A New Year, A New Life and Love

She’s never been to Starbucks. Never stayed in a hotel. Never heard a bedtime story and now she’s living with us. Our new year began on Janurary 2nd.  We drove a quiet 11 year old girl from Boston to our home, arriving at 2:00 a.m. to be greeted by welcome notes and lavender macaroon cookies left out on the counter by our other kids.

On December  10th, 2014 we were going about our lives, getting ready for Christmas. We snuggled into our cozy beds and drifted off to sleep as the street light shone through spyrographic ice on our bedroom window. At 4:00 a.m. God woke me up, to the sound of my own voice yelling, “Hurry!”  At first I wasn’t sure it was God, it was “just a dream,” a dream about an adorable girl we know in our Sunday night Bible study in the refugee apartments. “I’m going to be adopted,” she said in the dream, working her small rough hand into mine. “I want to show you where I’m going to live so you can meet them.” We flew through the air and landed in the rugged courtyard of her new apartment complex. Several young, jobless or homeless men gathered around burning trash barrels to stay warm. The icicles dripped rust from the balconies. “It’s that one up there on the end, next to the stairs. I’ll be able to come and go as I want to.” She smiled as she pointed out a lacquered black door on the second floor. We began to creep across the courtyard toward the staircase, arms locked so we didn’t crash on the ice. The circle of young men in “wife beater” t-shirts, gangsta jewelry and flannel coats approached, questioning me. “What are you doin’ here?” Danger slashed across their faces. We began to back up. I whispered to my little friend, “I think we need to get out of here. Hurry!”

This dream, so vivid, spoke of impending doom and urgency. Something was wrong. Reaching over the edge of the bed for my computer, I immediately emailed the Bible study co-leader. It was 4:00a.m. “Is she o.k.?” I just needed to know. Her response back, “I think your dream was from God. Her father is moving her to Boston on December 16th. She doesn’t want to go.”  In six days!  We started praying. My husband agreed that perhaps God was showing us something in the dream and we should speak to her dad about the possibility of her living with us. Her dad agreed, but first she would go to Boston for Christmas. We checked out the neighborhood they were moving to. From a crime perspective, it’s one of the worst.

Many miles later, we sit in Starbucks and sip hot chocolate. I’m teaching her to play the piano after school and she is singing in our church children’s choir. We’ve read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Number the Stars and tonight, The Witch of Blackbird Pond at bedtime. She’s getting fat eating American food rather than Liberian pepper soup. She laughs with her brothers who live nearby and our kids and we’re all learning together; learning to make room, to share, to sacrifice our personal schedules, to listen to 103.5fm instead of our favorite stations on the way to school. We are learning to live with and love someone new every morning and every night.

As I walk the dog after getting everyone to school, I’m thankful. I thank God that he still speaks in dreams and visions. I thank him for always doing something new, so thankful that her father said, “yes,” and as we walk toward Valentine’s Day, I thank him that he is still teaching us all how to love.

Watching and Waiting with Wonder

Watching and Waiting with Wonder

Signs and wonders. A phrase so common in the Bible that the word “wonder” appears 109 times. Wonder is defined as:

The feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

Children own wonder. It’s engrained in the purity of their hearts and expressed through their senses.  How often I’ve watched my own children see and interact with the created world differently. While sitting in church, I remember a fat, sticky hand caressing my face with such intimacy and adoration that I flinched. The gesture was borderline embarrassing. Our toddler son once exclaimed, “Mommy, I have a sunset on my mouth,” as he caught a glimpse of his grape juice moustache in the mirror.

 

What would it take for me to walk out this Advent season of preparation in a state of unencumbered wonder?

 

In pursuit of truth and beauty we must remain children all our lives,” wrote Albert Einstein. He recognized the need for us to seek after the true and the beautiful as children. Seeking takes time and focus, the ability to slow down and see the world both at ground level and in the expanse of the heavens, to stand in front of the unopened box and wonder what’s inside. Children have the capacity to do both these things simultaneously. I’ve watched countless little league t-ball games freeze as the commercial jet flies overhead. One minute they’re missing the drive to second base because of ants in the grass and the next, dropping the ball out in right field because of American Airlines. Children see the wonder of creation down low, in the individual blade of grass and then they roll over and see the majesty of the sky. They do not rush to get up and get on to the next thing. They gaze.

 

I have to retrain myself to experience the world anew, to open my eyes and see, taste and touch for the first time.

 

I’m learning that the key to experiencing Advent with the wonder of a child is found in seeing Jesus. He is the source of beauty, truth and wonder: “As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him” (Mark 9:15). These words offer comfort and hope for the weary commuter and the exhausted, nose-wiping mother. It says “all the people.” We who are waiting and watching for him are part of that glorious group of “all.” We are in the crowd and the children are with us. And we too, can be overwhelmed with wonder.

 

Still, in Advent what do I usually wonder about? Finding the right Christmas gift, paying the bills, year-end giving choices, gaining weight, projects that were New Year’s resolutions that I probably won’t get to? Instead of worrying about these earthly realities, I’m shifting my focus this Advent to waiting on him.

 

I grew up with a simple countdown to Christmas peppermint rope that my mother grabbed at a church bazaar. My brother and I read a little poem as we took turns untying the peppermint candy from its red yarn bow. Like an Advent calendar, this colorful tool made bedtime tasty, but the waiting was endless. Our three-year old daughter learned about the pain of waiting while watching the Nutcracker ballet for the first time. She reveled in the opening battle scene and Clara’s escape to the Kingdom of Sweets. As the second act journey took us to tea parties in Arabia, she grew fidgety and bored. For her, it was all about seeing the Sugar Plum Fairy dance to her celestial music. In a whining whisper she leaned into me, “WHEN is the plum sugar going to come out?” Impatience, almost tears, consumed her.

 

What if we felt this way about waiting for the Lord’s return? Would a single experience of wonder make us wait differently?

 

I have a habit of praying before getting out of bed in the morning. It starts out with a simple prayer our children learned in Sunday school, “Good morning Lord, this is your day. I am your child, please show me your way.” This Advent, I’m adding to the prayer. “Give me eyes of wonder and a heart of love to see what you have in front of me today.” Come Lord Jesus. Give us your heart, Lord.  Give us your eyes.

 

 

Thank You Note to God

Dear God,

It’s been awhile since I’ve written to you. Usually we’re just talking. I don’t know how many letters you get, but since Thanksgiving is coming up it felt like a good time to say thank you in a different way. I’ll try not to make this too long because you have tons to do. As I sit back and think about it, you’ve been really busy this year.  Causing the sun to rise everyday must be exhausting, but then again you’re God so you don’t get tired.

Thank you for giving me life and for healing me from Lyme disease. Thank you for meeting me in the middle of those July nights when I felt like might burn a hole through the bed. Thank you that our goldfish (Goldie and Arthur), are still alive after one year and seven months. Thank you for all our friends who listen so still and so well, even when we’re crying and can’t get the words out. Thank you for the success of our eighteen year old friend’s stem cell transplant who’s now on the way to living out all the good plans you have for his life. Thank you for a beautiful, WILD garden this year, despite the lack of time to weed it. Thank you for all the help we receive from Super-Sod Landscaping because we don’t have time to cut the grass. Thank you for the people you’ve given me a chance to share my writing with. Thank you for the out-of-the-box creativity of my publisher, Koehler Books. Thank you for the Redbud Writer’s Guild. Thank you for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Thank you for my wondrous students and their profoundly good hearts. Thank you that I was born in the United States of America and I still live here. Thank you for Church of the Resurrection and the hope of being transformed every Sunday. Thank you that you are always doing a new thing, even when we can’t see it. Thank you for seeds, those planted and those waiting in drawers to be planted. Thank you for the chance to see baby eagles in their nest this past summer. Thank you that both of my parents and my brother are alive and for all the JOY and challenge they bring to my life. Thank you for Wydemere retirement community. Thank you for my big family and the times I’ve seen them this year. I miss my cousins. I wish could see them more often than at funerals. Thank you for the writers that you’ve used to inform my life this year, especially Luci Shaw, Richard Foster, Margaret Hasse and Mary Oliver. Thank you for our dog, Snuggles, her speed, and her hunger for adventure. Thank you for mentors who live to see their 80th birthday (C. Grissom that’s you, oh blessed OCTO!) Thank you for the colorful palette of our children’s lives. Thank you for Door County, Wisconsin, especially High Pines, Mud Lake and Toft Point. Thank you that I’m 52, can still run and sprint the finish. Thank you for my husband – so many thank yous here I could fill the page – you already know them all. Thank you for your sacrifice in giving us Jesus and the chance to get to know him.

I think that about covers it. Happy Thanksgiving God and thanks for being you!

Love,

Margaret

New Ivy in San Antonio

Amidst a cluster of sunbaked, red brick buildings, new shoots of lime green ivy are emerging. Unremarkable and common, of the English Hedera helix variety, it is reaching out beneath a Texas live oak tree on the campus of Trinity University. As I walk up the Laurie Auditorium steps, I stop to touch it and wonder at the cool, supple color against the backdrop of crinkling, older leaves. The students walking the campus today in their Greek lettered t-shirts and flip flops look the same as we did thirty years ago. Casual, confidence exudes from their long boards as they cruise to the library. Following them into the new Center for Sciences and Innovation, it occurs to me that I am now the old ivy, my edges are fraying and the veins are visible.

During my college reunion, we ate too many bean and cheese tacos, talked about gentrified development at the Pearl Brewery and how happy we are to still be alive. My friends had me laughing to the point of almost throwing up as we steered the “Tally-ho Tahoe” rental car in between the rusty low-riders and stray dogs that are perennially San Antonio. I thought about my own children, strolling their Indiana college campuses and prayed that they would have this to come back to in thirty years: a group of friends who know one another fully and can’t wait to share the next inane antic memory while also reflecting on how blessed we’ve been in growing up, an eighty year old professor who in a single  speech can still inspire us to create, to love and to give the little we have to improve the world, a city and community culture bursting with vivid color and diversity and at the end of it all, the desire to go home and do more.

There is an intangible unity in sharing how blessed we are. Thanks to Gena F. for serendipitously leaving her collection of alumni reflections in the Tahoe, I was able to read through the thoughts of my classmates on the plane. The common theme throughout was gratitude. Many said they wouldn’t change anything about their time at Trinity. They now recognize how much those four years gave them. A few said they wish they would have studied more and drank less, or stopped to take it in – to slow down, take notice and revel in the beauty of a college education. There are irreplaceable components of going to college that an on-line education can’t deliver. No matter how much we parents grumble about paying tuition, the long term benefit of rich, inspiring community for a lifetime is priceless.

So to my own lime green ivy college students, savor the gift you are receiving today. Stop on your campus and look at those fall leaves against the blue sky, hug your friends and tell them how much you love them, spend time with your professors and thank them when you leave class, divert from your to-do list and make a list of what you are grateful for in living this day of college learning. In your pliant freshness, remember the words of Trinity poet Naomi Shihab Nye – “Walk around feeling like a leaf. Know you could tumble any second. Then decide what to do with your time.”

p.s. Gena – I’ll mail the alumni collection back to you! Thanks!

 

Writing with Lyme Disease

Most of July was spent promoting my novel and trompling through northwoods forests, running trails, spying on an eagles nest through binoculars and praying along the lakefront…pretty sweet , but deer ticks are not sweet. They are the size of a pinhead and unremarkable. When you go to the doctor and they give you the attractive photo of this pest, you will not recognize it. When you get a fever of 103plus for five days, you will think you have a virus. It is the ugly rash following the fever that should get you to the doctor. Antibiotics can kill this bacteria if you catch it early. Generally, I don’t go to the doctor, but generally I don’t get this sick. Dr. S. takes one look at me and tells me I have Lyme, take the antiobiotic and I’ll get better. I hate bugs more than ever!

So I think about Laura Hillendbrand writing Unbroken in bed because she suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and I marvel. I couldn’t write anything last week if you offered to pay all my kids’ college tuition., room and board.  This week, at least I can read., (and write this blog post.)  The BIg Rich by Bryan Burroughs is a deep dive into the lives of the big four Texas oil families, the beginning of research for my next novel. It is pretty tragic stuff and Godless for the most part. I really feel sorry for these people.  Hassie Hunt sobbing over his father’s casket despite the fact that his father made the decision to ruin his life by approving a frontal lobe lobotomy to relieve his depression. Lyme Disease looks pretty minimal in this light. Lying in bed, looking out at the sun baking on our terra cotta roof, gives me plenty of time to think about these ghostly lost souls drifitng through the balance sheet of life. Despite so much money, they missed the “couer” of life, the heart, the joy. It’s good thinking inbetween fits of fever. By the way is it Lyme Disease or Lymes Disease. Could someone let me know? Stay healthy dear readers! God bless you!

What do Glen Campbell, Kris Kristofferson and Clare Cardiff have in Common?

While I was singing pop hits like “Memories” from the movie “A Star is Born” into my hairbrush, my mother was watching Glen Campbell TV “specials,” as we called them back in the 70’s. The “Star is Born” album cover had Kristofferson and Streisand gazing into each other’s eyes, their dissimilar profiles depicting true love. Campbell had a corny sense of humor and musical sincerity that mother loved. I think my father even sat in his “chair” and tapped his cowboy boot to Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” on our pinkie length, gold shag carpet. They were free-wheelin’ music men who sang what they wanted and charmed many a suburban wife at 7p.m. or teenage girl playing records on her turntable after midnight.
As Shakespeare says, “Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips within his bending sickle’s compass come.” (Sonnet 116) Last month in Nashville, the ravages of time stealing away more than rosy lips premiered at the Country Music Festival in the form of an award winning documentary about Campbell’s descent into Alzheimer’s, “I’ll Be Me,” scheduled to release nationally later this year. Despite being placed in a memory care facility in May, Campbell’s music is still a joy to him and to his fans. He recently completed a farewell tour and was able to make it through most of the material. “More amazing were his pitch-perfect singing voice and masterful guitar work, which a doctor theorizes were so well honed, the parts of Campbell’s brain that control them will be the last to go.” OC Weekly Blogs, April 25th, 2014.
Kris Kristofferson is also confronting memory loss by continuing in his music and movie career and being thankful for the “blessed” life he has been given. A life that has allowed him to do what he loves since he began writing songs as a child, stay happily married for 33 years and share his blessings with his eight children. Although many facets of his cognitive life are flickering, the music still remains strong, “A couple of years ago my memory just started going but I can remember my songs so I can perform, but other than that…” Kris Kristofferson to Fox News, 2013
In my new novel, A Minor, Clare Cardiff experiences a similar phenomenon. Confusion is growing, everything is fading, but the music remains. Why this thread of cognitive continuity? Why is music so powerful that it can stay with us? It has to do with the hippocampus, neurons, dendrites, ketones, amyloid protein, possibly even glucose absorption. There are many scientific areas we can delve into and discuss, but the heart of the matter lies in the pages of A Minor, so you’ll have to read it to find your answer. A Minor, published by Koehler Books, releases June 1st. It is one of the first books to have a soundtrack included in all ebook formats and live music streaming through the publisher’s website for print readers. Available via your local bookstore (go there first), Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

A couple of years ago my memory just started going but I can remember my songs so I can perform, but other than that…” Kris Kristofferson to Fox News, 2013

Richard Foster and Holy Week

Subs for my classes in place, I drove four hours last weekend to Calvin College in Michigan for a writer’s conference. Not knowing what to expect, I arrived in the dark, without my glasses to twist and turn my way down the roads of Grand Rapids which are marked by vexing u-turns and SE, SW indicators on every road sign. By the time I found the Prince Conference Center, the whole first day of speakers was over, everything but the poetry reading which proved to be a packed out delight. “Fog, fog, fog, fog, fog,” read the professor from China in an accent that left me wondering if he was saying “fog” or “frog?”

The morning sun melted the last of the roadside snow piles by noon the next day as I sat taking notes, listening to Bret Lott (Jewel), poet Luci Shaw (bought her book, Harvesting Fog) and Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline).  All worth the admission price of the conference alone and a similar exhortation ran through their talks. LISTEN. “The most important thing a writer does is listen.” (Foster) “Morning by morning he awakens my ears to listen.” (Isaiah, paraphrased by Shaw).  These three talks filled six pages of my journal and motivated me to stand in line for thirty minutes waiting for Luci Shaw to sign a collection of her poems. I was full and ready to go home, but didn’t want to miss Anne Lemott who was the evening’s main speaker. Hoping to decompress, I sat in on a run through of a new play on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, lots of singing in Latin. Once again, a theme of the play…Listen. Listen for what God has specifically for you and then do it. By now I was getting the message. My writing life needs more listening so let’s start next week, in Holy Week.

During a Saturday session, Richard Foster was being interviewed by his son Nate. I was already tired of listening and almost skipped it. My listening stamina must be pretty low if I feel exhausted after comfortably sitting in and taking notes on an eight hour day of star studded conference speakers. After grabbing some solitude and revising a poem in the Arts Center balcony, I forced myself to unplug and go listen, again. Nate asked his dad, “What does a life look like fully formed in Christ?” Without hesitating he spoke, from the edge of the stage, long gray pony-tail dangling down the backside of his blue blazer, “Penetrated throughout with love. Someone who can see the good in all. Possessed by hope. Enabled by the Holy Spirit to overcome evil with good. And the ability to laugh.”

So simple and straight forward, but so difficult.  In only 30 words, Foster had set a course, a tacking wind on the breath of the Holy Spirit, into Holy Week, back to my writing desk and beyond.  May you all listen, hear God’s voice over these coming days and then follow Him into the future. Happy Easter!

A Letter to Students and Writers

Dear Beloved Students,

We are looking at the finish line and it isn’t even Spring Break! Yet, in less than three months you will be frolicking in summer splendor and I will be promoting my novel which comes out June 1st. Here are some thoughts to finish the year with a flourish.

Give as much attention to revising as creating – March is creative writing month and April is poetry so you will be tempted to whip through these “easy” units because you all love to write stories. Please don’t. I’m just finishing up with the copy editor on my novel. This means it’s been through too many revisions for me to count, well over fifty. I’ve learned a few things along the way. If I tell some of  them to you now, you will save yourself much agony in the future.

1.  Remember to save your work. The late night scream and subsequent crying because you forgot to save something brings a ton of stress upon the household. I’ve forgotten that pdf’s (read only), made corrections on them and then tried to save it but you can’t save on “read only” files. Save the work before you begin revising so you don’t wake up in the morning and find an empty black hole is waiting for you in My Docs.

2.  When you were little, it was show and tell, now its show don’t tell. Robert Louis Stevenson shows us how it’s done in The Black Arrow.The path went down and down into the marsh, till he lost sight of the neighboring landmarks but Kettley windmill on the knoll behind him, the extreme top of Tunstall Forest far below. On either hand there were great fields of blowing reeds and willows, pools of water shaking in the wind and treacherous bogs, as green as emerald, to tempt and betray the traveler.” Can you see the movie behind your eyelids? (All credit to Mrs. Michael.)

3.  Don’t head hop from one character’s POV to another character’s POV and then to someone else or we will all be so confused, even the characters. Know who is telling your story and stick to it. Keep your tenses consistent.

4.  Read your work aloud. Read it to someone you trust and someone who knows nothing about it. Your baby brother who is wandering around with his Thomas the Tank engine in his sticky hand is a good listener, but don’t count on him for feedback. If there is no one else, he’ll do. A group of three students in my Core 201 class are working on a novel and they share their work with each other at lunch. Who do you trust to share your creativity with? Find those people.

5. I’ve been working on this for twenty minutes and I just saved it. Ahhh…peace. Oh wait, let me revise this list one more time.

Plan right now what you are going to read over Spring Break.  Read whatever you want. You are free from your reading list! Pick out something you’ve been saving for when you don’t have to read a required book. Take a break from Middle English or the Ancient Romans and pick something FUN. I’ll be reading Texas Rich. You know I’m obsessed with all things Texas. Do you know why? Remember, you all agreed to read a thousand books before you write your first one! Who said that? Linda Sue Park, right- good for you for remembering. Here is her website if you don’t remember who she is: www.lindasuepark.com If you don’t know what to read over Spring Break, read her book, A Single Shard.I look forward to our remaining creative months together. Happy revising!

Forever yours,

Mrs. P.

The Common Core and an Uncommon Bookstore

Parents are figuring it out. States are begging to delay implementation. Radio talk shows are screaming with people who “had no idea” and now that they are finding out the truth about Common Core, they are rightfully terrified. As a writer and writing and literature teacher, the reality that classic literature is being all but stripped from the curriculum of American education makes me breathe a sigh of relief that I teach in two institutions who applaud teaching the classics as a method of honing critical thinking and the development of ideas. Our own government, with the help of Bill and Melinda Gates, doesn’t agree.  So they came like a thief in the night to our states offering them more Title 1 money if they quickly adopted Common Core. Most could not resist the temptation and the line that higher uniform standards will certainly result in higher quality, more competitive students. They came to South Carolina when their state legislature wasn’t even in session, so there would be no chance for review and debate. Although they adopted it, they are now reconsidering. Governor Nikki Haley’s said:

“While I understand and agree with looking outside South Carolina for ideas to improve educational outcomes, I firmly believe that our government and our people should retain as much local control over programs as possible.”

All this brings us to A Book Above, the new bookstore in Elmhurst, IL. The brainchild of single mom Carolyn Carillo, who needed to make a living for her children. Not many of us would turn to selling books if we were in dire circumstances, but like Nikki Haley, Ms. Carillo is a brave woman. On a recent frostbitten Saturday afternoon, I led a fiction workshop for a table full of hungry, creative minds ages 8 – 13 seated in the upper level of her store. We were surrounded by great books. Through the Socratic Method we brainstormed our way through the Five Elements of Fiction using a black and white illustration of a house blasting off into the sky on a dark, wintry evening. Every child contributed to our roundtable and at the end of the hour each one had the outline of their own short story and plenty to smile about.  All this happened because Carolyn had the wherewithal and belief that children on a cold, Saturday afternoon would venture out with their parents and grandparents to a new bookstore to learn how to write.

A Book Above, the schools where I teach as well as the brave states of Texas, Virginia, Alaska, and Nebraska all know that good education comes locally, by those who have a passion to educate the students closest to them. Programs that are developed by the people who sit day after day doing the work and seeing the lightbulb go off when the concept takes root. These are the people who know what works and what doesn’t and the farther away it drifts from the hearts of the people and their educators, the more maligned and misinformed it becomes.

So if you are looking for an alternative to Common Core being crammed down the throats of your children and you share in the desire to protect their hearts, check out The Greenhouse at www.the-greenhouse.com  or Home School University at www.homeschooluniversity.org  and the new bookstore, A Book Above at 136 Vallette Street in Elmhurst IL, just behind Elijah’s Coffeehouse. In all these places, the classics are being upheld as a mantle for the development of critical thinking, engaging ideas and hearts. We are busy creating and teaching curriculum that molds these young servant leaders into the stewards of America’s future –without Title 1 money.

Your Manuscript is Done! Now What?

I’m a slow writer. In creating my novel, I followed author Linda Sue Park’s advice, “Write something every day and then first thing the next day, review and revise it, then keep writing.” Sometimes the next day does not lead to writing, just revising. Or, the whole section might be deleted and you start over. Good writing takes time. A favorite professor at Trinity University told us, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.” I’m sure Hemingway or someone famous said that first, but Frank Kerznowski gets the credit today.

After countless hours of living with your characters, the time inevitably comes when you need to share them with someone who can be trusted, someone who is also a writer. These professional friends become your “first readers.” I asked for feedback from a few of them and they so kindly complied, by sending a red line edit back to me or an email with their thoughts. Because A Minor (my novel) intensely weaves classical music into the plot, I asked a dear Redbud Writer’s Guild friend if she would assess the manuscript from a musical perspective. She was a piano performance major in college and she had plenty of wise contributions and questions for me to think through like, Tchaikovsky vs. Chopin concerto choices? What to do about that? Go back to the desk. These comments invoke the need for more research which leads to more revising than anticipated. I fell in love with Chopin’s F minor Piano Concerto as a result.

A manuscript group is invaluable. In my suburban world this looks like a bunch of well dressed women who meet once a month to drink wine, eat low calorie food, laugh and cry over the work presented and then tear your work to shreds. Of course, you’ve known these women for years so everything they share is worthy of your ear and heart. In the group, there should be some more experienced writers than you are and some less experienced. One of the best critiques that came to me from this group was, “She is having a miscarriage on the bathroom floor. Don’t tell me that in one line, tell me all about it. What happened before, what happens after. How was she feeling in that moment?” Because they are women, they will think about your work from a feminine perspective so make sure some of your first readers are men as well, seek balance.

Once your work has survived these rounds in the ring, you are ready for “Joe Plumber.” I found it insightful to receive feedback from someone who was not a literature major, does not write, does not talk about T.S.Eliot at the dinner table, but does read A LOT. What would the average reader tell someone else about your manuscript? I wanted to know. Listen to them. They probably won’t email a detailed summary of comments, but they will tell it to you straight. Revising will be needed after you hear from them. Now you are ready to seek out a real editor who will comb through your manuscript and fix your writing deficits. Mine fell mostly in the realm of point-of-view, too many people speaking and thinking in a chapter. Because this is my first novel and I believed in the story, I decided to pay someone who specialized in fiction editing to do this. It added a couple more months to the writing process, but it put the manuscript in a place of readiness to send out to potential agents and publishers. That is where the fun really begins!