Saturday, January 31, 2009

I need coffee, then I'll think about revising…again

“Are you changing the subject?” I asked exasperated.

“Am I?”

“Do you always answer a question with a question?”


I laughed not knowing what else to do, and realized how much I didn’t know about this man, and wondered why it didn’t worry me.
(A Single Pearl, Chapter Three).

Scene : Lee and Kerri Ann go eye-shopping in Hawaii. At coffee she shares tid-bits about island history that cover California Longhorns to Captain George Vancouver, and in-between they rush through blaming white people for taking over the islands, differ on the death penalty, and we discover Lee’s distaste for women using bad language. After a stroll they slip into an ‘interesting shop’ (to quote the manuscript prior to edits).

Late one afternoon we stumbled onto a narrow street with small shops pulsing with international undercurrents and sweltering activity. We walked into every one. The last one was a pearl shop. I knew better than to go into a jewelry store with a date. That was a sure fire way to send a man packing. I kept moving, Lee stopped, and I teetered bound by his hand.

“Missed one,” he said, and he coaxed me inside.

Ions: plus sign ‘+’ to denote good, minus ‘-’ not, and a ‘?’ for obvious.

Lisa: I like that Kerri Ann read out of a book to him, ‘tropical temperature…’ like that she wanted public transport, like the jewelry store.

Melanie: good about Montana milk-toast culture. +Bus great, good description of jewelry, stepping on foot.

Pam: good banter between the two characters, cleaver humor, ‘interesting shops’ how?

EDITS: This whole section got a complete overhaul before bringing to the group: roughed out, flushed out, enhanced, expanded then honed down, repeat the cycle. I uncovered Kerri Ann’s love for ‘tid-bits,’ little pieces of information about places and things, and her fascination of powerful women. It introduces Vancouver, Washington, which will appear later in the book.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Eating Korean food, what was I thinking?

Scene:Lee stops by Kerri Ann's room and makes a date for dinner. Chloe attempts to interfere, Lee coaxes Kerri Ann to talk about herself.

My curiosity about the evening got the better of me, and I asked lame question number three, a slight quaver in my voice, “Where are we going?"

“We have big plans,” he said and tightened his grip as if he thought I might run away. “There are three things on our agenda. First, I want to do something dangerous and memorable with you...
(A Single Pearl, Chapter Three).

Icons: plus sign ‘+’ to denote good, minus ‘-’ not, and a ‘?’ for obvious.

Lisa: +sofa description, like the helicopter excuse, but that he came by. ? ‘creating an internal experience,’ what does that feel like? +Endless..” +Hope they never crossed my palate, +instincts…my mom.

Melanie: +take sunglasses off, practically licked lips in anticipation, crapped out (DWFM) at door, mad money(!). Wouldn’t he say wears Chloe? +Auto breezes. -Smell of Korean food? Wondering what the food is--tell us. +Loved him coming over in the morning.

Pam: Your female character is charming. Lee is a rascal! He seems “slick” is he? Dialogue is convincing. ?Not one Korean server in sight? Chopsticks?

Peggy: Oh, I wish I hadn’t missed where they were!? (Hawaii?). +great descriptions (restaurant), + ‘Fight like made dogs,’ great additions to the characters (What I heard anyway). Sorry I missed so much! :-(

EDITS: Mel offered a great suggestion, enhancing this section with a reference to a dog. There he stood, right on time. He looked like a guy ready for his first date with a nice girl, but not ready for the girl’s family. “Is the dog tied up?” he asked looking around for Chloe.

LIFE EXPERIENCE: To improve the restaurant scene, we went out (in real-life) to a Korean restaurant and ran our tongues over very strange and alarming tastes, but it added to the developing food description. In the book, I sent a Korean server to their table, and Lee tried to help Kerri Ann operate chopsticks; she never gets better at it, not even in Part II. In fact, if she’s not careful she may put someone’s eye out.

Lee ordered for us without looking at a menu, sounded like a lot of goop to me and they all arrived at the same time. Floating slivers of green onion in a clear broth that left a faint fishy aftertaste, a variety of little dishes: eggplant, a chard-like pickled vegetable that he called radish, something that appeared to have been string beans before shredding, slimy mushrooms, spicy potatoes. Everything cooked but served cold, and those were just the appetizers. The main dish was a bowl of yuk—cooked sprouts, fried egg, more mushrooms, zucchini, blackened seaweed—and buried at the bottom rice. That I could swallow.

Lisa: your change in references to the food ‘interesting,’ good food description. Like hearing about his father, want to hear more about his family in first chapter. + ‘A friend from home’ (moon); liked that she declined to answer questions about previous relationships. ? ‘and this time do it with meaning’? Didn’t you use that before re a kiss? Porch light?

Melanie: +alcohol sip vs. gulp, good info on rentals and interesting presentation, trapped?? (kiss). +‘How arrogant was I?’ Great, ha ha ha. +Good at his door.

Pam: I like the way you weave in her past with the current conversation. Why trapped? And why was she fighting it? + ‘logical progression;’ great ending.

EDITS: Kerri Ann felt ‘trapped’ in the restaurant right before Lee leaned in for a kiss, softened that up in the rewrite, and of course, the evening ended with a kiss…

I walked him to his hotel door, fulfilling my secret desire to know which room he slept in, and wondered what it would feel like to be so sophisticated you’d follow a boy home and walk right in. Considered if I could do it.

“Coming in?” he asked.

“I…I…,” I stuttered, stumbled onto solid ground and said, “Not with your friends around.” I might be curious, but I wasn’t courageous.

His words ended the evening on a light note. “Ja-ky, I wish I could slip inside my room and disappear as smoothly and efficiently as you, but I’m a regular guy, not a magician.”

When I laughed he wrapped me in a playful embrace.
“Do that again,” I invited.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don't all great dates start in a bar?

Scene: The bar, introduces Lee’s friends and their intriguing quirks and Lee's fascination with Kerri Ann.

He reached into his shirt pocket, pulled something small out, and said to me, low voice humming, “I have something for you.” He opened his palm and rolled a tube over revealing a travel size first aid cream. “Your arm,” he requested.

Fear flashed through me. It was pretty dark in that bar, and the music blared, but we were still in public and my tiny, sunburned arms were way too skinny to be the center of anyone’s attention, let alone this beautiful man’s. I hesitated.
“Give him your arm!” John shouted.
“Prescription from the vacation doctor,” Sandy approved.

“Permission to have fun,” Todd nodded.
Chloe scowled.
(A Single Pearl, Chapter Two).

Icons: plus sign ‘+’ to denote good, minus ‘-’ not, and a ‘?’ for obvious.

Lisa: + Todd/eyeglasses; like Lee and Kerri Ann’s moment alone at table, Why did friends come back to the table? Took a little long. + Tongue across lips. Like the dance floor experience, her exit from the bar. “Self-preservation“ has me wondering. ‘What are you thinking?’ ‘Sorry, 7th grade Billy…’ Transition from going to sleep to friends in room rough.

Melanie: +Todd; +she smiled into glass, +when Lee said, ‘Relax.’ -Walk you home--wouldn‘t she be a little nervous about him walking her home? ++Seventh grade Billy. More inner thought during prejudice scene.

Pam: I like hearing her thoughts about Lee -- he is soooo dreamy…I think. Your writing is very distinct and has clear voice. I have question about green and dust, pine and needles. ‘Blessed,’ maybe take one out (?) ‘cooling cream’ might be enough. Chloe: is there any indication she is prejudiced prior to this?

EDITS: a little more tipsy tumble when Kerri Ann’s friends return to the room from the bar, wove in a hint in prior part of chapter about Chloe’s taste in men, ‘blonder the better,’ helped ready the reader for her reaction to a friend dating an Asian, deleted a mini-scene in the bar-friends running back and forth from the dance floor, per Lisa’s suggestion, tightened the scene up better.

PRIOR EDITS: Earlier, I took out they found their Hawaii hotel on the internet, an obvious ploy to ground the reader in the present, but it didn’t add anything of merit. Also, at one point Kerri Ann listened to country western music on an ipod; that also hit the recycling bin, along with a song she warbled in Part II, ‘Oh, Lee-lee, you owe me a Car-car.” Gads, you have no idea how much this has improved, lucky for you. Me? I’ve had all the hard work after the hard knocks.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Off the deep end, into the novel

My chapters are too long to finish in one class. When we started meeting in Pam’s condo I was the timekeeper, the stopwatch operator when I remember to turn it on!). I unabashedly snuck in a few extra seconds (I lie, it was extra minutes) for myself. I thought for sure everyone noticed, several subtle inquiries later, I remained devoid of any disclosures from classmates that they were aware of my deceit. When I finally completely confessed to Mel, at a pre-read, which advanced me further and faster with her focused attention and recommendations, she said with all sincerity, “I had no idea.” Now, was she just being polite? Who cares? I got away with it! I plan to name a character after Mel -- the one who gives good advice, Kerri Ann’s counselor, this will be tribute to Mel’s deft hand at breathing life into a dull scene, and that ever clever brush of humor that adds the color to the sunset of a scene. But the counselor is in Part II, and we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves…and we have to keep an eye on the girls, they’re going out drinking.

Scene: Chloe, Sandy and Kerri Ann go out to dinner, savor a sunset drink by the pool, then with their 'tipsy' on get their nerve up to hunt handsome men in the bar.

“What are you looking at?” Chloe asked and pulled away from my shoulder. "Oh. Not what…who.”
I felt her nudge Sandy.
I pick him,” I said.
Then it happened. The Korean motioned us over.
“Do you already know him?” Chloe asked surprised.
“No,” I whispered. “But I want to.”
(A Single Pearl, Chapter One).

Icons: plus sign ‘+’ to denote good, minus ‘-’ not, and a ‘?’ for obvious.

Ginger: like the beer dialogue, fun. Kissing talk, move on. Really enjoy the girls night out, very fun and believable. Great end to the chapter. Neat ‘Lee Lee.’

Kelly: +scrubbed fresh and lightly fragranced,’ description of matching old couples, girl talk--good humor, good end of chapter.

Lisa: why/how did she happen upon him at gift shop? I like idea of stealing book from old man. +“…because I wanted it…” reference to kiss. Sandy’s used to clean up -- good showing of her character, + gate closing and locking into place.

Melanie: + sandals and socks, tuition comment, all three sighed at 7th grade kiss, good description of cold on sunburned arms, Sandy--clean up after.

Pam: + ‘doors of…flew open,‘ wonderful light touches of humor, heir nymph--good play on words. I liked the part about ‘doing things in the dark’ -- especially since readers know about her being naked in front of her hubby’s family in the future. Great chapter ending sentence.

Peggy: +nice details (like: ‘my eyes not fully adjusted’). I love how you bring up deep thoughts in a humorous way! (i.e., kissing…etc.). Great interactions with friends, fun! Keeps us reading. ‘Felt awkward and shy’ ß could use different words to show better. Joke about Lee’s name.

Sallee: great description of envy/jealousy. I’m not sure where this is headed, or what they want. Is this a romance novel? Emphasis on plot. More about her depression last chance to see friends? Goal to get away from the doldrums? Added a sentence to help contribute to the sense of Kerri Ann’s depression

EDITS: and how the trip to Hawaii played into her escape; after several edits (it feels more attune to hundreds), reworked the entire ‘meeting scene,’ threw half out and honed it down to a sweeter, simple essence.

What never changed is that after meeting Kerri Ann, Lee dove off the deep end -- of the pool. An obvious metaphor, but so fun, and she’ll remind of us that in the Epilogue, and why she concludes he wasn’t as cool, calm and in control as he seemed to appear at the moment.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Start at the beginning, one, two, three

Meet the players in Chapter one: Sandy and Chloe, seniors at the University of Washington, plan a spring break trip to Hawaii and convince Kerri Ann, their sophomore friend, to tag along:

I’d thought about the trip for quite awhile before committing. They’d been afraid I wouldn’t have enough money to come. I did. I saved earnestly, always had, and prided myself on squeezing every drop of value out of money, that way you didn’t need too much of it. Currently, my stash nested inside books on the board and cement block shelf in my U-Dub dorm room. (A Single Pearl, Chapter One)

Scene: Kerri Ann and Lee meet in Hawaii for the first time by the hotel's pool.

Icons: plus sign ‘+’ to denote good, minus ‘-’ not, and a ‘?’ for obvious.

Ginger: +pool explanation, +goose white skin, +hairy chests, -sunglasses, how could she see his eyes if he wore sunglasses? +like the first meeting, +off with her ends, +hair description…nice dude, +great dialogue.

Jade: +good describing the smells, ‘slowly re-threaded,’ +nice slowly describing the man, ++good description on the eyes.

Kelly: +description of pool scene, cab scene, good inner thought.

Lisa: +good description of poolside and ocean, ‘Pleasure or wickedness’ Wickedness doesn’t feel like right word, +‘North or South,’ +good description of his eyes, +‘off with their ends,’ -would like more fore-shadowing of depression if possible, +like her discomfort of joining Chloe’s family.

Melanie: +deep end position thoughts, goose white skin, loved ‘open and unending,’ used word ‘tracked’ twice when looking at the man holding sunscreen, + ‘North or south, haha, +great twist that the owner of sunscreen not girlfriend. Depression? Maybe sooner?

Pam: +nice opening for Chapter, setting the scene by the pool, et al. +Your details are good, brings image to reader, +skilled writing, interesting story. +Good banter between the two characters. ? ‘over and over on into infinity’ take out ‘on.’ +’off with their ends,’ good allusion to Alice…

Peggy: +great details especially at beginning, +’lungs’ etc, grounded character, ‘flesh stuck to seats’ and smell of sweat… ?Sweat stung her eye…’ can you add emotion/feelings of her surroundings more before going to the reception area? +‘Falling into his eyes…’ etc. +great job capturing her emotion and feelings, “series of mirrors,’ great metaphor/similes throughout. Great description of Chloe ß fun uses of language.

Sallee: + ‘admiration from the hairy-chested…cabby’s body odor…drop of perspiration…the pool awaits…goose-white skin. Great description of envy/jealousy, more great descriptions and imagery! -I’m not sure where this is headed, or what they want. Is this a romance novel? Emphasis on plot. More about her depression, last chance to see friends? Goal to get away from doldrums?

EDITS: Okay, enough positive feedback to lock into the good stuff and throw out the other. One thousand rewrites cracked the scene down to half to one-quarter of original. I knew why all the characters were where they were, hadn’t quite captured it fully on paper, needed to lead reader more into Kerri Ann’s state of mind, she’s depressed, end of an unsuccessful infatuation, primed for the next love struck moment of her life, and this guy has no idea the tiger he will grab by the tail when he falls for her and he discovers what she’s like when she’s not depressed, and the goose white flesh hit the cutting room floor, Lisa wasn’t sure they would brag that way about themselves.

I chose that spot, near the deep end,
even though it didn’t have enough shade. Strategic, away from the pool steps, away from the parade of flirts who roamed in and out of the water and the echoes of admiration of the hairy-chested who ran after them. I needed peace.
(A Single Pearl, Chapter One).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Writing Boot Camp, crap we have to read out loud!

I did not start at the beginning of the book, but rather a chapter I was working on at the time. It gets re-read when it pops up again during our die-hard meetings, and it caused some frustration to me as Lisa, who caught my characters not being true to character, again caught me on the second go-round where I still lacked skill. Soooo not fair. That’s writing -- wanting to argue with the reviewers, but once sensible, really want the work to improve, stomp home frustrated, yet determined, turn on the computer and edit.

Scene: Lee has invited his cousins over for the evening and has asked Kerri Ann to go to the liquor store for him, a task she detests, her passive aggressive response spirals out of control and ends in disaster...for her.

The last thing I wanted was a bunch of drunks in my house, of any nationality, but I stocked up. Three to four brands of scotch, whiskey, bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, singles of brandy, cognac, kahlua, tequila and some other crap that was on sale. Enough to open my own bar, didn’t want to have to make that trip for another ten years. I lined up the bottles on the dining table and they covered every inch.

“Jesus,” Lee said, when he walked in the back door, “I didn’t invite the whole country.”
(A Single Pearl, Chapter 10)

We used the plus sign ‘+’ abbreviation to denote what we liked, minus ‘-’ did not, ‘?’ for obvious, and I used a dot when I wanted something I wasn’t getting, but it wasn’t bad enough for a minus.

Ginger: +like the storyline, ‘bow at the Lee alter,’ people’s reaction she is not Korean, -confusing at the end of chapter and start of next.

Jade: + ‘his mouth opened but no sound came out,’ and a ‘second shot of electricity sizzled.’

Kelly: great conflict, +‘…until I realized I should, maybe, breathe…’

Lisa: ++good description, funny; good verbs, ?hanbok? What is it, explain. If they’re married and she’s naked after the fiasco, well, something more happens in the bedroom. Tighten up the description of her thoughts about John talking about father.

Melanie: ++love the voice, humor, emotion, tension.

Pam: I assume there is a reason he is Korean? Your dialogue is very telling of the characters. The whole series of action: the cousin yelped, the door slammed, etc. I loved that! It sounds like Lee isn’t all that mad, more fascinated with her. Is Lee his first name? Didn’t you say “Jason Lee” at one point? Probably not. Good visual details and I like your character’s thoughts.

Peggy: +great emotion, gut wrenching. +great description of characters. -May want to add when she left the liquor store and was home, ground the character a bit more there. +everywhere else was good, just make sure reader knows where she is. +nameplates--great description here, +office description, +pressure with handshake J , like her thoughts during John‘s rambling.

Sallee: +good résumé description, t-shirt, bare-bottom (good descriptions), -need more scenery, surrounds, embarrassment goes on too long (?), -confusing as to where we are, +'cute sandal to cute sandal' (good!), + good description of office (old world), more action and conflict, good inner thoughts.

EDITS: I felt when the reader receives the information about the backdrop prior to this scene, what the class felt was missing might feel less so. Am I right? You’ll have to skip ahead to where critique of Chapter 10 occurs to find out. And when you do, well, something more happened in the bedroom, unlike Lee, Kerri Ann
has no problem apologizing. The change altered the mood of the scene, helped end the confusion between chapters, but I felt we lost the concept that Lee is fascinated with Kerri Ann. In the end, the scene served its purpose, explained why she refuses to wear a hanbok, traditional Korean dress, but not necessarily why it was important to him, but that gets explained in Part II.

Yes, book is divided into two parts, One and Two. (That ‘one and two’ was probably unnecessary, but that’s ME, write way more than you need to, now where’s that red pen…or that drink!)

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Critics and the Critiques

critique groupSo what does a critique group actually say after you pull out your laptop, open your manuscript file and proceed to read something out loud? Perhaps before we follow that there should be an introduction to the critics.

Lisa: full time mom of three boys 6 to 16, prior life physician’s assistant. Great writer of dialogue, hears the significance of each word, signals when it’s the wrong word. Writing an inspirational novel. When she wrote the scene where her male protagonist took his shirt off and strained muscles and poured sweat to chop wood, Mel and I were left panting. Bereft. We’re still waiting for the love scene, but she's just stringing us along. Hey, Lisa--could you give us a love scene with the ex-boyfriend, maybe in a flashback?

Melanie: accounting assistant in plastics manufacturing plant, prior life, police assistant, ambulance driver, cop, endless relater of belly-laugh-stories all from real life--train station, meth dens, the highway, almost shot a man, excuse me, criminal, because she had to pee so bad, as in ‘gonna wet my pants if this doesn’t end soon.’ I’ll let her tell you who needed a change of clothes when it was over. Mel identifies scenes that would be improved by dialogue, sparking the story to life. Defender of the mantra ‘show don’t tell,’ always anxious to ‘see it,’ and can illustrate what that means! Writing historical fiction. Mel’s dagger-of-a-pen and keeps our class in stitches. Mel and I are slightly jealous of Lisa’s ability to ease right into a fully formed chapter as we struggle through re-writes and editing. Mel thinks Lisa may not confess to as many re-writes as she actually does. I don’t know, Lisa looks pretty honest to me…

Pam: retired schoolteacher, traveler, hostess of our group, kids all grown up. Our English prof, correcting the stray error, extremely, character-oriented, catches when our fictional people falter out of character alignment. Loves Lee (from A Single Pearl), hates Lee, loves Lee, hates, loves, hates…I wait with baited breath to receive her feedback at book’s end, will she embrace Lee and all his faults, or will she reject him? Pam is writing a coming of age novel based in the Columbia River Gorge. “I’ve been thinking…” usually signals adventure.

Peggy: stay at home mom, tall, shy blond--very Nordic…angelic children, too young to have a prior life as anything but kid herself. Peggy alerts on repeated words, seldom does that herself, but when it does we’re so surprised, and she has to review her manuscript to believe it herself. Writing young adult fantasy, and makes us wonder why her main female character's hands spark fires as easily as Peggy blushes.

Others: Ginger, Jade, Kelly, Sallee, classmates from Clark College’s Novel Writing Book Camp II, whose thoughts were captured as they shared during actual class moments. They’ll appear at the beginning of the editing process, but variously did not continue the weekly get-togethers, like us die-hards, although they popped up with a stray email here or there.

Worst Critic (me! because I’m not a critic, or at least a very good one): I write it and I think its sooo good, then I edit and I think, man it was bad before, but now it’s really good; then I edit and I say, wow it was bad before, but NOW its really, really good; then I edit some more, some more, some more... To date, I estimate I have thrown out 30,000 words, written, oh let’s say about 150,000+ words, have honed it down to -- well, forget it, I’m not saying, but striving, struggling, besieged and stressed to get it down to 95,000 very succinct, tightly written, finely tuned, conflict-'resoluting,' can’t-put-down words. I dance along, propping my little writer’s heart up, wondering if I had had any concept of what this would take to finish, would I have left the whole damn thing in my head, had a nice little fantasy with a handsome Asian man, I mean drop-dead gorgeous, you would turn your head if he passed you on the street, man? I’ll answer that later.

In the meantime, I sit computer side, addicted to the curse of writing, actually that’s not true, writing is the easy portion we serve, it’s the editing that is the curse!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Takes a hell of a lot of people to edit a book

Since August, the die-hards of Novel-Writing-Boot-Camp II have met once a week and read approximately twelve minutes of manuscript. It beats as the heart, and veins through as an integral part of the creative phase. Mere words cannot express the admiration and appreciation each has of the other four who serve up their personal Thursday evenings with faithfulness and fearlessness. Yes, we skipped the week of Christmas, but no, we did not skip the week of Thanksgiving, just met on Tuesday; we couldn’t let loose of the characters whose lives are evolving before us.

It can be very intimidating to read your work out loud, and even when you become accustomed to it, a particularly sensitive part can diminish your voice to a whisper. Spoken word hides nothing. It lays you bare: heart, soul, essence. Creative talent either excels or is found lacking, and members, who remain true to the art, communicate direction in words that are both sincere and kind, but direct. How we respond mirrors our own character, strong and relentless, uncertain and questioning, or certain not to be deterred from our course to write, edit and publish. If luck prevails one is immersed in the most intense AHA experience that surfaces the writer on the other side of mediocre, to an idea or concept that is really, really good. I can point to the paragraphs, or scenes that have benefited from the ears of my novel editing shipmates. Two heads are better than one, and five is just about perfect.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


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