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The Rich Writer

The Rich Writer: July 2007

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Monday, July 30, 2007

Books I Wish I'd Written

I'm re-reading Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Talk about a book I wish I'd written! It captures perfectly the romance I daydreamed of when I was a somewhat-lonely junior in high school. Not that I daydreamed of vampires--but I daydreamed about someone like Edward Cullen, someone strong, mysterious, handsome, and a little bit dangerous. Someone fascinating who was, in turn, fascinated by me.

One thing that strikes me as I re-read it is that Edward and Bella's relationship is somewhat politically incorrect. He's always rescuing her! It's one of those unwritten rules that writers follow: female characters should be strong, independent, and do their fair share of the rescuing. And yet...there's something incredibly alluring about the idea of being rescued by someone strong and kind, even if he is a bit dangerous. (Maybe especially if he's a bit dangerous.) Obviously, Stephanie does it well: the rescue scenes release floods of memories and emotions for me.

How's she pull it off? Well, her main character is physically clumsy and a trouble-magnet, so she needs a bit of rescuing--but she's smart, introspective, and interesting, not at all weak. Maybe the key is that she might need the occasional physical rescue, but she can rescue Edward on a deeper, non-physical level. Bella is so darn likable, the reader doesn't mind that she keeps requiring rescue.

However Stephanie does her magic, she made me remember to explore those depths of childhood and adolescent emotion in my writing. Even if my youthful fantasies weren't all PC, they were true--and Stephanie Meyer's shown that truth sells.

:) Cheryl

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thursday's thing to love...about being a writer

I love it when a project starts to pull together.
For my NF book project, I've been researching caves, 19th century medicine, the Chicago Columbian Exposition, gas lanterns, geology--and more--for months. In the midst of the research, all I can see are the bits and pieces. It doesn't seem like the individual facts and quotes could ever join into a cohesive whole--but eventually, that's what happens. The facts start to collect into patterns; the quotes start to line up in stories; the index cards littering my floor start to gain some sort of order.

It feels like magic, although I suppose the more scientific explanation is that my subconscious chews on the information until it makes sense. That's what brains do: try to make sense of the world.

Today, my last batch of biotech editing work is done. Today, I get to draw on the new-found order in all my research and try to weave it into my story. On my first attempt, the result will be rough and forced-sounding, but after a hundred or so rewrites, I might have a book ready to send out again. I'm off to immerse myself in the 19th century!


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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

When the waiting's over...

When the waiting is over for a writer, the news isn't usually good. That's because publishing is such a subjective business, even the best manuscript has a good chance of receiving a few rejections before it finds a home. When writers submit their work, we're taking a chance that it will be declined (which is a far nicer--and more realistic--word than "rejected.")

My wait for news from Andrea Somberg ended this afternoon and--you guessed it--she's passing. Bummer.

I'm sad and disappointed, but not nearly as sad and disappointed as I expected. Why? Maybe because I knew the odds were against me. Maybe because she read the entire book. Maybe because her email contained some specific--and helpful--thoughts about what I'm missing in the manuscript. Maybe because of the guinea pigs.

Maybe because I'd promised myself a new pair of earrings when I heard from her, just to celebrate my bravery for submitting.

I'll wait a few days, give the manuscript another once-over, and then send it out again. Will it ever be published? I think so. I feel like I'm following the same path as when I started writing for magazines: at first I received form rejection letters, then form letters with hand-written notes of encouragement scrawled across the top, then more detailed rejection letters, then substantial rewrite requests, and finally acceptances. As I've submitted and rewritten The Last Violin, I received first form rejections, then form rejections with handwritten notes, and now a personal note...I know I'm on the right track!

:) Cheryl

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Proven Remedies for the Mailbox Haunt

My current favorite remedies for writing-related waiting:
  • Start a new project
  • Read a great book (such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Haunting of Freddy, and The Supernaturalist, by JK Rowling, Dietlof Reiche, and Eion Colfer, respectively)
  • Corral guinea pigs while they munch on the lawn
  • Get busy with other work (for me that means editing some proposals for a biotech company)
  • Take a hike (hey, I live in Colorado--what can I say?)
  • Smell all the essential oils at our local natural foods store (current favorites--tangerine and pine needle)

Sometimes life keeps me too busy to write. Sometimes life is the source of what I write. Sometimes life helps me survive the fact that I write! As Jane Yolen says, sometimes it's time to stop and kiss the grandbabies. I don't have any grandbabies yet--guess I'll have to grab those guinea pigs....


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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Ideas and Inspiration: Camping

I just spent a weekend in the mountains. For the first time in about ten years, my family and I gathered our gear and backpacked in to camp instead of camping in our old VW van.
I have nothing against van camping. I love Piper--our faithful VW--but there's something magical about hiking in for three hours with a pack on your back, reaching destinations you might not attempt if you had to be back before nightfall. (Or, since this is Colorado, before the afternoon thunderstorm.) We camped in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. The trail we took was a busy one, but after three hours of hiking the crowds thinned and disappeared. In the early evening, surrounded by late-season snow and a kaleidoscope of wildflowers, it felt like we were the only ones in the world.

In places like this, I find ideas and inspiration. I sit on a rock in the warm sun and daydream. I imagine living in a time a thousand years earlier, trying to cross this mountain on foot; I imagine fantasy worlds and magic and people who might live here. I saturate myself with sights, sounds, smells: a hummingbird buzzing around a red tent strap--the plop of fish jumping in the lake--the smell of something minty underfoot--the taste of cold (filtered) lake water--the shock of snow spilling into my shoes.

When I leave, I feel as if someone filled me up with beauty and stillness.

The only disadvantage? I had to limit myself to two books, two notebooks, and three pens. Otherwise, the pack would have been too heavy....

:) Cheryl

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thursday's thing to love about being a writer

Today's thing I love about being a writer: research (again!)

Can you tell I've been doing a lot of research lately? I enjoy diving into the history and science surrounding my picture book project; just as much, I enjoy the accidental discoveries of cool and interesting facts. Today's cool fact is that Thomas Edison suggested that the telephone be answered "Ahoy, ahoy!"

Watch out, callers to the Reif residence. I think I'll give it a try!

:D Cheryl


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Speaking of Pets...

We have eight baby mice in our house, looking for homes. Anyone interested in a pet mouse? The mice are an easy sell to the kids in our area, but the moms haven't been as easily won over. I think my kids appreciate me more, since none of their friends' mothers will allow pet rodents in their houses!

These little mice must be on my mind, because in that space between waking and sleeping last night, I had a half-awake dream about mice and dragons. I can't stop thinking about the possible connections. What if dragons were mammals, more similar to bats than to lizards? What if a young mouse found a young dragon and thought it was another mouse? After all, bats look a lot like mice with wings. What if an elderly, near-sighted mouse had a young dragon in the house and thought it was another (strange-looking) mouse?

And that makes me wonder why the young dragon is alone. How does it get along with its mouse friends and adopted family? What problem do they face, that brings them to my attention?

I spent my lunch break sitting outside in the shade, daydreaming about them. I want to know who they are, what happens to them.

I have other writing work to do, first--some science editing, finishing the nonfiction picture book--but for now, the mouse and the dragon continue to tumble about in my mind. I wonder what will come of it!

:) Cheryl

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Project Immersion

As a writer with family, pets, and a home remodeling project, I get much of my work done in "borrowed moments" I find between errands or in the early mornings, before the rest of my house wakes. Given ten free minutes, I can usually dive into my WIP...but not always. The "borrowed moments" method of writing only works when I know my project so well that I can pick it up at any moment and remember where I left off. If I'm still figuring out what to write, I need a larger block of time to piece together scattered facts and ideas.

That was the case with my current work-in-progress, a nonfiction picture book that's two parts history and one part science. I've gathered piles and piles of information, but I needed a large block of time to sort it into meaning. Large blocks of time can be tough to find in my house, though, so I took this past weekend for "Project Immersion." Sound fun? Here's how it works.

  1. Start with a general goal. What do you want to accomplish?

    My goal was to pull together (mentally and literally) two file boxes of notes and information on my current project.

  2. Hone the goal--make it specific.

    My specific goals were: read and take notes on several reference books, visit my local historical library for some research in the rare book department, and review my collected information so I could start thinking how best to bring it all together.

  3. Arrange a time.

    With the help of an extremely supportive husband, I planned a writing weekend two months in advance. Your project might not require an entire weekend. Determine how large a time chunk you need, clear the space on your calendar, and brainstorm how to make it happen.

  4. Arrange a quiet, preferably inexpensive, place to work.

    I knew I needed access to the internet and to the local library, so I booked a hotel room in town using to "bid" for a room. I didn't get to choose the exact hotel, but I did get to choose my price--and I ended up in a lovely room with access to an outdoor pool, hot tub, and exercise room. Usually, I look for less expensive options such as house sitting, camping, or staying at a nearby retreat house.

  5. Gather supplies and go!

    I take only the essentials: books, computer, file boxes--and, of course, coffee and chocolate.

My report? I have more notes, more lists of books to research, and more facts to collate--and I accomplished my goal. I have the big picture for this project, and I'm ready to finish the rewrite!


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Thursday's thing to love about being a writer

Today's thing I love about being a writer: RESEARCH

Yep, research. Whether for fiction or nonfiction writing, research always seems to lead me somewhere fun and surprising. Today I'm reading about the medical practices of the 19th century frontier. Take a gander at the following frontier "granny" remedies, from Karolevitz's Doctors of the Old West:
  • For diphtheria treatment: snails and earthworms mashed into water
  • For tuberculosis: eat some fried heart of rattlesnake
  • For warts: rub with chicken feet
  • For whooping cough: boil up some owl broth
  • For ear ache: Drip a bit of bug blood in the ear

Makes you want to try some old-fashioned medicine. Not.

:) Cheryl

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Confessions of a Mailbox Haunt

Successful writers seem to agree on one key to publication: you have to submit your work. It's not the only key, of course, but it is an important part of the process.

It's also a tough part of the process. I mean, you have to send your carefully-crafted story out into a world where books are business rather than emotionally-charged symbols of the author. In order to write a great story, you have to create an emotional connection with the characters; but in order to pursue publication, you have to relinquish that connection enough to let the inevitable rejections slide off your back. It can be challenging.

That's why I celebrate a bit every time I send out a manuscript. The Last Violin is currently visiting agent Andrea Somberg, of Harvey Klinger Literary Agency. I had the chance to meet her at the 2007 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. She made an exceptionally good impression on me--not only is she a delight as a person, she was quick on her feet in the question-and-answer session and she's a fan of Diane Duane's So You Want to Be a Wizard series. What more could anyone want?

Since I've been sending out articles and short stories for years now, I thought that I was immune to submission anxiety. I have a confession, though: I've become a mailbox haunt. At least, that's what I call it. I haven't heard it named before, but every writer I know has experienced it in some point in his or her career.

Here's how it works: After submitting a manuscript, I become acutely attuned to the habits of the postal service. I knows the sound of the postal truck's engine, know the precise time of day that the mail arrives (3:30 pm), and still make occasional mid-morning trips to the mailbox, just in case the postal carrier decided to make a surprise delivery. Any trips up the driveway also require mailbox checks. (I'm not sure what I'm thinking--that the mail will materialize within? That I somehow missed an important envelope in the rear? That the postal carrier made a stealth trip through the neighborhood?)

Each mailbox visit causes a slight increase in heart rate as my mind reviews the far reaches of possibility--quickly followed by another, more reasonable voice: "You just sent your story yesterday, Cheryl. It hasn't reached the editor's desk yet, much less prompted a reply."

Sigh. Luckily, I have plenty of other fun projects to distract me from this unfortunate tendency, because I know the drill: Submit, submit, submit, until my skin thickens a bit more and I no longer spend the day half-listening for the mail truck. Until I no longer fight the urge to haunt neighborhood mailboxes.

Wait--I sent Andrea an e-mail query! Gotta go check my in box....

:) Cheryl

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Welcome to my online journal!

First: I have a confession. This isn't my first blog.

Why is that important? Only because it makes its beginning a little odd. If I go through the standard run-down of who I am and why I'm here, I feel like I'm repeating myself. Instead, I'll sum up.

I'm a writer. I've published a few articles in some of my favorite magazines (Hightlights for Children, Cricket, and Spider, to name a few;) I've won a few awards for longer works; and I've had a few nibbles for my book-length projects.

So come alongside me as I chronicle the daily joys (and occasional troubles!) of my writing life...