Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Confession time. I’m finding this subject very hard to post about. Probably because I’m still working the issues out in my own mind. My struggle as I write each new book is to figure out how to balance my own author voice (AV) with individual voices for each character in narrative passages. I don’t have trouble characterizing through dialogue—I can make people sound different when they talk. But when they think, as they perceive the world—that’s another matter. That’s when my own AV wants to take over.
To some degree, no matter whose POV I’m in certain aspects of my voice are going to come through. This is fine to an extent. It’s not fine when my own AV is used so much that (1) all the characters sound alike in narrative, or (2) a character sounds stilted—in other words, you as the reader know he’s sounding false to the background, experience, education, socio-economic level, age, etc. that I’ve given him.
In the Crimson Eve first draft, I overwrote in my AV. Here’s a sample from a scene in the bad guy’s POV. Now this guy, Tony, is a hit man, a street-wise guy around 40. But he’s also a father and husband who’s dedicated to his family. (Yeah, yeah, so he tells his wife he works for the CIA—what choice does he have?) He’s cleaned himself up after literally living on the streets six years ago; he’s learned some refinement skills. (For example he was able to pull off with much panache playing the part of a cultured and rich English businessman, right down to the accent, in order to lure a victim.) Now he works for some big-time people. Here, he’s broken into a home at night to check out a few things about his intended target:
Tony sidled from dark kitchen to living room to hall toward the bedrooms, his heightened senses attentive to his environment. He could tell a lot about a woman from the house she kept. When he’d first slunk through the house—during daylight hours—he picked up a feeling of order, one without rigidity but bordering on coolness. Each room flowed into the other, creating an aura of space in the compact home. Everything seemed in its place, no dishes in the sink, counters free of clutter. A few plants could have warmed up the room considerably. In the living room he saw a light blue sofa and matching chairs grouped around a white-tiled fireplace, three magazines stacked on a glass-topped coffee table. Built-in shelves held knick knacks and books, but few photos. The only pictures on the walls were art prints. Nothing commemorating the life Carla Radling had lived, her hobbies, her travels, her dreams.
Tony couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but something about the place reflected the sass that he’d seen in his target. Maybe it was the brazenness of the scattered bright solid color pillows—scarlet against the blue of the couch, sunny yellow on the chairs. Or the bold fluidity of the house, as if walls were an encumbrance to be avoided. Now passing through a second time, Tony was struck by the difference between this house and the one his wife, Robyn, kept. What a difference a child’s presence made. Their home was warmed by familiar clutter—Timmy’s shoes askew on the kitchen floor, toys on the crushed knap of the carpet before the TV, the smells of cookies and peanut butter and grubby socks...
Now really. Here Tony is thinking to himself as he perceives his surroundings. He’s also moving through a house at a fairly rapid clip. He’s not playing the part of a British gentleman any longer. This guy was a down and out alcoholic on the streets. He’s picked himself up, but he’s hardly gone to college. Would he think such words/phrases as creating an aura, askew, encumbrance, warmed by familiar clutter, bold fluidity? That’s borrowing way too much from my AV. With some characters this may be fine, but on Tony it just sounds stilted. In addition, although this is another topic, there are just too many words. But in rewriting, I didn’t have to concentrate on cutting words. When I fixed the voice, the extra words went away.
Here’s the version after the rewrite (and remember, this may still be refined in two more editing processes):
Tony moved through the dark kitchen, senses prickling. He could tell things about a person from her house. This one had a feeling of order and coolness. Everything in its place, no clutter. In the living room sat a light blue sofa—in the daylight he’d seen its color. Matching chairs grouped around a white-tiled fireplace, magazines stacked on a glass-topped coffee table. Knick knacks and books on built-in shelves. No photos. Art prints on the walls. Nothing commemorating Carla Radling’s life.
Who was this woman?
His own house was homey. Timmy’s shoes on the kitchen floor, toys in front of the TV. The smell of cookies and peanut butter...
Looking at these two versions out of context from the whole book, I can understand my temptation to write it the first way. I just sound so much more cultuhed, don’t you think, dahling? I have a better way with words, a more eye-catching turn-of-the-phrase. Look at me, the skilled author.
Notice something? I, I, I. This ain’t my POV, folks. It’s Tony’s. And Tony’s no writer.
Here’s a paragraph from Carla, the protagonist, as she drives at night, running for her life from Tony. First, the original:
Why was this happening now? The question swirled in her mind like a gathering storm, with no answers to calm it. Carla couldn’t think of one thing she’d done to instigate this.
After the rewrite:
Why was this happening now? She hadn’t done anything.
Again, the first is just too formal. Carla’s a realtor, she’s educated and does well in life. She’s also feisty. She can have a rather acerbic wit. Here she’s scared to death, driving who knows where to save herself. But still a bit of her argumentative nature needs to come through. She wouldn’t have such formal thoughts as: [she] couldn’t think of one thing she’d done to instigate this. She’d simply think: I haven’t done anything. (Besides, that’s a showing sentence rather than a telling one.)
I realize these examples are harder to follow out of context. They stand out much more within the whole story, paired with the distinct ways in which each character talks and moves, gestures, etc. But I hope I’ve made some sense of the subject. Bottom line—in your writing, do you allow each character to perceive the world in his/her distinctive way?
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
When I did the rewrite for Crimson Eve a couple weeks ago, I mentioned one of the things I needed to work on was character voice. In fact, once I got that straight for each character, the rewriting stuff—like fixing any over-writing, cutting extra words—pretty much fell into line.
A couple of you wondered about the specifics of character voice. What did I have to change? How did I do it? I promised to get to the topic this week.
To answer these questions I have to back up. In a nutshell, in fixing this problem I needed to suppress my author voice and let the characters have their own. But wait—what’s author voice? How is it different from character voice?
Surprisingly, for all the topics listed in the archives here, we’ve never covered author’s voice. I’d have sworn I did at some point. The problem with discussing author voice is that it’s such a nebulous topic. “What is it? How do I get it? Where do I find it?” As if it’s a cache of gold to be unearthed somewhere. Many of the well-known books on writing fiction simply don’t tackle the topic at all.
Let’s dig in. And I do hope for a lot of comments from you all, BGs. This truly isn’t an easy topic, and your thoughts may be worded just the way that makes the “nickel drop” for someone else.
My one-line definition for author voice (AV): The distinct manner in which a novelist creates sentences and story. Doesn’t exactly sound like rocket science. So why is the concept so hard to pin down?
We understand voice in the auditory sense. Each person’s voice carries a certain timbre and tone. We know a person’s voice by the way he/she sounds. AV is similar—we can know an author by the way he/she “sounds.” We can mentally “hear” its cadence and rhythm, which come from such things as the kinds of words chosen, sentence length, tone (informal to formal and anywhere in between) and the repetitive use of certain techniques (such as dropping “and” between phrases).
Now here’s the rub, as I see it. A lot of novelists don’t have a very distinctive voice. In fact, in my opinion, most novelists don’t. Doesn’t mean they don’t have one at all—just means that it doesn’t particularly stand out as all that different from the rest. This is why you’ll hear editors say, “I’m looking for a fresh voice.” Because they don’t often find it. Many authors get away without having a distinctive voice. Their strength lies not in voice but in knowing how to tell a good tale. They come up with good plots. They know story structure, pacing, dialogue, etc. So they sell to publishers. And their books sell off shelves. And some of them sell very, very well. In short, you don’t have to have a distinctive AV to do well in this business. But it doesn’t hurt.
So—how does one “discover” his/her AV? Two ways. You write. You read. (Remember, learning the craft of fiction means lots of reading.) Then you write and read some more. You can’t force voice. Actually, AV seems to be quite the tease. It tends to sneak up on you when you’re not looking. That is—when you’re busy writing.
As you read (as long as the books aren’t from the library), I suggest reading with pen in hand. When you hit a certain narrative passage in a story that makes your soul sing—mark it. Don’t stop to analyze at the time, just mark it. And keep marking, book after book. Meantime, you’re writing. And after awhile (as in months, more likely years), you’ll begin to see a pattern in what speaks to you. The passages that make your soul sing will resonate with your own developing AV. As I did this is my first few years of learning the craft, I began to notice the passages that sang to me were somewhat lyrical, and employing metaphor. Then I began to notice these types of passages cropping up in my own writing. And that’s when I began to “hear” my own AV.
Now, there’s a downside to developing a strong AV, particularly for new novelists. We tend to like our voices just a little too much. If you tend toward the lyrically descriptive, this can lead to overwriting—a battle I still often face. A strongly voiced new novelist needs an especially skilled editor to pull her back—to show her how to use just the right amount here and there.
My other struggle with AV: when to use my own voice, and when to let my characters have their own. Well, shouldn’t every character have their own voice? We might think so. But think of all the books you read. How many novelists really use a different voice for each character? And how many write basically the same way no matter whose POV (point of view) they’re in? Which technique is right?
I think of Dean Koontz—one of my favorite authors. Koontz has a very strong AV, which is what sells his books. I could pick up a book without a cover, read a page or two and know I’m reading Koontz (at least, his later works). His AV tends to come through no matter what character’s POV he’s in. Yet he paints some very vivid characters. Frankly, he does this by a lot of telling rather than showing. He’ll stop the story for a paragraph or two just to describe the character. But his AV is so wonderful, he can get away with this. He just tells so doggone well.
Maybe if my AV were as well honed, I could do this, too. But when my AV begins to cover every character, they all just sound the same—which translates to rather flat. My technique for characterizing is to concentrate on showing and allow the reader to “hear” the character’s own voice.
Sounds great. But how do you accomplish that? More on that tomorrow.
Some reflection questions for today: What author do you like with a very distinctive voice? What makes it distinctive? Why do you like it? Does his/her AV carry the books, despite whose POV we’re in, or do the characters have distinctive voices? If the latter, how does the author separate the two?
Read Part 2
Monday, January 29, 2007
Or so I thought.
Every day for the next fourteen days I was amazed when I entered my office. The tulip plants were growing so fast, you could practically see the things in motion. I started measuring. For those fourteen days they grew at least an inch a day. About every three days I had to put in more water.
One day 13, I was looking down into the split leaves at the top, seeing if I could see any of the pink buds. Nothing. On day 14, I spotted them. On day 15, the bulbs began to pop out. The picture was taken on day 16. I’m sure by tomorrow morning they’ll be fully opened.
Why did they grow so fast? I’ve certainly never seen tulips grow that fast outside. For the last two weeks, it’s been cold outside (cold for northern California). I’ve run the heat all day in the house—keeping it at 70 degrees. Here, sheltered and warm, in the perfect, ripe environment, the plants came into their season and grew at an incredible pace.
Psalm 1:1-3 in the BPV (Brandilyn’s Prayer Version) reads:
How blessed am I because I do not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But my delight is in the law of the Lord,
And on His law I meditate day and night.
And I will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields fruit in its season.
My leaves do not wither,
And in whatever I do, I will prosper.
I love that line: “Which yields fruit in its season.”
I look back at the ten years I spent working so hard to learn the craft of fiction enough to be publishable, and I can see God’s hand with me all the way. I kicked a lot of cabinets and had a lot of frustrating moments. Quit more than once. But it wasn’t my season. There was work to be done in me, as well as work to be done in my craft. And just the right publisher needed to have that just right open slot that I could fill. God orchestrated all of this to come together—and my work in fiction came into its season. And as God would have it—once that season began, I grew fast. But then, I was surrounded by His care, and He had provided the environment in which I could do so.
Now, my “yielding fruit” season won’t necessarily look like anyone else’s. God has a distinct work to do in each of us. (Here’s hoping you won’t have to wait ten years!) And even the term “yielding fruit” from our writing can mean different things.
Every day I watched those tulips grow, I thought of Psalm 1. Yes, they’ve grown fast. But think how long those bulbs had been dormant, just waiting for their right time. And these beautiful tulips will last awhile, then be done. I’ll watch the flower colors fade, the petals wither and fall. But what God chooses to do through my writing in this fruitful season will not wither.
As long as it may be in coming, God’s season is worth waiting for. And when it comes, it's amazing.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Yay, almost to the weekend! Today, a little of this and that.
1. Wasn’t that a cool interview with ye ol’ Michael Snyder? What’s not to like about that guy? I wanted to emphasize one thing he said. You want to learn how to write? Ya gotta read.
I’ve said many times that my own journey to publication was spent 50% writing and 50% reading. I see too many new authors who skimp on the reading side. Reading teaches us so much. What works, what doesn’t. How various authors use POV. The use of pacing, tone, voice. Symbolism, foreshadow, icons. Story structure.
I used to read with pen in hand, marking up the books. I learned POV not from any teacher—I didn’t have the Internet and blogs and author loops when I was learning. I learned POV from reading masterful authors.
Read in your chosen genre—lots. Read literary novels, read commercial novels. Read classics and contemporaries. Study the variations. Just, whatever you do—don’t forget to read!
2. On a housekeeping note, my wonderful assistant has been cleaning up F&F’s links this week. She’s done them all now, except for the NES (Never-Ending-Saga) posts—officially labeled “How I Got Here.” Since that series about my journey to publication ran over 60 posts (hey—took me a long time to reach a half-decent level of this craft), fixing that one will take her awhile.
All of the links under “Story” and “Craft” posts now go to the individual post rather than its monthly archive. If it’s a multiple-day series, the link takes you to Part 1, which will include at the bottom the link to Part 2, and etc. No more scrolling through monthly archives, looking for the posts you want. There are quite a bit of teaching archives on this blog now, and this system will make the series much easier to plow through. Or, of course, if you want a few laughs at my expense, you could always read the “World’s Worst Dental Patient” or some other story.
3. I’ve forwarded Sue Brower your questions for her interview. “Wow,” she wrote back, “those are some hard questions!” Yup, you all didn’t hold back. Good for you. I told Sue to take all the time she needs to answer fully. Then bowed at her feet and offered mucho chocolate for her willingness.
4. Awhile back I promised to do a post that segued from the one on my Crimson Eve rewrite—on voice. Haven’t forgotten. Perhaps I’ll tackle that next week. Also I will continue to refer to your topic suggestions from over Christmas.
5. GREAT news. After almost three years, my trademark for "Don't forget to b r e a t h e ..." has finally been registered. Man, you want to conduct business at a turtle's pace, choose the U.S. government. Two years into the process, the government informed us we had to start all over due to a technicality. I'm just glad I didn't have to do any of the work myself. My wonderful assistant, Gayle DeSalles, was the liaison with the attorney.
My "Seatbelt Suspense" trademark is still in the works. A couple days ago, after almost two years' of bureaucracy, the government informed us we have to start the process all over due to a technicality.
6. Last but hardly least--one of my favorite photos of Mom and me (since I haven’t used a doggone picture all week). This was taken in her front yard twenty years ago. I was 30; she was 70.
If you’re wondering, I bought my outfit first. Mom saw it—and just had to have one. Sunglasses and all.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
In the January 15 issue of Publishers Weekly, the #1 selling hardcover book in the “religion” category was anti-religious: The God Delusion, written by atheist Richard Dawkins. Number four on the list was Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation. another anti-God missive. Sandwiched in between was Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life at #2, and Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now, at #3. Also in the Top Ten that week were books by Joel Rosenberg (published by Tyndale), Max Lucado (W), John Eldredge (Nelson), and Philip Yancey (Zondervan).
Think there’s no spiritual warfare in the book industry?
Here’s the copy about The God Delusion on Dawkins’ web site:
With rigor and wit, Richard Dawkins examines God in all his forms, from the sex-obsessed tyrant of the Old Testament to the more benign (but still illogical) Celestial Watchmaker favored by some Enlightenment thinkers. He eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He shows how religion fuels war, foments bigotry, and abuses children, buttressing his points with historical and contemporary evidence. The God Delusion makes a compelling case that belief in God is not just wrong, but potentially deadly. It also offers exhilarating insight into the advantages of atheism to the individual and society, not the least of which is a clearer, truer appreciation of the universe's wonders than any faith could ever muster.
I propose a direct campaign in support of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. (In support of their souls, that is.) It’s very simple, carried out very privately: pray that the God they deny will open their eyes.
Of course, these two men and their followers can’t be the least offended by our campaign. No point in them leaving nasty comments on this blog. After all, there is no God, and we’re talking to thin air. So if we want to waste our time, why should that bother any of them in the least? What is the point of arguing with the deluded?
I propose using Isaiah 50:4-5 as our verses for prayer. These are prophetic verses of Jesus (and therefore very powerful). And they speak of using words, which these men now do to promote their beliefs.
Lord God, give Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris the tongues of disciples,
That they may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.
Awaken them morning by morning,
Awaken their eyes to listen as disciples.
Lord God, open their ears,
And keep them from disobedience.
Actually this is a great verse for just about anyone, isn't it?
I’m going to pray this for Dawkins and Harris in my morning devotions. I’m making the commitment. Anyone willing to join me?
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
And now, back by popular demand. Heeeeere's Michael!
5. Your story is decidedly different and is targeted toward the 18-34-year-old audience. Do you see more opportunities for this kind of fiction coming in CBA?
I sure hope so. I love to read Nick Hornby, Douglas Coupland, Richard Russo, Mark Haddon, Lisa Samson, as well as a few old dead guys and gals. I’m a big fan of outstanding movies and pretty much any great art that mixes pathos and humor.
Love him or hate him, there’s a reason that Christians devour Donald Miller’s work. He’s like the CBA version of Dave Eggers. I believe (and have no proof to back it up, other than just talking to folks) that if we write in ways that are relevant to X’ers or Y’ers or whatever they’re called these days, they will buy and read and talk about our books.
Disclaimer: I’m not claiming I’ve attained this lofty goal, nor am I comparing to myself to the aforementioned geniuses. I believe the technical term for what I’m doing is ‘shooting off at the mouth.’ Nor am I saying that everyone should write for the pomo crowd. Just don’t be afraid to if/when inspiration strikes.
6. There are two very different opinions as to how to first get published. One side takes more of the artist's approach--write your passion, perfect your craft and then see where you can place the manuscript. The other side takes more of a business approach--perfect your craft through writing what sells easier at first, even if you want to move into something different later. What's your opinion about these views?
Aha! My favorite question (Other than ‘where do babies come from?’ and ‘Does this hurt?’).
First, some background. I’m not very smart. That’s why I don’t write suspense … too many details to keep up with. Second, I like to study craft, not markets and trends and all that. That’s what my day job is for.
So my opinion is always to write what moves you. If it makes you laugh or cry or squirm or ponder, write that. If it makes you mad or sad or causes an impish grin to invade your face, write that. If it moves you AND fits into a recognized genre, so much the better for you!
Life is too short, my kids are too young, and the odds too long for me to sit and calculate what I think someone else wants to read. The question for me always comes down to what interests me. What moves me or amuses me. (Sorry, don’t mean to make it all about me.)
I have some great friends who write great fiction that fits neatly into the established genres. They have bigger brains than me and that’s okay. They can figure things out, make concrete plans, and actually see the plans to fruition. It’s like magic to me. I don’t get it.
I’m not ready to dub myself an artist just yet. But I aspire to artistry. It would be very cool to write fiction that changes people.
7. Now that you've sold two books and have the second one to write--are you scared? Are the looming deadlines overwhelming? How is the contract affecting the way in which you approach writing?
Um, well I wasn’t scared until you brought it up. Now I’m all atwitter. (Sorry, I always wanted to use that word in a sentence).
Actually, I’m not too worried … yet. I haven’t discovered any unused hours lying around. So I just try to maximize my schedule and get as much writing done as possible. Family has to come first, then the day job, then the writing.
I’m trying not to think about it too much, but I do believe the pressure will mount as the deadline for book 2 approaches.
But here’s a dirty little secret about the professional editing process … It’s fun.
I know everyone says they love their editor and that he/she is making it a better book. But in my case it’s true. He also sends me little reminders to eat lots of fruit and floss every night, which I think is a nice touch. The thrice-daily Zig Ziglar motivational podcasts have become a bit tedious however.
8. As someone who's just crossed the line into "sold" territory, what would you most like to say to those on the other side?
I’ve probably said too much already…
First off, try to relax. When I finally decided to write what I wanted to write, I had to acknowledge that no one would ever buy it.
Second, buy my books. Buy copies for your friends. Or your enemies. Or friends of your enemies. Or even your family and their pets. (I’m trying to learn this marketing thing.)
Most importantly, write a ton. Read more than you write. Write fearlessly. Have fun with it. Love what you do or do something else. God’s gonna do what He’s gonna do. So you may as well enjoy the ride.
Read Michael's blog, Gritty and Bright.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Michael Snyder recently signed a two-book contract with Zondervan--his first sale of a novel. He attracted Z's attention with his manuscript Russell Fink. He is now working on the second book for the contract.
I met Michael through writers' conferences and came to know him as a guy who's really serious about working on his craft and getting it to publication level. Well, he's done it! I figured what he's learned along the way just might help some of you aspiring novelists out there. Plus, his contract is one example of how Christian fiction is widening to include new territory.
1. Okay, first up. I keep hearing the Russell Fink is about a clairvoyant dog. I know you're a bit strange, but...really. What is your book about?
Well I can say it involves a clairvoyant basset hound named Sonny. But it’s not really about him. The story deals with hope and forgiveness and finding God in unexpected places. Russell’s slightly unconventional route to these universal themes include (but are not limited to):
-A neurotic copier salesman trapped in the body of an artist
-An administrative assistant who fashions her own clothing out of Army surplus and flags from various countries
-An inventor obsessed with warmth
-A stalker with the same initials as another character
-And a few batches of whiskey biscuits (doggie treats marinated in ninety proof, baby!)
My sincerest hope is that the reader will laugh, think, and maybe even cry once or twice.
Okay, that’s just a ‘very sincere’ hope. My sincerest hope is that a lot of people will buy it so I can keep writing more books.
2. What made this book a good fit for Zondervan? Are they looking for other stories like this one? (Well, maybe without the dog …)
I’ve been encouraged—no, delighted—with what I’m hearing from Zondervan. Unless my head is filled with gauze, it sounds to me like the sky is the limit as far as what they’re willing to look at. I don’t want to speak out of turn here. But my advice is to write the story that’s burning inside you. Write it well. And it will find a home somewhere.
I hear frustration at conferences about the apparent disconnect between what editors want and what they’ll actually buy. (Heck, I’ve engaged in said conversations.) There’s probably some truth to that, but I decided not to spend a lot of time worrying about it. You can’t change the system. But you can write a killer story. Publishers want great books. I’ve met several editors who are eager to take chances. (Many of whom still told me ‘No!’) Essentially, we all have the same goal.
3. What's your "Never-Ending-Saga" in a nutshell? In other words, without going on for 60+ posts, as I did on this blog, tell us the story of your journey to publication.
In 2002 I turned to my wife (a.k.a., the prettiest girl in the whole wide world) and said, “I think I’d like to try and write a novel.” She liked this idea, likely hoping it would displace my passions for binging on Yoo-Hoo, picking fights with squirrels, and making towers out of sharp household objects. So I wrote the following: “He awoke to that smell again.” Thankfully, no one bought it.
I read 30+ books on craft, doubled my intake of great novels, wrote six or seven nights a week, and attended the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference. Gayle Roper encouraged me. Steve Laube looked at me funny.
I kept writing every night and attending conferences every year. After completing one novel and starting three others, I threw my hands in the air and quit … quit writing for the market, that is. I wrote what I wanted for a change—a series of short stories loosely based on the same ensemble of characters. Russell Fink was born.
Steve agreed to agent me at the Nashville ACFW. That was after he asked for my pitch, then systematically interrupted it with wisecracks … and yes, he still looks at me funny. Then I met Andy Meisenheimer, acquisitions editor at Z and an all-around groovy guy, at ACFW in Dallas.
I got the call a few weeks later.
4. What things did you do that most helped lead you to publication?
In order of importance…
-Studied craft but refused to get all hung up on the rules. If you break them, do it with attitude.
-Read some more.
-Wrote every day, or close to it.
-Tried to spend twice as much time reading as writing. (Be a nerd! Read in line at the DMV, at stoplights, in parking lots, while your dog is making wee-wee, during boring conversations with family members you’re not all that fond of.)
-Attended at least one conference per year. Tried to remember to put people ahead of my conference goals. Publishing is a business, but if you listen you can hear its heart beating.
-Explored the world of critique groups. My critters are simply the best. And no, I’m not sharing.
-Wrote, read, wrote, read, wrote, read, ad nauseum.
-And somewhere in there I screwed up the courage to submit stuff.
Tomorrow: Questions 5-8, beginning with:
5. Your story is decidedly different and is targeted toward the 18-34-year-old audience. Do you see more opportunities for this kind of fiction coming in CBA?
Read Michael's blog, Gritty and Bright.
Wracking coughs shook the beast, when they passed his voice had softened again. "But it is not about them that yi should be concerned, for their paths are their own. Your path lies ahead of you, it is surrounded by storms and trouble and there are many pitfalls awaiting yi...”
Monday, January 22, 2007
All right. One more post on this topic, and we’ll leave it alone for a long time—unless news hits that some changes have been made. (Advance is meeting this week in Indianapolis—and a hint has been made that we may hear something.)
In the recent issue of Aspiring Retail, editor Carrie Erickson wrote an article regarding the lists—“Discover What’s Behind the Lists.” This article, appearing in a magazine for booksellers, shows us how the lists are viewed from the retailers’ side, and how these booksellers tend to use the list.
Erickson notes that in 2003, CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) changed their book categories for the lists, based on the Christian product category—CPC—codes. It also add the Top 50 list, which combines all categories for an overall picture.
The article explains that the data are taken from STATS, which reflects actual sales in a store. But if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that and a whole lot more. (For recent posts on the lists, go to December’s three-parter (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and the January post.)
The article quotes Dean Edwards, CBA information technology director, as saying “We know retailers use these lists because we get inquiries about them when they’re posted online.” Edwards cautions stores against going overboard in using the lists for decisions on stocking books, noting that regional sales are critical to a store, and what sells in one region may not sell as well elsewhere. However, he does suggst posting the list in one’s store, to “show customers what’s hot.” And perhaps putting a book that’s consistently been high on the list on an end cap. (End caps, for those of you new to this term, are extremely important. They are found on the end of an aisle, hence the browser’s eye are more likely to fall upon these books.)
Edwards also suggests cross-promoting a bestseller with any other books that go with it, such as study guides, etc.
These suggestions are hardly rocket science, and many of you familiar with bookselling with know this already. Still, this article illustrates the point—bestsellers often beget bestsellers. If a book hits the list, esp. the top ten, booksellers pay attention. You’ve probably been in numerous stores that post the lists and pull out certain bestsellers for special placement in the store. These special placements introduce new readers to the books. Which leads to more sales. Which leads, perhaps, to another month on the list. If you follow the lists every month, you see this phenomenon. A few names tend to appear on the list over and over, with numerous books each time. These authors have reached the tipping point—and the lists have certainly helped keep the momentum going.
All this is all the more reason that our industry needs an accurate list. Because bookstores are acting as if it is accurate.
All at once the savage sound of two creatures locked in combat rebounded through the tunnel. Rathe froze in his steps, listening as the unseen beasts tore at each other. His breath froze when he recognized words among the roars…"the only"…"abomination" and others too muddled to understand, yet clearly speech...
Friday, January 19, 2007
Well, hey, because it's Friday, and my posts often look mighty boring, due to lack of pictures... (Some of you have photos or graphics every day, and I admire that!) So here are a few photos of this and that from last year, just because.
Mom, my sisters and I. Sisters are in order, left to right, according to age, with Mom in middle.
My husband and I in Union Square, San Francisco at Christmas. That's the famed Macy's department store in the background, with lighted wreaths in every glass square.
Daughter Amberly and I at the Violet Dawn launch party in August.
Driving through the redwoods in the Avenue of the Giants, northern California.
Morning jog in Glacier National Park, Montana.
Plotting session with writers group at annual retreat, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho home. (Mom's in the center--playing mama to us all.)
If you have a photo on your blog you'd like us all to see, give us the link in the comments. Those of you who are so inclined can come back on the weekend and vote for your favorite.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Happy Thursday, BGs. Almost to the weekend!
This year I want to take time every few weeks to bring a book to your attention. I'll try to feature books from all genres, hoping to have something for everyone.
Today, in league with the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance's feature of the week, I bring you Tricia Goyer. Tricia's a pal of mine, so I can personally attest that she's a great gal and a solid, grounded woman of God. She's been a guest at our Idaho home. In fact, she's one of the crazy authors who meet at our Idaho house each year for a four-day brainstorming and play session. So it's with great joy that I see her novels released--because our writers' group often gets to help plot them.
Tricia puts a lot of hard research into her historical novels. She's interviewed dozens of World War II veterans for their stories. You can read these Unforgettable Stories from World War II on Tricia's Web site.
Tricia also writes nonfiction for the GenX generation. In fact, Tricia writes so much, and so many books a year, that she makes me look like a lazy slob.
Enough of my opinion. Here's the official word from CFBA:
This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is posting about Arms of Deliverance (Moody Publishers, 2006) by Tricia Goyer (fellow CFBA member, blogger, writer, and homeschooling mom.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tricia Goyer is one the members of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance (Tricia's Blog, "It's Real Life" Tricia's Parenting Blog, "Generation NeXt") and we are pleased to be able to review her exciting historical fiction book, Arms of Deliverance. She was named Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference "Writer of the Year" in 2003. Tricia was also a finalist for the Gold Medallion Book Award and won ACFW's "Book of the Year" for Long Historial Romance in 2005 AND in 2006. She has written hundreds of articles, Bible Study notes, and both fiction (three other WWII novels, From Dust to Ashes, Night Song and Dawn of a Thousand Nights. Night Song, the second title in Tricia’s World War II series, won ACFW's Book of the Year for Best Long Historical Romance.) She's and non-fiction books. married to John, and they have three great kids whom she homeschools: Cory (17), Leslie (14), and Nathan (12). They make their home in Northwest Montana with their dog, Lilly.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
The fourth and final novel in this exhilarating series capturing the tales of men and women swept into World War II.
EUROPE, 1944: Katrine, a Czech Jew, is so successful in her attempt to pass as an Aryan that she finds herself dating a Nazi officer. Having convinced him of her genetic purity, the officer sends her to stay at a Lebensborn home--a Nazi breeding program in which children are raised and indoctrinated by the state.
Meanwhile, two friends, Mary and Lee, one a socialite, the other a working class girl, land similar reporting jobs at the New York Tribune on the eve of the war’s outbreak. Now rivals with assignments on the frontlines of war-torn Europe, Lee joins troops sailing for Normandy, while Mary's destiny lies in the cramped quarters of a B-17 bearing down on Berlin. Before the presses roll, their lives will be indelibly marked by a caring American navigator, brave French resistors, and a maniacal Nazi officer. Arms of Deliverance is a story of unexpected redemption.
Read Chapter One on Tricia's Blog.
Well, like the rest of the Scenes and Beans bloggers, I had an after-Christmas post written, which now seems a little late. But actually, this post is about Christmas all year long...
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
You bloggers out there, ever looked up who’s searching what—and ended up on your site? I get such a kick out of doing that every once in awhile. I use Sitemeter, and one of its handy-dandy stats is a listing of the past 100 visitors and from where they’ve been referred. Here’s the list of searches from the first 100 visitors of yesterday, and the posts their search led them to:
1. We’re sorry, but we were unable to complete your request
Oh, boy. Somebody else out there ready to strangle google. Or was it, perhaps, a google employee, just fresh off of climbing the google wall, all set and ready to fix my Scenes and Beans blog? For lo and behold—after that rant—it’s now fixed. (First new post up today.)
2. Inexplicably and without method
A quote from the movie Stranger Than Fiction. This searcher got my own version of how this works, when I was stuck in the middle of writing Crimson Eve.
3. Violet Dawn—google images
Hm. Some curious searcher (or was it my own editor or agent) typed in these words and was led right here to the main page, since Violet Dawn is shown on the sidebar.
Wait, I know! ’Tis a Hollywood bigwig, wanting to see the cover after hearing what a dynamite movie this book would make! My agent shall be calling me any day with the multi-million dollar offer.
4. Love and sex with robots
Okay. This is one sick puppy. (Imagine the surprise when this searcher landed on a Christian blog.)
5. Bubbled, writing
Forensics and Faith comes up third in this search. What in the heck do you suppose the searcher was looking for? What he/she got was my post that ran the draft beginning to Coral Moon, and my invitation for y'all's rewrite. The “writing” part turns up in the comments.
6. Emergent church
Well, that one didn’t take long. We talked about fiction for the “emergent church” or the GenX/Y crowd, just a couple days ago. (And by the way, I agree that the two groups shouldn’t be run together as the same thing.)
You gotta be kidding! Somebody got on google images and searched for this—and what picture do you suppose turns up on page 8? You think the searcher used the photo somewhere? If so, for what?? Robin Lee Hatcher, I know you’re out there, reading this. Don’t kill me. Just revel in your new reputation.
8. Dentist finds deep cavity
Ah, me. Some poor soul who heard terrible news at the dentist wants to see what’s gonna happen next. He/she wants comfort, assurance everything’s gonna be OK. Instead this searcher gets to read about all my woes at the Big Bad Dentist. Part 1 of the sordid tale is linked above. Here are Part 2 (The Call) and Part 3 (I Survived). Survival’s in the drugs, I tell ya. Take all you can get.
9. Forensic + draw + scene
Okay, I can parse this one. This searcher, no doubt looking for forensics in the technical sense, got an introduction to Annie Kingston and my Hidden Faces series in this craft post on “Keeping the Tension” in suspense.
10. Broadman and Holman, editor, good, contract
Hm. Almost sounds like this searcher was looking for my recent post on editing, which included some kudos for Karen Ball, who’s just moved to B&H. You suppose Karen was doing some ego-googling?
So...you got any better ideas as to how the searchers used one of these topics? Or perhaps you’ve found a few strange searches on your own site lately …
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Forensics and Faith will soon be running an interview with Sue Brower, senior fiction acquisitions editor at Zondervan. (This is in response to your suggestions from last December of interviewing editors/agents in the industry.) When I first approached Sue, I didn’t know that another wonderful blog, Novel Journey, was about to run a two-part interview with her. I held off, figuring our two blogs could work in tandem. When Sue’s interview ran on NJ, I gave you all the links to click over and read it.
So … now I suggest that you read it again. Because I am asking you to supply me with follow-up questions you’d like to ask Sue. This is a unique opportunity. Usually we read an interview and wonder, “What did she mean by that?” or “Wish she’d have taken that answer a little further…” Now here’s your chance for some dialogue. Or maybe you want to pose the burning question she was never asked.
Remember that, before becoming fiction acquisitions editor, Sue was the marketing guru at Z for a long time. So she’s highly qualified to answer questions in both categories.
Part 1 of Sue’s interview is here. Part 2 is here. Or you can simply go to NJ’s January archives and scroll down to dates Jan. 8 and 9. Please remember to come back to Forensics and Faith and leave your follow-up questions in the comments. Don’t be shy about posing hard ones!
Monday, January 15, 2007
In the recent issue of Christian Retailing, editor Andy Butcher wrote an editorial about the difficulties of Christian bookstores serving the “emergent church.” This periodical is targeted to booksellers, and there’s nothing in the editorial that speaks directly to Christian fiction, but I do see connections between Butcher’s thoughts and our fiction industry.
As the pull-quote notes: “For many Gen X and Gen Y believers, their local Christian bookstore simply isn’t on the radar.”
I agree. Whether they’re buying nonfiction or fiction, twentysomethings will tend to patronize a store that offers more choices and less outward “spiritualism”—and often, a coffee shop atmosphere in which to hang out. In other words, they’ll probably choose a B&N over the local Christian bookstore.
It’s great to see that the booksellers are grappling with how to reach this segment of the market. At CBA Advance later this month, a session will be offered that examines the emergent movement and its implications for Christian publishing. Butcher opines it will “be a lively discussion.”
I don’t want to get into debates about the emergent church and its pros and cons. There are people on all sides of this issue. But the fact is, whether you believe everything these folks believe or not—they are seeking truth, and they want books to help them do so. As more nonfiction books are being written for this age group and mindset, fiction should also be considered. I know some publishers are doing this—specifically targeting the 18-34-year-olds. (By the way, I’m nowhere near an emergent church expert. However, I’m not sure that one age group makes up for 100% of the emergent church folk. But it seems most people equate the younger generation with the emergent church, and so for general purposes, I’m going along with that equation.)
The fact that booksellers and publishers are targeting this group excites me because of what it could mean for our fiction in the future. I don’t think it will negate the kinds of fiction that are now offered. The core Christian readership will always be with us—and they want a certain type of story. Serving the emergent church group should expand our market into offering different kinds and genres of fiction. For example, many in this age group might enjoy fantasy and sci-fi fiction with a Christian worldview. They’ll enjoy certain kinds of suspense and contemporaries, too. By and large, these may be stories with less overt Christian tone.
Thing is, Christian booksellers will have to figure out how to let this target audience know the books are out there to buy. And there’s the rub. Any publisher who sticks its toe in such “emergent fiction” water is going to be watching sales carefully. If the books don’t sell, houses will quickly stop publishing that kind of story. And if this targeted audience doesn’t frequent Christian bookstores, and meanwhile the B&Ns of the world house Christian fiction and nonfiction together at the back of the store… Good marketing will be essential. And I’d far rather see the books bought at Christian stores rather than B&N. Butcher is right—our stores will need to work if they want to win these folks over.
So, yes. This whole “emerging” audience could enlarge our offering of fiction. But it’s going to take everybody to make it work. Novelists at the top of their craft to write great fiction for the audience. Houses willing to publish it—and market it well to the target audience. Booksellers willing to woo these folks—while also serving the needs of their core audience—who may not like the emergents and what they stand for. Not an easy task to balance these two groups, which often seek very different atmospheres in a store.
So much for my opinion—what do you think? Does the thought of expanded fiction for the emergent church excite you? Frighten you? Make you just a little wary? What do you think such fiction will look like? Could you write it?
Friday, January 12, 2007
From the recent issue of Publishers Weekly comes this snippet of a recent signed deal: Harper has bought world English rights to David Levy’s nonfiction work, Love and Sex with Robots: Artificial Intelligence, Automatons, and the Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships. According to the article, Levy will “explore the burgeoning sexual subculture of companion robots and offer a prediction for the way our personal interactions with technology may soon evolve.”
There’s a burgeoning sexual subculture of companion robots? Man, where have I been?
Got me to thinking. Why couldn’t this be turned into a premise for a novel in the Christian market? Now there’s a challenge for you, BGs. Here’s mine:
A female robot, maid and companion to a stuffed animal salesman, kills him in a fit of jealousy. When she tries to hide his body in his favorite stuffed animal—the life-size gray gorilla in their TV room—she discovers the corpse of the salesman’s human wife inside—with the same face as her own … Sold to Karen Ball as her first acquisition for B&H.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
This week I am busy doing the rewrite for Crimson Eve, third in the Kanner Lake series. This is the book I finished last November. (It releases this coming September.)
Guess what I’m seeing. The usual suspects.
Nothing earth-shaking in the rewrite. No story structure changes, not one scene I have to throw out or redo. Everything’s basically OK, except two major issues:
1. Voice. All my characters sound too much alike. It’s my own author’s voice coming through, rather than their own. Not good.
2. Overwriting. Just too much fancy description. As I showed you in last week’s scene from Coral Moon—cut, cut, cut.
Really, the big issue is voice. As I correct the voice for each character, I naturally cut the extra description.
What astounds me is that these same issues come up every time. Why can’t I just get them right for once? Each time I write a new book, I think, “I will not over-describe, I will not over-describe.” Now look at me—cutting away.
Guess I could look on the bright side. My story structure’s strong. I don’t have trouble with pacing, dialogue, tension, POV, etc. So … man, if I could just fix the voice/description thing, I’d be great.
It’s amazing the way this process works. I let the manuscript sit after I’ve finished it. Don’t look at it at all. By the time I receive the editorial letter, at least a month has passed, usually longer. I can look at the manuscript with fresh eyes. Still, even my fresh eyes won’t see everything. Then I read something in the editorial letter—and boing! The problems just jump right out at me. Suddenly every page looks to me like a beginner wrote it. I mean it; the stuff’s awful. “Oh, sheesh, what was I thinking?”
That insightful editor is what I need to open my eyes. Can’t imagine not having a good editor. Actually, I can, and the thought isn’t pretty. Not for me or anyone else. I read too many novels that make me question where the editor was.
So my hat is off to Karen Ball this week. Sadly, this is the last time we’ll work together. Can you believe she left freelancing to take a job as fiction acquisitions editor for Broadman & Holman? Man. Leave me out in the cold, will ya.
Karen will be great for B&H. I hope after she’s been there a little while she’ll grant F&F an interview—give us an inside peek at what kinds of fiction she’s looking for.
Pardon me now while I return to fixing my horrendous writing. All you folks out there who read my novels—you can thank your lucky stars for Karen. She makes sure the writing’s good by the time it gets into your hands.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Once in awhile I’m allowed to rant. First rant this year goes to Google. Who apparently has a new favorite saying for 2007: “We're sorry, but we were unable to complete your request.”
This is the response I get every time I try to post on Scenes and Beans. That’s right—my Kanner Lake marketing blog done broke, thanks to google. It hasn’t worked for the last couple weeks. Since before I switched it to the “the new, wonderful blogger, now out of beta” which google so avidly is touting. Well, guess what—the new, wonderful blogger now out of beta hijacked my blog.
Oh, you can still see it. And I can even edit past posts. I just can’t write new ones. I basically have a frozen blog. Wilbur and Jake and S-Man and all the rest of my characters are stuck somewhere out there in cyberspace, waiting to tell their stories. And don’t you love the error message? It’s so … helpful. Tells you exactly what the problem is and how you can fix it.
In fact it can cover so many things, methinks I shall adopt it.
“Would you endorse my book?” I’m sorry, but I am unable to complete your request.
“Mom, would you buy me …?” I’m sorry, but I am unable to complete your request.
“Honey, could you …?” I’m sorry, …
I have been trying to fix the blog problem—to no avail. I joined the google groups help list so I could tell them about it. Good news and bad news. The good news is—I’m not the only one with this problem. It’s apparently a glitch in the new system. The bad news is—I’m not the only one with this problem. There are perhaps 20 million other blogs out there with the same sorry message. Scenes and Beans just has to wait its turn to be fixed.
Now that isn’t what “Blogger Employee” told me last week. He/she told me my blog would be fixed—implying soon. Unfortunately since then I haven’t heard a thing. BE’s gone silent. I pop up—“Hey, remember me?” No answer.
In today’s Wall Street Journal I read a short article on google. Fortune Magazine calls it the best company in American to work for. Google dishes out great free meals, has a posh campus, and even built a handy-dandy in-house climbing wall. (Doesn’t every employee need one of those?) The place has a fun, college-like atmosphere. There’s a pajama day—which, according to WSJ, certain engineers protest by wearing tuxedos. Groups go by kid’s camp names, such as Nooglers for new employees, or Doodles.
I’m thrilled for google employees that it’s a great place to work. I don’t care if they call each other weird names and climb the walls all day. As long as somebody fixes their sorry message to Scenes and Beans. I’ll take a Noogler gal in pajamas. I’ll take a Doodle guy in a tux. Heck, I’ll take a Kit ‘n’ Kaboodle canine in a tux. Just fix my blog.
If this doesn’t happen soon, google, I’m gonna sic Wilbur on you. Then you’ll be sorry, all right.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Before part 2 of Mama Ruth's story, a note: don't forget to visit Novel Journey for the second part of their interview with Sue Brower, senior fiction acquisitions editor at Zondervan.
Now once again, Heeeeeere's Mama Ruth!
… I sighed. "Oh, that. It's just my noisy husband. He's in the storeroom," I pointed to two doors in a side wall, "killing rats with a hockey stick. We have too many rats in this house."
Two heads swiveled. Susan squealed, "You said 'RATS'? Big ones?"
I nodded. Susan quivered, her shoulders hunching up to her ears.
Charles's mouth fell open. "Killing rats in the storeroom. With a hockey stick." He looked totally dazed.
I couldn't help but giggle. “Don’t worry, it's an everyday affair in this house. "J.T.'s good, too. They can't get away from his flying arm fast enough. We can't keep rats out of that storeroom. They drive us batty knocking cans around in there."
"Cans? What kind of cans?"
"Big cans. We have them made in the bazaar with tight-fitting lids."
"What's in the cans?"
"Oh, foods like cheese, flour, sugar, and also panties, bras, slips, silk and nylon things. Lots of things. We put things in cans because rats will eat anything. They love nylon." I kept talking to try to make my guests feel at home. "Those rats eat all the labels off food cans, too, and sometimes we don't know what we're going to eat for supper. Whatever we open is our supper surprise. Sometimes it's gulash with meat, and sometimes it's a can of jelly. But I always make bread to go with it."
The VIP and Susan sat round-eyed, their tea growing cold.
After a minute of reverent silence, the double doors banged open and my J.T. came out carrying his hockey stick and grinning. "Got six that time!" He noticed his flabbergasted guests. "Oh. . . I didn't know we had company--I won't shake hands until I clean up."
"I'm sure you couldn't hear them with all your noise. J.T., this is Congressman Charles Crow and his wife, Susan. They got an earlier flight and came in today."
J.T. smiled at them both. "I'm sorry we didn’t know. We could have met you at the station. So nice to have a Congressman and wife as our guests. Please excuse me for a minute, I'll get a basket for the dead. MOLLI!" he called.
"Yes, Sahib," answered the gardener from outside the back door.
"Please bring in that big basket to take these dead rats out." Turning to me he said, "Honey, I'll go and clean up and then I'd like some tea and biscuits." He exited toward our bathroom, carrying his hockey stick.
Susan covered her eyes with a dainty handkerchief and leaned back against the couch.
Our barefoot, wizened gardener quietly appeared. He wore a bright red turban on his head and a once-white dothi tied around his skinny hips and bowed legs. He carried in a huge round basket; bits of grass and banyan leaves clinging to its rough insides. He disappeared into the storeroom and we heard some thuds. Molli soon reappeared, lifting the basket to the top of his turban as he padded from the room.
Susan missed the tableau, but Charles' eyes followed Molli's every move. His face showed no expression.
J.T. came back and sat at a small table. I poured a cup of tea for him and handed him two cookies. He sipped and munched.
Stout-hearted American Crow gulped, cleared his throat, and finally found his voice. "What. . . what will he do with those rats? Bury them?
J.T. shrugged. "No, we don't bother. We believe in nature's own disposition."
Stalwart American Crow asked, "How does nature do that?"
"We just throw them out by the fence. The crows will be glad to gather and eat them."
“Don’t worry,” I said cheerfully, “you won’t have to watch. We’ll have our own nice supper here in the dining room.”
Honorable American Crow managed a grim smile. All the same, something told he’d lost his appetite.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Happy Monday, BGs. First, a note y’all won’t want to miss. After reading today’s post here, please visit Novel Journey for the first of a two-part interview with Sue Brower, fiction acquisitions editor at Zondervan. It's a very informative interview. Sue focuses on the business side of things--something we novelists need to be reminded of as we pursue our art. Art doesn't live in a vaccuum. In a few weeks I’ll be running my own interview with Sue, and we’ll be discussing in part any follow-up questions to her interview with NJ.
Now, for today and tomorrow here on Forensics and Faith—guest blogger Ruth Seamands, my mom—telling a two-part story in her own inimitable humor. (If you missed the posts about her 90th birthday party, check back to October 6 and 10.) You asked for her … you got her. Heeeeeeere’s Mama Ruth!
Hi, everyone! My darling, beautiful, red-headed blogger Brandilyn said that some of you were interested in hearing a little more from me. Now, that's enough to stir up some parts of my old brain which have been rather dormant lately. I needed stimulation, so thanks for even thinking that I may have anything to say to you. Of course, I am full of stories. All I need is a new audience.
I'm not sure how far back or forward you'd like me to go. So methinks maybe a peek back into the late 1940s might be something different for you. This time period would put me back in India, during our days on the mission field. I can still see my big old stone house with twenty-pound langur monkeys pounding over the roof every day. Plenty of holes for the monsoons to pour through. Vast living room with ten double doors—and no screens. It was just after WWII and screen wire was not available. Lots of guests from America visiting India to "cheer up the missionaries." One day it went like this: (Names have been changed to protect the frightened.)
Somebody at my door kept clearing his throat, which was my doorbell. "Salaan, Mem-sahib." A tonga driver put his two palms together in greeting. His one-horse shay stood at my steps. "I brought you some guests from the station, Madam." He spoke in Kanarese, which told me he didn't know English. If he had, he'd have been proud to speak it.
I answered in his language. “From the station? Today?”
A portly American stepped forward, taking command off the situation, holding out his big hand to shake mine. "You're Mrs. Seamands."
I nodded. I already knew that.
“I am Congressman Charles Crow, and this is my wife, Susan."
"Oh, Congressman, I thought you were coming tomorrow. . . I could have met you in our jeep. So sorry. . .”
Mr. Crow brushed aside my apology. "It isn't your fault. We got an earlier plane."
"Well, come on in. My ayah will soon have your room ready. Meanwhile, please sit here and I'll get us some tea."
They nodded and smiled and sat on my droopy couch while I paid the tonga walla and dismissed him. Turning to my guests, I hoped to make them feel welcome. "It’s so nice to have you visit us from America. I do get lonely for home folks sometimes." I brought in the tea tray. Strong Indian tea, boiled with milk, spices, and whole cardamom seeds. "Estation tea," we call it because that's what we always get on trains at every station. "Here you are." I passed them large cups full of this special tea. "And try some of these biscuits--uh, cookies. The British out here call them biscuits, but they are American oatmeal cookies. I just made them."
They both seemed quite thirsty. "This is very good tea--and I love the cookies," exclaimed Susan. "I never dreamed I'd have oatmeal cookies in India." They put their cups back on the tray.
I was pouring a second cup when an enormous black-faced, white-mouthed monkey loped from the guest room through the corner of my great living room, and out the front door. Susan Crow’s eyes bulged. She screamed, quickly covered her mouth with one hand and lifted both feet off the floor. "D---do they live here with you?"
"Not with my permission! Don't worry about that monkey, Susan. He's probably as scared of you as you are of him. Because we don't have any screens yet, they sneak into the bathrooms when they find outside doors open. They like to eat the soap."
"Eat the SOAP?" they echoed in unison, their cultural horizons widening with every passing second.
I shrugged. "I guess it's because they don't have any toothpaste."
Charles Crow boomed--if a crow can boom, "Eat the soap? I thought that monkey had rabies! He was foaming at the mouth."
"No, they like soap. Sorry, you will probably find teeth prints on your new bar of soap. It was my last one. Just keep your outside bathroom door closed."
Susan quavered, "M--maybe it's not a good time to stay here, Charles."
He patted her shoulder and whispered, "We'll face it together, Dear."
I smiled at them, remembering how I first felt when I came to India, to this place, and faced all the critters I now encountered every day. "Don't worry, it's a good time. This is usually a pretty quiet place—”
Before I could finish defending my living quarters, we heard a great crash and yell coming from the wall. That was followed by a series of heavy whacking sounds and more shouts. Susan whimpered and drew her feet off the floor again. "Char--Charles. . .!"
The rotund VIP, skilled at taking charge of any trouble, jumped straight up. "WHAT WAS THAT?"
I sighed. "Oh, that. It's just my noisy husband. He's in the storeroom," I pointed to two doors in a side wall, "killing rats …”
Read Part 2