Debbie by Another Name. . .

If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know I’m not a fan of my own name.

As a journalist, “Debbie” worked. She was solid, dependable, factual. Printed alongside my last name, “Debbie” made a nice-looking byline.

But as a fiction writer? One who kills off characters and spins imaginary tales?

I think not.

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Traveling Abroad (Three) — May, 2013

When Saturday dawned, I was up before the wake-up call, eager to get back home.

Domer and I tightened our belts in lieu of breakfast and went to the hotel lobby to check out.

Now, we’d been told this taxi would charge a flat fee of 35 Euros, payable by swiping a credit card.

But the guy who showed up said he couldn’t do that. He wanted cash, so we had to stop at an ATM and withdraw enough for the trip.

Sorry, buddy, no tip for you!

When I fretted about how little time we had to get to the airport, he floored the accelerator, weaving in and out of traffic. On the left hand side of the road.

I held my breath the entire trip.

At last we reached Dublin Airport.

Mass confusion reigned. Queues were snaking everywhere.

Finally, we got “rid” of our heaviest suitcases — filled with clothes we hadn’t worn — only to find more lines.

For screening.

For customs.

For pre-boarding to the States.

That means taking off one’s shoes, unpacking the laptop, removing jackets and keys and coins.

Before this trip I hadn’t flown since Domer was in the womb (1990). So you can imagine how stunned I was to see a woman in front of me felt all over by a TSA screener.

I slipped through, then poor Domer got groped.

Despite having shaved off his scruffy beard. Despite looking like a clean-cut, decent young American.

And after he told me — on the plane, no less — I was ready to hop off like Mama Tigress and give that screener a piece of my mind for touching my kid!

We didn’t wait long to board, and more than once I looked at Domer and asked whether we were making the right decision.

“I’m going home,” Domer said. “I’ve had it with this place.”

The flight back was okay. We availed ourselves of everything that was offered — food, soda, tea, bathroom, free movies, you name it.

Other passengers were still irritating; we knew it was going to feel like midnight when we finally got home (because of the time change); and I couldn’t relax for the thoughts swirling in my brain, but Domer helped.

We’re going HOME, he kept reminding me. And it was sounding better and better.

Join me tomorrow as I complete our trip.

Five Things I Learned From Lee Child

The January issue of Writer’s Digest contains an interview with bestselling thriller author Lee Child that I found fascinating for several reasons:

  1. “Lee Child” is actually a pen name.  People who read my blog know by now that I, too, will be selecting a pen name. My real name is far too common (and I’ve never liked being a “Debbie”). Unlike Child, whose real name is Jim Grant, I’m not “playfully” toying with various possibilities; Virgo that I am, I’m methodically trying to come up with something that’s me, something I can grow into, something that will serve me for the long haul — because I sure don’t want this aggravation again down the road!
  2. Lee Child debunks the myth of writing what you know. He says, “In the thriller genre, for instance, nobody knows anything that’s worth putting in.” Rather, he advises writers to write what they feel. That makes sense on a lot of levels. Shoot, I’ve never killed anybody, but my yet-to-be-sold first novel is full of murders! The Internet puts information on a wealth of topics right at our hands (just be sure you research the research!). With facts to back you up and feelings to provide the oomph, you’re steps closer to writing a story people will want to read.
  3. Lee Child says you don’t need vices to write. Other than admitting to being nosy and watching people, Child says he doesn’t claim the oft-mentioned writers’ habit of downing too much alcohol. Despite my Irish heritage, neither do I. In fact, I cringe when I hear of another writer battling seen or unseen demons through drugs or liquor. Or prescription pills or oversleep. I don’t have to be an alcoholic to understand one’s inability to just say “no.” Nor do I need to gain 200 lbs. to empathize with an overweight individual.
  4. Lee Child came to writing rather late. Fired from his job at an English TV channel just before his 40th birthday, Child turned to fiction writing. He says working all those years gave him good work habits and skills; he also had absorbed life. He explains, “I honestly believe that writing is possibly the only thing that not only can you, but you should do it later.” I tend to agree. Now I’m sure there are many young writers fully capable of telling a gripping tale (and plenty of older ones incapable of that), but for myself, I know I wouldn’t have had the courage necessary to call myself a writer if I hadn’t experienced life’s ups and downs over the years.
  5. The publishing industry has changed since Lee Child came on the scene. Child admits he signed with the first agent he queried and the first publisher they pitched his novel to. Amazing, huh? Especially to those writers who could paper a room with rejection letters. But as he says, “All that matters is coming up with a great original story.” Amen!

So, do you have a favorite mantra when it comes to writing? Something the rest of us could benefit from? Do share!

What’s a Writer Worth?

Domer just loves to push my buttons.

Recently, I was bemoaning an article in Writer’s Digest magazine, where author Jane Friedman discusses the basics of e-publishing.

“Independent novelists charge very little for their work, usually between $.99 and $2.99,” Friedman wrote.

‘That sounds about right,’ Domer said. ‘Nobody knows you. Why should they pay good money for your book? Besides, wouldn’t it be better for you to charge $1 for a book and sell a million copies than to sell only 10 copies for $30 each?’

Not necessarily. If “nobody” knows you, how are you going to sell a million copies?

More to the point, I for one haven’t labored the better part of six years on my series to sell each book for a measly dollar. It’d be too demeaning.

Look at it this way: To become a doctor in the U.S., a person must spend four years in undergraduate university, four years in medical school, three to five years in residency, and two to three years in a fellowship. Nobody does all that and charges each patient $2 per visit!

Why should what I do be of less importance?

True, writing novels isn’t exactly saving lives, but how many doctors are saving lives? Honestly, don’t they sometimes make people sicker — from worry and fear, from side effects of medications or procedures?

Domer is looking at it as a numbers game. Fair, since he’s studying Business. And you can’t argue with his math — one million copies at $1 each totals $1 million, whereas 10 copies sold at $30 each amounts to only $300. That’s a big difference. Huge, even.

But how many novelists are trying to “get rich” from their work? Isn’t it more likely that we can’t NOT write? That we believe we have something to say, something that might change another person’s life? That we might take our readers on a thrilling journey, far from their possibly mundane existence? That we might scare the socks off them — and ourselves — through the power of our written words? That we might inspire them to be their best, to unshackle themselves from burdens they don’t need to bear?

I say creative people have endured far too much devaluation over the centuries of civilization. It’s time we appreciated our own worth and realized our world would be a wretched place without writers, musicians, and artists. If we don’t believe what we do is worthwhile, how can we expect others to believe it? And, believing it means rewarding it.

Any thoughts from my fellow creators?

And so I Write

Ever since I can remember, it’s been one of my most persistent dreams to write a novel.

As a kid, I started a book (in pencil, by hand!) every summer. Mostly, it was a loose collection of semi-autobiographical tales that happened to a make-believe person.

When summer ended, so did the book. It wasn’t finished, but I put it on a shelf in my closet and started a new one the following summer.

And so it went — for years.

My first career was as a newspaper journalist.

I wrote every day — nonfiction. Real things that happened to real people in real time.

My colleagues and I often talked about writing “the Great American Novel.” Most of them weren’t serious; I was, but dared not admit it for fear of being ridiculed and discouraged.

One day, the “itch” became so insistent that I had to scratch it. I started a novel.

Not on company time, mind you. By then, I was on a new career in Web Design. Running my own business meant I could write around projects.

I wrote while watching my son’s soccer games, or waiting for him to get out of school, or during one of his many lessons.

And I actually finished this novel. Keyed in (on computer) “The End.” Finally, I was a writer!

The book was awful, unless you count spelling, grammar, and sentence structure (thank you, grade school nuns!). If you like tension, conflict, characterization, and such, forget it.

So it joined the unfinished others on the shelf, while I devoured Writer’s Digest magazines, poured money into writing how-to books, attended workshops and tried to learn what I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

Several years ago I faced another dreaded lull in my business.

Time on my hands. Fear of going to the poorhouse.

I started a second novel and finished it, too.

This one was better. With age comes courage (if we’re lucky), and I sent out query letters, hoping to snag a literary agent.

No takers.

I studied some more. Did more reading. Attended a conference or two.

And started my third novel.

I typed “The End” several months ago and have since polished and revised and polished some more. Once again, I’m shopping for an agent. Once again, I’m looking for publication.

Because everybody knows being a writer is different from being an author — right?

Well, sort of.

I’d like to think I don’t need publication to validate what I’m doing. That, even if I can’t go into a bookstore and pick up a book with my name on the cover and my words inside, I’m still a writer.

But why write if you can’t share your words with the world??

So I’ll continue chasing my dream. And I’ll continue to write because that’s what writers do.

As Admiral Farragut once said, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Happy anniversary!

I made it — yeah!!

When I started this blog Oct. 23, I challenged myself to publish one new post every day for a month. Since today’s Nov. 23, it’s been a month, and I’ve managed to rant or praise or instruct or yak about something every single day.

Not bad for somebody resistant to this social-networking thing!

Some of my posts have been short; others, not so short. Some, I still find interesting to read. But even the others are so much better than my preteen diaries that they were worthy of my time and effort!

After attending a Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive in October, I decided to test the social media waters with blogging rather than begin with Facebook or Twitter. I might try those two one day, but certainly not now. You see, I’m already juggling a full schedule and don’t need anything else to distract me from my novel (and unfortunately, we writers are masters at procrastination!)

I soon found that blogging can be a two-sided sword. On the one hand, some posts came so easily that they served as “warmup writing,” making my novel writing clearer, tighter, and more readable. Other posts took so much out of me that I really didn’t have time for creative writing — at least, not as much time as I needed or wanted.

So I think it boils down to this — I’ll keep on blogging, just not every single day. That way, I’ll force myself to adhere to a schedule with my novel and I won’t waste time penning boring blogs.

Seems like a reasonable compromise to me.

 

 

Writing

It’s been almost a month now since I attended an Editors’ Intensive, sponsored by Writer’s Digest at their Cincinnati headquarters. To say it was a wonderful experience doesn’t cover the half of it!

Writing can be a lonely occupation. Those uninformed folks who announce they love to write and they’re “working on a book” just don’t have a clue. While there are as many “types” of writers as there are books, magazines, poems, Web sites, etc., and while there are many personalities of writers, this isn’t a business for the faint-of-heart. You really have to believe in your craft and your talent; you have to steel yourself against the criticisms and rejections that surely come your way; you have to spend a lot of time working when others are tugging at you to play. And most of us have to do it all while pursuing gainful employment elsewhere AND raising a family!

How’s that for sacrifice?

Still, for me at least, writing is as necessary as breathing. I’ve been putting down my thoughts since I was able to hold a pencil — first, in silly rhymes, then in a multitude of essay contests, diaries, newspaper stories, short stories, and now, novels. The first time I was able to type “The End” after penning a novel-length work was a feeling I’ll never forget! It reminded me of something I read in one of Mary Higgins Clark’s mysteries — “The work is finished; now let the writer play”, or something to that effect.

Of course, we writers can’t “play” long. Some story is always noodling around, and when it starts screaming to get out, you know it’s back to the computer and back to work.

One of the interesting things about our writing conference was the camaraderie that comes when you’re in a group of like-minded people. Just to know there are others like you — people who live in two worlds, people for whom storytelling is an art and there’s no such thing as a yes/no conversation — well, it’s a relief! It’s going to be even more interesting to watch the progress of our group, to see who continues when the going gets tough, to be able to go into Barnes & Noble one day, pick up a new book, and say, “Wow, I know this author!”

Most of us conference-attendees now have added blogging to our daily routines (at the encouragement of the Writer’s Digest staff, of course!). At first, I was a little reluctant — I mean, who really wants the public to read your private thoughts? But as I’ve gotten more into the spirit of the thing, I’ve found that blogging truly helps me organize my ideas and kind of serves as a “warm-up” for my fiction writing. It eases me out of the “blank page quandary” that many writers face, forcing me to shun the excuse of “writer’s block.”

In fact, a dear friend gave me a wooden pen & pencil holder with the words “Writer’s Block” prominently displayed on the side; that’s what she, and now I, think about “block.”

Basically, it just comes down to what all of us –deep down — know. Put your butt in the chair and don’t get up until you’ve written something. Do that often enough, and you’ll become a better writer. Do that consistently, and you might get published. Do that, and who knows? You might get to meet Oprah!!