I wrote a piece for a Writers Digest blog a year ago and requested it be posted in November, 2012, as promo for THE MATCHMAKERS OF BUTTERNUT CREEK. I’d completely forgotten about it until it showed up in a search today, published only five months after it had been schedule. Actually, it’s not bad so I’m including the link here–just in case you’d like to know 7 things I’ve learned so far about publishing.
This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Jane Myers Perrine, author of THE WELCOME COMMITTEE OF BUTTERNUT CREEK) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.
GIVEAWAY: Jane is excited to give away a free copy of her first novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).
Jane Myers Perrine has worked as a Spanish teacher, minister, cook, rifle instructor, program director in a state hospital, and been an active volunteer but she’s always wanted to write. She’s now writing a three-book series she loves about a young minister in a small town of Butternut Creek in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas. She likes small towns, warm, friendly people and humor. The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek, the first book in the series, published in April 2012. The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek, the sequel, was released in November 2012.
1. Don’t stick to one genre unless you sell in that genre immediately (actually, that “unless you sell” disclaimer should be added to all my comments). I love mysteries. I always think a dead body adds interest to a story. Sadly, I don’t write them well. My agent told me to try something else. I also tried fantasy but friends discouraged that as well.
“Those who know stuff” told me to stay in one category because editors would get to know who I was—from all the rejection letters I imagine—and I’d hone my craft. However, honing one’s craft in a type of literature one doesn’t write well or is being rejected constantly seems unproductive to me.
Very simply, if I’d taken this advice, I wouldn’t be published, wouldn’t be writing this three-book series for the wonderful people at FaithWords. I started writing sweet, traditional Regencies. At the time I was submitting, publishers in the traditional regency market were dying off, lines closing only days after I queried.
It took me time and a lot of false starts before I discovered I write stories about small towns best. I never would have known that if I hadn’t tried many different genres. Experiment!
2. Don’t stick to what you know. If we all wrote what we knew, there would be no paranormals or historical novels or murder mysteries. My friends who write this type of fiction have never killed anyone, as far as I know, or lived in an alternate universe or been reincarnated in a different century. They have great imaginations and read widely. With the internet, research is easier than ever. Do it!
3. Stick to writing what you know. Yes, a contradiction but much of writing advice is contradictory. Often writing is both this and that.
My husband and I are both ordained ministers. We’ve served in churches in small towns and large. I know churches, church people, and small towns. One day, the opening of The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek came to me, the young, inexperienced minister heading into Butternut Creek in a tow truck, his car being pulled along behind. The novel didn’t immediately flow but I do know about churches and small towns and ministers so well that it came together fairly easily—for a novel.
But there are incidents and characters in that book I know nothing about. One of the main characters is an alcoholic Marine amputee with PTSD whose problems are way outside my experience. I did a great deal of research.
4. Find your voice. When I first started writing, I wrote what I read. My voice was boring because it wasn’t authentic. This wasn’t my voice. It belonged to those other authors. A friend read fifty pages of the novel I was working on. On page forty-two, she said, “There, Jane, that’s your voice.” I didn’t know what she meant. I didn’t realize I had a voice and my friend read forty-two pages before she identified it. Until you do find your voice—or voices—you won’t sell. Voice is what makes the novel uniquely yours. Who can’t tell the difference between a book by Kristin Higgins and one by C.J. Box?
What is your voice? How do you find it? You keep writing and learning.
Your voice won’t be the same in everything you write and during your entire writing life, but, whatever your voice is, it must be real, It has to be uniquely yours.
5. Don’t stick to that same old familiar novel you’ve been working on for years. Writing a novel is like dating. When I was dating, every time I broke up with a guy, I’d think, “Oh, no. I have to start all over.” We’re afraid if we break up—either a relationship or leaving a book behind to start another–nothing better will come along. For that reason, we cling to what isn’t working. Yes, you love the characters you created. They are so clever and the chemistry or suspense is so strong—but they aren’t real. You’ll find your true love but you must keep learning. That won’t happen in a book you’ve written and rewritten. At some time, you have to move on and find a new love.
6. Learn the craft. Most of us don’t sell our first novel. While I was still struggling to find my voice and write a book someone—anyone!—would buy, I went to every conference and workshop I could and took copious notes. Audio tapes helped me most. During my twenty-minute drives to and from work, I could listen to most of a tape on some phase of writing. I listened to the tapes so often I could quote sections. I learned by osmosis, my brain sucking in the information until I automatically used those tools in my writing. My writing improved.
Enter contests for feedback. Join a critique group. Take a class. Read a book or articles in a writers magazine that focus on your weak points. And, if or when you sell, keep learning.
7. When the book is finished, the conflict resolved, and all the threads tied up, stop.
If I see something yellow I buy it. I’ve had several yellow cars, painted rooms yellow, have yellow shoes. Sadly, as much as I love yellow, it isn’t the most flattering color on me–but, still, I buy yellow shirts.
The reasons? I have none but I do have a guess. Yellow is like sunshine. I see it and it cheers me up, makes me smile. Could be seasonal affective disorder and I treat it by surrounding myself with yellow. Or, it could be simply because I like yellow. One of the few things George and I disagreed vehemently on was color: he was a fan of more neutral colors. I ceded that point to him but used bright color in my study and bath.
Another weakness: a calendar with either kittens or cocker spaniels on it. I limit myself to one a year–not easy–or I’d have them covering every wall of the apartment. However, I don’t buy clothing with kittens or puppies on it because, after all, one must act one’s age. And Stacy and Clinto would make me throw them all away (a reference to What Not to Wear, if you don’t pick up on those names).
What is an automatic buy for you?
There are times I ponder the deepest, darkest problems of society, the questions that reverberate within the human soul. But mostly I just wonder about the simple stuff. Today I’ll share two of my shallow musings with you.
1) Why do people like garden tubs? They take a lot more water and space than a regular tub AND they are hard to get into and out of. Now, I have to admit, they may not be hard for someone young who possesses good muscles and flexible joints, but I fear I’ll end up on a padded part of my anatomy when I get out. And, let’s face it, we’re all going to be old, weak, and clumsy if we live long enough. I could understand have a Jacuzzi. There’s a reason for the odd shape and placement of a tub that swirls warm water around the bather, but with a garden tub, the water just sits there.
2) Why do women pull their hair back in those plastic hair clips? My cat sometimes loves to lick and play with my hair–not that I encourage this–after which it looks better than hair in those clips. Perhaps women choose to do this because they can’t see the final result? They don’t realize it sticks out all over? I could NOT find a picture of the back of a woman’s head with a clip on her hair and looking awful. My guess is manufacturers don’t want women to know how bad they really look.
In reference to my blog, major doesn’t mean spectacular. It’s like the prophets in the Bible which are divided into two categories: major prophets and minor prophets. How does a book become major? It’s all based on length. The longer books are major. The short are minor. That’s a lot like my blog posts. The longer one is on Tuesday; the shorter, on Friday.
The reason I’m madly searching for a topic to writer this major post is that I had one ready to go but needed an okay which I haven’t received. Maybe next week.
When George was associate minister at First Christian Church in Louisville, KY–which is really in Prospect, KY, but that’s not our discussion for today. He felt a donkey should lead the procession on Palm Sunday. It’s not easy to find a donkey without connections to the donkey set but he did and was so excited. Everyone at church was excited until late Saturday evening, the owner of the little creature called and said, “Your donkey has the flu.” I cannot describe how disappointed George way. He said if he ever wrote an autobiography, the title would be, “Your Donkey Has the Flu.”
The next year, he found a healthy creature, We processed at the Christian Church, then the donkey walked across the highway to the Episcopal Church to lead their procession.
In the church in Burnet, TX, George found a donkey named George. Palm Sunday mornings were a little confusing. Shout “George” and who knew who’d turn up? The donkey George seemed like a placid little animal. He allowed children to rub his nose and adults to wander around it–at least, until James, who was playing the part of Jesus, tried to sit on top of him. Then the donkey George reacted. Not happy with someone on his back, he took off with James hanging on.
If you’ve read my book THE MATCHMAKERS OF BUTTERNUT CREEK, you know that I used this scene. In reality, the donkey only moved a few yards before he was captured and James was saved. I made it a lot worse but that’s what writers do.
After that, Palm Sunday was celebrated with only waving palms. No more donkeys.
I need your help. please. I’ve got some complaints–not a lot. Stronger than pet peeves but not enough for a protest or a letter to the editor. It dawned on me this is a great place to share my rants and ask for your input but first I need a good name for this occasional series. I’ve thought of Frantic Friday or Friday Freak-outs. I used Rant Friday today because, well, because that’s what I typed. So first request: Can you help me with a name?
Here’s my rant. I’m a careful driver. Okay, that’s not the rant. That’s what we professional writers call “back story”. It’s never interesting but, in this case, it’s necessary. I’ve never caused an accident although several cars have run into the rear of my car because I have a really fast reaction time and because people usually follow too closely. When I back, I check in the rear view mirror, look out the back windows on both sides, put the car in gear, then turn and look over my left shoulder as I back.
And what do I see behind me? A small child tottering along behind my backing car, the car with the reverse lights on, while the mother strolls along a few feet ahead or behind. She is not holding his hand. Usually the mother seems aware of where the child is but does nothing about the fact that a bad driver could kill her child. Why isn’t she?
I think the reason she does this is she really believes that the driver is law abiding and careful. In addition, the law says the driver must NOT run over either her or the child. They’re safe here in this huge asphalt-paved space with cars weighing tons (I’m sorry. I don’t actually know how much a car weighs but it’s a big, heavy metal thing that could smash any fragile human body) moving all around them.
But suppose I’m one of those drivers who doesn’t turn and look behind me? Imagine that I back looking only in my rear veiw mirror and I can’t see that tiny little one behind me. Or maybe I’m sneezing at the moment I should be looking out or maybe the driver is drunk or steps on the gas instead of the brake. In everyone of those situations, the driver is at fault but does that make any difference if a child is gravely injured or dies because Mom didn’t think it would happen? I can’t imagine being that driver and having such a tragic accident happen because I was careless and the child’s mother thought a walk through a parking lot was as safe as a stroll through the park. I don’t think I’d ever get over it. Please, Mom, for your sake and your child’s sake and for me, too, hold his hand.
Does this bother anyone else?
Actually, what I wrote in the title isn’t true. I have much of it set up but still have some glitches. I was on the phone for an hour this morning with MOZY to get my files transferred from one to the other and need to talk to them more, then AOL, and then the Apple store. Maybe by next week I’ll figure out how to do everything on the iMac.
The reason for the change is that my PC is sooooooooooo slow loading and was freezing up all the time and I had to restart two or three times a week, usually completely wiping out the most beautiful sentences ever written in the English language. My friends with Macs tell me they never freeze.
George was always pushing me to upgrade. Without him, I still would be using an Apple IIE. We started in 1981 with a TI (Texas Instrument for you young ‘uns) which save to a tape recorder. No pictures only words on the screen. A few years later, we started on Apples but by 1993, we’d switched over to PCs because of the software. And I fought George every step because I was comfortable with the previous models.
And now I have an iMac which I don’t now how to use.
But I’m sure I’ll be a much better writer. Perhaps now I can work on that proposal and first twenty-five pages my agents has requested with out cursing (but only in the nicest, least nasty words) because I can’t finished the sentence without restarting. I hate to pretend that’s the reason I haven’t done the proposal but it’s as good an explanation as any. I can only hope she’s note reading this.
I’m writing this blog on the old PC because I can’t figure out how to get into the backdoor on my blog on the new computer. Someday I will. Nor can I figure out how to save pictures–someday I will.
Which do you prefer? A PC or a MAC? Why? Please tell me all the hassle with the iMac is worth it. I’d feel so much better.
Even worse, I didn’t realize I’d found the wrong vehicle until I got inside the car.
Either the owner hadn’t locked the door or it worked on the same frequency of my remote, but I got to the car in the parking garag, pushed the “unlock” button, opened the door and got inside. Only then did I notice the seat didn’t feel the same. And the interior was a different color. And it wasn’t a Mazda.
You’d think I might have noticed that it didn’t have a Kansas State Power Cat magnet on the side or the KSU football helmet on the antenna. I tell myself this happens because my creative mind is filled with new stories and hears the voices of my characters. I don’t believe it. I believe I’m really flaky and absent minded.
I’m very glad I got out of the car before the owner came along. On the second try, I found the right car.
Why? Why? I shout, Why are there so many white cars in the world?
I’m delighted to welcome Kris Fletcher to my blog. Yesterday, I posted her bio so check back to learn more about her. So, Kris, take it away!
I’m writing this on the last day of my children’s spring break. What this means in everyday terms is that for tenth day in a row, it’s been Mommy and the Kids, all day, every day. Okay, there were a couple of breaks. (Let’s have a rousing cheer for critique nights and chapter meetings, shall we?) But by and large, it’s been, “Mommy, can we …” and “Mom, I want to …” and “Mom, I need …” pretty much non-stop. Because even though my kids are really very excellent and as considerate as kids can be, they’re KIDS. They know that the only reason for my existence is to make their world right. Anything that might be on my list is simply proof that my priorities are totally out of whack.
Usually, I can deal with this tug-of-war between their needs and mine, but this week was a challenge. It was spring break AND we were rounding out a double-holy week (Passover and Easter) AND we had to go away for the weekend AND my editor sent me revisions much earlier than I anticipated AND – most pressing of all – I had two books releasing. (A BETTER FATHER and CALL OF THE WILDER, thank you for asking J)Two books to publicize. Two books worth of blogs to post and monitor. Two sets of sales figures to obsess over. And two books worth of moments to savor and celebrate, because these were my first –ever releases after eighteen years of writing, and dagnabbit it, that was worthy of celebration.
So what did my week look like? Write a blog. Run to Target. Check Amazon. Play a round of Quelf Jr. Hide Easter eggs. Post to the Harlequin forums. Scramble some eggs. Post to Facebook. Remind people to put away their toys. Cut five hundred words from a scene. Order one child to set the table, one to unload the dishwasher, and one to clean up the front hall. Stop for a moment, pause, and send up a fast prayer of thanks for the fullness of my life and the realization of so very many dream.
It was a full week. A challenging week. An exciting, never-to-be-repeated week crammed full of all the bits and pieces of my life.
But I’m still going to be awfully happy when Monday morning rolls around.
Many, many years ago, Kris Fletcher and I met as aspiring writers on an AOL group. She was a contest queen. Now–GREAT NEWS!–her books are available to all not only contest judges. She presently has two books published: The Call of the Wilder and A Better Father. A third will be published in–KRIS, help me on this–November. I’ve read and loved A Better Father, have The Call of the Wilder downloaded and look forward to many, many more wonderful stories from her.
She’ll be blogging here tomorrow so please come back!