Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A writing lesson from the movies

So many writers think they are through when they write the story. Actually that's when crafting the story should begin. Like a director of a movie that takes all the raw scenes that he's shot and goes into the cutting room to weave them into a movie, the writer takes the raw chapters and starts working on the pacing and the flow, engaging the reader here and picking up the pace there. This is where the writer moves scenes to push a reader at the end of a chapter into the next one, watching to see that the story doesn't slow down at a point to where the reader loses interest.

As an agent, I get over a thousand submissions a year of people wanting me to represent their work, and this is probably the greatest failing in them. The author may have a pretty good story concept, but it just doesn’t flow, it doesn’t guide the reader through it. In fact, most of them fail to get the reader off the very first page.

First page? Yes, a major portion of rejections occur right at that point, I call it the “Barnes and Noble test.” If we want to learn how manuscripts are rejected, we just need to sit in a bookstore for a while and watch the patrons. They pick up a book, read the back cover and the first page, maybe sample a little more, but those two are all that we can count on. They keep doing this until one of them pushes them off that first page and down into the book. When that happens they will usually carry it to the checkout stand.

Editors know this and judge them the same way. We can have the greatest story in the world, but if we don’t get them off that first page, it doesn’t matter. This is part of putting on that director hat and directing the book after we get the basic story written. Did you ever hear somebody tell a joke that was hilarious, then later hear someone else tell the joke using the exact same words and it bombs? The difference is delivery, the pacing and flow, knowing the timing necessary to get the laugh. George Burns told the same old tired jokes for 50 years but they were always funny, because his timing and delivery were impeccable.

We know we have to take off the writer’s hat and put on the editor’s hat to clean up a story once it is written, but that is grammar, copyediting and formatting. Too few writers change the hat the third time to put on that director’s hat, go into the cutting room and think of nothing but how to make their story flow so it pulls the readers in and then subtly guides them through it. More writers need to be doing that – no, actually, I believe all writers need to take that step.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Love's Rescue launched

One of my clients, Tammy Barley, had the launch for her new title ‘Loves Rescue,’ and another client Pam Meyers was able to be there and sent me a picture. Wish I could have been there too. Originally titled “On the Wings of the Storm” this book is the first of a three book series from Whitaker House entitled the Sierra Chronicles Trilogy.

A headstrong Southern woman falls for her kidnapper . . . a cattleman she blames for murder. When Union loyalists murder Jessica Hale’s family, cattleman Jake Bennett spirits her away to his remote ranch in the Sierra Nevadas to protect her from the men who would also kill her for her Southern origin. Yet Jessica seethes with hatred for Jake, believing he could have saved her family but didn’t. Now she will stop at nothing to escape him, and to ensure the sheriff pursues the killers – and their hanging – with diligence. Until she falls in love . . .

Under the original title On the Wings of the Storm, the book won 2nd Place in the 2006 Golden Rose Contest, Inspirational Romance category, and scored high in the Ticket to Write Contest 2006 (245 points out of 260)

Tammy has traveled across Western mountains and desert regions on horseback, and has resided in or near every setting incorporated into the book which has made her privy to the unique geographical and human flavor specific to each region. She is the author of two series of devotions for an inspirational book for missionary wives, published June 2006 and continues to contribute devotions for their web site. College studies include Prose Writing, Fiction Writing: the Novel, Modern Fiction Analysis, Nonverbal Communication, and acting to learn how to get into and develop character. She’s a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and the Romance Writers of America.

To introduce historical romance fans to the Sierra Chronicles Trilogy, she is sponsoring the kind of contest I'd like to win--A ONE-WEEK WESTERN GUEST RANCH VACATION FOR TWO! For details, visit http://tammybarley.com/Bookshelf.html She says, “Please feel free to share news of this contest via your ShoutLife bulletin and your blogs. Through my writing I write to draw people closer to God--Christians and not-yet-Christians alike (we might as well crowd heaven, eh?)--and I want to send someone on a vacation of a lifetime.”

This book is a good read and easy to endorse. It’s available for order through the above website and bookstore.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Good News, Bad News

I really missed going to ICRS (International Christian Retailers Show ) but this year for the first time I was able to follow it closely as so many people were posting on Twitter, Facebook, and even emails from their cell phones right from the floor of the show. I don’t know whether that made it better or worse.

Joyce and Diana from our agency were there making appointments and will be passing on some key information which will help. That’s good news. The bad news is the fact that I understand attendance was down 20%, but in today’s economy they were apparently prepared for it. Publishers Weekly Daily reported it this way: “We came in with somber expectations,” said Bill Anderson, president-CEO of CBA, the Association for Christian Retail, which sponsored the show, trimming one full day from it. He cited the economy as the primary reason for the attendance decline. Publishers came in with similarly modest expectations; virtually all shrank or otherwise simplified exhibit space and/or brought fewer staff than last year to contain costs.

Maybe the best news is the fact that almost everybody I talk to are saying that those who WERE in attendance were there to make the most of it, were there to do business. The PW article went on to make that statement, and most of the posts I was watching from the floor were saying the same thing.

Good news indeed. I don’t think anybody will argue that publishing has been in a down cycle, along with our entire economy. One friend summed it up like this: “Mainline publishers are pulling back on advances, downsizing, taking fewer risks, and retrenching. As with any business, these decisions are in line with their bottom line. Authors are increasingly required to create a platform, spend scarce advance dollars on marketing, or cover costs for editing or travel.” Sound about right?

But all of the agents at Hartline have strong activity going and have signed a number of deals. The industry blogs, newsletters and websites that I watch are getting increasingly positive, and these positive reports from ICRS seem to corroborate even further that the industry is far more disposed to base industry plans and activities on industry projections than on national media reports of the economy in general. Every segment of the economy can be a leading indicator or a lagging indicator. I’m hopeful that publishing has decided to lead the recovery rather than follow it.

Looks good to me!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

It's been a good life - Ruth Burns

Today we celebrate mom's birthday at a party at the church. I thought I would turn the blog over to her today to share some of her early memories:

“I’ve never been hurt, never been hungry, never been abused, have had pretty good health all of my life, I just don’t see how anyone could ask for more.”

95 years old and looking back on my life I have no regrets. I was born in Electra Texas, the daughter of Emmet Tunnell and Lizzie Ophelia Green. My birth name was Erma Ruth Tunnell but I’ve always gone by Ruth. Grandmother was named Betty Ermine Scott and I was named for her only they just used part of the name. My granddaughter Teresa has a broach pin that belonged to her.

I made my appearance July 12, 1914 in our house on Main Street in Electra. It was Sunday afternoon. We were all born at home then. Grandma Betty was there to help. Mama was always mad because there was a bunch there playing music and daddy was with them while she and Grandma had the baby.

Martin Edgar (named after grandpa but went by Edgar), Leola May, Alma Lee, a baby that died came before me making me the fifth child in the line. Mama was 28 years old at the time. After me they lost another baby, Robert E, Then came Dorothy Nell, Janie Loveta (Ray couldn’t say it and named her Meta and it stuck), Earl Ray (who just went by Ray), and Billie Bob.

Where I fell in line I was too little to be a big kid and too big to be a little kid. I didn’t get to learn to ride a bike or go swimming or any of that. Every other one would have been a boy except between Leola and Alma, counting the two boys they lost.

The earliest thing I remember was a little girl that lived next door had a tricycle. She wouldn’t let me ride it but she’d let me stand on the back while she rode it. I remember us going up and down the sidewalk. The next vivid memory I have was moving to the field as they had finished our house. Edgar had a room, Alma and Leola had a room and there was a big room that the rest of us slept in, then a dining room and a kitchen. Mama and daddy had a bed in the big room. When another kid came along we just made room. There was a screen porch down the side of the house that kinda caught everything.

We were a poor family. Daddy and Grandpa built the house out on the lease. I remember riding on the wagon that was taking us out there. I was four years old.

We had to haul our drinking water so we couldn’t have a garden. We tried it a couple of years but the soil give out. We had a friend that lived in town that came out and visited a lot. She came out one day and said Leola and Nell were the smart ones and Meta was the pretty one. She just left me and Alma out. I never did quite forgive her. She coulda thought of something to say about us.

We had a good life. We didn’t expect a whole lot so we were happy with what we had. We played with bottles, and pulled the weeds up where we’d have a square to play in. We didn’t have all these toys that kids have these days and don’t care anything about. We liked to play with horned toads and hitch them to matchbox wagons.

We played at home, mama didn’t let us go off and play at other houses. We played well together, there was no fighting. Mama always said if anybody was going to hit anybody it’d be her, so we behaved. There were more of us than the number of kids anybody else had. I don’t see how they fed us really, but we dressed as good as anybody because mama made all of our clothes. A lot were made out of patterned feed sacks.

At Christmas time we’d hang our socks up and get Oranges and nuts and such. I got a coat for Christmas when I was six because I was about to start school and didn’t have one. We thought we had the best daddy in the world but we were afraid of him too. Just a word from him could just destroy us.

Mama handled most of the discipline. I was grown before I realized how hard that must have been on her. I remember her lining up all the kids and spanking all of them just because she didn’t have time to sort out who did what.

Mama was a fraidy cat, afraid of everything. She always had a baby or two to rock. She’d keep us up at night when daddy worked towers and tell us stories. She could take the simplest tale and scare the pants off you with it. We thought she was just wanting to entertain us but it wasn’t until later that we realized she was just afraid to be in the house alone (everybody asleep) with daddy gone.

All the kids but Alma Lee, Edgar and Ray graduated. Alma Lee got married, Edgar quit and got a job to help support the family and of course Ray wasn’t capable of it. (Ray was mentally handicapped, never matured intellectually beyond the age of a boy, but he could play a piano like nobody’s business.)

It has been a good life - so far - and I wouldn't change anything about it if I could.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Under God

Our church will have their patriotic celebration of our nation's birthday today and Saundra and I will sing a special entitled "Under God." At a time when we have a President running around telling the world that "America is no longer a Christian Nation," the sad part is there was no public outcry to the point that the world knew he was wrong. Depending on the survey, anywhere from 80-90% of those in this country say they believe in God although the number who are practicing Christians is much smaller. The point is they say they are Christians.

How do you get "not a Christian nation" out of over 80%? Our nation was founded by men of faith that spent more time on their knees asking for God's guidance than on their feet debating issues. The documents that guide our nation are riddled with Biblical tenets and principles. Yet today our government seems determined to take God out of our pledge of Allegiance, off our money and our courthouses and halls of power. Excuse me, but when did over 80% become a minority?

Yet it must be. That should be enough votes to make the government do anything we want it to, so why is that not happening? Either we are not DEMANDING that our representatives quit going down a road we don't want them to travel, or we no longer care enough to see that our wishes are followed. I think it is the latter. Everyone I talk to is unhappy with what is happening in Washington. I say "Why tell me? Tell them!"

We've fought wars for our freedom and our independence, will we now just roll over and accept whatever they spoon-feed us? We need to speak up, we need to carry our faith into the voting box with us, and above all we need to live in such a way that no matter what our President might say on the world stage people can tell by looking at us that he is wrong.

That's the way to celebrate the 4th of July, forget the fireworks, let's start taking our country back while we still can.