Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Favorites

With the end of the year approaching, I thought I would revisit all the blogs I've posted over the past several months and pick a few of my favorites. To everyone who has read along with me week after week, many thanks. I wish you all the best in the coming year.

Work hard. Play hard. And stay safe.


The Boys of Spring
The Perfect Scone
Perhaps You Can Judge A Book By Its Cover
The Gifted Fisherman

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Safe Holiday Season

Not too long ago, I wrote about a car accident I was involved in when a truck ran a stop sign and broadsided Daughter and me. A short six months later, another driver in the Roy family has been hit by someone running a stop sign. Thankfully, the collision was minor and no one was injured. As we enter this holiday season, buckle up, keep your eyes open for the other guy, and should you come upon a STOP SIGN.....please STOP.

Best wishes to all for a safe and happy holiday.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Art Of It

I've written in the past about some of the writing conferences I have attended over the years. At those conferences, I learned about things like plot points and point of view. I learned about dialogue tags, the dangers lurking behind adverbs and that characters must want something if they are to be interesting. I came to understand pacing, theme and tone.

At those conferences, I ate too much cheese cake, stayed up late too many nights, drank too much coffee. I discovered that my writing needed to have a voice and that the only way to find one was to keep writing, day after day, in hopes that eventually, a voice would bubble up. I came to appreciate the rules of the craft, and more importantly, the consequences of violating those rules without very good cause.

Perhaps one of the most important things I learned from a conference occurred when I was nearing the end of writing BENT ROAD. I was speaking with the instructor about why I had chosen to begin the novel where I did, about the plot points I had identified, about the point-of-views I had chosen, and the structure of the last few chapters. That was all well and good, he said. But don’t forget the art of it.

As I’m nearing the last stage of writing my next book, something I know because I find myself nauseous from reading, editing and revising so many versions, I am remembering that piece of advice. So on this, my final revision, I will set aside the rules and remember the art of it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rerun Monday....

Given that it is December and the holidays are closing in and I'm trying to finalize my next novel and I have Christmas shopping to do and a dozen other excuses, I am going to post a re-run today. Best to all.

So, to date, I haven’t written much about BENT ROAD, the novel I have coming out early next year. But a question that I often get about its publication is why it takes so long for a book to show up in a bookstore. I thought I’d talk a bit about that today, keeping in mind that this is my first novel, which makes me a rookie. I am recently off the bench, with little experience in the field or at the plate. (I’ve sat on many little league bleachers over the years.) Perhaps a terrible cliché, but entirely accurate.

The process of selling a book doesn’t start with the contract, or the agent or the manuscript. It starts about ten years earlier—more for some, less for others—when a writer begins to write. He or she, we’ll call her a she, usually writes badly in the beginning, sometimes very badly. The writer extends herself to other writers and teachers who tell her the writing is bad. They mark up her manuscripts with red ink and she begins to improve. She learns about revision. This is a key word, the most crucial word, that the writer will learn. .

Revision is not what most of us learned about in high school. It doesn’t mean re-reading something once, running the spell checker and pressing print. It means the writer must analyze characterization and structure. She must cut every adverb on the page. I mean…EVERY SINGLE ADVERB. She can add a few back later if she feels she must. Revision means the writer must identify her plot points and hope that she finds a few. It means making sure that her characters don’t sit around and think most of the time, because for some reason, writers like to do that. Perhaps because they (and by they I mean me) spend so much time sitting around and thinking. Revision means the writer must make certain that people will like her characters—harder than you would think because you readers are supposed to like, or at least understand, even the worst bad guys. Revision means deciding what her characters want, and then should she find, happily, that they do want something, she must decide what they need. Two entirely different questions.

Revision means knowing the difference between conflict and action, because they, too, are entirely different, and mistaking one for the other will doom a manuscript. During revision, the writer will verify that her points of view have integrity. Is third person the best choice? What about first? Second person is too risky. She’s not strong enough for second. Though the reader may not care if the writer cheats with her POV (technical term that means point of view) other writers will, and she lives in constant fear of that. Revision means sniffing out coincidence in her plot and if she finds it, getting rid of it. And if she can’t get rid of it, she will shred the manuscript and start over. Revision means understanding the pathetic fallacy and the intentional fallacy and the fallacy of imitative form and ignoring the forth fallacy because she just can’t figure it out.

Revision means remembering her characters’ names and changing a few if she finds that every one begins with the letter J or that three of them rhyme. She must find a way—either via excel or a spiral notebook or yellow sticky notes posted all over her office—to track what happens on which date during what time of day in whose house on what street. She must catch the roses that are blooming in December and the cell phone that rings even though it died when her character left the doctor’s office. She will return to those sticky notes that don’t stick so well in the Florida humidity so she can double-check if the floor in the main character’s kitchen is linoleum or oak. And if the babysitter died on a Tuesday and three days later the family goes to church, can it possibly be Sunday? And what was the husband’s name again, and does he have two sons and a daughter or two daughters and a son, and how quickly does a body decompose after someone has died, and what if they die in June instead of January, and what is the name of that thingy on the fence that holds the gate in place. You know, that latch thingy.

Revision means knowing her narrative distance. Actually, first it means learning what narrative distance means, which takes the writer many years, and then identifying that distance and establishing consistency and feeling like she is teetering on the edge of a rocky gorge all the while. The writer must also grow a tougher hide so she can cut her most beloved scenes and characters when she realizes they don’t belong in the story. This tough hide is also useful when, even after ten years, she still writes sentences and paragraphs and scenes and chapters and stories that are bad. But now she realizes that bad writing will always come first. Then she will cut every adverb, and I mean every single adverb, and after much revision, her bad writing might be good.

Revision took a bit longer than I thought, so we’ll talk about the rest on another day. I’ll title it PART II.

Monday, November 29, 2010

In the Rearview Mirror

I see her in my rearview mirror while idling at a stoplight. She sits in the driver’s seat of the black SUV behind me—cropped blonde hair, 40ish, hands at ten and two. The mother. Next to her sits a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl. Same blonde hair, though longer and it hangs across her brow and over one eye. The daughter.

How do I know one of them is the mother, the other the daughter? I know because of the look on the woman’s face. And I know because of the way the girl cocks her head to the right—a signature move that generally accompanies an eye roll, which I’m sure the daughter gave though I can’t see it from this distance. After the cock of the head, and while we are still sitting at the stoplight, the mother throws both hands in the air, and while looking out her window instead of at her daughter, she begins to speak, shaking her hands, bobbing her head, making her point. There is another eye roll from the daughter, and the mother drops her hands back to the steering wheel, bows her head for a moment, during which time I’m sure she takes a deep breath, and when she looks up, the light just turning green, neither mother nor daughter speaks again.

Pulling away from the light, I smile, not because I’m laughing at the two of them, but because I know exactly what is happening in that car. I don’t know if the woman works outside the home or stays home with her daughter. I don’t know if they live in the area or are tourists here for the holiday. I don’t know if her daughter is good student or struggles or if she takes gymnastics or plays on a soccer team. But I do know how that mother feels because whatever argument she and her daughter are having, every other mother has it had it with every other daughter. The frustration, the exhaustion, the guilt, the doubt, the hope, the pride. This is what I think great writers capture in their great work. They find those emotions and experiences that are universal regardless of our differences. And when that is unearthed, we readers enjoy great fiction.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Last week I wrote about letting go...when does a writer finally let go of that novel she has been working on for the past year? A good thing to do before making such a decision is to take a break from the novel, get a little distance. Toward that end, I am vacationing with my family over the holiday and won't give that book another thought until I climb down off this mountain and make my way back to sea level.

I wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 15, 2010

When To Let It Go

I’ve written before about the process of writing a novel…the various stages. I have written to you about reaching page 300 of the new novel I'm working on and being happy about that as if the rest of the writing were downhill. I have written about page 301, at which time I realized that I didn’t know what happened next or last. I’ve written about giant whiteboards and sticky notes, excel spreadsheets and abandoned outlines. I’ve written about the slow, steady decline in the state of my office as I write a novel, and the day I finished my first draft.

In the past few months, I have worked my way through three more drafts. I’ve edited for structure, for logistics, for character. I have earmarked a few scenes that aren’t quite working, and I’ll print those page and stare at them for a day or so until I figure out how to fix them. And then, will I be done?

This is the next big step in writing a novel…when to let it go? In the early stages of a writer’s career, I would say most of us let go too soon, and generally we are letting go of a novel that is not very good. Those novels don’t sell and are tucked away in a drawer or a box or a vault where they will never, ever, ever be read by anyone. And then we writers write another novel or two and hopefully write one that is good enough to sell. But it will never sell if we don’t stop tinkering with it. If we don’t stop moving commas and flipping through our thesaurus and rewriting the first 50 pages and cutting adverbs and changing this character’s eye color and that character’s hair color and adding a second story to the protagonist’s house and rewriting the first 50 pages and adding back a few adverbs and searching for and deleting all occurrences of the word shrug and deleting the semi-colons that we really don’t know how to properly use and rewriting the first 50 pages we will never FINISH.

So in the next few days—okay, maybe the next few weeks—I’ll stop tinkering with the first 50 pages of my next novel, stop adding and cutting and changing and rearranging and I’ll let it go, which is to say I’ll start letting other people read it. However, I have learned in the months since I sold BENT ROAD (also a novel that I probably tinkered with far too long) that a novel isn’t truly done and we don’t truly let go until it’s sitting on a shelf in a bookstore.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Perfect Roast

I stumbled upon the recipe in a Williams Sonoma cookbook. I scanned the list of ingredients and then scanned my disheveled spice rack. In an unusual turn of events, I had everything listed.

In a small bowl, I mixed up the half dozen spices, drawing the flat edge of a knife across every teaspoon and tablespoon to level each measurement. I mixed it with a fork and rubbed it over a pork roast I had purchased the day before. As instructed, I let it marinate for four hours. I preheated the oven, tinkered with the oven’s probe until I figured it out, and baked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. I placed the roast on a white serving tray, drizzled it with the apricot glaze I had prepared and served with ripened avocado slices. The family loved it.

Five years ago, long before I prepared this perfect roast, I attended a writers’ conference in Boston where I received some very good advice. I knew it was good advice even though, at the time, I didn’t entirely understand it. “Should you write a novel that is good enough to publish,” Instructor said, “be sure you know how you did it.” At the time I was working on a novel that I would never try to publish because it was not good enough. In the years since, I have written BENT ROAD, a novel that did sell, and as 2010 draws to a close, I’ll finish up my next novel, and indeed, I now understand.

The next time I made the roast, I had to pull the meat from the freezer and defrost it in the microwave, and I don’t let the dry rub set long enough because I forgot to get started early in the day. When it came time to pop the roast in the oven, I couldn’t find the oven’s probe, so I it turned out a bit dry. But it’s wasn’t too bad. We had no leftovers.

I had no ripe avocados the third time. Again, the defrosted roast wasn’t quite as tender as a roast never frozen, and since I couldn’t find the cookbook with the recipe, I tried to mix the dry rub from memory. The kids picked at their dinner, and only out of kindness, Husband asked for a second serving. The leftovers ended up in the trash.

As to making sure I know how I wrote a book that ultimately sold…fortunately, I have had many terrific teachers over the years that have instilled a great appreciation for the craft of writing. So, yes, I think I know how I did it. As to the pork roast...I have retired that recipe unless I find the cookbook. Then, and only then, I’ll give it another try.

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Unexpected Turn of Events

The following took place a few months ago, but I wanted to wait until all the insurance dust settled to blog about it.

The officer opens the back door to his cruiser and Daughter lowers herself onto the hard plastic seat. She looks up at me, and I close the door. Through the open window, I point at her. “This better be the only time I see you in the back of one of these,” I say and slide into the front seat. The officer from the Tallahassee police department starts up his car, and we pull away.

It all started two hours earlier. We’re in Tallahassee for the weekend. Five hours from home. Daughter sits in the passenger seat. I am driving. The other driver flies through a stop sign and crashes into our front end. The impact throws Daughter and me forward. My car comes to rest against the median. Witnesses say the other driver went into a tailspin. He lands two lanes away.

I look at daughter. A large white balloon has exploded from her dashboard. The airbag. I exhale.

“You okay?” I ask her.

She is clear eyed, sitting up straight. She nods and says, “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” I say, still clutching the steering wheel. “We’re okay.”

The remnants from a leftover McFlurry are splattered across the dashboard and me. I wipe it from my forearms and push aside the airbag. Cars fly past us on the three lane road.

“Let’s just take a minute,” I say.

“The car is smoking,” Daughter says. “I think we should get out.”

Smoke rises out of the airbags. Something is burning.

“Yes,” I say. “I think you’re right.”

Across the street, strangers wave at us to get away from the car. My door opens easily. Daughter crawls across the center console and we hold hands as we cross traffic. Once safely out of the street, I stand in a pile of red ants. They coat my left foot, but they don’t sting like I know they should. It must be the adrenaline. A stranger hands me his cell phone. I slip off my shoe and Daughter shakes the ants from it. I call Husband. We’re five hours away. He’s leaving now to come get us. Off duty first-responders check on Daughter and me. We’re sore where the seatbelt grabbed us. Daughter bit her tongue. Sirens whine and grow louder. An ambulance arrives. A paramedic tells Daughter to stick out her tongue. It’s okay. Pressure’s fine. Heart rate regular. The other driver walks away, too.

The tow truck takes two hours to arrive. The good folks at the HoneyBaked Ham café invite us in while we wait. They feed Daughter a ham sandwich. Strangers come inside to ask if we’re okay. A police office escorts me back to the car so I can take everything out of it. A few CDs. The title. Two MVP game balls earned by Son during post season play. A hopper full of tennis balls. Pens, pencils, loose change, a brush, Daughter’s hair ties. I shove it all in a tennis bag, knowing I probably won’t see the car again.

I write down numbers for a cab company, but after my car is towed away, the officer offers to take us back to our hotel. This is how Daughter takes her first ride in a police car. It’s my first time, too.

It’s smaller than I would have expected. Just like on television, plexiglass separates the front seat from the back. I tap on it and smile at Daughter. I take note of the hard plastic seat Daughter sits on. No upholstered cushions. Tape covers the small holes in the glass divider. Good details. A writer always needs good details. Not much leg room, and I have to open the door for Daughter because there is no handle on the inside for her to use.

“I wish I had my camera,” I tell daughter when we are safely back in the hotel.

“You are not going to blog about this,” Daughter says.

“Uhhh, yes, I am,” I say.

Many thanks to the good people of Tallahassee, the Tallahassee Police Department, and the folks at HoneyBaked Ham.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sorry I'm Late

Last Monday, my post was brief. Today, it’s late. Or at least later than I like it to be. My excuse…I joined a gym and my schedule has changed. Therefore, it is likely that in the coming weeks and months, my blog will go up a bit later.

The first thing I did upon joining a gym was attend a ZUMBA class. In case you’re not familiar, ZUMBA is like the old aerobics we all know from the 80s with a heavy dose of Latin flare thrown in. My advice for anyone who gives it a try…don’t stand in front of the double glass doors. You will be shaking and gyrating things that you will prefer no one see. But it is great fun and great exercise. Today, I attended a weight training class. Not as much shaking and gyrating, but I still recommend not standing in front of the door.

Beginning with my college days, I have always belonged to one gym or another, except for the last few years. I guess it’s safe to say I’ve been strict with my writing schedule since I sold BENT ROAD. Perhaps I’m compulsive, or obsessive, or both. But I felt it important to write first thing every morning, every day, without exception, without interruption. Even most weekend mornings, I roll out of bed before six to work before anyone else gets up. Okay, obsessive and compulsive. And toss in a heavy doss of insecurity. That all adds to up to a few years of not going to the gym.

I’m not sure there is any moral to this story. Perhaps now that BENT ROAD is in the very capable hands of all the folks at Dutton and I’m 90% done writing my next novel, I’m finally able to relax enough to fit in a few other things. What I do know is that my blog will occasionally be a bit late on Mondays and that I am suffering from an overwhelming urge to write something with a Latin flare.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Actress and I

Today’s post will be brief, primarily because I didn’t plan ahead and I have a couple of other things to tend to today. I do, however, have a few words to share.

I’m always on the look-out for something to blog about, so I’d like to give a shout-out to my companion at the baseball field this weekend who helped me come up with an idea. We’ll call her The Actress. The Actress and I sat through two baseball games on Saturday—slow games, boring games, games where nobody hit the ball. Her brother was playing right field; my son second and short. The Actress and I ate peanuts, contemplated the mystery of why every player on the team was looking at strike three, and talked about the long ride home after games such as these.

But at game three on Sunday….ahhhh game three. The bats were swinging and the players were sprinting around the bases. (Our guys, not theirs.) Again, The Actress and I contemplated the mystery. Did the players get a better night’s sleep? Eat a better breakfast? Was it those four or five sprints they ran between foul poles (which are technically fair poles) before the game began? No matter what the reason, The Actress and I agreed…


“Maybe you should blog about that,” The Actress said.

On a separate note-The Eckerd College Writers in Paradise Conference is accepting applications. This is a great program, and I highly recommend it. Find more information HERE.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Wasn't Being Mean

Six of us sat around an oval conference table. The instructor, who made seven, (we’ll call him Instructor) sat next to me. He chose not to sit at the head of the table. Intentional, perhaps. He announced the manuscript we would critique first, allowed us a moment to pull it from our bags and backpacks and then said, “Raise your hand if you didn’t like it.”

The group fell silent. One writer looked at the next who looked at the next. For a few, the conference was their first workshop experience. The others had experience, though perhaps were still not prepared for this.

“Excuse me,” one of the writers said.

“Raise your hand if you didn’t like it.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” the same writer said.

I raised my hand.

The group continued to exchange glances. One more hand went up. The rest stayed down.

Instructor pointed to one of the writers who had not raised a hand. “Why do you like it?”

The writer had no answer.

“You didn’t raise your hand. You liked it. Tell me why.”

Still, no answer.

“Then you,” Instructor said to the next writer who didn’t raise a hand.

She looked down on the manuscript she had marked up with red ink. “I guess I liked the idea of it,” she said. “I liked what it could be.” She flipped through a few pages and avoided looking at the author of the submission. “I guess I didn’t really like it.”

“I still don’t think this is necessary,” the writer who made the original objection said. “What purpose does it serve?”

“You liked it,” Instructor said. “Tell me why.”

“It doesn’t help to be mean,” the writer said.

Instructor looked at me. “Are you being mean?”


“Why did you say you didn’t like it?”

“Because I don’t.”

“Tell me why.”

And I told him.

I don’t remember all the reasons I didn’t care for the submission, but among them were a lack of plot, a fuzzy point of view, too many characters to keep track of, conspicuous dialogue tags, elaborate adverbs and heavy-handed filtering that removed me from the story….in short, many of the same mistakes I made in the manuscript I submitted when attending my first writers’ conference six months earlier. I was fortunate enough to have an instructor and peer group who were not hesitant about pointing out my many failings.

In the end, all of the other writers except the one who voiced the original objection had raised their hands to indicate that they didn’t care for the submission. We discussed the various reasons. Instructor used a white board, drew circles and lines to illustrate plot and flow of time, offered suggestions on how to fix the manuscript. No one criticized the author, just the work. She was crying by the end. I knew that was a good thing and told her so. “You’ll be better for it,” I said. I didn’t cry after my first workshop experience but only because my work was critiqued last, and I had the benefit of seeing eleven other strong, accomplished writers have their work dissected and scrutinized. My skin had six days to toughen up before I was workshopped for the first time.

After an hour and a half, we put away that author’s work. My story was the next to be critiqued.

Instructor said, “Raise your hand if you didn’t like it.”

Three hands shot in the air.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Writers' Group Reconvenes

After taking the summer off, my writers’ group reconvenes this week. We meet once a month on the campus of Eckerd College, most of clutching some sort of caffeine, and discuss our work. We have a moderator; we’ll call her The Moderator. She keeps us on schedule, and if ever a whip needed to be cracked, she would do it. However, we are generally a well behaved group, and to date, she has wielded no weapons.

We are a group of twelve, give or take. There are a few fantasy writers among us and a few who write memoir. There are those who write short stories and those who loath writing short stories. A few of us are outspoken. A few, soft spoken. So in honor of the start of another year with the writers’ group—this will be my third—I thought I’d share, in no particular order, some of my favorite writing tips.

• Adverbs are not your friend. I once heard Steven King say this, so I am inclined to believe it.

• That’s nice writing, but who the *&^% cares – a reminder that the most beautifully crafted sentence will never compensate for a missing plot.

• Write the story you want to read—and before you assume that you have done this, think very carefully about what you like to read.

• Show don’t tell. I think we all know this one.

• Avoid using the word ‘shrug’ 217 times in one manuscript.

• He said, she said, he asked, she asked, and that is it for dialogue tags.

• Write a short story if you want to learn about plot.

• “Remember to get the weather in your god damned book…”—that is from Hemingway, although someone else warned that we not begin with the weather.

• You will never remember the difference between lay and lie, further and farther, sit and set, who and whom, deadly and deathly, accept and except—look it up.

• Irregardless is not a word.

• The only way to sit is ‘down’. The only way to stand is ‘up.’ No need to sit down or stand up. Sit. Stand.

• Imagine it…don’t make it up.

• Felt, saw, thought, looked, noticed, heard, remembered are all signs that you are filtering. Never a good idea.

• Spell check is not a form of revision.

• Though no one talks about them anymore, it’s worth reading up on the four fallacies.

• Every novel has an arch. Every chapter has an arch. Every scene has an arch. Every paragraph has an arch. Every character has an arch.

• Give your characters something to want and something to need and make it difficult for them to get either.

• Begin at the beginning and avoid bathtubs and dreams.

• Putting your character alone on a boat or in a car or on a walk through the forest makes it very tough to conjure conflict.

• Why this day?

• And it’s worth saying again…Adverbs are not your friend.

Monday, September 27, 2010


“Tick tock, the door is locked.”

That is what the founding member of our book club was told twelve years ago when she tried to join a club that had already formed. Not to be deterred, she (we’ll call her The Reader) picked up the phone, dialed twelve or so friends, and a new book club was formed. Every forth Monday of the month—or is it the last Monday…I can never remember—we gather to discuss a book, drink wine and eat. Tonight, the book club will gather at my house, which will explain why this blog is brief.

I suppose most book clubs are basically the same. One night a month, all across the country, women—and men, too, I am sure—rush home from delivering kids to soccer practice or a piano lesson, drop takeout on the dining room table, spend ten minutes running a brush through their hair and strapping on a pair of open-toed sandals and rush out the door. At the hostess’s house, they pour a glass of wine, pull extra chairs into the living room and spend a few moments catching up. The younger book clubs might notice the member who isn’t drinking and congratulate her on her pregnancy. The middle-aged clubs might talk about slipping back into the workforce or the sad news of a divorce. The older book clubs might mourn a husband or celebrate a grandchild. And then they discuss a book.

This month, my book club is reading THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper. Having given the group a few books to choose from, they voted on this one and within a few days of that vote, the Facebook comments started flying. The Reader commented that she was loving the book. Then came another comment. I’m loving it, too. Another. I can’t wait to get started. Sounds like a great book. Still another. Just bought it. Going to start reading it in car-line today. More days followed and a few straggler comments came in. Thanks for recommending this book. It’s laugh out loud funny. And then, a mere two weeks after choosing THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, came the comment that illustrates why writers love book clubs. From The Reader…Just finished all five of Jonathan Tropper’s books.

Yes…this is why writers love book clubs. They read books, love books, share books and read more and more books.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Love Triangle

Conflict is an important part of any novel. It comes in many forms and usually includes a protagonist and an antagonist. Protagonist wants something. Antagonist gets in her way. In some cases, the conflict springs up between a triangle. Jealousies sprout, feelings are hurt, territories are marked. And hopefully, by the novel’s end, protagonist emerges victorious and realizes her greatest desire. Such was the case at our house this past week.

I walk up the stairs, my computer bag slung over my shoulder, hungry and tired because my day is nearly at an end. Ben, our Jack Russell in case you’re new to my blog, greets me at the landing. His stubby tail wags and he jumps on my shins. After a quick pat on his head, a gentle ruffle of his ears, I drop my bag, and there, across the room, nestled against the far wall, I see it. The newest addition to our family. RUMBA.

I walk across the dark wooden floors, peppered as they always are with white dog hair, and stand before RUMBA. Ben trails me, jumping on my calves, darting between my feet. I turn to Husband who has followed me. He is responsible for this surprise. Son and Daughter join in. Huddling around RUMBA, we gaze down upon the green lights that mean he is fully charge. “Go ahead,” Husband says.

I press the power button on top of RUMBA’s head. He leaps from his cradle. We four break our huddle and jump out of his way. RUMBA beeps three times, spins 180 degrees and rolls across the floor, leaving a clean path in his wake. Six feet away, he nudges the bottom of the couch, spins and takes off in the other direction. We marvel as he finds himself under the dining room table and manages to navigate the four chairs and emerge unscathed. He rolls along the baseboards, hugs the cabinets in the kitchen, even avoids certain doom when, at the last possible moment, he turns away from the top stair. Whereas it used to take only one of us to sweep the floors—generally me—it now takes the entire family. We follow him from room to room, shouting, “Good RUMBA. Left. No right. Good boy, RUMBA.” I think I even coo.

Because RUMBA isn’t fully charged, he lasts only a half hour. Spent from all the cheering, we empty his filter, and I feel the weight of four years of dog hair lift instantly from my shoulders. Husband returns RUMBA to his cradle where he can charge for another day. And there, as if waiting for the pack leader to return, lays Ben. Daughter rushes to sweep him into her arms. His normally perky ears droop. I give his head another ruffle and say, “No more talking to RUMBA,” because a nasty love triangle has sprung up in the family. Ben is jealous RUMBA.

RUMBA continues to run every morning, but no longer do we cheer him on or pat his round flat head. We press his power button without a single word of encouragement, empty his filter with a cool hand, and leave him to find his own way back to his cradle, which he usually does if he doesn’t run out of power first. This conflict has come to a satisfactory conclusion. Ben is once again the pack leader and I have clean floors.

If you're looking for a great giveaway - head on over to a SPOONFUL OF SUGAR FREE where my good friend, Alex, is holding an end-of-summer contest.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fact or Fantasy...

I have talked before about the questions a writer gets when she sells her first book. How did you get an agent? How long did it take you to write the book? What will the cover look like? One of the questions I most often get is…what kind of book is it? This raises the issue of genre. Let’s use this picture to discuss genre and literary fiction.

Perhaps this picture represents YA—young adult—fiction. Obviously Protagonist is a “young adult.” Simple enough. She is playing her arch rival for top spot on the Riverdale Middle School tennis team.

Maybe, based on this picture, we are going to read fantasy. The young female protagonist, living in an imaginary realm where elves and fairies frolic in magical forests, has been pitted against an unlikely opponent—6’9” John Isner—and her very life depends on the match’s outcome.

Consider instead, that we are looking at the beginning of a horror novel. Protagonist is trapped inside a never-ending match with no tiebreakers. No one can break serve and the match lasts well into the night and into the next day and maybe blood and guts and other gore seep onto the court with every passing game. Okay…that’s not a good plot. I don’t write horror.

There is mystery—in this flashback, Protagonist is sparing against the very person she will investigate for murder some twenty years later. If this were chick lit, we might again be seeing a flashback, but this time, Protagonist is sparing with the girl who will grow up to be a New York city mayoral candidate and steal Protagonist's fiancé two days before the wedding. Science Fiction—every time Protagonist hits the ball it disappears as it crosses the net, lost in a black hole. When the ball returns hours later, it has lost all of its yellow fuzz and is dripping green slime. (Again, I’m no good with sci-fi either.)

And then there’s literary fiction. Protagonist isn’t playing an opponent, but is instead hitting the ball against a wall. Effectively, she is playing herself, battling her inner demons, struggling to realize her own true identity.

So when people ask me what kind of book I have written, I always start my explanation with… “It’s a story about the Scott family.” First and foremost, it’s a story. No green slimy goo, no mayoral candidates, no brick walls or never-ending sets. A story. And I hope a good one.

And as for Protagonist, what may have seemed like fantasy or science fiction, is in fact a young girl on the receiving end of a serve delivered by the great John Isner. All in fun, of course.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Dog With A Nose For Books

Ben, our four-year-old Jack Russell, is barking hysterically. I know that bark. It means he has spotted a squirrel in our back yard. I let him outside, and very soon, the hysterical bark will be followed by a rather girly yap when he eventually and inevitably chases the squirrel up a white-bird tree. He’ll spend the rest of the afternoon circling the tree and shredding its large green fronds. He never captures the squirrel.

Ben has many barks. I can read them better than I could ever read my children’s cries when they were babies. There is the staccato bark that means, “Let me inside.” There is the patient and measured bark that if left to his own desires, he could maintain all day for the pelicans and egrets who land on our dock. There is “help me on the bed” whimper, the “fill my bowl” chirp, the snort that passes for a bark when we ask him to speak in exchange for a cookie, and the squeak that follows an especially large yawn.

Because I can read these barks, I knew the delivery man had arrived the other day when Ben, while sitting on the back of the couch and looking out the front window, began to growl. The growl grew steadily louder, and as the delivery man made his way up our driveway, carrying a large brown box with both hands, the growl turned into a high-pitched yap. Ben raced off the couch, sprinted down the steps and exploded into a hysterical snarling fit when the delivery man deposited the box on our front porch.

We have had many such fits lately as my kids recently started school and various delivery men have been delivering textbooks to our house. But school had been underway for several days, and all books had been accounted for. I opened the front door, hugging a squirming Ben under my arm, and rescued the box from the path of a sprinkler. I thought perhaps the box contained something important, because all important deliveries to our house end up in the path of a sprinkler head. The box was, in fact, an important delivery—the advanced reader copies of BENT ROAD. As you can see in the picture below, in addition to announcing the box’s arrival, Ben helped me open it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

What Comes Next?

Part of writing a blog, perhaps the hardest part of writing a blog, is coming up with stuff to write about every week. It should be something entertaining, insightful maybe, thought provoking hopefully. But mostly, any idea will do, and I guess I’m lucky that this morning is the first morning I’m a bit stumped.

I could write about the beginning of school, how it marks the start of autumn, except that in Florida it’s still about 95 degrees so I have trouble conjuring thoughts of pumpkin picking and fresh pressed apple cider.

I could write about what happens when a writer writes “The End” after the last sentence of a first draft, but the only thing to write about that event is to say that any writer who thinks that is an ending is most likely wrong. It simple marks the beginning of about 120 rewrites.

I could write about flying into New York City a few months after selling my book, looking up from the Harlan Coben novel I was reading to see the Statue of Liberty and starting to hyperventilate because it finally occurred to me that other people, strangers, would be reading my book one day soon. But I still don’t like to think too much about that fact so I’ll save that blog for another day.

Or I could write about playing tennis with twelve-year-old Daughter this weekend and about the sore muscles I have this morning, which are nothing compared to my bruised ego. Or I could write about how hard it is for me to keep my mouth closed now that Daughter is writing a blog of her own for school. She insists that Teacher said parents aren’t allowed to help. Teacher confirmed that at Back to School Night.

I could write about any of those things, but instead I’ll write this being the hardest part—trying to decide what to write and what comes next. Perhaps that is why writing “The End” after the last sentence of first draft feels so darn good. No more trying to decide what comes next.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Perfect Scone

The first day of school is all about setting the alarm clock. Once everyone is up, the routine comes back to us. It’s muscle memory, like riding a bike. Breakfast is prepared, backpacks stuffed and carline maneuvered, and then, because it is tradition, I go for coffee with an old friend. We’ll call her The Nurse.

The Nurse, working as she does in an Emergency Room at an area hospital, has many interesting stories to share and more than one has inspired an idea or two in my writing. But as we sat down to coffee on the first day of the 2010/2011 school year, she did more than entertain me with tales from her weekend shifts. She introduced me to scones.

Now, I’ve eaten scones before, or I thought I had. Never been much of a fan. They were generally hard and crumbled into marble-sized chunks at the slightest touch. Not much flavor although given that they took so long to chew, I never ate the whole thing and thus saved a few calories. There’s always a bright side. But on that Thursday morning—ahhhhh, that Thursday morning—I learned what a real scone was all about.

The first sign that this scone was unlike all others was the dollop of whipped cream resting in its center. I dipped the tip of my fork in the cream. Real. Another good first sign. The fact that it was served with a fork—good sign. The fact that it was served on terracotta stoneware thick enough that it wouldn’t break even if dropped—good sign. And then, the first bite.

I held up a hand to stop the conversation. The scone flaked. I didn’t know scones could flake. I took tiny bites, chewed slowly, sipped coffee between each mouthful, let The Nurse do most of the talking. I savored my first real scone and if I could have, I would have picked up that terracotta stoneware and licked it clean. Instead, I handed my crumb-free plate to the server, dabbed the corners of my mouth with a napkin, and said thank you. That was delicious.

From the first bite, I knew that the entire scone would be delicious. I knew I was in good hands with the chef who had prepared it. Trusted that every nut, bit of dried fruit and chocolate chunk had been carefully choosen and mixed in the perfect proportion. I didn’t need to eat the whole thing to know that every bite would be delightful. But I did.

I can say the same about a book I’m reading right now. From page one, I knew I was in good hands with this author. I didn’t have to read the whole thing to know the book would be wonderful, but I will. I’m reading it slowly, savoring it as I go. If you’re interested, the book is The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson and the scone can be found at Banyan Coffee and Tea at 689 MLK N in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Giant White Poster Board

I’m sitting at my desk this morning, staring down on a giant poster board covered with multicolored sticky notes. The board is divided into columns, each one labeled with a date, starting at June 8th, 1958. The sticky notes—pink, blue and lavender—each represent a different point-of-view character in the novel I am working on right now. I made the same type of board when I was nearing the end of BENT ROAD, except there were four colors and the dates began with August, 1967.

I started this board around the time I blogged about having reached page 300, after which I blogged about my ongoing struggle with plot. My plan was simple. The board would help me organize my scenes, confirm timelines, track details, visualize the story’s arch. I even spent a decent amount of time deciding which color sticky note to give to which character. Grace is sweet, innocent—definitely pink. Julia is stubborn yet surprising calm in the face of tragedy—blue. Ania is a bit crazy—lavender. Yes, the poster board would take command of my thoughts, show me the gapping holes in my plot, confirm the balance of my multiple points-of-view. Once upon a time, I was an accountant, and we accountants thrive in such order. Debits always on the right. Credits on the left. (Or is it the other way around. It’s been a while.) We tick and tie. We label our workpapers with red ink and reference our calculations with roman numerals. This tidy white board covered in tiny pastel flags would bring me the same order.

Except sitting here at my desk this morning, my coffee having gone slightly cold, I remember that the board didn’t help me with BENT ROAD, and it won’t help me now. While my accountant brain may have slurped up the eight column ledgers, my writer’s brain does not. I wish I could outline. I wish, before I wrote the first word of a novel, I could begin with an outline, each main idea headed up by a roman numeral. I would indent the subtopics and label them with capital letters, and the next level with regular numbers and the level after that with small letters. I would use Excel so that my columns would be evenly spaced and I would format each column with “wrap around text” so that the short phrases would not invade the next column. I have tried. With every novel—I wrote a few bad ones that I never tried to sell before writing and selling BENT ROAD—I have tried to outline. I recommend the practice to anyone who asks. But even after the fact, even after the novel is nearly complete and I am attempting to outline what is already written, my brain just doesn’t work that way.

I’ve come to this realization before and I come to it again now. As we speak, lavender, pink and blue stick notes are sailing around my office like tiny pastel colored birds in flight. I have torn them from my board, crumpled them into tiny balls I can later throw at my kids when they finally get out of bed and flung them in the air. My white poster board is again white. Maybe I’ll try an excel spreadsheet next and divide it by characters instead of dates and chapters. I won’t call it an outline. I’ll leave it unnamed. I’ll think with a landscape view instead of a portrait view. I’ll use a red font for things that need to be fixed and italics for things that need to be deleted. My new spreadsheet will show me the arch of each character’s story. I’ll be able to identify where the tension dwindles and isolate repetitive scenes. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. That’ll work for sure.

A bit of news - the audio rights to BENT ROAD recently sold, so should you prefer an audio version, it will be also be available.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Writer's Office

It’s raining this weekend in west central Florida, and because we don’t get snow days down here, I use these wet, dark days as my “clean something out” days. Today, I will clean my office.

I begin with the papers stacked a foot tall on top of my filing cabinet. Okay—there’s two stacks. All of you writers know what I find lurking there—old rejection letters. Most of them are from literary journals, rejecting my short stories. The story most rejected is the one that inspired me to write BENT ROAD. Not too much sting associated with those rejections. Another highly rejected short story, PAYDAYS, led to the novel I am finishing up now. Probably best that this short story never sold. Lastly, I file away a few rejections on the story GOOD ENOUGH. That one ultimately sold to the Chattahoochee Review. You’ll find it in their current edition.

So, what else lurks in a writer’s office? The writers in crowd know—research on literary agents. We all have it, stacks of it, mounds of it. Most of us do this research long before we’ve finished a novel worth selling. About midway through the stacks that no longer teeter, I find the binder where I stored my notes on various agents. Names, agencies, websites are scribbled on sheets of paper that I three hole punched and stuck in a blue binder. Some names are scratched out, other highlighted. I find the spreadsheet that I created to track the agents I queried when I finished BENT ROAD. I contacted nine agents before signing with Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency. I toss out the binder, the notes and the research. I keep the spreadsheet.

I find two year old report cards, pictures from Daughter’s pre-school days (she is a seventh grader now) and Husband’s original Social Security card. Not sure where that came from. Lastly, I find a few treasures. Again, the writers in the crowd can see this one coming. I dig up three small spiral notebooks where I’ve jotted down story ideas, listed character traits, drawn maps of imaginary towns. I find outlines in various states of completion, an article about earthworm hunting that I clipped from the newspaper, random scenes that I wrote out longhand and have no memory of writing. It’s like stealing someone else’s ideas, except they’re my own, and so they are fair game.

I finish the day by tearing up one of the 127 versions of BENT ROAD that I have read and edited over the past few years. (Just kidding about the 127.) I’ve already kept a few early drafts of this novel, so don’t need another. Then I gather up the two garbage bags that I filled with paperwork and stand back. This is when I realize that the state of my office mirrors the state of my writing. My early drafts are a bit haphazard. Ideas are cluttered, things stack up, plotlines teeter near disaster. As does my office. But then, after a first draft, a second draft, a tenth or twelfth draft, the storylines have been tidied up, the stacks have dwindled, most everything is where it should be. This is where I am as I near the end of the novel I am working on now. So I’ll enjoy this clean workspace until I start writing a third book, at which time I’m certain my office will slowly but surely deteriorate again into utter chaos.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Who Knew - Another Hemingway House

Last week, I wrote about the many miles I have traveled over the years to visit the Hemingway house in Key West only to realize that, unbeknownst to me, he once lived in a house a mere few miles from where I once lived in Kansas City. So, today, after visiting with some fine folks at Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas, Husband and I set out, mapquest in hand, to find this house.

Husband did the driving while I studied the directions. After much debate about which side of the road the house would be on based on its address, we decided to read the addresses stenciled in black on the curb. We found it—the only house in the neighborhood not visible from the road.

While awaiting the birth of their son in 1928, Hemingway and his wife, Pauline, lived here as guests of family friends. During this period, he worked on A FAREWELL TO ARMS. And while Husband and I were unable to wander through the halls of this house as we were the house in Key West, it is still a nice bit of history, and I am happy to have seen it. Below are a few pictures that I snapped.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hemingway's House

One of our favorite vacation spots is Key West. I started going the year after I graduated college—won’t go into detail about that trip—and have gone every few years since. And every time we go, Husband and I, we venture off Duval Street, walk a few blocks to 907 Whitehead Street and tour the Hemingway house.

The house was built in 1851 and purchased by Hemingway in the early thirties. He owned it until his death in 1961, at which time it was sold and ultimately declared a national landmark. Today, it is operated as a museum.

Many of the furnishings that Hemingway and his wife, Pauline, brought to the home from Paris are on display. Pauline’s chandelier collection still hangs throughout the house. Hemingway’s favorite art of the time hangs in the living room. A penny that Hemingway pressed into wet cement along side his newly built swimming pool, the first residential pool in Key West, is still visible. And descendants of his famed six-toed cats still roam the grounds. And then, of course, there is Hemingway’s studio—the second story of the carriage house. His books still line the shelves and his Royal typewriter sits at a small table, his Cuban cigar-maker’s chair slightly ajar as if he just stepped away.

While living in this house, Hemingway wrote several of his famous works. He preferred to write in the mornings, 300 words a day I once read, and walked to Sloppy Joe’s in the afternoons—the real Sloppy Joe’s, not the chain that popped up in more recent years. He took up big game sport fishing during this time, and in 1939, after he and Pauline divorced, he moved to Cuba, and Key West became his overnight retreat.

I’ve traveled many miles to visit this house over the years. Now that I live in Florida, it’s not such a long trip, but when I still lived in Kansas City, the journey required a plane ticket and a rental car. So imagine my surprise when I recently posted on facebook that I was re-reading The Sun Also Rises and a friend responded with the address of Hemingway’s in-law’s house in Kansas City—a house in which Hemingway apparently lived during his time working at the Kansas City Star. I mapquested the address immediately. It is approximately 1.5 miles from the house I lived in while in Kansas City. I’ll be driving by when in town later this summer. Another reminder that the world is a very small place, in deed.

You will find more information about the Hemingway house in Key West at www.Hemingwayhome.com. While visiting the website, be sure to check out the Live Cat Webcam broadcasting from the grounds. I find it oddly soothing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Just a Quick Word

I'm going to make it short and sweet today. Daughter and I were in a car accident this weekend. Everyone walked away, except for my car. It was towed. Back again next week with a regular post.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Salsa Wars of 2010

We’ve been having a war of sorts in our house this summer—a salsa war. Daughter developed a sudden interest in preparing salsa, not sure why, and has done so several times. Husband is the greatest benefactor of this new found interest as he eats it on almost everything. Son chooses to abstain. All was well until I suggested that Daughter add diced mango and black beans to her salsa. She refused and called it a gross idea, if I remember correctly. I insisted that she would love it, and the war was on.

Daughter likes to chop her tomatoes in a crank operated food processor. I prefer to chop mine with a knife. Daughter removes the seed and slimy center from her tomatoes. I leave the slime in mine. I add balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Daughter most definitely does not. We both agree on garlic and minced onions. As previously stated, I add mango and black beans. Daughter furrows her brow and pinches her nose at this sight. Lastly, Daughter likes to pick out oddly shaped peppers in the produce section and add them to her salsa. I’m less adventurous and stick with the chopped jalapeños that come in a jar.

I suppose at this point, I could equate these different but equal salsas (although Daughter still insists her salsa is better) to different but equal novels. I could write about readers with different tastes and writers with different skill sets. But really, this is just a blog about salsa.

I will continue to insist that mango makes it better. Daughter will continue to insist that mango makes it gross. Whatever your preference, do a bookstore and an author a favor—read a book. And if you pick an oddly shaped pepper from your produce department, accidently get a bit of its juice on your lips, a thick paste of milk and baking soda will soothe the burn.

On a side note – my website is now up - see link at the top of my blog

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy 4th of July

Here's hoping everyone had a happy and safe holiday. I am still on vacation and basically standing on my head to get internet connection, so just a short note to touch base and say I will be back to my regular schedule next week.

Monday, June 28, 2010

For The Dog Lovers

There is a crack of lightning, followed closely by rolling thunder and Ben runs to the back door. He paces until I open it and then races down the stairs and onto the pool deck. Ben is our Jack Russell, and instead of being afraid of lightning and storms, they are his playmates.

As the rain begins, a heavy Florida downfall, it runs off our roof, through our leaky gutters and falls in thick streams onto our pool deck. Ben, on his two hind legs, jumps into the cascading water, snapping and barking at it. He spins in circles as he jumps and bites, falling onto all fours occasionally, running a lap around the pool and then returning to his spot under the flow of water.

We sit—Husband, Daughter and I—where the eaves protect us, watching and laughing. When Ben is finally exhausted, we scoop him up, dry him off and dump him back inside. An hour later, the rain having slowed to a mist, Ben is back outside, vomiting. He walks crouched low to the ground, his ears pinned back. Daughter notices him first. We follow him around the yard, dry him when he seems to feel better and bring him back inside. A few minutes later, he wants to go out again. More vomiting, more slinking around the yard. This time, he slinks behind the areca palm and lies on his side. I scoop him up, wrap him in a dry towel. He eyes are watery. This is what “glassy” looks like, I think. He is panting and his ears, which usually point straight up, are laid back as if he’s in pain.

The vet tells us it usually happens in larger dogs. They ingest too much water and air and the food in their stomachs ferments. It can cause death. But Ben feels no pain when we press on his stomach. A good sign. Still, he drools so much water we must put a towel under him mouth. The panting continues. The vet says water toxicity can also be fatal. His electrolytes are seriously out of balance. Put him in front of a fan to cool him and try to let him sleep. So many storms, Ben has played in the water, but this day, something was different.

One of the most important things to consider when beginning a novel is …. Why this day? If your protagonist suddenly quits his job or leaves his wife or robs a bank, the author must answer the question…why this day? Why does Protagonist decide to leave or quit or steal on the day the story begins and not a day earlier, or a week earlier, or a year earlier? What happens on the day the story begins that is different from any other day and is enough to finally drive Protagonist to such action. Why, after playing in countless storms, does this one storm cause such damage?

Ben continues to drool throughout the evening. The panting subsides. His glassy eyes slowly clear. I sleep with him on the floor so I can keep a close eye. Sometime during the night, he scampers toward the back door on unsteady legs but can’t quite make it outside. I soak up the mess with a wad of paper towels, pat him on the head and carry him back to bed. In the morning, his ears stand at attention and he promptly rolls on his back so I can scratch his belly.

We’re still not sure why that storm—that day—was different from all the others. Perhaps the gutters had sprung a new leak. Maybe he played longer because Father, Daughter and I were watching. Perhaps there was nothing different, because truth is often stranger than fiction and never as orderly. Regardless, the gutters are fixed now and when the next storm hits, we’ll limit Ben to five minutes in the rain.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Perhaps You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover

One of the first questions a writer gets when she has written a novel is….how long did it take you to write it? The second question…what does the cover look like?

The answer to the first question varies greatly according to what writer you ask. One particular writer might tell you that it took her about a year and a half. She might tell you about the two novels that she wrote and then stuck in a drawer because they both stunk—the first more than the second. She might tell you that the novel she sold is the third that she wrote and she would also tell you that the toughest part of the process was writing the query letter.

Once a writer has written a novel that she thinks is good enough to sell—not an easy thing to determine—she sets about finding an agent. The first step in this process is to write a query letter. This is a one page letter intended to introduce the author and, more importantly, the book to the agent. In the space of this one page letter, or more specifically, in the space of a paragraph or two, the author must summarize her novel in a way that is compelling enough to grab an agent’s attention, keeping in mind that agents may receive hundreds of these queries in any given month. So, how to distill a 368 page novel into a paragraph or two? How to capture the essence of the plot, the unique qualities of the characters, the haunting atmosphere permeating the setting? These questions plague an author, keep her up at night, give her headaches that settle in between the eyes, make her want to beat her computer with a sledge hammer.

If this query letter is a book’s first introduction to an agent, then perhaps it is fair to say that a book’s first introduction to a reader is its cover. How does a cover distill 368 pages into a single image? How does it capture the essence of the plot, the unique qualities of the characters, the haunting atmosphere permeating the setting? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I am fortunate enough that the folks at Dutton who worked on and created the cover for BENT ROAD have achieved and surpassed all of these goals. This is one instance where I hope you can judge a book by its cover.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Televised Version Doesn't Lie

Some of you, if you’ve read any of my past blogs, will know I recently returned from the State 2A baseball championships where my son’s team competed. And because they won their semi-final game, (don’t get me started on what a great game that was) they advanced to the final game, which was televised. After the last game ended, a respectable loss of 5 – 0, we packed up and when we finally made it home at 11:00 p.m., the first thing I did was re-watch the televised version. (Perhaps I am a crazy baseball parent – see earlier blog titled The Boys of Spring.)

On the televised version and in the live version, the Chargers (our team) enter the stadium first. They wear white pin-striped uniforms and lug black bat bags on their shoulders. That other team walks out second. Don’t remember what color their uniforms were. In the live version, our players walk with shoulders pressed back, faces set in a hardened expression, chins held high. On the televised version, the announcer says that the other team’s players look like men, and ours, like boys. While watching the televised version, I shake my head, twist up my face because what a ridiculous thing to say, and then leaning forward and squinting at the screen, I decide maybe he’s right. Their team is littered with seniors who have thick necks, broad shoulders and a few tattoos. Our team has one senior and no tattoos.

The game is under way. We know the other team is loaded with great hitters. Our outfielders know that best. On the televised version, the announcer relays two numbers to the vast viewing audience – two and sixty-one. The meaning – their team has hit sixty-one homeruns. Our team, two. Now, was that really necessary? Okay, it’s true. But still. Did he have to announce it to the world?

The game goes well. We have one tough inning where that other team scores four runs. In the stands, during the live version, we are hoarse by now, light-headed even. The televised version doesn’t reflect it, but their fans are a bit more rowdy than ours. We have to work hard to keep up. Then a “hit and run” is called. My son is playing third base. As the pitch is thrown, he breaks for the bag. I’m not sure why-only know it is a hit and run because the announcer on the televised version says so. A hard hit grounder sails past the exact spot my son was standing but isn’t anymore because he broke for third. It sails all the way into left field. On the televised version, the announcer says my son broke too early. He got caught cheating over.

Now….here is the moment that if I could, I would crawl through the television, grab that announcer by the throat and shake him like a ragdoll. I would shake him until his stuffing comes unstuffed. But then, I sit back down, unclench my fists and decide maybe, just maybe, he is right. Bad luck, to be sure, that the hit just happened to shoot down the third base line. Rest assured, my son is now the one infielder in all of the east coast who will never, and I mean never, “cheat over” again.

The game continues on. The third baseman, my son in case anyone hasn’t kept track, makes a few nice plays to make up for the one we never talk about. He strikes out his first at bat, but his second time up, he hits a deep shot opposite field. Very deep. It pulls me out of my seat. It approaches the warning track. It’s going…It’s going…And then….their right fielder makes a great catch. The announcer points out what a great catch the right field makes. Over and over it seems, the announcer points out what a terrific outfielder the other guy is. (Another break in the action where I would like to jump out of the stands, and later, when I watch my son robbed the second time, through the television screen.) As my son walks back to the dug out, his head hanging, his shoulders slightly slumped, the announcer, after regaling the right fielder with compliments, says, “Nice bit of hitting by Roy.” Yep, I guess if I believe the good stuff, I have to at least consider the bad stuff.

Again, for those who may not have been keeping track, I am beginning to prepare myself for book reviews. Should I be fortunate enough to have my book reviewed, I think listening to the announcer say that my son cheated over at third and hearing him praise the right fielder who stole that hit was about the best preparation I could hope for.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

That Green Floaty Thing

The thing about living near salt water is that when you paint your house, you enjoy it for about a year or one hurricane season, which ever comes first. Then the salt and the humidity overpower even the highest grade water-based enamel, and you spend the next five years trying to salvage the paint job before having to do it again. This includes scraping, sanding, priming and painting anything that isn’t stuccoed…my job on this Sunday afternoon.

If I were so inclined, I might compare this job to the process of rewriting, editing and polishing the first draft of a novel. I might compare scraping away loose chips of paint to cutting sentences that don’t advance the plot. I might equate scrubbing wooden beams with a wire brush to cutting adverbs and prepositional phrases until sentences flow smoothly through a manuscript. I might compare that first coat of primer to a second or third draft, or perhaps the twenty-third draft, when Writer feels she is nearing a final product. I might compare the high-gloss coat of exterior paint to the last draft Writer writes before sending it off to Agent or Editor. But all those comparisons would be cliché and trite. So I won’t make them. Instead, as I scrub a column with my steal bush, the sweat dripping from my forehead, I’ll compare the green inflatable raft floating in our pool, a mere ten feet from where I work, to the internet.

The internet is a writer’s worst enemy, and we have many. We have dishes and laundry, which we are always happy to wash when we should be writing instead. We have supper to prepare, because our family really does deserve a decent meal just this once. We have closets to clean, floors to sweep, weeds to pluck, shoes to polish, book shelves to dust, dog nails to trim, cabinets to paper and dust bunnies to vacuum. And then there is the internet.

We all do it. No matter what lie we tell ourselves, we all spend too much time on the internet when we should be writing. We scan Publisher’s Marketplace—an industry website with all the latest publishing news—imagining the day our own book deal will be announced there. We read the blogs of every editor and agent we can bookmark. We scan book reviews, again imaging the day our book will be reviewed there. And last, but certainly not least, because we do it the most, we writers Google ourselves.

Yes, I’ll admit it. I do it, too. However, the amount of Googles that come up when I Google myself and my novel are relatively small at this point. Hopefully that will grow over time, so I knew immediately when a new Google showed up this past Thursday night. But, if it weren’t for one universal word, I might have skimmed right over it. The entire Google was in Japanese. Except for one word. Amazon.

I clicked on this new Google and found myself on Japanese Amazon. Unable to read any of the text except for BENT ROAD and LORI ROY, I still called out to Daughter, the only one home to share the moment. She looked at the screen, rolled the mouse to the top right corner and clicked the “In English” button. Yes, it was official. I was available for pre-order and already marked down.

Google didn’t find me on any other version of Amazon, which includes Canada, Germany, France, China and the UK, but Daughter and I did. I am on all of them—available for pre-order—except China. (Though I’m not sure what I was doing or what I was looking at on the Chinese site.) I looked last at our own Amazon. Daughter typed in “Lori Roy”. Nothing. Perhaps it was a difference in systems or a time zone thing. Then Daughter typed in “BENT ROAD.” Available for pre-order. Already marked down, but I took comfort in the fact that all of us authors are marked down.

So, on this Sunday, I resist the temptation of the floaty thing in our pool and I finish my job of scraping, sanding, priming and painting. I’ll try to resist the internet, too. I’ve discovered Google Alerts. From now on, it will do my checking for me.

Two great books out this week –

SO COLD THE RIVER by Michael Koryta.
For more information and reviews - http://michaelkoryta.com/

STAY by Allie Larkin
For more information and reviews – http://allielarkinwrites.com/

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Proper Thank You

So, I hadn’t intended to blog today as I am on “summer schedule,” however this is the one year anniversary of the auction for BENT ROAD, so thought I’d mark the occasion. One year later, the manuscript has been edited, copy-edited and proofed. The cover is nearing its final stages, and soon we’ll have galley copies.

I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy many fine moments over the past year, and I have many fine people to thank. Some of those people have been teachers to me and an important part of my development as a writer. There really aren’t proper words to thank them. Perhaps a proper thank you might be to Pay-It-Forward.

Toward that end, I was recently contacted by a young man who I first met when he was about two-years-old. We’ll call him Sam. Today, he is a teenager interested in writing. He lives in a different city now, and I haven’t seen him in many years, but after goggling me and discovering our common interest, he wrote me for advice. And so I’ll happily Pay-Forward the knowledge that others were generous enough to share with me as a means of saying thank you.

In honor of the end of school...a little summer fun.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Summer Schedule

Happy Memorial Day to all. Like you, I am vacationing today, so this will be short. As summer is upon us, I'll be transitioning to a summer schedule. Look for new posts on Mondays. In the meantime, enjoy the holiday. And to my dear friend Glenn, who served our country in WWII, rest easy. Sail on.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Page Three Hundred.....and One

A few days ago, I wrote about page 300. I was happy to see it. I stretched, hit save and wrote a blog about how happy I was to see. It’s a few days later, my baseball hangover has subsided (a baseball hangover involves no alcohol, just a whole lotta baseball) and I’m staring at page 301. What comes next?

I suppose writers are issued in various makes and models. Some of us render beautiful settings and landscapes with ease. Some of us have an ear for dialogue. Others are gifted with insight that leads to well rounded, sympathetic characters. And then there are the lucky few who are gifted with plot. Plot seems to roll off their finger tips with nary a chart or sticky note or excel spreadsheet in sight. They can juggle characters and plot points and keep each spinning, ever faster until they culminate in a stunning climax that leaves us readers breathless. Yes, I am wildly jealous of these writers, and I know a few of them well enough to know that their brilliant plotlines don’t roll off their fingertips. Darn it all, they work very hard at it.

Still, I have to believe that the question of “what comes next?” plagues most writers and it will plague me until I reach page 375 or so. In the meantime, having sat down with my teenage son last night to watch the season finale of LOST, I have to believe that if those talented writers could figure out a way to wrap up 6 seasons of plotlines when none of us thought they could, I can figure out a way to wrap up my 300 pages.

Congratulations to the Chargers baseball team on an amazing 2010 season.

Monday, May 24, 2010

No Time for Creativity

Today is short and sweet - it's all baseball all the time. As the Chargers win the semi final game to advance to the state championship, all of us parents are passing on the same advice to our boys.
Take a deep breath.
Enjoy this.
Enjoy every moment.
It may never come again.
Get to bed on time. Eat a good breakfast. Play the hop. Take the shortest path. Leave it up. Watch the pick off. The Ring is the Thing. Git 'R Done. Trust your hands. All for one...one for all. Pound the zone. Win the last game.
Enjoy this moment.
It may never come again.
Best of luck to the Shorecrest Chargers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The End of the Middle

I’m sitting at my desk, my cup of green tea having gone cold, my jack russell lying on the floor near my feet, and there it is—page 300 of the novel I’m currently writing. (Still no title for this one.)

I’m not sure why page 300 is so pivotal for a writer, but I know it’s not just a quirk of mine. I’ve seen other writers blog about it or tweet about it or facebook about it. Page 300 has special meaning. Perhaps it marks the beginning of the end, which is another way of saying the end of the middle.

When sitting down to write a novel, the beginning, of course, comes first. Beginnings are like are eating dessert before your broccoli. They are like a first date, a first kiss, like roses when it’s not your birthday. Those first fifty pages fly off a writer’s fingers, well, at least my fingers. And then comes the middle and the fingers come to a screeching halt.

If a writer has done her job well, all the plates are spinning by the end of the first fifty pages, which is to say the plot is set in motion. You’ve seen it—the guy who spins plates on top of wooden rods, dancing from one to another, giving each a nudge to keep it in motion. During the middle, those dreaded two hundred and fifty pages or so, the plot has to advance. Something must happen next, and then again, and something more after that. The tensions must rise, the consequences must escalate, the characters must try and fail. Try again. Some will succeed, while others will fall short. The writer must keep those plates spinning. Occasionally, one falls. It needs extra attention. A gentler hand to get it spinning again. But while the writer’s attentions are focused there, another plate is likely to tumble. One day at a time, one thousand words at a time, the writer trudges through the middle. And at long last, there it is. Page 300.

While page 300 isn’t necessarily always the end of the middle, because in ATLAS SHRUGGED, it is barely the end of the beginning, for many of us, it means we are close to the top, if you consider the ending downhill.

On another note, in my first blog, I promised you a picture of a manatee when they showed up in our canal again. Well, the thing about manatees is that they live underwater. So, here is a picture that I took this morning while dangling off the edge of my dock. First a gray wrinkled snout rises out of the water. Next, a loud snort as the manatee exhales. The snout disappears. My camera goes snap. You see a picture of the tell-tale rings left in the manatee’s wake. Sorry. Either my camera is slow or my clicking finger is slow. This is the best of many attempts.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Gifted Fisherman

It’s a Sunday afternoon at home. Rain clouds roll in from the east. No sign of lightning yet. It’s a perfect day for fishing. This is a competitive sport in our family, primarily a battle between Father and Daughter. They catch, they release and they count. The victor claims bragging rights.

You might think it’s not a fair fight. After all, Father grew up on a farm where he fished every weekend and dug earthworms for bait. Daughter is only twelve and buys her bait at the store. Father is patient. Daughter’s hook is out of the water more than it is in the water. Father considers the tide and shadows thrown by the seagrass. Daughter likes to sneak shrimp out of the bait bucket and release them when Father isn’t looking. Daughter’s first fishing pole was a Tweety-Bird pole. The three foot long rod was bright yellow. The line was little more than dental floss. But even then, Daughter always won.

They each take their seat on the dock. Father on the left. Daughter on the right. We watched Jaws recently, so no one is allowed to dangle feet over the edge. Father casts far into the canal. A red and white bobber marks his line. Daughter drops her hook straight down and pokes at the seagrass covering the water’s surface with the tip of her pole. Father slowly reels in his line, rolling the handle with his index finger. He keeps his line taut, the tip of his rod low. We have many sheepshead in our canal. They are particularly difficult to catch. The line has to be just so, the rod in perfect position. Before Daughter’s bait has settled in the water, she pulls in her line with three or four quick cranks. She is troubled to find seagrass dangling from her hook, covering up her bait. She shakes it off, drops her hook in again, and reels it up just as quickly. She drops and reels. Drops and reels. The tip of her Zebco dips. She yanks and pulls in a four inch porgy. Yes, even a four-incher counts.

After removing the silver fish from the hook, her bait still in tact, she lowers it back in the water. “That’s one,” she says. Father continues his slow and steady strategy. After a few minutes, Daughter sets aside her pole, leaving it unattended on the dock, in favor of counting how many shrimp are still alive in the bait bucket. “Oooop,” she says, when her pole jerks. She grabs it, gives the reel a few cranks and up comes another fish. A pig fish this time. Another four-incher. Still counts. “That’s two.”

And so it goes that afternoon and every afternoon for about the last seven years. Daughter walks away the victor. She follows no rules, except to always sunscreen and wear shoes on the dock. We had a hook in the heel incident. Or perhaps she knows rules that we don’t. Does she know that the fish prefer the shade under the dock when the tide is neither coming nor going? Does she yank the heads off her bait because she knows the small fish in our canal won’t be drawn to bait that is too large? Does she use the barnacles that grow on the dock’s pilings as chum? Or perhaps, she has a knack. She’s a natural. It’s a God given talent. Perhaps we should have her tested and charted. Perhaps we should take her to a better dock and buy her a better pole with heavier line. Perhaps she is a gifted fisherman who should be in a gifted fisherman class. Or perhaps, it’s none of these things. Perhaps she is a twelve year fisherman with younger reflexes and a little bit of luck.

Congratulations Chargers baseball on their Regional title - the first since 1989. And good luck as they advance to the State championship next week.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Boys of Spring

Thursday, May 13 - Hello all
In honor of the big game this Friday-Regional finals in case you haven't gotten word-and also in honor of the return of Friday Night Lights (about time) I am leaving this blog up until Monday.
Best to all

In the Majors, they are called the boys of summer. But for a mother of a high school baseball player, deeply embedded in post season play, they are the boys of spring. They are the boys, young men, who juggle school work, final exams, college applications for some, homework for most, jobs for a few and X-box for all. Once, twice, maybe three times a week, I sit on metal bleachers, the sun burning through the number silkscreened on the back of my gray team t-shirt, and cheer on the Chargers.

Hopefully, it is fair to say I am not a “crazy” baseball parent. But like the tree that falls in an empty forest, does a crazy parent know he or she is crazy? Perhaps not. But I try not to cheer an overthrow at first made by the opposing team, unless, of course, the game is close. I try not to yell at the umpire, unless he calls a ball that sails across my son’s collarbone a strike. After all, he is 6’5” and isn’t a ball that sails that high clearly and evidently outside the strike zone? Doesn’t a mother of such a son have an obligation, perhaps a deep seeded ancient right, to protest such a call? Under these specific circumstances, I’ll admit to yelling at the umpire, but by this point in the game, I am certainly too hoarse to be heard over all the other crazy parents yelling about the same call.

I am a parent who tries not to wince when a ground ball rolls under an infielder’s glove or when all the dads in the crowd yell “can of corn” as a pop fly sails into the outfield and the fielder runs in instead of out, allowing the ball to drop on the warning track with a thud. It’ll be mine making the error next time. Don’t they all make their fair share? No, I won’t wince, lest they all wince when it’s my son hanging his head and kicking at the dirt.

I try to be a parent who will text updates to my friend who can’t bear to watch a game that has taken a bad turn. I try to be a parent willing to change positions on the bleachers if that will mean a change in “mojo” so the team will start to hit. I try to be a parent who lets her daughter, who has been dragged to baseball games since she was one year old, have a hotdog from the concession stand, and…okay…an ice cream sundae, too. I try to be a parent who cheers until she is lightheaded from a lack of oxygen, who is brought to tears when her son hits a walk-off single, who takes pictures of another mother’s son hugging his father and then tossing that father aside when the sophomore girls appear, offering hugs of their own. I suppose all we parents try to do the same, and if one of us is crazy, we’re all crazy in our own due time.

Good luck to Chargers baseball as they advance to the regional finals.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's Your Major?

The air is decidedly cooler and lighter on a June morning in the Boston area than in Florida. This is my thought as I sit in the orientation of my first Solstice Writers’ Conference. I am also feeling oddly unencumbered, as if I have forgotten something. I didn’t have to wake anyone this morning, didn’t have to start a load of laundry, didn’t have to field breakfast requests. Instead, I rolled out of my lumpy dormitory bed, ate eggs and sausage prepared for me in the campus cafeteria and left my dishes for someone else to rinse and stick in the dishwasher. I sit back, flanked by two friends that I met at an earlier conference, and wait for the conference director to address the group.

Writers’ conferences are a bit like wandering through a bar in a college town. What’s your major…the college bar. Which class are you in….(novel, short story, non-fiction) the conference. When do you graduate…the college bar. Have you gone yet…(meaning has your work been critiqued in class yet?) the conference. Where are you from…the college bar. Where are you from…the conference. And like in college, when attending a conference, a participant has an assignment. Each writer must submit 25 pages that will be read by eleven or so classmates. For many attendees, this is why they have boarded a plane, hired a babysitter, purchased new luggage. They have hopes of finding a cure for their weary manuscript.

When a particular writer’s turn rolls around, he or she will sit quietly, (we’ll call her she) barred from speaking during the discussion, and the others will talk about and debate what is wrong with her work and what is right. But mostly what is wrong, or maybe it just feels that way. When it is over, usually lasts about 45 minutes, the writer takes a deep breath and says thank you for the flogging. (Another thing I’ve learned along the way…if this process doesn’t sting, at least a little, it probably isn’t working.) Later that night, while sipping wine following the nightly readings, people will ask, have you gone yet? The writer will say yes. How did it go? I learned a lot, the writer might say. And drink another glass of merlot.

The conference director arrives at precisely 9:30. She begins by announcing a room change and goes on to remind us that coffee cups and silverware are not to leave the cafeteria and that the library will close early on Sunday. Lastly, she welcomes and introduces the teaching staff. The morning lecture will begin shortly, the director says, but first she has a bit of advice. We students think we have come to the conference to share our work with our peers, to have our teachers comb through our pages to instruct us on how to fix our plot lines and round-out our characters. But if you want to learn, if you really want to learn, the director says, fall in love with another writer’s work. Love it like you love your own. Make it your mission to lift up that person and ensure that he or she leaves a better writer. Fall in love with someone else’s work and good things will happen. Fall in love with someone else’s work and you will leave a better writer.

Sadly, the Solstice Writers’ Conference doesn’t exist anymore, though Pine Manor has a fine MFA program. And while that conference may no longer take place, I count that advice among some of the best I ever received.

For information on how the oil spill may impact the Tampa Bay area and how to assist in the clean up should the oil find its way to our coast, visit WWW.Tampabaywatch.org.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Spring of 2010

A white pickup truck, its passenger door dented and its truck bed expanded by a wooden frame, parks at the end of our driveway. A man steps out. He’s familiar. He points at the cabbage palms straddling our driveway, and in broken English asks if we would like him to trim the brown, shriveled fronds. My husband says, “Yes, and would you take a look at those.” We all shake our heads at the three coconut palms that stand like skeletons in our front yard.

We’ve had many cold winters here in Florida. Northerners would laugh at our idea of cold, but you must understand that once you move to the deep south, you get rid of your parkas, sweaters and wool socks. First, you pack them away under a bed or in a closet. Perhaps you’ll go skiing over spring break or visit family up north over Christmas. But then a few years pass, perhaps five or ten, and all those things you were saving are suddenly dated. They have shoulder pads and high waists, so you finally pack them up and give them away.

This winter, however, was unusually cold in Florida, and aside from the damage to our agriculture—strawberries and citrus to name a few—back yards and front yards across the state have suffered. In our yard, the coconut palms suffered most. The gentleman from the truck trims our cabbage palms, leaving only a few bristly fronds on top, tosses the shriveled foliage in the back of his truck, and then slowly approaches the coconuts.

During past hurricane seasons, we would trim heavy clusters of coconuts from the trees so the large woody seeds didn’t turn into missiles during a storm and find their way into one of our neighbors’ windows. The thick green fronds shielded the front of our house from the harsh afternoon sun. Now those fronds have turned brown and droop down the trunk. Everyday, we squint through our front window, looking for a hint of green at the very top that might mean they are still alive.

As my husband sweeps the driveway under the cabbage palms, the gentleman from the white truck walks beneath our coconuts. Is alive, is alive, is dead, he says. The news is worse for the three trees in our back yard. One alive, maybe. Two dead. He’ll come back another day when his truck bed is empty and cut them out for us.

Yes, winter was tough on Florida this year. Iguanas, thrown into hibernation by the cold, dropped like stones from the trees. Brown lizards are decidedly absent this spring. Haggard coconut trees line medians and frame front doors. Thankfully, the Iguanas weren’t dead when they fell, though they looked it. And the brown lizards that were thinned out by the cold were not indigenous and the green lizards will now thrive again. The coconut trees that survived will regain their crown in a few years given a bit of extra care. The dead ones can be replaced. But sadly, the spring stands to be much worse for many along our panhandle and possibly other parts of the state. Sadly, the oil spill of the spring of 2010 stands to devastate the coast lines of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Perhaps many others. Sadly, we may lose a great many things that can not be replaced.

On a lighter note - Congratulations Charger Baseball - District Champions 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oooops...Make That Seven and 1/2 Times

I’m sitting on the pool deck, reading BENT ROAD out loud as I review it one last time before returning it to the publisher. I’ve been sun screened. My sunglasses are wide enough to keep the sun from sneaking into my peripheral vision. A glass of iced tea is sweating on the table next to me. The manuscript is loose, not bound. It’s always windy near the water. A stack of pages lifts up. I jump, stumble over my fallen chair, and before I regain my footing, half my manuscript is floating in our kidney shaped pool. I reach out to slap a hand over the stack of pages that remains on the table, tip my drink, and now the rescued half is soaking up iced green tea.

One of the first questions a writer gets after she finally sells a novel is….so, how does it feel? For a good long time, the writer doesn’t know how to answer this question. How does it feel? Well, the desk that she writes at is still the same. The friends who read and critique her first drafts are still the same. The tea she drinks, the slippers she likes to wear when she props up her feet, the computer she uses are all the same. It feels…the same.

Yes, life is basically unchanged, except then the writer realizes, when she sits down to write, that now someone is actually going to read her work. In tennis, we call it point panic. The player does fine in practice. Her stokes are smooth. Her serve is precise. Her footwork is light and quick. And then she plays a match. It’s no longer practice. Her hands become stiff. Her topspin forehands sail long, her first serve hits the fence and her feet seemingly grow four sizes as she tries to flop around the court.

After this realization that readers will now read her work, a few weeks pass, okay maybe a month. There is much googling and surfing. She becomes well versed in the blog of every editor and agent online. She tries many ways to get started again. She takes her computer onto the dock, but the glare is too bad to write there. She moves to the deck. Too much shade and that breeze is a bit cool. The coffee shop is too crowded, the library too noisy, the house too quiet. After many attempts, she sets aside the computer for a week, takes up bike riding, and when she isn’t paying attention, the point panic disappears. The writer is writing again. How does it feel to sell a book? It feels great. But mostly, now that I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my next novel, I’m happy that my forehands are dropping in again and that my footwork is still pretty good for a gal my age.

After I right the tipped glass, I yell for help. My family comes running, and we fish out the soggy manuscript. Red ink is seeping across the pages, though I haven’t used much because I haven’t found many changes. It’s a copy, right, my husband says, reminding me of what I should already know. Yes, it’s a copy. The original is still on my desk. So I wring it out the water-logged version, write down the page numbers that are smeared with a bit of red ink, and once dry, I run it through the shredder. Then I start again, reading the novel aloud, one more time. When I’m done, it’ll be seven and a half times that I’ve read the entire thing aloud. I’ll still be hoarse come Monday.