Monday, April 30, 2012

Front Porches with Swings

I wish all houses had front porches.  I have a front door with a tiny stoop and I only meet my neighbors when they walk up and ring the bell. This isolates me. My world is split into inside and outside.

What happened to the front porch with a swing attached to the ceiling by two S hooks? Television happened. And air conditioning. The pleasantest spot after 5 o'clock used to be on the front porch. At least in the southeastern U.S. and from April to October. Not so much in the north, where the outdoor season was more like June, July, August. And not so much in the large cities where the liveliest entertainment was on the stage. Plays, opera, concerts, and so on.

But in Demopolis, Alabama or Sewanee, Tennessee it was the front porch where families sat and fanned themselves, rocked, swung, and threw up their hands at neighbors passing by on the sidewalk--or down the road, in little towns like the one I grew up in because we had no sidewalks. Passing neighbors often came up and rested a bit at the homes where the stories were worth a stop. Like my grandparents' porch where the stories were as good as anything on Broadway. The 19th and 20th centuries saw the southern story-telling tradition develop into a sort of art form.

The southeastern corner of the United States has spawned more than its fair share of great writers in spite of the fact that it isn't known for using good English. From Faulkner and Poe to Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe and Eudora Welty, the southern literary tradition is so firmly established it's sometimes capitalized, like an official title. These writers follow the cardinal rule of story-telling: Don't be boring.

On the front porch, stories were told and re-told and exaggerated until they ceased to resemble the events on which they were usually based. Almost. Credit for the fact that they didn't completely abandon all truth goes to the wives.

My grandfather was the story teller and he sat in a straight-back chair, ceding the swing and the rockers to his audience. By deep dusk listeners usually spilled down the steps, sat on the wide concrete sides, or stood with one foot on the bottom step unwilling to commit to an actual visit. You weren't visiting until you sat down.  My grandmother came out after she finished the supper dishes, offered iced-tea, and took a seat. My grandfather would continue his story with one eye on my grandmother, waiting for her interruptions whenever he wandered too far from the way it really happened.

Grandfather: He was doing ninety miles an hour . . .
Grandmother: That car wouldn't do more than forty.
Grandfather: Drank about a gallon . . .
Grandmother: A gallon, my foot. A gallon woulda killed him.

Children were not really welcome on the front porch. We were supposed to be catching lightning bugs or playing hide-and-seek. Kids needed exercise and did not need to hear some of the details in the stories. That's why I sneaked away from the game and hid under the forsythia beside the front steps.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Categorizing Your Novel

Hi All,

My guest today is award winning author, Pamela S. Thibodeaux, Co-Founder & Lifetime Member of Bayou Writers’ Group in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and a fellow author at Five Star/Cengage. Multi-published in romantic fiction and creative non-fiction, her writing has been tagged as, “Inspirational with an Edge!” ™ and reviewed as “steamier and grittier than the typical Christian novel without decreasing the message.” 

Here are some of Pamela's thoughts:

My Five Star novel,  The Visionary, released on November 16, 2011 and is categorized as Inspirational Women’s Fiction. This is how the publisher and I see the novel, but not necessarily how others see it. Reviewers have termed this novel romance, paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi and Christian -- all of which are OK but not exactly 100% accurate.
This led me to thinking How DOES one categorize a novel?
One of the major parts of a proposal is category and the advice of many is to go into a book store and find out where your book would fit on the shelves. Among the thousands of titles out there, this can be quite a challenge.
Since publishers feel it’s a bit arrogant to say “My book belongs on the shelf with the other Best Sellers,” let’s look at the different categories and see how I came about determining mine as Women’s Fiction.
Inspirational isn’t hard to explain - undeniably “Christian” I do not write within the conservative guidelines required by many CBA publishers - therefore, Inspirational better fits what I write. In fact, my writing has been tagged as “Inspirational with an Edge!” ™ since my debut novel, Tempered Hearts in 2000.

Women’s Fiction is also not hard to understand. Romance is defined by certain criteria - 1 couple; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, couple lives happily-ever-after. Since The Visionary has a set of m/f twins as the main characters, that immediately threw it into a genre other than romance. Women’s Fiction is normally defined as a contemporary novel that deals with women’s divorce, domestic violence, empty nest syndrome, etc. and a WF novel usually has a strong romantic thread in it. Since The Visionary deals with the twins’ journey through childhood abuse into wholeness, and into new life and love, Women’s Fiction seemed appropriate.

So why then has it been termed paranormal, fantasy & sci-fi? According to the definitions I found, Science Fiction is based on "imagined future scientific or technological advances."(IE: Time Travel). Paranormal is defined as, “Beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation: such paranormal phenomena as telepathy; a medium's paranormal powers. Considering the gift of visions my heroine has, I guess paranormal does apply to this novel.

On the other hand, Supernatural elements, are, "manifestations or events considered to be of supernatural origin. Attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature." Supernatural are events like those listed in the Bible ... Parting of the Red Sea, burning bushes that are not consumed, God speaking through a donkey, fire from heaven burning up sacrificial offerings that have been so heavily doused with water there is no natural way fire is possible, feeding thousands with five fish and five loaves of bread, walking on water, etc.
These elements are present in The Visionary and are based on the book of Joel (2:28), where the Lord says, "I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions."

Am I upset that the terms “paranormal,” "science fiction" or "fantasy" are used in conjunction with this novel?

Of course not!
If those terms will encourage someone who wouldn't normally read "Inspirational, Romantic Women's Fiction" to pick up the book and have their own personal experience with a supernatural God, then I'm all for it!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Do you need an editor?

My dear editor, Chris Roerden, returned my manuscript for The Man on the Istanbul Train last weekend and the next couple of weeks will find me bent over my keyboard, making changes. None very big, mind you. No whole chapters to delete or anything like that. Mostly polishing it up. In fact, Chris thanked me for sending her such a clean manuscript.

For that, I thank my mother who was an English teacher and who brooked no sub-standard grammar around our house. I always made A's in English. Does that sound arrogant? Well, I did. Just sayin.'

The two questions most often asked by new and aspiring writers are: Do I need an agent? and Do I need an editor? We'll leave question 1 for another time, but I'd like to answer question 2.


On the right, you will see a photo of one page plucked (I swear) at random from the stack of courier, size 12 literary gemstones. See what I mean? Look what it takes to polish up my grade A work! Very few of her handwritten notes are corrections of my grammar or punctuation. Like I said, I got that. And as for the bad grammar in that last sentence, I meant to do that.

Chris suggests inverting some of my sentences to give them more punch. Other comments are things like: "You've already said that on page 133," "I don't get a clear picture of this," and "Why didn't the police check the pockets in his trench coat?"

It's devilishly hard to see problems like this when you're so close to the material. You can't see the forest for the trees. Scratch that. Cliche.