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Crafting a First Draft.

No two people write alike.

For me, it starts with an idea, a flash of inspiration. Then if it “feels” right, I will begin to write. I begin with my main characters and build a skeletal outline.

For example, the novel, Looking for Pork Chop McQuade, is entirely built around the opening sentence. I wrote one line and then I had to backtrack and figure out how the jar of pickles led to a love affair.  I will plan my plot in small steps, but I don’t always stick to an outline, because my books aren’t formula I want each one to be its own “person” so to speak.

So the flash of inspiration comes, I hold onto it, mull over it, and then after a while, a plot begins to unfold in my mind.

An outline for Looking for Chop McQuade looked something like this: Overall gist of the story: A woman’s husband comes up missing. She sets out to find him and falls in love with the sheriff who is helping her hunt. I  see it as important that I am able to sum up what my entire book’s about in one or two sentences. This keeps me focused.

Then I ask myself things pertinent to the story. In this one I asked, “Why does her husband come up missing? How does he come up missing?” Which leads me to think about what kind of person he is; I come to the conclusion that he is a conspiracy theorist and I began to build his character. I interview conspiracy theorists. I research them online. I visit forums and communicate with them, to help me understand their view of the world, then I put a twist on it, because most conspiracy theorists are just people who want to make sense of the world they live in and many of them have valid reasons for feeling the way they do, so I decide to focus on a possible mental disorder and I start researching paranoid delusional and interviewing the wives of such individuals.

So, now I have a background for this man. I research events that might have caused him to be this way. I read about a plane crash in Houstonville, KY, back in the 60s and I think, “How can I connect this event to this character? How does witnessing this event impact his life?”

Next, I focus on his wife. Why does she stay with him? What’s her background? What are her scars? Scars are what make a character fun to read, scars and quirks. I then go through her entire family and discover their scars, their quirks, their views of the world. These characters reveal themselves to me. In developing the sheriff, I went to a sheriff and his wife and interviewed them about their lives.

So, I work on plot development and character development at the same time. Other writers may do it differently, but for me, it goes hand-in-hand. The plot is moved by the character’s developing and the character’s development is influenced by the events in the plot.

So, here’s what a typical worksheet for my story might look like:

Characters:

Cupcake—thin & dark-haired, determined, yet vulnerable and too trusting of her husband. She has been married since she was a teenager and has been straddled with duties to others her whole life. Duties to whom?

To her father: who suffered from a bad heart,

Her mother: five hundred pound woman who died when she was hit by a snack cake truck.

Her sister: Already 400 lbs and climbing, suffers from bouts of depression.

To Uncle Faucet: 94 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s.

How does she make a living? I worked at a marina before. I remember it well. It makes a great “unexpected” occupation for my heroine. She’s a dock hand and she cleans houseboats.

Then I continue developing all of my leading characters as they come into the story. I build backgrounds for each of them, backgrounds that may or may not make their way into the story, but I know they’re there and because I know where my characters really are coming from, I can write them so real that they will seem like somebody you know in real life. I try to make them complex. Of course, there are the flat ones, but they are merely props to move the story along.

So, once I have a pretty good idea of who my characters are, I lay down a rough plot line.

For example I will divide the story into segments:

Part I: Before Pork Chop, Bob, disappears.

Introduces characters, leads up to Bob’s disappearance.

  1. Establish that Bob and Cupcake don’t live like normal people.
  2. Put foreshadowing into place as to the fact that Bob’s going to “disappear”
  3. Put foreshadowing & symbolism into place for things that will happen in the later chapters. Place small things in the story that will later be significant, like a ring in a box by the bed that he hasn’t worn since the day she gave it to him. The ring is symbolic of the way he sees her.
  4. Lead up to the part where Bob is missing.

Part II: The search for Bob.—during this section I really focus on the sheriff, Daniel, as he helps Cupcake.

  1. The search for Bob by locals.
  2. Search is called off.
  3. Sheriff [Daniel] gives up vacation time to help her find Bob.
  4. False leads, close calls. I weave mystery in as I go. I allow a lot of leave way for ideas to pop in my head here. There is no telling what’s going to happen to them on their journey. At this point, I haven’t decided if they are going to end up together at the end of not. I contemplate two versions and mull over alternate endings.

Part III: the climax—do they find Bob?

  1. How do they get to where they’re going?
  2. What actions do they take once they discover Bob’s true whereabouts, if they discover them?

Part IV: the aftermath, the wind-down, conclusion, finale.

Here I decide how I want to end the story. How much closure do I need in order to like this story?

Now, as I’m writing, I may have new character revelations that I have to go back and tweak. I may have new plot ideas that I have to go back and insert and when I do, I have to be sure and make it consistent throughout the story.

BETA READERS:

 My “beta readers” get to see the manuscript. I have a small circle of people that I trust to read my work. Only one of these people is an actual writer. The rest are readers. I am writing for readers. I want to know what readers think. I choose readers with various personalities, because I want people with many different perspectives looking at the story. I value their opinions. I listen to their advice and if more than one of them tell me the same thing needs to be fixed, then I’ll fix it. For example, in Touched, two of my readers, who hadn’t talked to each other, called me and told me that they felt the opening scene, needed less detail and more action in order to lure people straight into the story. I followed their advice and was pleased with the result. Even I liked it better.

EDIT:

I edit myself. I have my sister edit. I hire a good editor.

I do edits, edits, edits, edits, edits, times infinity and revisions galore. I keep tweaking and perfecting. I may revise a book three, four, five, six times or more, until I’m satisfied that it is as best as I can make it.

 Finding a Publisher.

I either publish it myself or I send out query letters to various publishers.

Market:

I swallow my pride, eat my ego and shamelessly engage in self-promotion. People think that only the proud and arrogant and super confident are capable of this. Let me tell you, it’s humbling for a reserved person to have to plaster themselves all over the internet and get up in front of crowds and say, “My book is great. Buy it.” But I do it anyway. I dance. I sing. I play guitar. I tell jokes…I do most anything that will put me in front of an audience where I can talk about my books, not because I love to be the center of attention. No! I do not! It kills my pride to have everybody looking at me, but I learned a long time ago that pride is our number one enemy if we ever want to succeed at anything in life. So I suck up my ego, humble myself and walk out on center stage and do whatever must be done to get my work noticed.

Well, my fellow writers, I hope that some of my little tips will be of use to you. I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors and if you don’t mind, leave a comment and let me know about your writing!

 

 

When Senor Cortez cried

beneath the tree, wept

for greedy soldiers

whose stolen gold

 

brackish waters;

what destiny brought

him back upon us

 

to kill with disease,

with hunger and canons

except the fate that brought

Mexico to these far hills

 

where she learned to sing

Irish ballads.

Leaving

Driving down the highway

rain is coming down.

In the mirror I see

lights of our town.

The hardest part of going

is always leaving home.

Still, I travel alone.

If I must be lonely,

I’d rather be 

lonely on my own.

14095869_1680155375642060_1135903713565421094_nThis is Beethoven and his owner. He was a gentle dog that loved children.

 

All of my life I have been a law-abiding citizen of this county and state. I’ve passed up opportunities to go to other states make more money, because I wanted to be here, dedicating my time and talents to the children of my home region. In my books, I’ve sought to show the world that Kentucky is a good place with good people, but over the course of the past week, I’ve encountered a mind-set among some here that has brought shame to me.

I still believe that more honorable than dishonorable people live here, that there are open-minded, warm-hearted people all over this county, but too often, their voices go unheard. I read once that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men, good people, to do nothing. Consider this my attempt to “do something.”

I feel are some barbaric incidents happening in our community. My heart is broken, for my own family, for the many families that I’ve spoken to recently. One after one, people are telling me of incidents where their family pets have been shot, poisoned or maimed and nothing was done, where officials brushed complaints aside and did nothing to investigate them, where people are literally afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation against their families.

I want everyone to understand that I love my town, I love my state, but we are sorely lacking in certain areas such as effective measures against animal cruelty, child abuse and other unsavory acts that are justified through political loop-holes, but for now, I’m simply going to address endangering children and animal cruelty.

As I comb through state laws, my mouth just drops open at the unfair, lax laws and nonchalant attitudes some people hold in regards to cases involving children and/or animals. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you upfront that this is a personal issue for me. I’ve made a living most of my adult life by working with children. For the first ten years, I did it practically for free because I wanted to teach so badly that I’d take any job open; I guess it’s because kids are my passion that I also have a soft spot for their pets. Their hurt is just as real as any adult’s, and it’s always purer.

Let me highlight just two incidents. Someone recently told me that a little dog the children of Sparksville’s Antioch Church liked to play with had been shot to death. Who does that? Who kills a friendly dog that an entire congregation of children love? I’m not even sorry to say that I think this is a type of cruelty, not only to the dog, but to those children!

Sunday, a friend told me that her great-granddaughter, (whose father is an old friend of my family, as well), along with nine other children, was walking down the road with their dog in Columbia, Ky. The dog always walked with the children. A man came running out, screaming and cursing at the children. He pulled out a gun and fired eight shots into the dog. Eight red hulls fell to the ground. The children were about fifteen feet from him. He kept firing, even as my friend’s daughter broke into a run toward the dog to try and save it. This man fired a weapon while a child was running toward it, risking her own life to save the dog she loved.  The child, terrified and wailing, fell to the ground and cradled her dead dog in her arms. The man who shot it? He had no compassion, either for the child or the dog, nor the other nine children who were terrified for their lives. The girl’s mother took photographs of the dog and of the evidence, but the police, upon arriving on the scene, refused to do anything because when the dog fell, his head landed on the man’s property. The girl’s parents said they thought it was wanton endangerment of a minor but the police went on to say that because they were only children that their testimony wouldn’t amount to anything in court, that it would simply be the children’s word against the shooters. The officer didn’t have to go home with the little girl that night and hold her when her nightmares started. The shooter didn’t have to go to the hospital with her when she became so hysterical that she needed medical help. Furthermore, when the girl’s father stated that it was against the law to fire a gun in a residential area, the officers told him that it was a “misdemeanor at best.” However, I’m left wondering. How is this NOT child abuse? Would you want your child to witness that? To go through that horrific experience? Besides, officials told the mother that Kentucky laws were on the shooter’s side. The dog had no rights. And apparently, the families of those children have no rights, either. They were brushed off and now, they are afraid to come forward with names for fear of retaliation from a gun-wielding neighborhood bully with anger management problems.

So, why am I writing this article? To raise awareness, to say, “Hey, Kentucky. These laws are backward and ignorant.” In fact, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Kentucky ranks 50th in the nation in regards to animal protection. And, according to the Animal Welfare Alliance, we rank 56th! Even territories like Guam and Puerto Rico have better laws regarding the treatment of animals than we do! Kentucky is a state known for famous horses and award-winning cattle. Why aren’t there better, more humane  laws in place to protect animals?

Who do concerned citizens turn to? My question to the caring people of this community is: Will you help me? Will you show the world that not all Kentuckians are still clinging to this backward, outdated and close-minded ideology?  Please help me put actions behind these words, write your senators, write your representatives. Make it plain that the next time you vote for any public official you want to know where they stand on the treatment of children and animals. I can promise you one thing, if I know a person had a lax stance on the treatment of children or animals, he or she would not get my vote.

Go away, go away, go away,

Don’t ask me what’s wrong

Why my face looks “funny”

Let me be.

 

Don’t question why I look bored.

Don’t comment that I look hot.

Don’t touch my hair, or my face.

Leave me alone.

 

Don’t note the tone in my voice

Or tell me that I walk “odd”

Don’t notice that I have on make-up

Or that I don’t.

 

Don’t ask me why I wear it

Or what’s wrong when I choose not to

Don’t tell me to change my top

Or my pants

 

Don’t call me

When I’m fifteen minutes late

To see if I went stopped

For gas…

 

Just go away,

go away,

go away.

 

Bubble People

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Imagine with me for a moment that there is a world where people go about, each in a little bubble that bends and distorts reality without the inhabitant realizing that his or her view of existence is distorted by the dimensions of the bubble. Each person sees the world, the universe as it is reflected through his or her bubble and not one of them sees it for what it really is and if a cosmic being, that existed outside all of their bubbles, told them how it was, they wouldn’t believe the being, because said being’s report did not match their concepts of reality, their bubble experiences.

Now each person goes about trying to make everyone else conform to the imagines of his or her own bubble which causes a problem, because no two people have the same bubble and no two people have the same vision. Billions of them shout all at once but rarely is any of them really heard. Some of them want to be noticed so badly that they criticize others who are very different than themselves, those with bubbles that are “foreign” to them.

All the bubble people have opinions and ideas but everyone is so desperate to be heard that they just end up making a lot of noise. Inevitably, most of them end up feeling lonely and isolated. Others end up angry and bitter. Others decide that they’re not going to let anyone else “in their bubbles” so they act tough, but sadly, nobody really wants in their bubbles, anyway, because everyone is busy trying to make sure that the world understands what it’s like in their own bubbles. However, they, too, end up lonely and disconnected. Others decide they will MAKE people notice them and conform to the imagines in their bubbles, so they act out. They do ridiculous things. Some try to take over other people’s bubbles and even pop them, leading to the end of the bubble dweller’s mortal existence.

But what if someone believed the cosmic being who said, “Your bubble is a distortion of what is real.” What if they invited the cosmic being into their bubble and asked it to “fix” their bubble’s reflection of reality? I imagine they would seem very strange to all the other people in all the other bubbles with all the other distortions of reality. What if people stopped shouting to be heard and started listening to what cannot be shouted?

Maybe all their bubbles would come together and be one giant one or maybe they would each float about in their bubbles, realizing they were different but being okay with the differences, because they recognized them and understood that the bubbles were only temporary anyway, that sooner or later, every bubble would wear out and pop and all the bubble dwellers would come to know whether or not the cosmic being was telling the truth.

 

 

 

 

October Again

Pears lie yellow on the ground.
Hornets move slowly over them,
cool and drunk on their nectar.

The sun is low in the western sky
painting every tree, every bush
every blade of grass amber.

Long afternoon shadows fall
from the golden rain tree
onto the barn, gloriously rugged.

Morning glories, white and pink
climb the nearby antique chair
as leaves faintly move

on fragrant air currents
bringing to me a longing
familiar, cyclic and un-named.