Monday, May 21, 2012

Patience, something to strive for…

By BD Tharp
The dictionary says the following about Patience:
pa·tience  /(noun) [pey-shuhns]
1. The quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.
2. An ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay: to have patience with someone or something.
3. Quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence: to work with patience.

I think it is safe to say that MANY of us struggle with patience, especially in the business of writing. The process of writing and editing takes a long time, sometimes years. And finding an agent or publisher is very time consuming and may take months before you receive a response. (Everyone is SO busy!)

Then there’s the time it takes to publish a quality book, we’re talking 1-2 years here. Is it worth the wait? I certainly hope so. As a writer I want my book to be beautiful and error free. As a reader I don’t want to be distracted by typos or POV shifts. I want to sink into the book and experience it.

What other things do we have to muster up patience for? Cooking is one of my worst. I’m very easily distracted so rather than watching the pot until it boils over, I go read a book instead. You don’t want to know how many boiled eggs have exploded in my kitchen because I was too impatient to wait for them to cook. (Burnt egg STINKS!)

Many authors are impatient to publish. They write their manuscript and get so excited they don’t take the time to edit it to a polished shine. Like anything, a really great book takes time to write and time to find the right publisher. This is where self-publishing can be a boon or a bane. As a reader I want the next book in a series as soon as I’ve finished reading the first one and it takes the author a lot longer to write it, or a publisher to publish it, than it takes for me to read it. We all need a little more patience.

Here’s a statistic for you: How long does it take an elephant to give birth? Answer: One year and 10 months, or 22 months. Almost 2 years folks and they birth standing up. How is that for patience?

So, the next time I have to wait in line for my driver’s license or I’m stuck in traffic on the highway and the air conditioner isn’t working, I’ll try to remember this little episode in life will only take a few minutes-hours, not years. I’ll take my iPod and listen to music, be-bopping in line! It’ll make me feel better and it might even catch on.

Enjoy the journey. Peace.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What to Leave Out

Sometimes I have to force myself to put away the books I call my "research" and begin writing the novel I have in mind. I recently read a survey of what readers DON'T want to see in an historical novel: gratuitous sex, too much detail, and hard-to-read dialogue, like Scottish brogue and such. Still, when crafting historical novels, a writer must first feel grounded in the period, and confidant with the setting and what the characters wear, eat, see, and how they live. That’s a tall order, and takes a lot of time, and then we must leave out most of what we learned so as not to bury the plot in a burdensome data-dump.
     Before writing The Tapestry Shop, I visited museums in France, where I found artifacts that enriched my novel, set in the thirteenth century. In a museum I saw some of the tools they used in the Middle Ages, as well as everyday items like a lady’s comb. What fascinated me about the comb was that the upper part, where the teeth were attached, was made of tin. This was their mirror. This same comb plays a part in my novel, when Catherine sees her mother’s face in the tin reflection. 
     While writing my Ebook about Julia Augustii (written under pen name Elizabeth Elson), I got out some photos I'd taken in the Roman Forum, because Julia's life and her affair with Marc Anthony's son took place in that vicinity. You can actually see parts of her stepmother's house a few steps from the Forum.
     Fine, you say. But I can’t make it to London to research my Regency! Not to worry. You can browse parts of the Smithsonian, even online. I keep a list of online sites, set down as to category and time period. When I’m in a hurry, I just throw them in my Favorites folder and sort them later. And now, with Google Earth, you can type in a geographical location followed by the word "library" (not in quotes) and get their contact information. There is even a handy translator at the top, in case you can't read the language. You can "Ask a Librarian" in most countries, just like you can here, and get back an answer.
     Aside from the internet, SCA events, like reenactments, are great places to see what life was really like before modern times. Best of all, keep reading books written by authors who write in your time period. Chances are they have done their homework, and can save you a lot of time, but it never hurts to double-check the facts before sending your book out into the world.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Revising Old Work

Every once in a while I find myself with enough time to work on something, before I start the next novel in one of my series. This is when I usually pull out an unfinished manuscript from the lower desk drawer and try to revise. Sometimes this is successful, but I’ve learned a few lessons about how to do this. Right now I’m working on a Joe Silva mystery that I set aside some years ago, and I’m keeping those lessons in mind.

First, the person you are now is not the person you were then. You were a different person when you wrote the story the first time. If you don’t like the story, put it back in the drawer, or close out the file, and just leave it. This is not the kind of project you can bring “up to date.” If you feel so different from the work, don’t revise it; start over on something entirely new.

Second, if you read carefully you will find what made you put the work aside in the first place, and if that’s something you can fix, work on that. Did one of the characters fall flat on the page? Did the plot feel like a piece of swiss cheese? Some problems might be too big to fix but discovering them will help you in your current work. This is an opportunity to see how you’ve grown or changed as a writer.

Third, notice the language. If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised at the little verbal tics that managed to survive through all that earlier editing—a love of certain phrases such as examples always coming in units of three, longer sentences when the story is getting exciting instead of shorter ones to indicate rising tension, characters’ names all beginning with the same letter, weather patterns that don’t fit the story. Sometimes the problem is what one writer calls echoes—words repeated two or three times in a paragraph while the unconscious tries to figure out where it best suits the writing. These are the things we simply don’t see while writing and even while editing. But reading after time has passed reveals all the warts.

Fourth, if you find yourself disliking almost everything, then pull out that pen (I still edit on paper, though I compose on the computer) and draw a line through everything you dislike. You may have boxes taking out whole paragraphs, and lines crossing out entire pages. But look at what you have left. Do you have a perfect opening line buried deep within the third page? Do you have five paragraphs that on their own suggest an entirely new story, or a glimmer of what your old story might have been? Don’t be in a rush. Let the surviving sentences or paragraph cohere for a while, and then sit down with them and let your imagination give you a new story.

Right now I’m taking my own advice. I knew something wasn’t quite right about the Joe Silva book, and after thinking about a lot of other things for a few years it occurred to me what I could do about it. I’m rereading the novel to think about it with the slight changes in mind, to see if it will work, and then I’ll write. I’m not finding a lot of echoes (but a few) or any pages I’d like to excise, but I do find the occasional typo (to/two/too). And, to my relief, I find that I really like some of the characters, just as I did when I was writing the story the first time.

Susan Oleksiw is the author of the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva. Her Mellingham work in progress is about murder in Joe’s family. The second mystery in the Anita Ray series will be published in June. The Wrath of Shiva: An Anita Ray Mystery (Five Star/Gale/Cengage, June 2012).