Literary Intentions 
 
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My husband has a history of giving me interesting Christmas gifts. I’m not a complainer because he’s a great man and even better father, so what’s to whine about, right? But I have to admit this year’s gift left me speechless, not because it was the worst gift he’s ever given, but . . . he gave me a Shake Weight.

I had seen the commercials, the SNL spoofs, and now, I had my own. I stared at my lovely gift, thinking there was no way in hell I was going to use it—at least in front of witnesses.

My husband, however, didn’t hesitate. He pulled the Shake Weight out of the box and proceeded to give me a demo. My eyes stretched in awe. Hadn’t he seen the commercials? Doesn’t he realize what he looks like as he shake, shake, shakes his way to fabulous arms and shoulders? 

“You try.” He flopped it in my lap, and I picked it up, mustering the biggest smile I could.

I gripped the weight, twisting it back and forth before giving it a lackluster shake. 

“Do you feel that?” he asked. 

“Yeah. I feel it.” I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel, other than idiotic.

My kids jumped up and down waiting for their turn at mom’s new arm exerciser. Was there an age restriction? A big “M” on the outside of the box—rated M for mature? I reluctantly handed it over to my son, who lifted it up and down like an ordinary weight. Phew! My daughter tried to shake it, but thankfully, she lost interest.

We finished our Christmas morning present swap with my mind wondering if the next gift I opened was a pair of Pajama Jeans or a Snuggie. I’m happy to report my Shake Weight was my one and only “As Seen on TV” find. 

It’s been a month and I have yet to use my Shake Weight. The box claims that six minutes a day is all it takes. I have six minutes I can spare, and my husband thought of me when he purchased it (hold your snickering, please). So I owe it to him to use it. Starting today, I will give up six minutes and shake my way to firm arms and shoulders. Wish me luck.

Don’t worry I’ll close the blinds.

Never heard of the Shake Weight? Check ’er out!

 
 
After I finished loading the dishes, I went to park my butt on the couch to watch a bit of American Idol when my husband blurted out, “Did you just stroke your laptop?”

“Did I what?” I sat down and rolled my eyes. I heard him, but I needed time to summon up a great comeback. We’ve played this game before—the ‘you’re always on the computer game.’ I usually lose this game.

“You stroked your laptop,” he repeated with even more complacency.

It took a second and then it hit me. When I had stumbled over my husband’s feet to sit next to him, I reached over and swept my hand across my laptop. A love pat? No. I was checking to see if it had cooled down.

So yes, I stroked my laptop. I don’t love love my laptop. I wouldn’t stroke it in a loving way. I don’t think about its warmth on my legs and the wonderful click-clacking sound as my fingers scramble over the keys when we’re apart. I don’t.

Okay, maybe I do.

I love my laptop. It is the one thing that is mine; the one thing that I do just for me. I write, blog, and critique manuscripts every day. So I do spend a lot of time on my computer and get a ton of flack from my husband.

Perhaps one day, when all this writing business pays off, he’ll be less inclined to reach for absurdities just to rattle me, or point out that my lovin’ feelings for the inanimate aren’t normal.

Funny thing, though, right after the “stroking” incident I went upstairs to take a bath. It took all of five minutes before I heard a knock, knock, knock on the door with my kids on the other side, screaming to get in. Another couple of minutes later, the cat reached her paw under the door and started howling. There’s never a dull or quiet moment in a mother’s day; so, I say let me stroke my laptop. As long as mama’s happy . . . right?

Have you stroked your laptop today? 
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Since I was a child, I’ve secretly scribbled out stories and poetry. I would tuck my creations away in an iridescent orange folder and slip it under my mattress—my secret, my coping mechanism for whatever life threw my way. I had always wanted to be a writer, but lacked the confidence to pursue my bliss.

It wasn’t until a family tragedy knocked everything out of whack that I thought I had any sort of talent for it. My mother-in-law passed away a few years ago on Easter. It was sudden and unexpected. Her death not only shook the family, but it became my inspiration to pick up a pen and write. 

A few days after the funeral, my four-year-old daughter interrupted story time to tell me something that had been weighing on her mind. She said Grandma Strawberry (My daughter’s nickname for her Grandma Atteberry) was a fairy who visits her in her dreams and they go on wonderful adventures together. She said when her daddy felt sad and missed his mom, all he had to do was close his eyes and find her: she would be waiting for him.

Through the eyes of a child . . .

My mind marinated in my daughter’s words, and after I put her to bed, I had the overwhelming urge to write a story about Grandma Strawberry and her many dreamland adventures—free of pain and full of happiness. I shared the story with my sister-in-law who later said it came on a day when she needed a nudge, a simple reminder her mom was okay and that she would forever live on. Her response was my nudge to pursue something that allowed me to feel a different sort of purpose besides wife and mother.

So, here I am nearly three years later. I’ve written two novels and nearly finished a third. I’ve placed in contests, and I’m currently seeking a literary agent. The one downside to it all is the fact that my mother-in-law isn’t here to root me on. She was a voracious reader, but more than that, she loved how a book made her feel. The waves of emotions, ebbing and flowing, freed her mind from the constant pain tearing through her body. The woman who sacrificed so much for her children could simply pick up a book and be whoever she wanted to be. I miss her, but thanks to my daughter, I now know when I need a little inspiration all I have to do is close my eyes and welcome the adventure.

 
 
A writer can’t simply write a great novel and send it off to the first publisher he finds and sell his work. It just isn’t that simple. So, besides the dratted process of querying literary agents and publishers to “please, please, please” request pages, a writer is constantly looking for other ways to promote his work. Contests are one of those avenues. However, not all contests are created equal and writers must read the rules and then, reread to ensure they haven’t unwittingly relinquished their rights.

I’ve entered several contests and have scored a first, second, and third place victory. Woo-hoo for me, but as nice as my total prize winnings of $150 is, it is not publication. Winning or placing in a contest does help a writer feel like their work is legitimate and worthwhile literature, but . . . it is not publication. Then there is the ABNA. It is like American Idol for aspiring writers and the best part is the no entry fee and (dun, dun, dun, duh) publication is the grand prize with a $15,000 advance from Penguin Books.

The first stage is the pitch round and begins on Jan. 24-Feb.6. I hate this stage. If we refer back to American Idol, this round would be similar to the bare bones audition round without musical accompaniment. In ABNA terms, it is a 300-word pitch/summary of your proposed novel and the 5000 entrants from each category (YA or Adult) become 1000. Sounds easy, right? It’s not. A writer has to whittle down his or her 90,000 word novel into 300 words that’ll make someone want to pick up the book. I didn’t make it past this round last year. L Does that mean my novel stinks and I should really reconsider my bliss? Not necessarily. My pitch just didn’t entice the judges to want to read more.  

The second stage—Hollywood round for A.I—is the excerpt round. In this stage, judges review the entrant’s 5000 word excerpt, which in my case will be my first two chapters. They judge on a scale of 1 to 5 in the following areas: overall strength of excerpt, prose/writing style, plot/hook, and originality.

The top 250 then advance to the quarterfinals where Publisher’s Weekly reviews/judges the excerpts from the previous stage, sending the top 50 to the semi-finals. If a person can make it to this stage but not advance further in the contest, they still have the benefit of a Publisher’s Weekly review to include in queries (If the review is good, of course). During the semifinals, the Penguin judging panel will take 50 contests to 3 in each category (YA or Adult General Fiction) The final round is open to Amazon customers to review and rate excerpts as well as a celebrity panel.

Last year at this time, I was a nervous wreck getting ready to submit my entry, which was the first full manuscript I’ve written. This year, I’m a little wiser, have written nearly three completed ‘scripts, and have a much tougher skin. So, I won’t be threatening an imaginary, literary version of Simon, or shedding tears because I didn’t make it. I will simply keep trying, perfecting, and submitting, and maybe one day, I’ll get lucky.

Here's my pitch:

Hagan Perry will do whatever it takes to escape her kidnappers on Scout Mountain, not only for herself but for the other woman fighting to survive the Caretaker’s evil games. Unfortunately for Hagan, getting out alive means trusting the one person who has always let her down—her father.

To many, James Perry is nothing but a troubled ex-con whose word is about as good as a campaign promise. He’s fine with that, on most days, but when his daughter disappears, no one believes she’s in danger, especially his own brother who’s too busy polishing his badge to do him any favors. Even after James receives a call from his daughter and reveals an important clue, he’s branded a manipulator.

Without help from the police, he must save Hagan on his own. Little does he know exactly how far the kidnappers will go until dead bodies pile up and he becomes the number one suspect. If James can’t figure out who’s targeting them and why, he will wrongfully return to prison for not only the deaths of a few innocent people, but perhaps for his daughter’s death as well.

Even if Hagan survives THE CARETAKER’S KISS, she will have to face something just as insurmountable and bleak as the mountain—the truth.



 
 
Even at my skinniest, I hated trying on jeans (swimsuit shopping is a completely different beast that requires meds for me to address, so we’ll just go with jeans).

There’s something ominous about slipping into a dressing room, staring into a carnival mirror, and seeing all my imperfections nagging back at me. Guilt, shame, regrets all roll through my mind. But no matter how much I beat myself up and curse that last donut, I can’t change the fact that until I recognize my insecurities and accept them, I’ll always be the fat girl in skinny jeans.

I could say the same thing about writing.

Some people jump into writing with the idea that they’ll be the next latest and greatest author and their book will outsell even Stephen King. I hate to break it to those folks, but it’s not gonna happen. (Unless their name rhymes with Shmephenie Shmeyer) Becoming a writer—a novelist—is not for the weak. It is brutal.

The most important thing a writer can do as they hone their craft is to develop a thick skin—armor is more like it. Some think they can write their story, spell check it, and then wah-lah it’s ready for publication, but that is far from the case. Most writing is rewriting or editing, going back through the 'script, tightening up loose ends, and cleaning up clumsy sentences and plotting issues.

My carnival mirror I use for writing comes in the form of a critique group. If you are a writer and don’t have one, I think you should find one asap. Beta readers are a great help, but unless your readers are writers or read anything they can get their hands on, chances are they won’t pick up on the things you need to perfect your ’script. The group also helps a writer deal with criticism—the good, the bad, and the ‘what the $%*#?’

There is nothing like sending a chapter to a critique member and getting it back littered with marks or highlighted with rainbow colors. It is overwhelming and disheartening . . . for about ten minutes. After the shock wears off and the suggestions evaluated, excitement rolls in and the real writing begins. Things start to click and ideas flow—at least in theory.

My critique group has the tough, the tougher, and toughest of members. I can rely on each person to find something wrong and steer me in the right direction. Do I follow every suggestion? Nope, because I have to stay true to my voice and my vision. Tie goes to the writer. In turn, they support and rally behind me as I take on the next step—submitting to agents.

Agents are overwhelmed with query letters and submissions—drowning in them. A person can’t rely on an agent or an editor to look at a manuscript and see its potential through all the grammar issues and plot holes; they want perfection.

According to Noah Lukeman in The First Five Pages:

“Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript—and believe me, they’ll look for any reason they can, down to the last letter.”

Why am I in this business again? Thankfully, I have a few friends who are standing outside the dressing room waiting for me to parade around in my new jeans. And when I emerge looking like a fool, they are the first to suggest a different size. Although it isn’t easy accepting a failure, I know that with a little hard work and one less donut, I may just be able to fit in the skinny jeans next time.

 

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    My name is Diana (a.k.a DS Tracy) I am a wife, mother,  and wannabe writer. One day, I hope to delete the wannabe part--no one likes a poser!  
     

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