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 -

STAY by Allie Larkin
For more information and reviews –

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.