Friday, March 27, 2015

One Sentence Please

One sentence to describe an entire book…everyone needs that one sentence for the back cover, for the pitch, for the query letter. This has had me in a bind from the beginning. I’ve made many attempts at coherent, concise summaries of my novel. Nothing stood the test of time.

Here’s an early example of my one sentence:

·        In Our Side of Perfect, a college student’s homecoming meets one hang up after another as a car accident and a dead body steer her off course and the mysterious final days of renowned folk artist Olof Krans.

It’s too long. Covers a lot of ground for description, but repetitive.

I had to give it another go and focused on what would get me interested in a book in 25 words or less:

·        A student’s homecoming takes a dangerous detour when a dead body steers her off course and into the secret past of a renowned folk artist.

I kept going with sparse and spare. Here is the synopsis in short form:

·        In Our Side of Perfect, Shelley Anderson wants her college diploma to be the escape ticket away from Bishop Hill, IL, a former communal society settled by Swedish immigrants. She finds herself drafted into finding Olof Krans’ mysterious last portrait. Her only clues: an old woman’s dreams and an uncle’s guilty conscious. Her only ally: a guy who’d rather forget he ever knew her in high school.

·        Shelley must overcome obstacles placed in her way by high-placed museum officials, a jealous artist, and a handsome Swede. Her journey reveals hidden strengths within herself and the troubling identity of the valuable painting.

The thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve managed to write these three paragraphs as active sentences. No fuzzy abstractions by using the following: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

They always come up in my writing and I try to take out as many as I can in my rewrites. I doubt if I’ll ever be totally free of them. And honestly, I’m not absolutely convinced I should be totally free of them. I plan to keep at it and make sure the writing feels right and under control.

As for the perfect first sentence, maybe I’ve got it or maybe not. It’s better than what I had before and will have to do for the time being.

Friday, March 20, 2015

More Beta Readers

I’ve had several people express interest in my book. But when they’ve asked to read it, I’ve put them off because I didn’t feel ready. I was still fussing with editing—changing and adding.

Last week I relented and sent out copies to three people along with my trusted number one reader.

This time around I came up with some questions about the things I was most curious about. Questions that might focus their feedback while the book was still fresh in their minds.

I asked them the following:

·        Did you stop reading at any point and say to yourself “That can’t be right” or “What?”
·        Were you okay with the parts in italics? By that I mean the things along the line of internal thoughts that needed emphasis?
·        Did you have a good feeling for the character development for the protagonist?
·        Did you like the dialog? Was it believable?
·        Did the villains seem villainy enough for a cozy?
·        Did you ever get confused by anything like the flow of time?
·        Did you get some of the humor?

I’ve gotten some good comments and have used them to plug up some holes. The holes in this case are in areas where I had failed to make some important plot points clear.

I’m so close to everything that I sometimes fall into the trap of assuming the reader is going to know as much as I do without spelling it out better.

I’ve also been a little reluctant to be overly obvious. I don’t want to make it too easy, but maybe I’ve gone too far.

Balance. I have to find the right balance.

Getting to that right balance has been the real benefit from these Beta readers.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Okay, Houston…We Have a Problem

I have no illusions about the range of my working vocabulary. It’s limited. Not unlike my grammar and punctuation skills. I’m working on both by reading a lot more. Since my time is limited, I try to stick with books that provide inspiration and good examples. It’s proven helpful many times over.

So, I thought I was making progress.

You can’t imagine my shock when I did a general search through my manuscript for “okay.”

I started the search because the editor, Jane VanVooren Rodgers, I hired for the first 40 pages suggested I use OK instead of okay. It saves space, so it’s logical. But, I thought, it might prove confusing at some point because Olof Krans signed his paintings with a stylized “OK.”

I began the search thinking there would be just a few instances which would require my attention. Was I ever wrong.

Okay is a colloquial term I use in dialog. And apparently I use it a lot.

I was writing down page numbers as I did my search and grew a little alarmed after filling up a couple lines on my notepad.

After filling in a few more lines, I started to laugh.

After several more lines were filled with page numbers, I was resigned to the onerous task of exorcising this blight of “okays.” It seems I’ve let them become invisible and therefore prolific. Forty-nine in all. Way too much.

The OED has a little section on the history of OK that goes something like this:

OK first recorded in the mid 19th century as an exclamation. It became widely used during the presidential re-election campaign of Martin Van Buren in 1840. Van Buren was born in Kinderhook, NY and had the nickname “Old Kinderhook” thus OK.

I guess you’d have to have been there.

How to deal with problem words:

·        Substitute? Yes. Time to open up the thesaurus.
·        Eliminate through thoughtful pruning? Also yes.

Okay, now I’m going to get busy with paring down my dependence on this little expression. Okay?

Friday, March 6, 2015


I love a good circle in writing.

By that I mean having a story start in one place, then let it develop and flow, watch it move around in its own space and time, and when it’s done with its meandering ways discover it has wrapped around to a final point that reflects some aspect of the beginning.

Usually a theme recurs and becomes strengthened by being repeated.

Sometimes it is an echo of a good phrase.

I’ve tried doing it my feature articles.
I’ve tried doing it with my blog posts.
And now I can say I’ve done it with my novel.

After writing my ending several times now, I have it pretty much narrowed down to which theme I’m playing to—preservation.

I’ve recently added another section. It might be considered a coda. It’s a dream that becomes a concluding event. Hopefully, it reveals more about the plot and validates some actions taken by a character or two.

More importantly, what I’ve added mirrors the very beginning of my novel in style and tone. But the real bonus—it turns my 103-year-old woman into a major player.

It’s made me happy. I’ll have to wait for the verdicts of my editors and readers to see if I’ve really succeeded or not.

Until then, I’ll enjoy the moment.

And having achieved another circle.