Friday, March 27, 2009

The Noble Tradition

If there has been one constant in all the writer's conferences I've attended, besides eating too much, it is that Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird - Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is always one of the most highly recommended books that starting writers "must have" in their generally unread collection of How To books.

It only took me four conferences to get to the book table early enough to snare a copy.

And this year I finally read it.

You should, too.

Bird provides so much fodder for comment I almost don't know where to start.

But I do.

How can a good Christian woman be so profane in her writing? Yikes!

How can a good Christian woman be so funny in her writing? Yikes!

How can ... well, you get it.

However, in between the yuks and the profanity is a garden of wisdom and solid counsel. Too much to cover. But here are some slices I loved from her chapter on Publication. (Other chapters include School Lunches, Jealousy, Broccoli, Radio Station KFKD and my favorite, Shitty First Drafts. Hey, they're not my chapter titles!)

After listing a litany of things that publication is not, Lamott allows herself to dance with the joy of being a published author.

"But the fact of publication is the acknowledgement from the community that you did your writing right. You acquire a rank that you never lose. Now you're a published writer, and you are in that rare position of getting to make a living, such as it is, doing what you love best. That knowledge does bring you a quiet joy."

Lamott is great at chronicling the pitfalls and false security of pursuing publication as the Holy Grail of your writing, but she also says this.

"But the truth is that there can be a great deal of satisfaction in being a writer, in being a person who gets some work done most days, and who has been published and acknowledged. I carry this around in my pocket, touch it a number of times a day to make sure it is still there. Even though so much of my writing time is stressful and disheartening, I carry a secret sense of accomplishment around with me, like a radium pack implanted near my heart that now leaches a quiet sense of relief through my system. But you pay through the nose for this."

Yes, the price is high. Deadly days of pounding out words and wondering if they make any sense ... if they will ever connect with another human being. It's a lonely work, full of self doubt that culminates in allowing people, most you've never met, skewer you and your work in public. Some fun, eh?

Lamott leaves us with some perspective.

"Being a writer is part of a noble tradition, as is being a musician - the last egalitarian and open associations. No matter what happens in terms of fame and fortune, dedication to writing is a marching-step forward from where you were before, when you didn't care about reaching out to the world, when you weren't hoping to contribute, when you were just standing there doing some job into which you had fallen."

Wow. Words like this make it all worth the price.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How is your "Change" spelled?

So, here we are on March 24th, two months into the historic presidency of Barak Obama. The man who vowed to bring change not only to Washington, but to the entire country as well.

Obama appears to be fulfilling his promise.

I’m just wondering if the change this President is orchestrating is what 26 million Americans were expecting when they cast their votes for him.

What we know so far is that President Obama’s change will include universal health care (run by the government); a college education for anyone who wants one (paid for by the government); a punitive energy policy (run by the government, but paid for by every American through higher heating oil and gasoline prices); and the largest Public Works endeavor in the history of this nation (run by the government and paid for by our sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, great grandsons and ...).

Okay, so we’re not that surprised that a liberal Democrat who posed as a “centrist” to get elected … like, for instance, Bill Clinton … would attempt to flex his muscles on the heels of an electoral “mandate”. And we’re not surprised this muscle flexing includes socialized medicine, socialized education and socialized public works.

What we are surprised about … and perhaps those 26 million who voted Democratic are surprised about … is that now this President is asking for the power to seize American business.

No, not just nationalize the American banking system, which has already begun.

No, now the reports out of Washington are that President Obama wants to give the Secretary of the Treasury the power to seize American businesses and to enforce a limit on compensation for executives. Not just businesses that have accepted some of the $700 billion bailout bribery – but any business the Secretary thought could create a problem for the economy should it fail. Not just executives who are on the government take, but any executive.

Now it appears as if President Obama's change will include socialized banking and socialized business … the government telling us who should survive, and how much they should make while they’re doing it.

Okay … I’m just being paranoid, right? The last time I wrote about Obama Socialism here, I got roasted on several fronts.

But, listen to this.

Dick Morris was on one of the talking-head shows after the President’s news conference. This is the Dick Morris who was the brains behind the Clinton campaigns and President Clinton’s closest advisor. A conservative Republican he is not.

So, this is what Dick Morris said about President Obama’s plans for change. Morris said the President wants to make a good show of trying to save the economy, but he wants to fail. He’s planning to fail. Then, when the country is in a real crisis, on the brink of disaster, Obama Socialism will come in like a flood to save the day.

That’s what Bill Clinton’s closest advisor said Tuesday night on national television.

President Obama held a news conference last night for one purpose … to put pressure on Congress to pass his proposed budget. He called it the centerpiece of the economic recovery program.

Good faith estimates from the Congressional Budget Office indicate the President’s proposed budget will add $1 trillion more, each year, to the federal deficit for the next ten years and beyond. That our interest payments on the national debt will be $800 billion dollars a year. Just the interest.

Barak Obama’s budget will bankrupt the country. No nation can afford to throw $1 trillion into the black hole of economic stimulus … see one-third of the nation’s wealth evaporate … then pay for socialized medicine, socialized education, socialized banks, socialized business and the largest public works project in our history.

Perhaps Dick Morris is wrong. Perhaps President Obama is not willfully steering this nation into catastrophe. Perhaps he is not planning to destroy this nation so he can rebuild it in his own image.

Whether Barak Obama is acting willfully to bring this country to its knees or not, he is clearly focused on accomplishing the change that he pledged to bring to this nation.

Change that is spelled r-e-v-o-l-u-t-i-o-n.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Hell Formerly Known as Editing

This blog originally appeared on March 17th as a guest blog on Rants & Ramblings, the blog of my agent, Rachelle Gardner. It recounts some of my experiences during the editing process for my first novel, The Sacred Cipher, scheduled for release in July.

It was June 30, 2008 and my wife and I were driving home from the Adirondacks when Rachelle called. “How does it feel to be a published author?”When I stopped dancing around the car – yes, I had parked first – my head was spinning. It still is. But the dreams of fame and fortune, which so quickly sprang to mind that day, have been put on hold. First comes editing.

I signed a contract with Kregel for my first novel, The Sacred Cipher. We’ve been through two rounds of editing with three more to come. The release date has been shuffled from April to July 31 of this year.The first thing I must say is that the people I've worked with at Kregel have been great. They are all professional; holding to high standards; clear and articulate in their counsel, questions and needs. They’ve been compassionate and sensitive in their delivery, open to suggestions or differences of opinion and deferential to the author's vision.No complaints on that side.But the editing process is exhausting and, at times, frightening. Twice I thought this train was headed off the bridge.My editor, Dawn Anderson, presented me with a laundry list of edits, deletions and revisions – some quite extensive. The big issues (extensive character development; character motivation; plot pacing) were too big to tackle at the beginning. They overwhelmed me. So, first, I read through the entire manuscript.Then I went back and started fixing the 'smaller' problems, keeping the big issues in mind and keeping notes of my own thoughts. That helped me make progress while I was still thinking through the major issues.In addition, Dawn asked two perceptive, but alarming, questions about timing – one at the beginning of the book (I wrote that four years ago!) and a second about the conclusion – so substantial, I thought the book was dead. It took four days to find a solution.POV was a nagging, consistent issue, but dealing with the characters was my biggest problem. Each of the main characters needed more depth and development but the great challenge was motivation … why would they do this? Too many times, my first answer was, “I don’t know.”I worked on the revisions at least four days a week for nearly a month. Even with all the revisions ... 98.5% of my editor’s observations or requests were valid … the story is the same, the characters are the same (though deeper) and the plot still moves. I'm okay with it.It helped a lot to hear from Rachelle that significant edits and revisions like this are not unusual. So, I didn't take the requests personally.All that said, editing is a big deal. The revisions were harder work than the writing. At least, that's how it felt. I think I was having selective amnesia. I know there were several very bleak days in the writing, as well. But, in the editing stage, there was more at stake. More downside risk. Much more challenge to be a 'better' writer.As a result, I am physically and emotionally spent. Squeezed out and hung to dry. Brain dead and bug eyed. And tired of talking about this book. (I've done a really good job of marketing to everyone I know ... and they ALL ask!). But the edits keep coming. A freelance editor will be reviewing it for substance, internal editors will do a line edit, then a copy edit.Honestly, I'm numb. There have been so many days of doubt. I think the book is good ... the folks at Kregel are excited about it. And I believe it's better now than ever.But I’m not dancing around the car anymore. Not now. I won't be able to believe this rumor about being a published author until I have one of those 362-page suckers in my hand. This process is just too fragile to take anything for granted.