Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Books by the Banks


I love book fairs and festivals. They have two of my favorite things in life - people and books. Well, maybe I shouldn't say people are things, but you get the idea. Book fairs are places where most everybody who is in the place has a love for books. That's why they are there - unless, of course, they were dragged there by a bookloving relative or friend. I've seen patient husbands trailing along after their wives and carrying their bags of books and smiling indulgently when the wives stop at yet one more author's table. And I know those two have a great marriage. In fact last year I signed a book for a young wife whose husband surprised her with the trip to the KY Book Fair because he knew how much she loved to read. Such a romantic gesture and so thoughtful too. Besides, what longer lasting present can a person get! A book usually takes at the least a couple of days to read and then sometimes that story can live in your imagination for years afterwards. No box of candy can last that long except maybe as extra pounds on your hips. Flowers wilt. Books keep giving.
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So I'm hoping a few people will want my book and my autograph. This book fair is a bit different than others I've attended. Each author is generally signing only one title for readers. So I'll only have one book to push. That's another thing about book fairs, the competition for book buyers can be keen. And if you as a writer have the misfortune of being at a table beside a super salesman, then you might as well pack it in if you can't match the sales pitch. Most of the time when a reader gets the hard sell by an author, they are afraid to even take a peek at the books on the next table. Of course they usually buy a book from the good salesman author. Sometimes every title available on that author's table.
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I've watched the super salesmen (and women) operate and admire their talent of selling their work. Not my talent. As one guy told me once, I'm good at giving away bookmarks. So if any of you live in the Cincinnati area and need a bookmark come on down by the river on Saturday to the Books by the Banks festival. I love to talk to people and I'll give you all something to keep your place in those books you just bought from the guy down the row.
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Book prize drawing day is the last day of the month. Still time to pitch in your name if you haven't already. And I've got two more days to get these edits on Angel Sister done. I only lack about a hundred pages, but I can feel myself drooping. Sleepy eyes don't make very good final edits eyes. And tomorrow I've volunteered (I couldn't tell my daughter-in-law no! And I didn't have a deadline when I said yes.) to help with my grandkids' elementary school book fair. It will be fun and I'll have a couple of hours free sometime - surely - to finish these edits. Just one more rough spot in them to go.
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Thanks for reading and hope you are having a great Wednesday.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Plotting a Beginning


Time to Begin Again.
How to begin? How do you begin anything that must be done? A long journey - by taking the first step. An unpleasant chore - by grabbing the mop or hammer or paintbrush or whatever tool is necessary to get started. A novel - by discovering the character or event that will push you to the edge of the story cliff and then trick you into jumping off. Once you are in the open air of the story the worrisome fear might start coursing through you that this time you might not be able to grab hold of the story balloon. This time you might plummet down into the rocks of rejection and failure below. But at the same time you rejoice in the breath-taking freedom of a new page. What's the story going to be? What are the characters going to tell you? What's going to happen?
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I have a little book, Craft & Technique by Paul Raymond Martin that's chock full of short little pithy bits of writing advice. About plot he says, "In your everyday life, avoid trouble. In your writing life, revel in it." So that's why so many characters have such a talent for stepping into the quicksand of life. Then a writer has to write them out of that impossible situation only to let them be carried away by a flood of new problems. Most readers want something to happen. There has to be conflict whether it's emotional or physical. As Martin says in another place in his book, there are three themes in most fiction: Life is a struggle, humans are resilient, and effort will triumph.
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And so I am posed on the edge of the story cliff searching the horizon for that character that will be the enticement I need to jump. But at the same time I keep getting pulled back from the edge of a new story by other writing tasks. This week I need to edit the page proofs for Angel Sister and so I'm backing away from the story cliff to do the final polish on that book. But very soon I'm going to say "what if I have a Shaker girl who...?"
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Also very soon - in four days - I'm going to be drawing for the winners of my birthday giveaways. But it's not too late to throw your name in the hat if you want. Check out the details on the Event Page of my website. And for heaven's sake stay out of trouble. Leave that for the characters in the books you read.
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P.S. The clock is a Shaker clock. Some of the communities had very skilled clock makers.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Country Living is the Life

You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl!!

Okay, here I am trying on my fancy smancy dress before taking off for the ACFW Conference last week. My necklace is glittering. I'm practicing my smile - squinting a bit since my husband insisted I had to look into the sun. The dress looks sharp. But what do you see right over the deck railing beside me? A cow's back. What can I say? I'm a country girl. I can't remember a time when there wasn't a cow around. My grandkids love it. The last time a couple of my WV grandkids came to visit, the four-year-old kept looking at the seven-year-old and saying with great wonder and surprise, "Our Grandma's a farmer!" I could never decide if she was impressed or amused. But having a cow around (or country living) is good for keeping a girl's feet on the ground not to mention having to watch where she steps to make sure she doesn't put her foot in something she'd rather not.

So I'm glad I live in the country with cows out in the fields and deer that sneak in at night to eat all the apples off my trees. As long as I can keep them out of my strawberries next spring. At the same time it was fun going off to the big city (Indianapolis was a big enough city for me) and getting to know so many writers last week. But of course I got to eat humble pie. When my time to sign books came around, nobody came to my table for my autograph. The writer next to me had a line. I took pictures of her. I should have taken a picture of lonely me. But being a country girl, I shrugged it off. And when I got home I had some e-mails from sweet readers who told me they enjoyed reading my books. So there are times when you can be the glittery, dressed up writer and enjoy the special events, but there are more times when I have to be the country girl at home taking care of chores and trying to come up with a new idea that readers will like enough to pick up my book - and maybe even want my autograph on the inside cover someday. Meanwhile I've got to go for a walk and you can bet I'll be watching where I step.

Birthday Book Giveaway

Don't forget - if you haven't entered my birthday giveaway, you still have time. I'll be doing the drawing on the last day of September. I mean if I have to get older, I might as well celebrate by doing something fun and I think it's fun to give away books. You can check out the details, etc. on the Events page of my website or down in the box at the bottom of the homepage. www.annhgabhart.com. Thanks for reading.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Writers, Writers, and More Writers


Wow! What a week! Writers, writers, and more writers all in one place.
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I did my very first writers conference in June last summer when I taught a couple of classes at the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference here in the state. And then last weekend I was off to my first national writers conference - the ACFW Conference. That's the American Christian Fiction Writers. Over six hundred fiction writers showed up to listen and learn from one another and to pitch their book ideas to editors and agents. Obviously since this was the first conference like this I've ever attended, that's something I've never done. I've sent in proposals in writing or over the internet, but never face to face with editors or agents who hear dozens of pitches every day. I don't know who's braver - the pitching authors or the receiving editors and agents.
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Of course they - the editors and agents - are hoping to mine some gold among all the wanna-be writers. And the wanna-be writers are just trying to figure out the magic equation that will help them find the right publisher so they can get their book out in front of readers. I certainly understand that feeling. That I want to be published feeling. Maybe stated even better - the I-want-to-write-a-story-so-good-that-editors-will-be-coming-to-me-to-pitch-their-contract-terms feeling. I'm not sure that ever happens to many writers until they've got a pile of books on the bookstore shelves and readers are anxiously demanding more books. From them! Most of us have to put in some time and a lot of practice words before anything even close to that happens. So many good writers are out there and so many more who are doing that writing practice and getting better and better.
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I'm in the photo above with one of those new writers. That's Laura Frantz smiling with me. Her first published novel, The Frontiersman's Daughter was up for a Carol Award. The same one my book was up for. Unfortunately she didn't win either. Mary Connealy won - I think with her book, Montana Rose. She had two books in the finalists so I may have the wrong one. I mean when you don't hear your name announced as winner, you have this moment or two of not listening while you're regretting that you won't get to say that witty acceptance speech you labored over that afternoon and kept silently practicing while everybody else was enjoying their fancy dessert. LOL.
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But the conference was fun. And it was especially fun to get all dressed up in fancy clothes and see everybody else's fancy dresses and jewelry. It was great, but I have to admit that I was glad to get back to my hotel room and kick off those nasty high heeled shoes. I'll be posting a few pictures on Facebook and maybe I'll put one of that fancy dress on here on Wednesday.
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Thanks for reading. And don't forget to leave a comment or send me an e-mail from my website to get your name in the hat for my birthday giveaway the end of the month. I sent out newsletters right before I left for the conference. If you want to be on my newsletter list, just let me know. Hope you are enjoying a beautiful autumn day the way I am. I'm getting ready to go out and walk with the dogs. I know they've missed me. Till next time, Ann
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Friday, September 17, 2010

Off to the ACFW Conference

Hi, everybody. No time for blogging this week with the National Quartet Convention and now I'm off to the ACFW Conference. Next week I'll be back on schedule - I hope. I'll tell you all about what's been going on. Have a great week.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Grandparents Day


Today is National Grandparents Day. President Carter proclaimed the first Sunday after Labor Day to be Grandparents Day in 1978. The history I read says the day originated with a Fayette County, WV housewife, Marian McQuade whose primary motivation was to promote the need to pay attention to lonely elderly people in nursing home. She also hoped having a special day of honor would persuade grandchildren to listen and learn from the years of wisdom of their grandparents. And wouldn't it be great if grandkids everywhere sat down beside a grandparent today and asked them to tell a story about back when the grandparent was a kid? Trouble is, most of us wait too late to want to hear those stories. Or to record them for the next generation.
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Yet, we need that family history, those connections to the past. Here I am with my granddad who was probably in his mid-eighties in this picture. I used to sit by him but he wasn't a story teller and I was too young to know what to ask. Or even to grasp that I might need to ask before it was too late. He passed on before I found those questions. The same with my father. I wish now I'd asked more about his growing up years and those trips he took on a motorcycle when he was in his early twenties. I heard bits and pieces but there was surely so much more if I'd only taken the time to ask and listen. I have listened to my mother's stories when I finally came to an age where I appreciated hearing about how things used to be. So whenever we were in a doctor's office or waiting for this or that, I'd get her to talking about how things were when she grew up. Angel Sister, my novel due out in February, is the result of those conversations. I was able to put myself back in my characters' time because of Mom's stories. The story isn't Mom's story, but the atmosphere of the book owes a lot to her.
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Some grandparents don't wait to be asked. They write down their stories for their families. Every person I know who has been given one of these written stories of youth and marriage by a parent or grandparent treasure every word. And it's not just the highlights of life that people find interesting, but also the little details. Ordinary days like blackberry picking or cutting firewood. A "this is how it was for me" story is certainly something all of us who love putting one word after another could do for his or her family. Maybe not only write your story, but listen to the older generation in your family and write that down too. Who knows? You might find a novel lurking in those memories the way I did.
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As most of you know I've written several books about the Shakers who believed in celibate living and thought living in small family units of mother, father and children caused too much stress and was against God's will. I can't agree with their thinking there. Today as I think about grandparents, I think how sad that those people who joined the Shakers lost those connections of family. They might have a few hundred sisters and brothers but would never be able to claim a grandparent. In my opinion, grandparenting is a blessed gift. It even says so in Proverbs 17:6. Children's children are a crown to the aged.
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I've been putting some favorite grandparent quotes on my Facebook author page this week. In case you didn't see them, here are some of my favorites.
  • Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever. ~Author unknown.
  • Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children. ~ Alex Haley
  • The simplest toy, one which even the youngest child can operate, is called a grandparent. - Sam Levenson.
  • To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but asolutely terrified of the word "boo." ~ Robert Brault
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Hope you have many good memories of times with your grandparents. I'll be having some good times this week as I spend a couple of days with my husband at the National Quartet Convention and then go to my first ever national writers conference, the ACFW Conference. Plus I'm going to get to celebrate getting older. I don't count the birthdays, but I sure do celebrate them. One way I celebrate is by giving away books. You can be one of the lucky winners of one of my books and a surprise by sending me a message from my website or leaving a comment here. You can check out details of my birthday giveaway on my events page on my website.
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Thanks for dropping by today.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Predictable Unhappy Endings

I just finished reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I love dogs so this seemed a natural for me. And I did enjoy the dog parts of the story. I liked lots of parts of the story. But some of it had me wondering not just about the story, but about me. Now if you're going to read this book, you'd better skip the rest of this post, so I won't spoil it for you by giving away some of what happens. But as I was reading along, a major character in the story dies with no warning. I like the character, but I don't shed the first tear. And we're talking about somebody - me - who can tear up at the drop of a handkerchief. But then later in the book, Edgar, the main character, gets upset with his dog and won't let her sleep beside him in his room the way the dog has ever since Edgar was born. Now just thinking about it, I'm wanting to tear up. I'm not sure if that says something about me or something about the way the writer got me more heavily invested in what happened to the dog than in what happened to Edgar's father.
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And it gets worse. Of course all the way through I'm thinking that things may not turn out well. Boy oh boy, they don't. I didn't cry about that either. I think that was because I was so disgusted that I'd spent so much of my reading time cheering on this character for him to come to such a bad end. Critics all loved the book. It is well written. You really like Edgar and the dogs. Or at least I did. You like Henry, a character that played a bit part. You wonder about Edgar's mother. How she could do some of the things she did. That is sort of explained toward the end of the book, but I kept thinking she really wouldn't have done this or that before the later explanation.
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But why is it that critics always love the books that have sad endings? Why is that not as predictable in a literary book as they usually claim a happy ending is in any other book? I'm beginning to think that what the critics label a literary book would be more unpredictable if it did have a happy ending. I don't expect everything to be sunshine and roses. If any of you have read any of my books, you know some of my characters run into trouble and some of them die. Life is that way. But come on. Don't have me rushing to find out what happens and then it ALL be bad. Bad things do happen, but so do good things. The sun comes up in the morning and with the sun I want to have some hope shining through. People do sometimes marry the person they love. People do sometimes avoid getting run down by a train of despair. People do sometimes realize they are on the wrong track and do some backtracking to find the right track.
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I realize not all so called "literary" books have unhappy endings and I've read books where the ending wasn't what you might call happy, but I was able to shut the book after reading the final sentences with a feeling of hope for the future even though everything didn't come out exactly the way I might have wished for the characters. The best endings leave a reader thinking, "Yes, that is what happened." With this book and some others I've read too, I want to rewrite the last chapters. Something else, something not so bad, could have just as easily happened. Might have even more probably happened.
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How about you? You ever feel that way about books you've read? Or that you've written?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Crossroads in Writing


I've been thinking about crossroads since I'm trying redo my cover for Angels at the Crossroads. So I've been looking at pictures of crossroads and road signs while trying to decide what's best for Jerry's story. Someone suggested a new title might be best, but some things can't be redone. Too many people have already bought the book titled as is and I wouldn't want them to see a new title and think it was a new book. The new cover art will be enough of a confusion for people who already have the book. I've seen books that were re-issued with new covers and I'm never absolutely sure it's the book I've already read or not. The cover often times brings up a clearer memory than the title. Of course I have picked up books I've already read years before and when I started reading them again, I wasn't sure what happened in the story but it all seemed to echo in my head. I'm not one to read novels over. Too many books out there I want to read and too little time.
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But the idea of crossroads in writing has been playing around in my head. Maybe because I'm at one of those crossroads right now. It's time to decide what road I'm going to follow for my next story. I've got to pick a time. I have the place since I'm writing another book set in my Shaker village of Harmony Hill. I have one name for a Shaker sister and I see this character or rather I'm reading her journal entries in my mind. But that's all I have. And I need a lot more than that. I need to stand at the crossroads of story possibilities and decide which road I want to wander down.
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That doesn't mean my creating feet will stay on that road. Backtracks are certainly allowed in writing. If an idea isn't working, I can go back and take off down another path. But I need to give the path a chance and not let the wilderness area in front of me make me too timid to keep going. Wilderness area, you ask. That's the part ahead where I might not have the foggiest idea of what's going to happen or who might pop out of the trees alongside the road. I do usually have a direction in my stories. In the book I just finished, I knew this one thing was going to happen but I didn't know how. And I thought it would happen much earlier in the story. And that event was a crossroads in my story. Because of that happening the direction of my characters' lives was changed forever. There was no going back for them to try a different path.
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Writers face many crossroads. Not only in plotting but in character development and writing and even revising. This word or that word. This character or that character. And if a writer isn't careful or perhaps confident would be a better word (see those choices), then she might stand too long in the crossroad of creation and let the story slip completely away from her.
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One way I make those crossroad choices is by reading history books about whatever era I'm writing about. So guess it's time to crack open some history books and get my feet moving down a new path. Hope you are walking down some interesting paths yourself this week. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

TTYL and other Text Letter Mysteries

I'm a little nervous about doing this post. SIMB (Shaking in my boots) because I think I've had TMB (too many birthdays) to come up with all these shortcuts in the world of texting. See the picture. That's where I am. Using quills and paper. Actually I've advanced all the way up to ballpoint pens and paper. You know the kind of pens you pick up at the bank and carry home until you can't stuff one more pen in that cup on your desk and you have to get a new pen holding cup.


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But texters don't have to worry about pens. They have their fancy little phones in their pockets. And then they type in shortcut words and phrases. Like LOL. I know what that one means although the first time I saw it I thought maybe it meant Lots of Love. But the writers kept throwing in expressions of love at the oddest times. Finally somebody let me know they were laughing. Probably at me! Of course ROTFL is even funnier. And somehow I always doubt if the person is actually rolling on the floor laughing. Have you ever seen anyone over the age of five roll on the floor laughing? Especially while typing. But perhaps you can ROTFL and text at the same time.
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What got me started on this is I got a message from a friend and she ended it with TTYL. I have no idea what TTYL stands for and so I've been trying to figure it out. It came at the end of her message so I thought it might be some kind of Yours truly. Truly truly you live. Text till you're loved. Tomorrow take your leave. Take that you louse. That's the yellow lemon. Obviously, as you can see I'm TOTT. Too old to text.
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I found that out some time back when I did one of my first on-line interviews. People signed in and I was signed in and they asked questions that after a respectful pause I was supposed to answer. Somebody asked me if I was a SOTP writer. Well, not wanting to appear out of it and TOTT, I frantically tried to make sense of what in the world a sotp writer was. Silly? Old? Timid? Proud? I had to forget about the proud and admit my ignorance. Of course! Seat of the pants. Anybody - especially a writer - should be able to figure that out. More so, since I am one. A sotp writer. But not a sotp texting interviewee it seemed.
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I think I need a reference book for texting shortcuts. Maybe there is one out there already. If so, I don't think you want me to edit it. Although between us, I'm wagering we could come up with some interesting entries. I just worry I could put some letters together that I might think means one thing when it might mean something not so nice to text experts. Like Iitd. (I'm in the dark.) So educate me those of you not TOTT. Throw some texting shortcuts out here and see what weird meanings I can discover for them. Then you can all be ROTFL.
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My website book giveaway winners were Lucy of Ohio and Barbara Sh. of I don't know where yet. Barb, you'll have to e-mail me your address. Lucy won three books. She picked my Orchard of Hope and she gets Susan Meissner's Shape of Mercy and Athol Dickson's Lost Mission - both award-winning books. Barb gets her choice of one of my books and that Shaker surprise - a spicy fragrant Hands to Work and Hearts to God hot mat and a huge Shaker clothespin. Fun gifts from the Shaker gift shop. Check back soon here or on my website. I'll be doing a birthday giveaway. I mean even though I might be TOTT, at least I'm not TOTGAB. Too old to give away books. (Or Too old to Gab either.) Have a great week.