Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Ziebert Family Christmas


(I borrowed a few characters from my latest series, Love in Andauk, for this very short story.  It’s set about nine years before the first book so no worries on spoilers.)

Ruth kept her feet at a deliberately moderate pace.  At fourteen, she felt she was too old to run down the stairs on Christmas morning.  But her eyes had opened more easily than most mornings and her heart had been running since she pulled the red-and-green striped slippers onto her feet. 
She stepped into the family room and frowned in disappointment.  Her family was not sitting around waiting for her as she’d expected.  Her two oldest brothers were fraternal twins.  One of them, Isaac, was home from college for a few weeks and was sitting on the couch reading a book.  It had a plain brown cover.  No sparkles, no picture of Santa.  There was nothing festive about it or the studious expression on his face.
Neither of Ruth’s parents were in sight.  Banging and running water in the next room suggested one or both of them was cleaning up the kitchen.  The only person who seemed to be aware that it was a holiday was her sixteen-year-old brother Adam, who was doing something weird with the presents.  He wasn’t shaking them or otherwise trying to guess the contents.  He was just stacking them against a wall.  “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Christmas present Tetris,” he said.  “Do you see one that will fill in this space here?”
Ruth rolled her eyes and moved into the kitchen instead of answering.  Her mom was sitting at the table sipping coffee while her dad was loading plates into the dishwasher.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” her mom said.  She gestured to the counter.  “We saved you a plate of pancakes, but you’ll have to warm them up.”
“When are we going to open the presents?” Ruth asked.
“We waited for you, but now Joseph is at church so we have to wait for him.”
Ruth groaned.  “Why didn’t he go to midnight Mass with the rest of us?”
Her father shut off the water at the sink and turned around.  “The same reason you didn’t want to go at 9 am.”
She grudgingly conceded the point.  Her brother worked odd hours.  Midnight for him would be more like getting up early than staying up late.  She grabbed the pancakes and popped them in the microwave.  She made herself some hot chocolate to go with them.  The pancakes had been devoured, and Ruth was savoring her cooling drink when Adam wandered into the kitchen.
“Mom,” he said, “why don’t any of the presents have tags on them?”
Their mom’s eyes widened.  “Did you move them?”
“He was in there building a fort out of them,” Ruth said.
Adam flicked the top of her ear.  “Present Tetris,” he corrected, as though that was far less ridiculous than a fort.
“I was running out of tape last night so I just set a tag on each present until I knew if I would have enough.”  She winced.  “I forgot to warn everyone not to knock the tags off when you picked them up.”
“I guess you didn’t have enough,” Ruth said.  She hoped no one was going to mention how much tape she had used wrapping her gifts.
“No.  In fact, there are two presents that have the paper held on with the ribbon.”
Ruth’s dad put his hand on his wife’s shoulder.  “You should have sent me out for more tape.”
“At ten o’clock on Christmas Eve?”  She sighed and stood up.  “I guess I need to sort this out.”
When Ruth followed the others back to the family room, she immediately noticed little red tags strewn around the floor under the tree.  “Adam, the tags are all over the place,” she said.  “How did you not notice them falling off the presents?”
“I was focused on their shapes.”  He had already begun to gather up all the tags she pointed out.
Their mom started to dismantle the Tetris wall as she taxed her brain to remember what was inside each box.  Adam handed her an appropriate tag whenever she identified a recipient. 
They had sorted through about half of the presents when Joseph walked in.  “Hey,” he said, “looks like Baby Ruth finally decided to get out of bed.”
She knew she frowned a little, but she said nothing.  She wanted him to think she was bothered by the teasing and not the nickname.  She wasn’t a fan of being called a candy bar.  It was best to stay quiet though because her brothers were using the nickname less and less often.  She knew them too well.  If they knew it was starting to annoy her, they’d try harder to use it.
Isaac finally put down his book.  “She’s really anxious to get to the presents.  Maybe she has plans to see her boyfriend when we’re done.”
“Gabe is not my boyfriend,” Ruth said.  Honestly, she kind of figured she’d marry him someday.  He’d have to get a lot less goofy first though.  “And we already exchanged presents yesterday anyway.”
 “What’d you get him?” Joseph asked.  “And did you have to go back in time to find it?”
“I don’t know,” Ruth admitted.  Gabe was fascinated by old technology.  “I found something that looked pretty old at a thrift store.  He didn’t know what it was either, but he seemed excited to try to figure it out.”
“Sounds easy to shop for if you don’t even have to know what you gave him,” Isaac said.
Their dad groaned skeptically.  It was the most skeptical groan of the year.  “Tell him how many thrift stores you asked me to drive you to.”
“That was kind of a long day.”  Ruth smiled sheepishly, then tried to quickly get the attention off the trek.  “Did you get Jessica something?” she asked Isaac.
“I did.  But she wouldn’t accept it yet.”
“Yet?” Ruth said.
Joseph tossed his coat on the arm of a chair before he sat next to it.  “Is this the same Jessica who shot you down last month?”
“She’s warming up to me,” Isaac said.  “I almost got her to come to my black belt test last week.”
“Almost?”
Ruth snorted.  “What makes you think she’d be impressed to watch you beat people up?”
“Sparring is not beating people up,” Joseph said.
“It’s not about the…”  Isaac paused to consider.  “It’s the commitment I wanted her to see.  Back me up, Mom.  Girls like work ethic, right?  It took me seven years to earn that rank.”
Before their mom could answer, Joseph said, “It took me six.”
Isaac began to argue, and Ruth turned back to the kitchen to retrieve her last few sips of hot chocolate.  Her brothers had been having the same argument since they graduated from high school, about a year and a half ago, about whether a fulltime job or a full college coarse load was the bigger time commitment.  It didn’t have anything to do with which was better or more important, only a worn-out discussion on who had more time to throw other guys onto the mats.  Ruth had thought the matter would be settled when Joseph earned his first.  But he insisted that was because he had different hours, not fewer.
It seemed that everyone was looking at Ruth when she reentered the family room, everyone except Adam, who for some reason was on his belly with his head under the Christmas tree.  “Did you get anyone a book this year?” Ruth’s mom asked her.  She was holding a present that did seem to be shaped like a book.
Ruth pointed at a small pile next to the tree.  “My presents are all over there.”
“It definitely feels like a book.”  Her mom wrinkled her forehead in thought.  “I’m sure I didn’t get anyone a book.”
“There aren’t any other tags,” Adam said as he crawled out from under the tree.  A piece of tinsel clung to his red hair.
“Why don’t you go ahead and get us started by opening that one, Mom?” Isaac said.  “Then we’ll see if anyone wants to claim it.”
She glanced around the room for confirmation or countersuggestions.  Seeing no opposition, she tore off the shiny red paper.  Everything Old,” she said, holding up the book for everyone to see the cover.
“Oh, I’ll take that,” Ruth said.  “I hear it’s really good.”  She made a move towards the book but was still checking for signs of recognition. 
“No one remembers buying this?”  Ruth took the book from her mom, who asked if she could read it next.  Still no one admitted to stashing the book under the tree.  “Oh, well,” Ruth said.  “Thank you and Merry Christmas to whoever had this great gift idea.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Hoping for Dawn

Someone in my house busted out the Christmas music about halfway through October. Someone else started complaining that it was too early for Christmas music about ten seconds later. I was not either of these people. I waited all the way until November to begin thinking about Christmas.

Unfortunately, my thoughts have not revolved around joy-filled music. I’m not decorating with anticipation. I’m focused on a single familiar scene. Everyone knows the Charlie Brown Christmas by heart, right? Remember when he puts an ornament on his cute little tree and it collapses? I’m feeling nearly as overdramatic about my next book. “I’ve killed it. Everything I touch gets ruined.”

I’m working on the fourth book in the Love in Anduak series. I scribbled out a rough draft of this one before I started on the third one. I didn’t try to make it a full-length draft. I just had some ideas I wanted to get on paper. When I picked it up a few months later I knew it was short so I read through it with an eye towards what I could add. I wrote a few new scenes and inserted them here and there. Then I began to move blocks of text where characters were talking about things that hadn’t happened yet or explaining things that no longer needed to be explained. I’ve never written a book so out of order. Now I’m afraid there are several parts that don’t make sense and I keep making it worse and… I’ve killed it.

But I have not killed hope. I’m hoping this is one of those darkest before the dawn situations. After all, Charlie Brown’s tree only needed a little love to bring about an impossible transformation. I love the story I’m trying to tell. I love finishing a book. I love being stubborn in the face of frustration. If I channel all that into hard work, I’ll be at the point where I can start putting the book back together soon. And then I won’t be a blockhead anymore.

Friday, October 25, 2019

How NOT to Make a Book Cover

I haven't done a video for a while, which means I haven't done a video for a while.  That's all it means.  I guess I thought that was a good enough reason to recap the somewhat embarrassing number of tries it took to create a satisfying cover for my latest book, By Its Cover.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

My next book is having an identity crisis.


It’s my husband’s fault.  Sort of.  I’m totally blaming him regardless.  Here’s what happened.  Sort of.  This isn’t a story so much as backstory. 

There’s a pattern to the titles in the Love in Andauk series.  You’ve noticed the pattern, right?  Raise your hand if you noticed the pattern.  I will explain in case there’s someone in the back not raising a hand.

The titles are parts of familiar sayings.  Not clichés.  They come from familiar, wise sayings because that sounds a whole bunch better than pointing out that my titles are all clichés.  If that was your answer when you raised your hand, you can put it back down.  Everything Old finishes with is new again.  Out of the frying pan comes before Into the Fire.  The third book was going to be called Mind Over Matter. 

I settled on that title some time ago.  I think it fits the book very well.  Recently, my husband pointed out that mind over matter is a complete saying and not only part of one, therefore, it does not fit the theme.  I knew that by the way.  I decided it was more important for the title to fit the book than to fit the theme.  I thought it was close enough.  But my husband was having a hard time letting this go.

The fact that it didn’t quite match the other titles started to bug me, too.  And it didn’t only bug me that my husband kept bringing it up.  I really didn’t want to start over.  I already went through a hundred or so sayings trying to come up with something I liked, and going back would mean admitting I missed a good one the first time.  But if the titles are going to have a theme, they all need to work within the theme.  I reluctantly went back to the figurative drawing board. 

I came up with two possibilities.  This is a case where two is not better than one.  I only needed one title, which meant now I had to choose.  The first one, By Its Cover, felt more like it went with the story.  The second one, To Those Who Wait, just looked prettier.  When I slapped those titles on any of the fifteen or so different cover backgrounds I’ve created, the capital Ts and Ws have similar loops and show up in pairs and line up without any descenders trying to intrude on the lower line.  It’s so much easier to place.   

That’s really not a good reason to choose a title.  I might as well pop random letters on the cover until something looks nice.  By Its Cover isn’t necessarily an ugly title.  It just isn’t playing nicely with my non-artist’s eye.  The y wants to drop down and punch the C in the face and the I is overpowering the tiny word its leading and that last word is an awkward length because I can’t figure out if it’s too long or too short.  Of course, when I asked for help I got conflicting opinions.  Guess how much that helped.  And at least one person insisted I should keep Mind Over Matter.  So helpful.

I am confident, however, that those words will start behaving as soon as I stop being cranky at renaming the book at such a late stage.  Because that’s also the good news.  It’s late enough that one way or another, somehow or other, by hook or by crook, this cover will soon be finished and the title permanent. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Maybe One More Week


I’m working on typing a draft of my next book.  It’s already written out, and I expect it to come out between 55000 and 60000 words.  How long will it take to type it?  Hey, that sounds like a math problem.  Let’s plug in some numbers for an estimate.

If I type 60 words per minute (I don’t know, but I think that’s reasonable.) and 3600 words in an hour, it should take about 16 hours.  Even if I have no more than 4 hours a day to type, the draft should easily be finished in a week, right?  It’s already been a week, and I’m not finished.  Let’s apply some life to those numbers to find out why.

Reason #1 – My handwriting is awful.
Every few sentences, I need to pause to squint at the page to figure out what a word is and ask myself why I wrote something that doesn’t make any sense until I figure out that I guessed wrong the first time.  Oh, that says snowy night, not swervy right.

Reason #2 – I edit as I type.
Sometimes I have to stop because I find a glaring continuity error or a stilted conversation or something else that needs immediate attention.  There will be more editing later, but if something is really bad it can’t wait.  Or if a character says, “Come up with something witty to say here when you type this.”  Yeah, I leave notes to myself in the draft when I’m really stuck.

Reason #3 – I can’t type fast enough.
I read what I’m typing, which should go without saying.  Now and then, I come to a part that I don’t remember very well.  I’ll get impatient and stop typing to read ahead because I need to see where it’s going.  If there’s something I don’t like, see reason number two.  It’s easier to change something as I go than to back up after I realize a conversation is confusing.  And if I don’t find anything I want to fix, I might look up and realize I’ve been reading for a half hour while not making progress on the typing.

Reason #4 – I get distracted.
Yeah, this should probably go without saying, too.  Who doesn’t get distracted?  Sometimes I hear the washer shut off and get up to put the clothes in the dryer.  Sometimes the phone rings.  Sometimes I remember that I’m sitting at a computer with internet access.  Sometimes I look at the calendar and notice it’s been a month since my last blog post.  Sometimes I grudgingly push the typing aside to work on that.

Reason #5 – My fingers get tired.
Have you ever typed for four hours straight?  I don’t mean just sitting at a computer or even composing as you type.  I mean trying to keep up a constant rate of words per minute.  That math problem assumes I am a robot.  If I manage 90 minutes or so with nothing getting in the way, the tiny muscles in my fingers begin to protest by aching and slipping onro the erong keya mote frequently.  When I sense a sharp increase in backspace use, it’s time for a break. 

Break’s over now, back to work for me.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Love in Andauk Continues


The second book in my Love in Andauk series, Into the Fire, is now available.  I guess that means I should start talking about book three.  What?  You want to know more about book two?  I just said it was available.  Go ahead and read it, then let me know if you still have questions.

Let’s talk about book three.  I haven’t finished the first draft, but it already has a title.  I’m kind of excited about that.  I think the hardest decision when I started the book was whether or not to write it in 1st person.

If you’re a fan of my work, thank you.  But what I meant to say is if you’re a fan, you’ve picked up on the fact that some of my books are written in 1st person and some in 3rd.  The guy usually plays the biggest role in which point of view I choose because 1st person is always the girl telling the story.  I have to ask myself if I want to include the guy’s perspective.  Usually, this is obvious as soon as I start forming the story in my head.  Sometimes he has interesting family members or situations I want to be able to write.  Sometimes it feels important to show how he’s progressing in the new relationship.

The choice wasn’t as obvious for this book.  The main guy has no fun qualities, no quirky family, no investment in the growing relationship and… Come on, you know I’m kidding!  Of course he’s great.  Sometimes a story just seems to work better when the reader gets to learn things about the guy or find out what he’s up to at the same time as the girl.  That’s what I mostly thought when I was outlining this third book.  There were still a few scenes I wanted to write from the guy’s perspective though.  It wasn’t enough.  I’ve read books where the perspective shifts for only a couple of chapters, and I found that awkward and annoying.  I don’t want to write awkward or annoying unless it’s something the characters are doing to each other.  Because that can be funny.

To get rid of the uneven split, I had to either cut out some things or write some things from a different perspective.  There are a lot of “things” involved when I’m being vague on purpose.  Why am I being vague on purpose?  Who is telling this 1st person story?  Which guy is playing a significant role in it?  What is that title I was happy to settle on so early?  Why all these questions?  I’m trying to give you more reasons to check out Into the Fire.  All of these questions (and so many more) can be answered if you read book two because there is a short preview of book three at the end of the ebook version.  You’re welcome.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Not Even My Characters Are Poets


Perhaps I could share a few lines on my progress
A verse or two about the book coming next
But Emily is awful rhymed with Book Three
Nothing that sounds like Joseph agrees with me
One thing that’s easy for me to admit
Is that I am most definitely not a poet

I thought I’d try something a bit different
Maybe something with a lyrical bent
But my words don’t bend or tilt or sway
I don’t know why I tried to write this way
When it comes to form, my default is couplets
And that’s only one reason I’m not a poet

I prefer to write stories about love and romance
Couples that start as friends or meet by chance
There are figurative storms they need to weather
And overcome obstacles to get together
Possibly with actions that are mildly heroic
But not even my characters are poets

And while this post is getting hairy
Because all this rhyming is really scary
There’s no reason to worry, no reason to fret
All my books are prose.