People I Used to Know

Today on Facebook, I saw multiple instances reminding me why I had to put aside my novel until the end of the year at least.

When I write stories, I work hard to present all of my characters as real people. In the case of my current novel, that meant that my progressive characters run over boundaries in their zeal to do the right thing. And it means that the characters who are blind to racist realities are also hospitable, helpful, and intelligent.

In fact, I was deeply invested presenting good down-home Christians as flawed but good-hearted people. After all, I came from them and I love them. I see big problems in their history and current perspectives, but at the same time, I could write them sympathetically because I know them.

At least, I thought I did.

But these are the people who are cluttering up my newsfeed with things like this:

This isn’t about whether Trump or Biden wins. I haven’t liked any of the options for two elections running. This hits me on a much more personal level.

Four years ago, I saw my people turn out in droves to vote for someone I thought they’d never ally themselves with. They traded principle for political power. That was a year of grief and disillusionment for me, yet I thought I still understood them. Then came this year, when I became aware of the ugly voices of conspiracy. The whispered lies have led people to spread fear and threats of violence as if it’s undisputable truth. My heart broke again. I don’t know my own people.

So my novel remains on a (digital) shelf for now. I hope that sometime soon I might once again know the people I came from.

A 2020 Planner

At the end of last year, I bought a 2020 Planner. Isn’t it lovely?

I had a good reason to buy one. And no, it wasn’t so I could schedule my days, track my goals, and do all that other weird organizer stuff that people usually use planners for. (Note: I tend to be friends with weird organizer people. Also, I marry them.)

No, I liked the idea of filling in a planner for a fictional character. This one promised lots of space for that.

I mean, you could even rate each day, track your goals, write to-do lists, track your water intake… It was perfect for developing an entirely different person in an entirely different life!

But of course, this the year that things went so haywire that even the phrase “2020 Planner” is a joke.

A couple of weeks ago, I pulled out this planner and flipped through the few pages where I’d jotted down some initial thoughts. The planner fell open to December 2019, and I wrote at the top, “This month I saw one article on Facebook about a new virus in China.”

My fictional character faded from view as I paged through the blank calendars and began to write notes. Everything began shutting down this week. It was hard to get toilet paper. I made masks for the family and felt a little sheepish, but figured it was a good policy.

And then came June, when our old national sin of racism flamed to the surface again after George Floyd’s death. DJ and I attended our first protest, and I saw white friends finally see truths that the black community has been saying for generations.

But I also saw other friends repeating the same old defenses — the same ones I wrote about in my current novel. Many claim to be Christian, who insist that we must repent as soon as the Holy Spirit shows us sin, and our entire duty is to obey God and let him handle the consequences, Yet when it comes to the hard work of repenting of a history of racism, they can’t manage to let go of their political loyalties enough to do so.

I ended in August, when homeschooling is suddenly mainstream, masks still political statement, and the presidential elections looming.

I also noted that I’ve decided to set my novel aside until the end of the year. 2020 threw me off-balance. I feel like I need to reconsider everything from my setting to my characters to the scope that my story takes in. I hope to fill in the rest of the planner at the end of the year, and maybe I’ll be ready to engage with the novel again.

As I look at this accidental journal, I’m glad I took a couple of hours to fill it in. I didn’t set out to write an overview of this year; it just happened. And I think that’s a fitting theme for a 2020 Planner.

Gift Ideas For Your Writer Friend Who Just Got Edited

Do you have a writer friend who has recently received feedback from a professional editor about her manuscript? You’ll know because of her stunned expression and eyes filled with silent pain. Naturally you want to support your friend through this harrowing process, but what can you do? Well, lucky for you, I’ve got ideas!

(Note: I’ll be using the pronoun “her” because English doesn’t give us a neutral pronoun. It’s just for convenience. Not because “she” who runs this site might also be undergoing said harrowing process.)

Gifts for a Writer Undergoing Editing

  1. Send her a text or email to reassure her, “You are a good writer!”
  2. Remind her of the heart of her story and why she wrote it to start with.
  3. Write her a note reassuring her, “You’re going to make something great out of this novel!”
  4. Enclose a gift card to her favorite coffee shop.
  5. Oh, wait, unless it’s 2020 and her favorite coffee shop is open for curbside service only. 2020 sucks.
  6. Make a gift basket for her, filled with writer-friendly treats like new pens, a crisp blank notebook, and a bottle of glue for her shattered ego.
  7. Play a version of Monopoly where all you do is draw Chance cards that say things like, “My editor completely misunderstood how I drew this character,” and the editor has to go directly to jail every time.
  8. Give her suction darts and a target with one big bullseye that has Editors written on it.
  9. Reassure her, “You are a good writer” by engraving it on a brass plaque and mounting it on a stone pillar next to her front door.
  10. Remind her that this is a necessary part of the process; that she’s survived it before and she will again; and didn’t she pay her editor to find everything wrong with her manuscript? And then you should run.

These are just a few ideas. Be creative! After all, your friend is throwing a big ol’ pity party for herself. You’ll have time to think of something.

My Protagonist Would Like to Speak with Me

My protagonist, Richmal, walked into the room and sat down. She stared at me. I stared at my laptop.

“I’m pretty busy right now,” I said finally.

“Must be nice,” she said. “We’re just just hanging around waiting for you to fix the gaping plot hole you created during this revision.”

“I’m in negotiations with a new character.”

“That’s your solution? Creating a new character? Not sure that’s a great idea.”

“Since when do you know how to write a novel?”

She crossed her arms and looked at me over her glasses. “I’m a librarian. We can find out about anything.

I blinked. “Oh. Wow, that’s a great line.” I jotted it down on the orange sticky-note next to my laptop. Richmal looked slightly mollified, but she wasn’t deflected.

“We’re all desperately bored,” she said. “The villain’s been having long, deep conversations with the hero and is starting to get uncomfortable with his role in the story.”

“Too bad. He has to stick to his character arc on the page,” I said.

“And I heard a couple of the supporting characters talking about jumping stories over to The Raven’s Landing, taking up swordplay and questing.”

“That’s a bad idea. No character of mine has the qualifications for that genre.”

“Also, speaking of character arcs, are you sure about how I decide between the two love interests?”

“What do you mean, am I sure? I’ve been writing toward that decision since the first page!”

“Well, the three of us have discussed it a lot over wine and pizza…”

“Richmal,” I interrupted, “your job is to be the story, not write it.”

“I can’t be the story if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing!” she snapped. “People always complain about protagonists who don’t move the story along. Well, how about authors who leave the story stagnating?”

I tightened my lips. “I leave y’all alone for a few weeks, and you fall into anarchy. Well, let me correct your misapprehensions. Nobody is stagnating anything. Allow me to introduce you to our plot-hole filler. Cecil will be happy to get the story going again.”

A man about seventy years old, with a leather coat, tall boots, and an aviator’s cap over his shoulder-length white hair, strode into the room. “Hullo, hullo!” he exclaimed. “Bit of a surprise for me to pop by, what? Glad to make your acquaintance, old girl!” He held out a gloved hand to Richmal.

She stared at him in astonishment. “Are you serious? Our genre is realistic fiction. This guy talks like a Wodehouse character.”

“Just a bit of an affectation on my part, don’t you know,” Cecil said affably.

“And he sounds like… an off-brand Cary Grant,” Richmal added.

“Oh, hey, that’s perfect!” I exclaimed, making another note on the orange paper. “Anyway, this is what we’re going with. Why don’t you two get acquainted? We’ll get this thing up and going again.”

Richmal got to her feet, still eyeing Cecil, and shook her head. “Sometimes I think you’re just making this up as you go along.”

I gave her a look over my own glasses. “Welcome,” I said, “to the world of a writer. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a novel to finish.”

(In related news, Draft #4 is finished. No villains filed complaints, no supporting characters defected to a new genre, and Richmal is satisfied with her romantic choices. Cecil seems to be fitting in fine. It is, I hope, ready to be bundled off to my editor.)

Second Draft: A Group Chat

Group Name: Novel Strategy Chat

Members: Author, Protagonist, Love Interest, SubVillain

Author: Okay, welcome to this Group Chat. As we are all aware, the Second Draft of The Novel has been a pretty intense process. Thank you for your hard work. I only had to threaten explosions once to get people to cooperate, haha!

Protagonist: Explosions?

Author: Anyway, in this next section, the Protagonist faces strong opposition. I’m attaching several suggested courses of actions. Please consult your part and prepare accordingly. Let’s get this knocked out by Thanksgiving!

SubVillain: It says here that I leave an anonymous message. How do I do that? If I call her work phone, my name will show up. I can’t call her cell phone because how would I get her number — and callerID again.

Protagonist: I definitely would not give him my number.

Author: Dang.

Author: Dang cell phones.

Author: Cell phones ruin everything. Do you know how much easier it was to create mystery before caller ID?

Author: And it was simple to find a phone number, just look it up. Then you called the one line in the household, talked to somebody else in the family, and had them write down a “message from an unknown person.”

Author: Nowdays, you’ve got to create an entire subplot just for one anonymous message. Cell phones make everything harder.

Protagonist: Hey, 1991 called. It misses you.

Love Interest: Well, we think it’s 1991. Don’t have caller ID yet.

Protagonist: *high five*

SubVillain: lol

Author: Okay. So what if the call seems to come from someone the Protagonist trusts? I’m thinking from Love Interest. The villain has stolen his phone and used it to message Protagonist.

Love Interest: He got past my screen lock? He’s not that smart.

Author: Maybe you don’t lock your phone.

Love Interest: Everything you’ve written about me suggests that I am a private, skeptical person. Why would I not lock my phone?

Author: Ugh. Stupid cell phones!

Protagonist: ok genXer

SubVillain: Wait, where would I get his phone? It’s not like we hang out. And I don’t go digging in his pocket, do I?

Love Interest: If so, I quit.

Author: There is no pocket digging. Focus, please! Look, I was reading this women’s fiction thing recently. When the hero crashed into a tree, emergency personnel called the mayor about it

Protagonist: The mayor? Why the mayor?!

Author: and the mayor’s sister was the hero’s love interest so

Author: The heroine needed to know about it. This was the easiest way.

Love Interest: That whole scenario makes as much sense as that explosion you threatened me with.

Protagonist: Oh, it was you.

Love Interest: Yeah, it was either express my feelings for you, or BOOM

Protagonist: I thought things really picked up between us in this draft.

Author: People! Focus! The point is that the information transfer was successful. That’s what I’m going for here. We need this to happen. So what we’ll do

Protagonist: Let me guess. I jot my number on a piece of paper and carelessly leave it in view.

Love Interest: Or you’re going to have me take out my phone and carelessly leave it on a table, aren’t you?

SubVillain: And I’m going to happen to be around and find either the paper or the phone, and come up with an elaborate plan on the spot, right?

Love Interest: You aren’t that smart.

SubVillain: I know, right?!

Author: Okay. OKAY. Anybody got any better ideas?

SubVillain

Love Interest

Protagonist: Well, not really. That’s your job, isn’t it? We’re just here to follow orders!

Author has left the group.

First Draft!

Today I finished a complete draft of my current novel. DJ took me out for ice cream.

The occasion certainly deserved a mint-chocolate-chip sugar cone from a specialty ice cream store. I’ve been working on this draft for two years, and this week I shoved everything else aside and wrote for six to eight hours a day just to get to that last chapter.

Of course, that chapter, and the forty-eight preceding it, will have to undergo some serious editing and revision to get it up to actual “I wrote a novel” level. But I can’t get to that until I finish this.

So today I’m this much closer to introducing the world to Richmal Griffin, librarian and self-described supernerd, whose sense of justice is as vibrant as the Cherry Bomb lipstick she loves to wear.

8 Late Updates

The updates aren’t particularly late, I guess. But it rhymes!

Interesting how nothing bloggable has happened since November, huh? Well, the truth is, too much has happened — many things that made me think, “I should post about that.” You know what they say about good intentions and how they’re ideal for diabolical road maintenance. I’m just giving up and writing out a list of updates.

1. I’m writing a novel. Yes, the same one I’ve mentioned over the past (sigh) two years. Two or three times, I thought the end was in sight. I got really excited. And then I’d run into a snag that required me to go several chapters back and rewrite. Which is where I am now, having to write in an entirely new event to justify the climax.

2. It’s going to be a good novel! My problem is that I tend to write stories that are similar to existing genres, but don’t quite fit in one. They’re too lighthearted for drama and too serious for beach reads. So in my current novel, I’ve got a young librarian in a small town who has two love interests; but at the same time she’s dealing with the ongoing effects of racism and abuse. So definitely not an easy fit into one particular category.

3. I’m putting this item third, but I really ought to put it first, last, and in between all other points. In January, my kids’ best friend, a 13-year-old boy who was like a nephew to me, died suddenly of a previously unsuspected brain clot. He and his family have lived directly across from us for sixteen years, and he spent hours at our house. His loss is inexpressible. My kids are still pretty numb, and my husband is able to compartmentalize a broken heart. But I go through every day with my brain repeating, over and over, that our favorite friend is gone. It’s very difficult to watch his family grieve, and to try not looking too far ahead at all the years that he won’t be here. It’s hard, and sad, and I wish we could rewind and get another chance.

4. But life goes on, weirdly enough. I can switch from flooding tears to figuring out the day’s schedule in a moment.

5. Some stuff has been happening in the Toxic Christian Patriarchy world. A lot of it happened around the time we lost our friend, and I just couldn’t dredge up enough spirit to care. Fortunately, others have covered it better than I could anyway.

Go here to read about how Bill Gothard of IBLP/ATI had to face his accusers in court. The suit was dismissed due to the statute of limitations, but the judge allowed each woman to speak and validated them afterward.

Here’s the Joy frequently covers the various implosions among long-entrenched church leaders.

You know how Christians are always looking at “our country” and shaking their heads and praying for revival? If you ask me, those prayers are being answered. Powerful men are finding that they can’t squash their victims’ voices like  generations of men before them could.

6. We’re finishing up another year of homeschooling, but this year is different — this year we’re graduating our oldest daughter. I wrote an open letter to her to commemorate the occasion. It’s odd to be writing to an almost-adult, when I still clearly remember her as a newborn baby with her nose smashed sideways from the birth.

7. I’m seriously excited about this novel I’m writing. (It’s still untitled since I can’t title my works until I’m done.) I’m finding space to allow my characters to be that confusing mix of good and bad that everyone is. It’s especially important in this novel, I think, because it’s set in a little Southern town with the usual history of racism. It would be all too easy to write it as “bad guys racist, good guys not.” But I strive to write real, human characters — and none of us possess all of the approved virtues that would make us a full-fledged “good guy.”  If only I could keep the plot from tangling up, I’d get this thing done!

8. (The fact that there’s a plot at all is a dramatic improvement from my earlier attempts at novels.)

Summer is coming. Writing is on the docket. That looks pretty good to me.

Pre-Made Book Covers

One of the more surprising secrets of the indie-publishing trade is that there are entire sites selling pre-made book covers.

[I highly recommend Go On Write for pre-made, but not generic, book covers. I’m inserting this link here so you don’t have to wade through the rest of the post to find it. But please do finish the post before sailing away.]

You, the author, write your book and go buy a cover that fits it. You can spend quite a lot on them, but most of them cost within the $30 – $50 range.

And I obviously lucked out, huh? Both of my book covers are excellent. Yeah, well, that took a little more “doing” than just buying a $50 digital file

Browsing through a few hundred covers will tell you that the more “genre” your story is, the easier it is to find a cover for it. (If you happen to write paranormal romance, you are set for life and beyond.)

If, however, you write stories that don’t fit easily into any one category, even a dozen pre-made cover sites can fail you. They definitely failed me.

I ended up using a custom service for The Fellowship, but had to spell out highly specific instructions. I even went to the paint store, picked out two or three suitable colors, and emailed the numbers to the designer. I’m happy with the outcome, but I felt slightly gypped that I did nearly all the creative work, while paying $200-some for it.

I couldn’t afford to do the same with Go Right. So I pored over pre-made cover sites. The one site I kept returning to was Go On Write (which I think of as “goon write” because that’s how its address appears). These covers, while still mostly catering to genre fiction, showed a lot of creativity and sparkle.* The mock titles are entertaining as well.

I still didn’t find what I needed. Since I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, I took the chance on his custom service. The turnaround was fast, and I was very pleased with the result. It was more expensive than just buying one off the site, but all I had to do was toss him the ideas and a stock photo. A year later, I came back asking for the digital cover to be converted into a “wraparound” cover for a physical book. (That’s one of his other services, so an extra charge for it.) The result is beautiful.

I’ve also bought three other covers from him. (Once a cover is sold, he doesn’t reuse it.) I’m pretty sure I’ll write stories to go with them one day.

Anyway, that’s my endorsement — I used this service, I was happy with it, so I’m passing it on to someone else who might find it useful. And it’s plain fun to just browse his site. Go check it out!

*He obviously does a lot of business for erotica, both straight and gay, so be advised his wares are not all G-rated.

“Go Right” in Print!

So how is your Friday? Nothing special here, just growing my collection of my own books thanks very much.

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Up till now, my short stories, Go Right, have been available only as an ebook. But today that all changed. Today my first box of printed books arrived. They’re beautiful.

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The collection is available for pre-order on Amazon, with a release date of December 15.  Just in time for Christmas! Unless, of course, nobody on your list enjoys warm, funny, feel-good stories, in which case I can’t help you out, sorry.

A little peek behind the indie-publishing scene here — I had to set the Amazon price a little higher than I wanted to. Mind you, you’ll get your money’s worth out of the stories. But you can buy it directly from me for a little less, plus get a signed copy. Email me at SaraRobertsJones77 (at) gmail (com).

So. That’s how my Friday is, thanks for asking! Now please go buy my book.

Dear ____, Love Sara.

Dear Blog,

I’m so sorry. Between homeschooling, writing a new novel, and — you know — living, I haven’t had much time for blogging.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Other Novelists,

I don’t understand how you can say, “I’m working on a new novel, and here’s my first chapter!” Everything I write is in a state of flux until its final edit. I mean, I just changed the main character’s name and her bike’s name. Just not ready to share anything yet.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear AOL Instant Messenger,

I read recently that you have officially passed away. My friends and I don’t use you anymore, but we mourned your passing. You were the social savior for all of us cult kids in the 90s. I’m not even sure I would have gotten married without AIM access to keep in touch with DJ.

I will wave a sad farewell as that little door-closing sound makes it final slam.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Other Novelists,

It’s going to be an excellent story when I’m done. A friendly white girl learns how racial injustice in the not-too-distant past still affects our lives today. So far I have two love interests, a narcissistic grandmother, and at least three Jane Austen references. Ha, I see you baring your teeth in jealousy. That’s right. It’s going to be good.

The bike’s new name is Imogene, by the way.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Enya,

I found out that you released an album as recently as 2015. You were my guilty indulgence in the 90s, along with AIM. I was supposed to be listening to “godly” music, defined by our Revered Leader as any music that emphasized beats 1 and 3 in the rhythm line. (I didn’t make that up.) But you usually didn’t have a driving rhythm line, so I could justify listening to you — despite fears that you were spewing New Age spiritism all over my fragile Christian soul. Thank you for giving me some relief from choral hymns and harp music.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Misguided Readers,

What do you mean, does my  main character run a cute little shop and interact with colorful characters? Do you really expect me to write cute little bumbling romantic scenes? Do you even need a final piece of folksy feminine wisdom to wrap everything up? Oh horrors, I’m not the women’s fiction you’re looking for.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Grammar Nerd,

Okay, yes, I know. The second sentence of this post should begin with “among,” not “between,” because I listed more than two reasons. Thank you for your contribution. Nerd.

Love, Sara.