all the way downtown in her office. A couple weeks later, the editor asked for the entire manuscript. 
     I floated into my critique group meeting on the third Thursday of December and tried to remain calm as my fellow writers straggled in and took seats. My toothy grin and triple-enthusiastic greetings to each of them may have been a clue that something was up.
“I have a publisher! They offered me a contract this morning.” I proclaimed without preamble and then sat back expecting open mouths and astonished congratulations.
Instead, all four others who’d written queries announced that they’d also received offers from different local publishers, all in the past few days. Our new member was absent, and Chris Elfin sat with his arms folded on the table, his eyes twinkling in a brilliant blue color, and a smile under his whiskers as we all elaborated on our successes. Chris’s eyes returned to their normal hazel as we proceeded with our regular critiquing session, but I couldn’t help thinking he looked as if he knew more about this contract coincidence than he was telling.
“You haven’t told us if you have a contract for your book yet,” I said to Chris outside in the cold after class. “If any of our books deserves one, yours does. Maybe you should query one of these local publishers.”
“Maybe so,” he said.
“Remember when I wished that all of us would be published by the end of the year and you said the holidays are a time of miracles?”
He nodded with a secretive grin on his face.
“Well, the miracle isn’t quite complete unless you have a contract, too.”
“Miracle or not, you all deserve to have your hard work rewarded and your fine works published. By the way, I am self-published and starting to do well.” Chris Elfin walked away toward his parking spot. “Happy Holidays,” he boomed back at me from a golden sports car with a red hood ornament.
I stepped into my car, closed my eyes for a minute, and shook my head. When I looked again, I saw only a white Honda pulling away from under a light pole decorated with colored lights. I drove home looking forward to celebrating a special Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Time to Give

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

            Every year at about this time, I devote one blog post to the subject of giving. It can be hard to broach the subject of giving because unless your name is Stephen King or John Grisham or J.K. Rowling, you’re not making millions of dollars with your book sales and your movie deals.

            But you’re still a writer. You get to spend time (hopefully it’s every day, but if not, hopefully it’s at least on a regular basis) doing one of the things you love most—writing. You get to tell stories and share them with the world (or some small part of it).

            You’re living the dream, whether you think of it that way or not.

            But there are a lot of people out there who are not living the dream. They’re in Syria, they’re in Haiti, they’re in drought-stricken Madagascar. There are people in the United States who don’t have enough to eat. They don’t have warm clothes. They can’t afford to give their kids gifts for Christmas. And you don’t have to take my word for it—turn on the television or radio and you’ll hear the stories.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

            That’s why I do the giving post every year: because we’re fortunate. You don’t have to be in the One Percent to be one of the lucky ones, to know there are a lot of people who are hurting, especially at this time of year.

            One of my favorite websites is Charity Navigator (link at the end of this post). I use it every time I’m thinking about donating to a particular charity, and anyone who visits my blog regularly has heard of it because I mention it every year.

            Charity Navigator rates charities all over the world based on two criteria: financial health and accountability/transparency. You can search for your favorite charity by name, by type, by part of the world where they work, etc.

            Online giving to a charity is a common way to donate around the holidays, but there are lots of other ways you can help, too.

            My local grocery store has a “giving tree.” You pick a piece of paper from the tree and that paper has someone’s first name, his or her age, and a couple of his or her wish list items. The thing I like about the tree at the store where I shop is that there are papers with adult names on them, too. It’s easy to forget at this time of year that there are parents and other adults with needs that are probably even more urgent than the kids’ needs. Grocery and other stores all over the country sponsor similar trees, so consider donating to one of those.

            There are also charities (I’m on the board of directors of one of them) which allow members of the community to “adopt” a family for the holidays. This can be a more expensive proposition, so it’s common for groups or businesses to get together to adopt a family.

            Donating at holiday time can be as simple as buying a few extra items when you go grocery shopping and giving them to the local food bank. Lots of stores have a box right by the entrance or exit so that any food you buy to donate can be deposited right there before you even leave the store.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

            But what if you’re not in a position to donate money or food? That’s perfectly fine. How about donating your time or your talents?

            Do you have a couple hours on a weekend after Thanksgiving? Consider contacting your local Salvation Army chapter and volunteering to ring a bell for donations outside a store or business.

            Have you got some neighborhood kids in school? Offer to go in and read to a class. This gives the teacher a few extra minutes to grade papers, work one-on-one with a child who might need extra help, or grab a much-needed cup of coffee.

            Do you sing? Consider joining a local choir for the holiday season. You’ll have to look into this long before the season starts, as rehearsals are often held throughout the fall. Local choirs bring communities together during the holidays and spread joy like nobody’s business.

            Do you bake? Offer to bake for a local Christmas cookie walk. These are great fundraisers for churches and other community groups, so they need bakers at this time of year.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

            There are so many ways for people to help others around the holidays, and I believe when you donate your money, your time, or your talents, you feel the spirit of the season and the joy that can come from doing good.

            And once the holidays are over, please remember that the needs in your community and around the world don’t go away. They’re always there--they just don’t get the same level of attention during the rest of the year.

            I wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season, full of joy and wonder, and I wish you all the best as we ring in the new year.

            If you’d like to take a look at Charity Navigator, you’ll find it by clicking this link.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

All I Want For Christmas

by Linda Thorne

The picture below is the one we sent with our 2016 Christmas cards this year. It wasn’t taken this month, but mid December 2015 when most of our immediate family got together. We were happy to be part of the gathering, but would've been happier if everyone could've joined, something most people our age agree is difficult to pull off.
 People work jobs that take a big part of their time. Getting the time off to travel and visit is hard to pull-off for some of us and, especially for some of our children.

Below are our two daughters, our son-in-laws and three of our precious five grandchildren.

So all I want for Christmas is to see an end to my too-busy schedule at work and to start making plans for time off in 2017. Things may calm down a bit after March and I’m hoping to take every single vacation day I have next year and make the most of it - travel, spend time with family and friends, and continue writing my mystery series. 

The second book in my series, A Promotion to Die For, needs my full attention if I’m ever going to get it released. Speaking of, A Promotion to Die For, the work-in-progress sequel to Just Another Termination is completed, but in rough draft format. The story is one that came to me from a one-in-a-billion twist-of-fate event that I experienced as a young woman. I use this experience in A Promotion to Die For, to return my lead character in the series, Judy Kenagy, to a suburb of Topeka, Kansas where she lived almost thirty years earlier. In this new location, my character experiences the same thing that I did, but I fictionalized it to what might've actually happened back then. My protagonist's "lucky fluke" scared off an intruder who went down the street and murdered someone else in her stead. The third book in the series is only in my head, but will be set in the greater Nashville, Tennessee area where my husband and I have lived since early 2008.

Just Another Termination is the first published in my Judy Kenagy mystery series.

I hope next year to have the book cover for my second book, A Promotion to Die For. 

Like I said, all I want for Christmas is the hope for more free time to do the things I really love; time for family, friends, and writing.

What do you want?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Christmas Cat

 As we near Christmas, I am reminded of --

The Christmas Cat

It was decided, by whom I have no idea, that the kids would get a cat from Santa.  I, who had never had a cat and did not like cats, who was, after all, a “dog” person – who had happily gotten the dog about whom Jamie said, “I think we’ll call him Charlie,” and as far as I knew Jamie had never known anybody named Charlie, and possibly never even heard the name before --  was sent to pick up the cat.

The house, no address, turned out to be a clandestine hideout for a member of the FBI or CIA.  I was fingerprinted, subjected to search, and interrogated for three hours in a 2x2 room under hot lights, with lie-detector attached, questions being asked over a speaker hidden in the wall above the one-way mirror.  No Dr Peppers.  Suddenly, the voice stopped, the lights went cold and I sat in darkness.  My life, short as it had been at that time, passed before my eyes, though without the lights, I only got a few glimpses of the brighter spots. 

Finally, the door opened.  I didn’t know what to expect, and was ready for it.  Instead, blank sheets attesting to what I had no clue, were thrust under my nose (or perhaps my hand, I am no longer sure) and I was ordered to sign each and initial the back of the first one next to the initials of my interrogator, though his were in invisible ink and I might have actually put mine initials on top of his. 

And then, the cat was released into my custody. 

 Little did I know, it was actually a suicide feline, barely out of commando training, who had never been in a car before.  With the cat safely inside the car, I had backed up no more than ten feet when Kamikaze Kat was racing around the car, flinging itself against the glass, tearing at the seats and slashing at the driver. 

 In one of the most incongruous scenes ever video taped by   Finally, by the end of the first block of a 5,000 block trip, the killer kitten settled down, still scared, but feeling somewhat secure by anchoring its claws into the top of the driver’s head.  And it remained there for the remainder of the trip.
the Agency, the cat-unfriendly driver can be seen trying every seducing, soothing, baby-talking line known to mankind in the futile effort to calm down the run-away cat.

Christmas morning, the terrorist-cat had transmogrified into a small, tame kitten.  The kids were thrilled. 

But the cat was about to get a comeuppance, or a comeapartness.  At last, Kristi (after all, the youngest is always last) got her chance to hold the kitten.  Being no more experienced than I was, she grabbed it, got the kitten’s neck in the crook of her arm   The kitten, hanging down, but firmly secured by its head, immediately yelled for help.  Older and more experienced sister Kelly came to the aid of the kitten-in-distress.  She tried to take the kitten.  Kristi was not about to have her turn commuted to such a short time.  She held tightly.  Kelly pulled mightily.   The kitten got longer.  Only when an adult (who knew a thing or two about kittens and just how long they could be stretched) came to negotiate, did the kitten get off the rack.
and locked her hands to her chest.

Giraffe, Stretch, Longfellow, and The Cat in the Rack were names proposed by the adults.  I don’t recall what the kitten was actually named by the kids. 

The kids loved the kitten and learned to take special care of it as it grew into a cat. This was definitely a Christmas to remember.  And to the day he/she died, I’m sure the kitten remembered it also.

James R. Callan, 2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Got a NaNoWriMo Hangover?

The cure for a National Novel Writing Month is this: Put that 50K bad boy in a drawer and SIT ON IT until- NaNoEdMo! AKA National Novel Editing Month

Recently I went to Orycon and I went to a panel with an agent and editor. And during the Q&A I asked if the agent saw a spike in submissions after NaNoWriMo and before I could even the finish the question his eyes were rolling. He said December sees a definite increase of submissions, many of them being people's all too recently finished NaNoWriMo novels.

You may think your NaNo looks like this: 

But in all likelihood it's closer to this:

Don't despair though! With a few months off and some concerted effort you may just wind up like this:

That's where NaNoEdMo comes in. It takes place in March, which means you HAVE to drawer that book for three months. Don't look at it, don't think about, just ignore the crap out of it until March! Then in March, pledge to edit for 50 hours. Yes, 50 hours! And depending on how much of a hot mess your rough draft is (and that's exactly what a NaNo novel is) you may need more. Whatever you do, resist the urge to submit it ANYWHERE. Resist the urge to inflict it on your friends and family. Because you don't want to be THAT author.

The point is to give yourself perspective on the work. Which is something we should ALL do. 

And even if you didn't participate in NaNoWriMo you can still sign on for NaNoEdMo and edit that work you've been meaning to. Admit it, you have a few pieces that you haven't got around to yet. I know I have an editing backlog that is clamoring for attention. 

So, are you on board?