Sunday, June 26, 2005

Vacation, Vacation, da da da da da, de de de de de....

Isn't vacation wonderful? I think at age 42 I've finally figured out it doesn't matter where you go or what you do. The key is to get away from the routine, hum drum, every day work, chores and appointments life, to the life of possibilities that vacation brings.

We have vacationed over the years in places such as Disney World, the mountains of Tennessee, the beaches of Fort Morgan, AL. Last week we went to a family camp in Gull Lake, Michigan. In every case, the beauty of vacation, is being whipped out of everydayness with a vegeance, to an entirely different existence. It refreshes, it stimulates, it challenges us, it throws us together. And in the end, it makes us yearn for our own shower-head and familiar sheets and a little bit of everydayness back in our lives.

For anyone who is interested in a family church camp, this one was stellar. I had certain expectations going in and almost all of them were surpassed by a large margin. The only thing that wasn't as nice as I'd pictured beforehand, was the condition of the cottage we stayed in. It was clean, but old, worn, and a little barren. But we were hardly ever there, and the rest of the week was amazing. My four children have come away from it begging to go back next year, the location was beautiful, the weather was perfection (high of 83, low of 65!), lovely buildings, inspiring speakers, and so much plain old fun, you can't list it all here. But the highlight of the weekend was the staff, about 40 college kids and 5 or so a bit older. They were ENERGY personified. They were smiling, enthusiastic, ready to help at every turn in the road. They changed a typical vacation into a genuinely special memory.

Here is the link for the ministry website: and click on 'summer family camp'.

Now I'm back to reality, but the songs and the scenery are still echoing through my head this weekend. I think reality is a bit changed.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

So what is your book about?

I wonder, do all writers feel the same way? I feel shy about discussing my book. The chances that the person who has discovered I'm a writer, enjoys the same type of fiction that I do are so slim. People will say to me, "OH, when can I read it? I like books. I read the latest Star Trek book last night."

Replace Star Trek with the novel of your choice. As if all books are alike, they are just books?

"So Toni, what is your book about?" If they persist, I'll try to summarize it in a short sentence or two, hoping their eyes won't glaze over too quickly.

"Well, it is about a small village in Illinois. Set around a lake. A woman moves there and..."

"OH, I bet it's Lake Shelbyville? No? Let's see, Lake Bloomington? No?"

"No, I just made the lake up. It isn't a real place. That is what fiction is, you make stuff up..."

And about this point in the conversation they notice their son really needs their help tying his shoes. Or they look at their watch. I never get very far. Which is why I don't want to start explaining what my book is about. Telling someone what a book is about is like telling someone what color a town is. You can't just pick a color and label things.

But, I'm in the middle of query season on book one, and I need to summarize the book. Not just summarize, but shrink it down to a paragraph or two. Man, am I having trouble with this. No matter how I try to get to the gist of the novel, I leave so much out. I change it, then I edit it, then I rework it, and then I end up throwing up my hands. Who knew the query letter would be as hard to write as the book itself?

For the purposes of this blog, let me tell you in one paragraph what my book is about, in an excerpt from draft #31 of my query letter:

"Jane Woolley leaves her staid suburban existance, dragging her teenage son along with her, to the quaint rural community of Lake Newberry, IL, population 711. On moving day she not only meets her neighbor Crystal, nineteen and independent, but ends up becoming intimately acquainted as Crystal goes into labor and needs Jane's help. Walter Cohen is seventy-nine and bored with retired life. He knows the chest pains he is having are not a good sign, but he ignores them, hoping they will go away.
These three characters meet in ALONE TOGETHER, a 76,000 word completed novel about friendships, interdependence, and support. They all seek the same thing: meaning in life. Alone they couldn't find it, but together, they can."

There you go, any of you that want to know what my book is about? You now know. If only I was sure that really encapsulates the pain and pleasure of the Lake Newberry folks.... Maybe I should try for draft #32?

If it sounds like a book you'd love to read, please forward my blog link to your sister-in-law, who just happens to be a very competent and caring, well-connected, literary agent, waiting to make my day.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Starting Again

I started this novel-writing process with the idea that the first book that comes out of my fingertips might just be OK. It might not be so good it deserves to be published. Even so, I have followed the submission process to agents, and will continue. I think it is good experience, and I do learn something, if only to have a thicker skin.

I still like my first book, but what I really like is writing. Just writing. So I have a seriously ambitious schedule for myself to finish two more novels in the next 15 months. I'm already behind schedule because I took May off. But on June 1st I at least wrote a paragraph. I uncovered all my binders and organized my desk so I could write again. And book two is now officially begun. It feels wonderful.

Life continues to intervene though. I have jury duty this week and a family vacation next week. But somehow I will write a small amount each day, no matter how small, no matter how inspired (or uninspired). The disciplined approach is what got my first book completed. I was very happy while writing my book, and I'm looking forward to returning to Lake Newberry, my fictional town, and my characters as they grow in the second book.

Summer is officially begun--all four kids home. My submissions to date are 40 query letters, 4 requests for partials, 2 still out there :-)