Salutations June 2022

Greetings this lovely summer day. Have you missed me? I guess you’ll have to take my word for it, but I began this post weeks ago. When my irises were still blooming… I got waylaid…

But for a good reason. I think. I hope you will too. My novel called. ‘Revise me,’ it said. ‘Again.’ I answered the call. And made a lot of progress. I think. Including: a potential title (Too soon to reveal) and a huge reduction in word-count which was my focus for this, the second round of revisions. Why?

  1. My draft wandered and meandered as drafts are wont to do. This may be more true for ‘pants-er’ (by-the-seat of our pants) writers like me than for those who outline and plot their stories. My characters drifted through the draft as if they – or a reader – had nothing better to do. It took a sharp pencil to rein in their tangents and set their GPS settings to a clearer direction.
  2. My draft was too long! By about 30,000 words! What’s that? You don’t count words when you read? Ah, but I bet you do check how long a book is before you invest your time in the story. Which are you more likely to pick up? A 700-page tome or a book you can lift? If you know the author and like their work, it might not matter. But an author you don’t know? Like me? That’s what I thought. Shorter is better.
  3. In Women’s Fiction, most books clock in around 70-80,000 words or three-five hundred pages. My first draft was 115,000 words. Revisions round one pared it by 10,000 words. Round two got it down to 86,500 or about 497 pages. (I cut 28,500 words!) So, yes. There will be a round three.
  4. I admire – and aspire to – crisp, precise prose where every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph moves the story, and therefore you, the reader, forward. In concert. Toward a satisfying reading experience from first word to last. Yes. That’s goal. Alas. My stories spew a lot of soggy mess before they take any shape that might be described as crisp. Ergo, revisions! Round two did much crisping. Will the needle on the crispometer inch closer in round three? Yet another goal. And then? Maybe I’ll be willing to pass the manuscript on to an editor. Unless I feel compelled to take another swing before my baby’s exposed to other eyes. Too soon to tell.

Meanwhile, it’s time for a little nap. My book and I need a rest from each other. Not a long rest. A week or two apart so when we meet again, it’s with fresher eyes as well as a sharper pencil. And so I can focus on other tasks that call my name, readying classes for next semester, tidying my office (ugh!), prepping for upcoming arts shows with my friend Pat.

Speaking of which, we had a great showing at the Keuka Arts Festival earlier in June. Here are two of my pieces that left with new owners. We’ll have more lovely and affordable adornments – jewelry as well as scarves and wraps – at the Waterfront Festival in a few weeks. Visit our Facebook page for a preview of what we’ll be offering to help you show up in style!

And yes, I have been reading. I once heard another author say he didn’t read when writing. What? Go without other people’s books? Never. Here’s a round-up of the books I’ve read since my last Salutations.

If you like New Orleans and female friendships – the dear and the catty – you’ll like this one. The garden club is made up of wealthy French Quarter insiders. As with any organization, club members are divided. Maintain tradition at all costs, even if it means the club declines to a slow death. Or step into the modern world and alienate some of your most loyal members. I found it hard to work up a sweat for either side, especially as they pit against each other a long, long time. But the characters – including New Orleans – are lively and there’s plenty to tug at one’s heartstrings.

You may not be surprised to learn I’m a sucker for stories about bookstores and libraries. What’s not to love? People who are just like me! I liked the tongue-in-cheek tone of this story and the many literary references. I admit that more than a few went over my head, but I see that as a challenge to become more well-read. I’m less likely to pursue the twenty-something characters’ references about pop culture. But though I didn’t always follow their conversations, I liked them even so. And found their various behind-the-scenes intrigues delightful. A fun read with a climax I did not see coming.

I may have been pining to travel this month. But who wouldn’t like a trip to Martha’s Vineyard? If I’d seen it was a series, I may not have signed on for the trip. I’ve been burned too many times by series openers that leave more threads hanging than are tied. But this one was better than most, in my humble (not) opinion. Three sisters, each at a crossroads, meld their skills to make somethng of the inn they inherited – because they’ve nowhere else to fall. The relationships and the need to heal from old wounds and find the will and guts to forge new connections – those rang true. It helped that the sisters were likable. And that it was set on Martha’s Vineyard.

I grew up steeped in family history (See my novel Home Place for a taste) so I was drawn to the geneaological aspect in this book’s description. I had a leg up on the lead character of this story because my grandmother kept good records. But records don’t reveal everything, and I could relate to Rachels’ wish to understand the stories behind birth, death, and marriage dates. What I couldn’t relate to was the interminable malaise that led her to her search. Thank God I’ve never reached those depths! And geneaology saved her? Really? I mean who doesn’t think it’d be cool to meet long-lost family in Italy. But all her angst had me wishing there was more geneaology.

I like a good chick-lit story now and then so whenever I see a Bookbub freebie with a good title, I’m likely to bite. And this was a good title! That was correctly billed as a Sweet (note the italics on the cover) romantic comedy. Super-sweet. And, I discovered later, the third in a series. I did wonder why I should care about minor characters who kept popping up. Aha…they were the stars of the first two books. Romantic and sexual tension – never acted upon of course – jammed the pages. A lot of will-they-won’t-they not to deliver, I thought. The characters were likable. You know. Sweet. But overall? I believe I prefer more spice with my sweets?

Here’s another that should have been billed sweet too. At least the villains were more believably vindictive, and ‘bedroom skills’ were ‘practiced.’ But yikes – another series! Which meant that the story was littered with characters who had no real part to play in this story. Maybe they did in an earlier volume, but they felt like unnecessary appendages here. This was clearly an attempt to play off Pride and Prejudice, though beyond the unlikely alliance between middle-class American Emma and the Lord of the Manor, I saw precious little pride or prejudice. Instead, much (much!) was made of their cute-meet during a Bachelor competition in the series opener. I’d call this one a light-weight, and I’ve no urge to read its prequel or others by this author.

With my sweet tooth over-stimulated, I wanted something more savory! Laura Dave’s given me both before, and she didn’t let me down this time either. I let myself down, though, since I didn’t realize I’d read this book several years ago till I was nearly half-way through. How could I forget? It’s not an unmemorable story. There is a tough chew that Annie’s live-in boyfriend dumps her and a mere ten days later she meets the real love of her life? How often does that happen. So when he turns out to be more complicated than he first appeared, it’s almost a relief. Not for Annie, of course. For me. The complications and botched choices made for satisfying savor along with just enough sweet.

Here’s another I thought had substance, especially when you like seeing a woman re-gain her self and her power. Jillian married a user – predator professor – in her freshman year of college – after he got her pregnant. Henceforth she set out to erase her dreams as per his requirements and focused on finding her joy in motherhood. But surprise, the user remained a user. And a serial philanderer. Until Jill caught him with his pants down. Literally. I enjoyed hating this guy. And I very much liked seeing a smarter Jill emerge, a Jill who found her own calling and sent the user packing. That a former lover was handy to help her pick up her pieces – a tad convenient, perhaps.

When I began this book – for my book club – I wondered at the choice. A sexy romance? Fun, but so not typical for my club. Fifty-one percent in, I said, ‘Oh! I see now what it’s about.’ Fun morphed to important. And enlightening. The seeds were all there from the start, but neither I nor our protagonist saw them till later. And did those seeds make her choices clearer or less comprehensible. She had more resources than many women – an easily successful new business, piles of money, the dreamy guy from high school ready to save the day… Nonetheless, it was a good read that generated one of our very best book club discussions. And that’s saying a lot because so many of our discussions are phenomenal!

Here’s another story that doesn’t reveal its full nature right away. At first, it’s an unlikely friendship tale – old woman in a nursing home, young woman working there. Jenny, the old woman, must resolve issues from her past and convinces Candace to accompany her back to Italy against her boyfriend’s wishes. it’s a past is prologue story – one I liked but didn’t love. Still, it was refreshing to see them save themselves and not have to rely on a former lover for rescue.

And I think that’s my reading round-up for late May through June. I expect to finish a doozy of a story by Catherine Ryan Hyde later today. I’ll tell you about it next month. By which time, we should be enjoying luscious ripe tomatoes, peppers, and zucchini aplenty from the garden. If the greedy deer don’t beat me to it. They sure did find the lettuce and chard tasty. But they’ve been so fun to watch – right outside my office window – I suppose I can sacrifice a salad. But not tomatoes! I’m greedy about my tomatoes!

Till next time, I’ll wish you a summer filled with all the tastes, sounds, and pleasure of the season. I’ll aim to savor the same!

My first – of many – paddles this summer! Enjoy your vicarious ride-along!

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