Category Archives: The Amulet of Isis

How Good is Good Enough?

I wrote about this topic in my latest President’s Address for the Ozarks Romance Authors newsletter and decided to open it up for discussion here. When is your manuscript good enough? It’s a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I wrap up revisions on THE AMULET OF ISIS.

At this month’s ORA meeting, speaker Jacquelynn Gagne lamented that so many manuscripts go out the door before they’re ready. With the wealth of publishing opportunities available today, it has become all too common for books to be released while still riddled with basic errors. There’s a deeper level of story editing that’s often missing as well.

Agents and editors often tell us we need to have that manuscript perfect before we submit. But perfection isn’t possible. We can hire professional editors and enlist the aid of critique partners, but even then, our literary creations will still have flaws. Even the professionally edited books released by the big publishers contain errors. So when is enough enough?

The answer will be different for each of us depending on our goals, writing styles and supply of patience. Some authors turn out a book each season, while others spend years perfecting a single masterpiece. What kind of writer do you want to be? How good is good enough for you? Tough questions for all of us.

Still Battling the Demons

It’s nearly the end of January. Not sure how that happened. I don’t think it’s legal to set your New Year’s resolutions in February, even if you do have excellent reasons for being behind schedule (see my last post), so it’s time to get this done. Top of my list? Tackling my issues with procrastination.

Yeah, that was a joke, but I’m also completely serious. Remember the post where I said my twin demons were perfectionism and procrastination? Those demons have been kicking me around more than I realized. I’ve been reading a book by Richard Winter, PERFECTING OURSELVES TO DEATH: THE PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE AND THE PERILS OF PERFECTIONISM. Many of Winter’s words hit home for me—sometimes painfully so. Now that I understand the basis for my struggles with procrastination, doubt and indecision, I’m determined drive those demons back to the dark cave where they belong.

From the 15th-century Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

From the 15th-century Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves.

My Other Goals for 2014

I’ll spare you all my personal resolutions about broccoli, elliptical machines and being more patient with my boys and get straight to the writing-related goals.

Number one—submit THE AMULET OF ISIS to agents. Then submit some more. Repeat as necessary. I can’t say that I’ll have an agent and publishing contract by the end of the year—that’s not under my control. But I can resolve to keep submitting. I’m waiting for feedback from a few important beta readers before I send my baby out into the world, but the day is coming soon.

Number two—research, plot and draft book two of the series. I’ve got the ball rolling on this one, but there’s a lot of work ahead. Fun work, though.

Those two are the biggies. Everything else is little stuff—myriad ways to expand and refine my social media presence and prepare to market my novel once it’s published.

So how did I do in 2013?

Health and fitness—um, I can pretty much cut and paste last year’s goals into this year’s resolutions. Ditto with home organization. I didn’t make much progress on either front. If I’m honest with myself, those simply weren’t my priorities. What were? My little boys, of course. And my writing.

I looked back at my New Year’s 2013 post today—my first blog post ever. It was brimming with optimism for the coming year. Why? Because this was going to be the year I finally wrote a novel. And I did.

“When next December rolls around, no doubt I’ll still need to lose weight, to organize my house and to search for an agent, but I will have completed my first novel.

And that will make 2013 something special.”

I was right. 2013 was something special. But 2014 has the potential to be even better.

Woo-Hoot!

One of the writing groups I belong to, the Ozarks Writers League, or OWL, had their awards dinner Friday night. I might have won a thing or two.

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I took home seven awards in all. Woo-hoot! (Get it? Hoot? OWL awards? I know, groan. I hate puns too. Shame on me.)

I’m particularly excited about the accolades for my debut novel, THE AMULET OF ISIS. It was named Best Unpublished Book and received the President’s Award for the best entry in any category. I’m truly honored and humbled that my book was chosen out of hundreds of entries. I’ve worked very hard on this project, and seeing it honored meant a great deal to me.

I also received First Place in the Flash Fiction Mystery category sponsored by Sleuths’ Ink Mystery Writers. What a crazy category! A 500-word mystery that must contain the words stumble, piranha and skeleton. That was a fun challenge. My stab at it is posted below.

My 1,000-word vignette of a girl dealing with sexual abuse, “The Lesson,” won Second Place in the Young Adult Short Story category. I also placed second in the Six-Word Memoir category and received First Honorable Mentions for 99-word Flash Fiction and Romance Short Story Based on a Photo Prompt sponsored by Ozarks Romance Authors.

It was a big night!

In case you’re curious, here’s what I came up with for that crazy 500-word Flash Fiction Mystery challenge.

Patient Privilege

Think piranhas will clean the skeleton?

You’re kidding, right? Just meet me at the swing. 3 a.m.

I stared at the texts, wondering what inside joke I was missing. Not that it was any of my business. This wasn’t my phone, after all.

I’d finished with my last patient and was about to lock up for the night when something purple and sparkly caught my eye in the waiting room. An iPhone. Latest model too.

I wasn’t trying to snoop. As a psychiatrist, I hear more than enough dirty little secrets. I just wanted to find who the phone belonged to.

That’s when I saw the texts.

The other texter was only identified as 262-73, but I found the owner’s name and went in my partner’s office to pull her file. Joe and I have been buddies since med school, so everything’s fair game in our office.

I scanned her record. Ritzy address. Troubled marriage. A long list of molehills turned into mountains—the type of first-world problems that kept our uptown practice open.

Then I noticed a newspaper clipping tucked inside. Today’s date. An article about a missing real estate tycoon.

Her husband.

My mind reeled.

What if those texts weren’t a joke?

I dialed Joe, hoping for a simple explanation. No answer. Could he be in danger too? Because she’d revealed too much during their sessions?

I thought about calling the police, but I didn’t have enough information to risk breaking client confidentiality. My hands were tied.

I was still thinking about those texts hours later as I untangled the blankets on my bed for the fifth time that sleepless night.

Meet me at the swing. 3 a.m.

I kept picturing the rope swing at the lake where Joe and I used to drink beer on Friday nights. That couldn’t really be it, could it?

I squinted at the clock. 2:07 a.m. What the hell. I obviously wasn’t going to sleep.

I turned onto the gravel road and switched off my headlights. Paranoid, I know. Just enough moonlight filtered through the trees to drive by. My tires made a lot of noise on the gravel, though, so finally I got out and walked.

As I neared the lake, I spotted two dark figures silhouetted against the water. A man and a woman.

I crept closer.

Closer still.

I probably could have heard their whispers if the beating of my heart weren’t so loud. Like a scene in a movie, they lifted a blanket-wrapped lump and heaved it into the water.

The body.

This was really happening.

As they turned, moonlight fell on the man’s face.

Joe.

I gasped and stumbled. Two sets of eyes locked on me.

“See, I told you he’d follow the clues,” Joe said to the woman.

She raised a gun and realization hit like an icy blast.

I was the patsy.

“Sorry about this, buddy. Truly, I am.” Joe grimaced. “But at least I made sure your consumed-by-guilt suicide note was a work of art.”

Bring On the Pain


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I’m a glutton for pain. I must be.

Getting a manuscript ready to release into the world involves revision and feedback, but how much is enough? Critique groups, contest judges, strangers on the internet—some chapters of my book have had dozens of eyes on them. The rest have been read by my go-to critique partners, the two most thorough, insightful and brutally honest reviewers I could find. These ladies know how to make me cry.

That means I’ve had a lot of practice lately accepting criticism. I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Don’t Respond

One of the rules in the Ozarks Romance Authors’ critique group is that the author listens and does not speak. That’s a hard rule to follow, but a good one.

Sometimes we want to explain the bit the reader didn’t understand or why we wrote that passage the way we did. Don’t. If it requires an explanation, it doesn’t work. The writing must stand or fall on its own.

Other times we want to argue and show the critics why they’re wrong. Definite no-no. Hearing criticism of our work is painful, and the natural reaction is to become defensive. Remember that the people offering feedback have given their time and creative energy to help make your work better. Be grateful for that gift, even if you don’t like what they have to say.

Don’t Follow Every Piece of Advice

Although you shouldn’t tell your critique partners they’re wrong, sometimes they will be. Some suggestions won’t be right for your voice, your genre or your characters. Some advice will be just plain bad. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust your vision for your book.

However . . .

Don’t Dismiss Good Advice Too Quickly

Some critiques are easy. We know the commenter is right, and the change is quick and simple. Or we know the suggestion is wrong for our book, and we can ignore it.

A lot of comments require a tough judgment call, though. Maybe they’ve pointed out a real weakness, but we’re not sure how, or whether, we can fix it. Or maybe we’re not sure whether we should use the suggestion or not. That’s when things get tricky.

Give yourself time to let your knee-jerk defensive reaction fade before you make a decision. The comments that made me the angriest often led to the best revisions. I think that’s because, deep down, I knew the criticism was valid, but I didn’t want to face the problem. Make sure you’re not dismissing valuable comments based on wounded feelings.

And finally . . .

Don’t Take it Personally

They’re critiquing the writing in front of them, not your value as a writer. You WANT them to find problems. That’s what helps you make it better. You didn’t think it was perfect, did you? If you did, why did you ask for feedback in the first place?

I’m going to keep repeating these phrases to myself, because an important lesson I still need to master is how to take in all this criticism without becoming discouraged. You’d think with all the supportive encouragement, positive agent feedback and competition successes I’ve had lately, I’d be immune to self-doubt. Not so much. Although my work may be good, it can be better. And I’m going to make that happen.

What about you? What are your experiences with critiques? What do you struggle with?

What a Difference a Year Makes

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The 2013 Ozarks Romance Authors Conference was on Saturday. I was having a horrible hair day. I thought I’d lead with that, because in every other way, my day was so fantastic, I feel obnoxious even talking about it. Not that that’s going to stop me.

My day started bright and early as I set up my portable photo studio for author headshots. I made a new friend who helped carry my equipment and set up—thanks, Quillen! Every single person was on time and an absolute pleasure to work with. I photographed twenty-three people and only had to miss one program to do it. Woohoo!

Next on the agenda: my pitch session with Foreword Literary Agent Laurie McLean. If you read my last blog post, you know how my first pitch went at ORAcon 2012. Well, this year I was ready with a carefully honed and rehearsed spiel—and I didn’t need a word of it. Laurie was one of the final judges in the ORA Weta Nichols Writing Competition, and my novel, The Amulet of Isis, was a finalist in the YA category. That meant she’d already read the first twelve pages and knew she wanted to see more. She was so easy to talk to, the pitch was actually fun. Honestly, I don’t know how it could have gone better.

After that, I had about an hour before my next round of photo sessions, so I squeezed in Shawntelle Madison and Jeannie Lin’s packed program on world building. My head was spinning, but I tried to focus on the great information being presented. All of the programs were fantastic. Our conference chair, Cecily White, did an incredible job once again rounding up amazing speakers for us. I have lots of notes to go through!

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And then lunch. Yum. Seriously. My mouth is watering just thinking about that pecan pie.

For me, one of the highlights of the afternoon was the Query Letter Gong Show, where agents and editors read query letters looking for problems that would make them stop reading. It’s nerve-wracking and sometimes painful, but getting that kind of feedback can be invaluable, so of course I submitted my letter. It was the first one up. My voice shook as I read my text, but I made it to the end with no gong. Then Laurie said, “It wasn’t fair to start with this one, because it’s perfect!”

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After that, my day really didn’t need to get any better. But it did. As I mentioned, my novel was a finalist in the annual writing competition. I was convinced the best I could hope for was second place, but I was wrong. First place. I teared up.

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I could write pages about all the high points of the weekend—the things I learned, the great conversations with other writers, the huge turnout for the conference . . . . But I’m out of energy. And superlative adjectives.

Yes, my head is a little swollen after a day like that. But no worries, my friends, I have painfully blunt critique partners who will help shrink it back to size.

Tag! You’re it!

Tag

Author Jeanie Franz Ransom recently invited me to join a blog hop. She compared it to a kids’ game of tag—she tagged me, now I answer her questions, then tag three more writers who will continue the game on their blogs next week. Swing by Jeanie’s blog to learn more about her and read her answers. What a fun way to get to know other bloggers and learn a few things about old friends, as well!

What are you working on right now?

An upper middle grade fantasy adventure called “The Amulet of Isis.”

While traveling in Egypt, four kids find a magical amulet that transports them back to ancient times. Before they know it, they’re swept into a whirlwind of murder plots, vengeful mummies and a perilous trip through the dark underworld.

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog, you probably saw last week’s post celebrating the completion of the first draft. Woohoo! Now I’m knee deep in the first round of edits.

How does it differ from other works in its genre?

I’ve seen a lot of time travel fiction that is almost entirely a product of the writer’s imagination—inspired by history, but not truly rooted in it. Those stories can be a lot of fun, but for me, this genre offers an unparalleled opportunity to whet kids’ appetite for history and mythology, firing their imaginations and making them want to learn more. I take plenty of artistic license to create a magical, fast-paced adventure, but it’s always grounded in the real history and mythology of the culture they’re visiting. Education can be fun!

Why do you write what you do?

I LOVE research. I completed most of a master’s degree in ancient and medieval history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Although I decided teaching was not my calling, I could happily spend days on end reading about the wonders of ancient civilizations. History is full of fantastic stories screaming to be told, and I want to bring them to life.

What would you like to try as a writer that you haven’t yet?

I love writing in a middle grade voice, and with so many cultures to visit, I could spend many years writing about my time-traveling kids.

There’s something else, though, that I need to write someday—a set of adult historicals set in sixth-century Gaul. I spent years compiling research for this project. I envision novels combining the epic life-and-death political struggles of “Game of Thrones” with the intimate female characterization of Philippa Gregory’s work. They’re truly compelling stories that few people have heard.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about me and “The Amulet of Isis.”  Now I’d like to hear about you! Please drop me a comment sharing why you were drawn to your current project.

And don’t forget to check out the fantastic authors I’ve tagged for next week!

Beth Carter, July 24th at http://banterwithbeth.blogspot.com/

A. M. Buxton, July 26th at http://ambuxton.wordpress.com/

Virginia Lori Jennings, July 26th at http://www.virginialorijennings.com

Riding High

I FINISHED IT!

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The first draft, anyway. 12:27 a.m. Saturday, July 6.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then I’m sure you’ve already heard the news. I sat in my bed, my husband half asleep beside me, shouting my joy from the virtual rooftops.

This must be the highlight of the whole writing process—the afterglow of a freshly finished manuscript. Any author will tell you that writing is an emotional rollercoaster, full of highs and lows, but this has to be the highest of the highs.

Part of me never believed I could do this. Somewhere along the way, it would become too difficult, or I simply wouldn’t know what to write next. Well, those moments happened. There were days when I actually cried because it was so hard and scary. But I pushed through.

I slogged through the tough parts, cleaning up the mess later and shaping it into something worthwhile, and by the end the words were flowing easily. On Friday, I didn’t want to step away from my computer. I took it with me on our family day at the lake, squeezing in words here and there between boat rides.

When we took our final evening ride to watch the fireworks show at our local marina, I knew the end was within reach. I was only pages away, and could finish it that night. I sat in the boat with my family, watching the reflections of the fireworks sparkling across the water and listening to the booms echoing off the hills, and felt like this was my own personal celebration.

I can’t imagine a better feeling.

Now I know there’s still a tough road ahead. I’m already deep in my first round of edits, with at least two more rounds planned after that. Perhaps far more. Then it will be time to face the almost inevitable heartache and rejection of the querying and submission process.

But for now, I’m riding the high, and life doesn’t get much better than this.